Frankie V. at the UHND Blog is hosting the Irish Bloggers Gathering this "bye" week. Follow the link to see Frankie's original post and to check out all the other bloggers' contributions in the comments there. Without further ado, here are my answers (or evasions, as the case may be) to this week's questions.
1. With our beloved Irish on the bye this weekend, how much college football will you be watching Saturday and what games are you most looking forward to watching?
Are you kidding me? This is OCTOBER!! It is written into my pre-nup that I am permitted to bask in the glow of my 60" Hi-Def Sony television all day long on every Saturday in October, despite the health hazards posed by overexposure to the radiation given off by the TV. Not that I've given it any thought, mind you, but there are a few games that might be of passing interest to the casual fan this Saturday:
- At 9:30 a.m. Pacific time #23 Vanderbilt plays between the hedges against the #9 Georgia Bulldogs who, you will recall, got their asses handed to them at home on national TV by Alabama a couple of weeks ago. Interesting to see if Vandy is for real, and if UGA's bite is anywhere near as potent as its bark. Great way to start the day!
- At 12:30 Pacific time, the #15 (and over-ranked) Kansas Jayhawks play the #6 Oklahoma Sooners in Norman, OK. I would expect OU to massacre KU, to work out some of the angst coming off a tough loss to Texas last week, but you never know. We'll certainly know if KU is contender or pretender after this game.
- At 1:30 Pacific time, the UNRANKED and PATHETIC Michigan Wolverines visit #3 Penn State. The entertainment value in watching Michigan get pummeled week after week is starting to wear thin (there's no suspense anymore!), but there's always a chance the Wolverines man up and totally ruin Penn State's run at a National Championship. I'll be flipping back and forth between this game and the OU/KU game depending on which is more interesting at the time.
- At 5:00 p.m. Pacific time #12 Mizzou visits Austin Texas and the #1 team in the nation, the Texas Longhorns. Missouri QB Chase Daniel looked pretty human in the Missouri loss to Oklahoma State last week, so I expect Texas to win big. But, there is the possibility of an emotional letdown by the Longhorns after the big win over Oklahoma last week. If Texas takes care of business, they're in the driver's seat for a shot at the Mythical National Championship (MNC).
- Depending on how the other games are going, I'll also be keeping tabs on the 1:00 game (Pacific time) between Stanford and UCLA. It's a game with some local interest here in the OC, pitting two PAC-10 teams with new coaches trying to rebuild their programs.
- The 4:00 match up (Pacific time) between Oregon State and the UW Huskies is also worth some attention, featuring the death throes of Ty Willingham's career at Washington. UW won't be helped by the "looking ahead" factor as the Huskies welcome the Fighting Irish to town next week.
- The other "must watch" game on Saturday is the United States Air Force Academy Falcons against the Rebels of UNLV at 7:00 p.m. Pacific. There's a friendly wager (is it a friendly wager if cash is on the line?) between OC Domer and his Dad on whether Air Force or the Fighting Irish will have a better record over the 12-game regular season. Right now, both teams sit at 4-2.
2. Not to look too far ahead… but in looking at the 2009 schedule, do you think the Irish will be set up for a title run if they continue to improve each week as they are doing now?
Yes. The Notre Dame schedule next year is quite similar to this year's. The most significant change is that Michigan will be better and they won't be looking past us when we roll into Ann Arbor. The potential stumbling blocks will be the Wolverines (you can NEVER discount U of M), Michigan State (if we continue to improve they will not be a problem), USC (who will once again be USC), and Stanford (those guys will always be a pain in the neck). But Nevada, Purdue (new coach), Washington, Boston College, Washington State (in San Antonio), Navy, Pitt, and U-Conn should all go into the "W" column. For Notre Dame to make a run next year, the following things need to occur, and they are all within Notre Dame's control:
- Finish the regular season strong in 2008 season. That means winning all remaining games except USC in a workman-like manner. No close calls, no flukes. Solid, though not necessarily spectacular, wins over UW, Pitt, Navy, Syracuse.
- Play well against USC. We don't have to beat them. But we have to erase the perception that there is a huge yawning chasm of a talent gap between USC and Notre Dame. If we play well and lose by less than 17 points, we will have done what is needed for next year.
- Win a Bowl game. At 9 and 3 we won't get into a BCS bowl game. But we should go to something like the Gator Bowl against a team that we can beat. We have to play well and win the Bowl game to get that monkey off the back of the program. A bowl win gives the Irish nice momentum heading into 2009, as a nice win would probably put us in or near the Top 10 in the final 2008 polls.
- Entering 2009 with EVERYBODY but David Bruton coming back, Notre Dame will be ranked in the Top 10 in the pre-season polls. Any team that starts the season in the Top 10 and runs the table 12-0 is very likely to be in the top 2 at the end of the season. The Irish will need to go 12-0 to get a title shot, because nobody is going to give a 1-loss Notre Dame team the benefit of the doubt over a 1-loss USC or Ohio State or Texas or Oklahoma or Florida or Alabama. The 2009 schedule will be too weak for that. The USC game is the key tilt, of course, but it may come too early in the schedule. The Trojans are game 6 on the year, following a bye week (which is nice). Even if we look very good in a win, there' a chance pollsters will discount the Irish if we don't dominate the weaker opposition at the end of the schedule. Notre Dame finishes 2009 against Navy, Pitt, U-Conn, and Stanford. To get into the National Championship game they cannot afford for any of those games to be close.
3. If you could take 1 recruit we missed on from each of the last 4 years (1 from each year), who would they be and how differently would this team look like right now if we had gotten that 1 player each year? (Note, the players should be players the Irish either led for at one time or were at least a finalist for).
Um, yeah. Can I pass on the recruiting questions? I follow recruiting at only the most casual and superficial of levels, unlike my friend Cathy in Riverside. I cheer when the Irish land a shiny new 4-star or 5-star player. I boo when I read that the object of our collective desires has chosen Florida or Ohio State or USC over Notre Dame. But I have no way of evaluating which high school football players are good fits for our program, which are "must haves" or "good gets." Heck, when I actually go and watch a high school football game I can't even tell who the great players are unless the QB uncorks a long bomb or two that look like artillery shells in the air, or a running back breaks six tackles in the course of a 70-yard TD run.
One of the lines I draw to delude myself that I don't actually need professional help for my problem is that I don't subscribe to any recruiting service or any other college football news service. I buy a few pre-season preview magazines, and the Notre Dame media guide if I don't forget, and that's it. Everything else I read or consume about Notre Dame football I get for free (unless I have to pay the cable company to view an actual game). The main result of this is that I know very little about the high school kids Charlie Weis is wooing now or those he has wooed in the past. A secondary result is that I tend to judge recruiting by what I see on the field. Judging by what I've seen so far in 2008, I would have to say that Coach Weis has done a very good job recruiting over the past two years.
4. If Notre Dame could only land 1 more recruit on each side the ball in this recruiting class, who would you like it to be? (Again, it should be someone we have a reasonable chance with).
Pass. (See answer to previous question). I can't name names, but we better figure out a way to shore up the middle of our defense. We need some stout bodies in the D-line and at middle linebacker. Notre Dame's two safeties lead the team in tackles, and that is a problem. On offense, I am always looking for dominating linemen. It wouldn't hurt to recruit a coach who can teach run blocking as well.
5. If you could take one of Notre Dame’s bowl losses since the 1994 Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M and turn it into a win, which one would it be? Why? And What if any impact do you think that win would have had on the Irish.
Others have mentioned the 2006 Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, and I was very tempted to go with that. I took my son to that game (a big treat for him) and it was a big disappointment that we lost.
But I'm going instead with another game in that same venue, the 2001 Fiesta Bowl loss to Oregon State by a final score of 41-9. Notre Dame trailed at half-time of that game 12-3, but allowed the Beavers to absolutely run them out of the stadium with a burst of 29 unanswered points in the 3rd quarter. The Beavers outgained Notre Dame 446 yards to 155. OSU averaged 7.0 yards per offensive play, compared to 2.2 yards for ND.
I chose this game because the Irish were whipped in a BCS Bowl game by a team that is not a traditional power in college football. It's one thing to lose a game to Ohio State. It is another thing entirely to get blown out by OREGON STATE. The Beavers were coached by Dennis Erickson, who I loathed even before the game due to his prior stint at the University of Miami.
For me, this was the game that showed the whole world that the emperor had no clothes. This was the game that the wheels came off the wagon. The decision to hire Boob Davie came painfully home to roost. This was the game that started the saying that "Notre Dame lacks the team speed to play with ____________ ." It may not have been the beginning of our slide into true mediocrity, but it was certainly the game that opened everyone's eyes to the fact that the slide was underway. Prior to this bowl game Notre Dame had at least been mostly respectable in the bowl losses. After that game none of them have really been close.
Impact? Who knows. If the Irish win that BCS bowl game, Bob Davie certainly keeps his job longer, and can hopefully use the win to recruit better talent than we saw between 2001 and 2007. We probably avoid the Willingham debacle and the disater of 2007. But Boob Davie is still a mediocre coach at best, and who knows how long we'd be stuck hanging around the bottom of the Top 25 rankings? The 2001 Fiesta Bowl led to Willingham and then Charlie Weis, who I think will be better for the program in the long run. But that loss to the Beavers hurt. It hurt that night, and it hurt the program for years afterward.