Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas to All

It is Christmas Eve and events here at OC Domer HQ are about to start spinning beyond my control as last-minute Christmas errands are run, final presents wrapped, mass at what we think will be our new Church is attended, Christmas Eve dinner is served, etc...

We are all excited to have our daughter home from the University for Christmas break. She is already so thoroughly enthralled by Notre Dame that can't wait to go back "home" to be with all her new college friends, which is as it should be.

I will have some thoughts for you on Coach Kelly when things settle down, as well as the announcement of the OC Domer Player of the Year for 2009.

But for now I just want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Pope seems to have gotten over the whole Obama controversy

Despite all the uproar over President Obama being invited to give the Commencement Address at Notre Dame last Spring (he's pro-abortion!), it seems that Pope Benedict nonetheless respects the important role the University plays within the Church. From the South Bend Tribune:

Notre Dame associate professor receives papal appointment

Tribune Staff Report

SOUTH BEND — John C. Cavadini, an associate professor and chair of the theology department at the University of Notre Dame, has been appointed to the International Theological Commission by Pope Benedict XVI.

The International Theological Commission consists of some 30 theologians from around the world. An advising body to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, its members are personally appointed by the pope.

Bishop John M. D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend said that Cavadini’s appointment "brings honor to our diocese and to Notre Dame, especially to its theology department."

A member of the faculty since 1990, Cavadini also is director of the university’s Institute for Church Life.

Congratulations to Professor Cavadini!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Kelly Being Fitted For New "ND" Wardrobe

This post from leaves little doubt that Brian Kelly will be Notre Dame's new football coach. It makes clear that Kelly has already met with representatives of Notre Dame and that he will be taking the job. The article notes that Coach Kelly has not wanted to make it public because he didn't want to distract his Cincinnati players before the game against Pittsburgh, and he didn't want them hearing about it on the news before he had a chance to talk to them at the Bearcats team banquet this Thursday night.

So it appears that we can expect a formal announcement on Friday or very shortly thereafter.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Quick Hits, Pearl Harbor Edition

Things have been busy at OC Domer HQ and I just haven't been able to write all the posts I have wanted to write lately. So here are my thoughts on recent developments in condensed Readers Digest format:

1. Coaching Search. Well, what do you know? Brian Kelly will be meeting with Jack Swarbrick on Tuesday to discuss ... well, you know. All as foretold by OC Domer.

2. Pete Carroll's Girlfriend. Do I really care if Pete "Always Compete" Carroll is (or was) living with a USC grad student in Malibu? Hell yes I care. I'm not particularly proud of it, but I do care. I'm sure the Los Angeles media is all over this story and we'll get all the juicy details real soon. With pictures. (Won't they?) I want to see if Pete is hitting a higher class of "mistress" than Tiger Woods is. But you will note that in his profuse apologies about allowing an off-the-record comment to get into print that Charlie never quite says that the underlying facts about Pete and the grad student aren't true. Hmmm. Seems very unlike Charlie to let something like that slip without any basis.

3. Tiger Woods' Mistresses. Latest count is up to nine. At what point do we get real and stop calling all these tramps "mistresses"? And don't you love how all these "hostesses" are shocked and hurt by Tiger's infidelity? "I thought I was the only hooker gold digger in his life." Hilarious. What's not hilarious is that Tiger has hurt his wife Elin, who deserved better from him. I hope a few hundred million dollars will ease her pain.

4. Jimmy & Golden. Going pro. Not a surprise. I would love to see them play at Notre Dame for another year, but they'd be crazy to. Good luck to both guys as they move the show to Sundays. I hope they each make a big pile of cash and have long, glorious NFL careers. Thanks to both of them for giving all of us everything they had for three years. I hope they find the time somewhere down the road to complete their degrees and graduate from ND.

5. Charlie to Da Bears? Rumors have the Chicago Bears as a potential landing spot for Coach Weis next season, likely as offensive coordinator. Makes great sense. I would expect that CW will try to find a position as close to South Bend as possible to remain close to the Hannah & Friends facility that means so much to him.

6. Still Recruiting. Thanks to Coach Weis and all his assistants for being completely classy and professional and working to keep all the 2010 verbal commits in the fold.

7. Bowling. I agree with the decision not to accept any bowl invitations this year. Notre Dame has a long history of declining bowl invitations. During decades when we were THE elite program in the country we won National Championships without bowl games. We have frequently declined to go bowling when the team had a sub-par season or when the invitation wasn't from a prestigious bowl. There is no reason to humiliate ourselves by playing a bowl game in Detroit against some MAC opponent. In the current context there is no real upside. More weeks practicing the system of the just-fired coach? And who is calling the plays? And how motivated are our soon-to-be millionaire offensive leaders? And what would a win get us? Have some pride and play in a bowl again when you've actually earned it and when the game would mean something.

8. OC Domer Owns Subway Domer's 2009 Pick 'em Contest. Subway Domer once again hosted a weekly Pick 'em contest for this season. Players had to pick winners for about a dozen college games each week, straight up. Bonus points for correctly picking upsets. More bonus points for picking upsets in Top 25 games. After a very slow start to the season I went on a very nice run and finished 2009 as co-champion. Final results are here. My team is "Holy Cross." Thanks to Subway for putting on the contest again this season. I really do enjoy putting my picks together each week. It makes Saturdays more interesting without costing me a wad of cash.

Golden Tate #2 on my Heisman Ballot

I received an e-mail from Shotgun Spratling at inviting me to cast my ballot for this year's Sports Blog Heisman Trophy. Voters are not limited to just the five players invited to New York for the presentation of that other Heisman trophy. Here is the full text of my e-mailed "ballot" as submitted:

Dear Shotgun,

Here is the OC Domer Heisman Ballot.

1. Toby Gerhart. He is most dominant player at his position, and his dominance doesn't depend on anyone else to make him look good. One-on-one, mano-a-mano he beats you down at the point of attack. Puts his team on his back and carries them to victory.

2. Golden Tate. You can't keep him from getting the ball, you can't tackle him, and you can't catch him. Once Michael Floyd broke his collar bone, everyone in the stadium knew Notre Dame and Jimmy Clausen were going to get the ball to Tate, and still nobody could stop him. Despite being double or triple covered every play, Golden still came up with huge plays time and again. Golden kept the Irish in games single-handedly for seven weeks. Without Golden Tate to throw to, Jimmy Clausen would not be in a position to make big money as a top draft choice in April.

3. Colt McCoy. My choice at the beginning of the season, he played his way down to third place during the season and especially against Nebraska.

Honorable Mention: Jimmy Clausen. He has become one heck of a quarterback. Will make Charlie Weis look like a really good coach once he starts playing and winning on Sundays.

My website is

I'm in the Far West.

Look forward to seeing your results!

OC Domer

What would your ballot look like?

Every Breath You Take

If you ever had any doubt that the Democrat party wants to control absolutely EVERY aspect of your life, a determination today by President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency should make things crystal clear for you. According to your Federal government, carbon dioxide is now considered a "danger to public health." And this danger must be regulated in the ongoing war against (imaginary) global warming.

Which means that every time you exhale, you are polluting the environment and endangering mankind. As are your children, your pets, and your livestock. The grass clippings you left in the yard to decompose (and fertilize)? Polluting. Your compost pile? Polluting. That can of Diet Pepsi you just opened? Polluting.

Oh sure, the government assures us that they are only going to regulate the biggest producers of CO2. For now. But if this baloney is allowed to stand it won't be long until the government starts pushing "one child" population control policies in order to reduce CO2 emissions. Before that the government will start urging us all to "eat green" and go vegetarian so that livestock populations can be drastically reduced. And you can bet the do-gooders will be after all of us to get the fizzy CO2 out of our beverages.

Is there any aspect of our lives the Democrats don't want total control over? They want to control where you live, what you drive, how you operate your business, what you eat, how you get health care, what your children are taught in school, when, where, and how you are allowed to pray, and what you say or write.

Land of the free? Really?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Narrowing the List

I recently wrote about the "Long List" of potential successors to Coach Weis at Notre Dame. My stated criteria in assembling the Long List of more than 21 names were:

  1. Track record as a successful head coach at the Division I college level or the NFL. (Assistants need not apply).
  2. Ability to recruit. Ideally a proven recruiter, but may have to make judgment call on the recruiting potential of NFL candidates.
  3. Person of integrity and class. (This rules out Urban Meyer and Nick Saban).
  4. Committed to making sure Notre Dame student athletes go to class, graduate on time, and represent the University with class. (Real students, no thugs).
Yesterday the University officially announced the firing of Head Football Coach Charlie Weis, and Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick spoke for a few minutes with the media about his decision to "take our football program in a different direction" and he gave us some clues about where the search for a new coach might lead.

Clearly, from listening to Swarbrick and reading the full transcript of the press conference, there is a very strong preference for candidates "who have demonstrated an ability to build and sustain a Division I college football program." Swarbrick used that phrase twice in his remarks yesterday. "Building and sustaining." He also indicated that, while it wouldn't necessarily be a limiting factor, he does feel that we "need to play good defense." So I won't leave anyone off the list depending upon whether they are a defensive or an offensive minded coach, but just be aware that at the and of the day that might be the tie-breaker.

Should we believe what jack Swarbrick is telling us? Is he trying to throw us off the scent while he brings in another NFL coach? I don't think so. The template for success at Notre Dame has been fairly simple. When we have hired proven college head coaches we have had great success. When we have gone off that recipe, we have met disaster. So I think we can take Jack at his word. Having just dismissed a very good NFL coach, it would be a very risky move for Swarbrick to bring in another NFL guy and expect a better result. Much safer for him to go with what has worked well in the past.

So, taking Jack at his word, we can start whittling the Long List down, removing coaches who have not demonstrated the ability to build and sustain a Division I college football program. To me the word "build" means a coach who has taken a program from whatever level it was on when he was hired and then elevated the program to another level. The word "build" means, to me, that we don't necessarily want a coach who took over as the caretaker of a program that was already doing really well and simply maintained it. The word "sustained" means we don't want a one-year wonder. We want someone who built a program up to a high level and then kept it there for some time.

Applying these standards to the Long List and being a little flexible with the definitions of "build" and "sustain", I get the following names:
  • Mike Belotti (Long-time University of Oregon head coach, now the UO Athletic Director)
  • Pat Hill (Long-time and present head coach of Fresno State University)
  • Greg Schiano (Head coach at Rutgers University)
  • Skip Holtz (Head coach at East Carolina, former head coach at Connecticut)
  • Brian Kelly (Head coach University of Cincinnati, former head coach at Grand Valley State and Central Michigan)
  • Jim Harbaugh (Head coach at Stanford, former head coach at University of San Diego. Has beaten USC two of last three years)(Might be too short-lived to meet "sustain" requirement)
  • Mike Riley (Head coach at Oregon State, former head coach of the San Diego Chargers. Perfect 5-0 record in bowl games. Beat USC in 2006 and 2008)(Nobody is talking about him, but he is a great coach)
  • Pat Fitzgerald (Head coach at Northwestern)(Pretty young still. Might not meet "sustain" requirement yet).
  • Randy Edsall (Head coach at University of Connecticut)
  • Chris Petersen (Head coach at Boise State)(Didn't really "build" the program. Took over a really good team from Dan Hawkins).
  • Gary Patterson (Head coach at TCU)
  • Kyle Whittingham (Head coach at Utah)(Did not really "build" the program. Took it over from urban Meyer).
  • Kirk Ferentz (Head coach at Iowa, former head coach at Maine)
  • Bob Stoops (Head coach at Oklahoma. Won one National championship and 6 Big XII titles. Not sure if he is really interested as reported, or if he is just angling for a raise from OU)(I have some reservations about Stoops' integrity and the quality of player he recruits).
  • Butch Davis (Head coach at North Carolina, former head coach at Miami and Cleveland Browns. Personally, I'd have difficulty accepting a former Miami coach at ND)(Did not "build" at Miami, but has "built" at UNC).
  • Tommy Tuberville (Former head coach at Ole Miss and Auburn)
Can you think of anyone else? Add them in the comments below and if they fit the criteria I'll put them on the list. I am a little curious about the Division I-AA option, a la Coach Jim Tressel at Ohio State. I'm not sure Swarbrick would take the risk of bringing in a Div I-AA coach, but if you know of any really strong candidates from that level I'd love to hear about them. Jack said he was looking for Division I experience, but he didn't specify Division I-A only.

Eliminating the guys listed above who I think may be a little short on either the "build" or "sustain" criteria, my personal favorites from the shorter list are, in approximate order of preference:
  • Brian Kelly
  • Kirk Ferentz
  • Mike Riley
  • Mike Belotti
  • Randy Edsall
  • Butch Davis
  • Tommy Tuberville
I think any of these guys would be outstanding hires. Who do you like?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Weis Out: The Official Announcement

From Notre Dame Website:

Nov. 30, 2009

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - University of Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis will not be retained, University director of athletics Jack Swarbrick announced today.

"We have great expectations for our football program, and we have not been able to meet those expectations," Swarbrick said. "As an alumnus, Charlie understands those goals and expectations better than most, and he's as disappointed as anyone that we have not achieved the desired results."

Swarbrick recommended the dismissal Sunday night to Notre Dame's president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

"We have established an evaluation process for all of our athletic programs that, in the end, results in a recommendation from Jack to me," Father Jenkins said. "I accepted Jack's decision and look forward to working with him on selecting a new head football coach who is the very best choice possible for the University and especially for our student-athletes.

"I am most appreciative to Coach Weis for his service to Notre Dame and our community. He and his family have my prayers and best wishes."

Weis spent five seasons as Irish head coach from 2005-09, with his teams achieving consecutive records of 9-3 (Fiesta Bowl appearance) in '05, 10-3 (Sugar Bowl appearance), 3-9, 7-6 (Hawai'i Bowl victory) and 6-6 in '09 - for an overall 35-27 mark (.564).

Swarbrick announced that Rob Ianello, the Irish assistant head coach/offense, wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, will assume responsibility for football operations until a new coach is hired. Ianello has spent the past five seasons on the Notre Dame staff and previously was part of football staffs at Wisconsin (1990-93, 2003-04), Arizona (1994-2002) and Alabama (1987-89).

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bob Stoops Rumors: We've Seen Them Before

The "hot" name right now to replace Coach Charlie Weis right now is Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. But I don't buy the rumors, and I actually suspect that Stoops himself is using the Notre Dame rumors as leverage to get a better contract out of Oklahoma University or other potential employers. We've seen this act before.

Back in December of 2004 the University of Florida had a head coaching vacancy after Ron Zook's demise, and Bob Stoops openly flirted with the Gators but stayed at OU after they ponied up a big fat raise for him.

I am also very skeptical that the University of Notre Dame would consider Coach Stoops to be a good fit at ND, given the record of NCAA violations at Oklahoma during Stoops' tenure or his track record of recruiting players of questionable character and judgment.

Call me crazy, but I'll pass on the opportunity for NCAA probation and the chance to bring violent, gun-toting criminals to Notre Dame.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'll have more of my thoughts on Coach Weis and the Fighting Irish as the weekend rolls around, but today I just want to wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving. Here at OC Domer HQ we're thankful to have the whole family together for a few days as the OC Domer Daughter is back home from Notre Dame for the first time since we moved her into her dorm in August. Happy to report that she looks great and seems to have adjusted to college life quite well.

I am also thankful for the readers of the OC Domer blog, whose visits to the site give me a quasi-legitimate excuse to vent my thoughts (and my frustrations) about Notre Dame football and other topics. It's cheaper than therapy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Heard it through the grapevine: Brian Kelly

Charlie Weis may not know who Notre Dame's football coach is going to be next season, but it seems that many others "in the know" at the University understand that it will be Brian Kelly, currently head coach at the University of Cincinnati. If my contacts at Notre Dame are to be believed (and I do believe them), it's all but a done deal at this point, with no announcements coming until the end of the football season for the Irish and the Bearcats.

Take the rumor for what it is worth. I am sorry I can't be more specific with my sourcing. But until I see factual news reports proving otherwise, I'll be sleeping very well at night knowing that Coach Kelly will be leading the Irish next season.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Update On Michigan Cheating Allegations

Back in September the news broke about University of Michigan football players alleging that their own program was routinely violating NCAA rules by practicing and engaging in other football-related activities for hours well in excess of the daily and weekly limits set by NCAA rules.

Many poo-pooed the allegations, basically saying that if the Michigan players wanted to be a big-time football program, they should man up and stop whining.

I wrote that I thought the allegations were serious and indicated a lack of integrity in the Michigan program that was harmful to college athletics.

New information is now out which provides an important update on the allegations. There has been a thorough investigation of Coach Rich Rodriguez's program, and he has been cleared of all wrongdoing.

Just kidding!

Actually, both the University and the NCAA continue their investigations, and the latest news is that Coach Rodriguez and the football program failed to file, for the entire 2008-2009 school year, the monthly forms required by the school compliance office that track the hours put in by its players. Isn't that an odd coincidence?

The football program, it turns out, is the only sport at Michigan that failed to turn in the required forms. This certainly makes Coach Rodriguez look bad, but it doesn't say much about U of M's "institutional control" of the football program that nobody in the compliance office bothered to ask for the forms for a whole year either.

In possibly related news, ESPN's Michael Wilbon is reporting that Rich Rodriguez will not be back as the Wolverines' coach next year.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Long List

Starting with the Notre Dame loss to Navy, and accelerating with the loss to Pittsburgh this Saturday, there has been a flurry of articles, discussions, blog posts, and speculation about who is on Jack Swarbrick's "short list" of potential candidates to replace Charlie Weis as head football coach at Notre Dame. Yes, it's unseemly to engage in such speculation when Coach Weis is still the head coach and could conceivably remain head coach if he beats Connecticut and Stanford and wins the Bowl game. But I'm going to do it anyway.

I think all the talk about the "short list" skips a very important step: The Long List. By jumping straight to the Short List I think one takes some risks. The first risk is that one fails to adequately consider potentially great hires that just don't happen to be the "hot" names at the moment. The second risk is that one can unnecessarily paint oneself into a corner and be so anxious to hire one of the Short List candidates that one loses proper bargaining leverage as well as proper perspective. The third risk is that one gets into a position where there is no viable Plan B (or Plan C, etc...) if one of the Short List candidates backs out and one therefore ends up looking unprepared and desperate. For all these reasons I think that before one jumps to the Short List, it is vital to draft the Long List.

The Long List is that group of coaches that meet your criteria for the job of Notre Dame football coach, and who appear to be in a circumstance where they are likely to be available to at least consider taking the job, whether they have actually expressed any interest or not. The Long List doesn't include coaches who are already in better coaching jobs and who are unlikely to leave them anytime soon. My Long List doesn't include Urban Meyer or Nick Saban. I cannot imagine that either of those coaches is going to leave the #1 or #2 ranked team in the nation for Notre Dame.

What are the criteria for head football coach at Notre Dame? They are surprisingly few.

  1. Track record as a successful head coach at the Division I college level or the NFL. (Assistants need not apply).
  2. Ability to recruit. Ideally a proven recruiter, but may have to make judgment call on the recruiting potential of NFL candidates.
  3. Person of integrity and class. (This rules out Urban Meyer and Nick Saban).
  4. Committed to making sure Notre Dame student athletes go to class, graduate on time, and represent the University with class. (Real students, no thugs).
That's it!

For me, the preferred model is the one that has made Notre Dame most successful in the past. Hire a coach who has been a very successful college head coach elsewhere. Find a guy who has displayed a knack for over-achieving at a "lesser" program, of doing "more" with "less." Frank Leahy was very successful at Boston College before coming to Notre Dame. Ara Parseghian won at Northwestern. Dan Devine won at Arizona State and Missouri. Lou Holtz won at William & Mary, North Carolina State, and Arkansas.

Gerry Faust, Bob Davie, and Charlie Weis has no head coaching experience in college or the NFL before coming to Notre Dame.

Ty Willingham is the exception that proves the rule, although in reality his overall record at Stanford of 44–36–1, while successful, was only moderately so.

The preferred model notwithstanding, I don't want to rule out NFL coaches entirely, as long as they have been a head coach. I don't want to leave the next Pete Carroll off my list. Also, despite lack of prior recruiting experience, an NFL coach has an added recruiting adavntage in that he has extra credibility with high school players who hope to play in the NFL someday.

I think the remaining criteria are self-explanatory.

So here is my Long List. Please leave comments below if you have another name I should add (that meets my criteria), or if you think I should drop a name from the Long List because you don't think the candidate does meet my criteria. I will hyper-link each candidate to their Wikipedia entry (or another source if the Wikipedia entry isn't very thorough) so you can read more about them. The names below are listed in no particular order.
  • Marty Shottenheimer (Former head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers. Maybe too old?)
  • Bill Cowher (Former head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
  • Mike Holmgren (Former head coach of the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks)
  • Jon Gruden (Former head coach of the Oakland Raiders and the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Has ties to Notre Dame and the local area).
  • Tony Dungy (Former head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts)
  • Jeff Fisher (Long-time, current coach of the Tennessee Titans. Titans having a bad year, rumors that Fisher may be ready for a new challenge).
  • Mike Belotti (Long-time University of Oregon head coach, now the UO Athletic Director)
  • Pat Hill (Long-time and present head coach of Fresno State University)
  • Greg Schiano (Head coach at Rutgers University)
  • Skip Holtz (Head coach at East Carolina, former head coach at Connecticut)
  • Brian Kelly (Head coach University of Cincinnati, former head coach at Grand Valley State and Central Michigan)
  • Jim Harbaugh (Head coach at Stanford, former head coach at University of San Diego. Has beaten USC two of last three years)
  • Mike Riley (Head coach at Oregon State, former head coach of the San Diego Chargers. Perfect 5-0 record in bowl games. Beat USC in 2006 and 2008)
  • Pat Fitzgerald (Head coach at Northwestern)
  • Mark Dantonio (Head coach at Michigan State, former head coach at University of Cincinnati)
  • Randy Edsall (Head coach at University of Connecticut)
  • Chris Petersen (Head coach at Boise State)
  • Gary Patterson (Head coach at TCU)
  • Kyle Whittingham (Head coach at Utah)
  • Kirk Ferentz (Head coach at Iowa, former head coach at Maine)
  • Bob Stoops (Head coach at Oklahoma. Won one National championship and 6 Big XII titles. Not sure if he is really interested as reported, or if he is just angling for a raise from OU).
That's twenty-one proven head coaches who are either available right now, or who would likely be interested in "moving up" to coach Notre Dame if given the opportunity. They might not all be home runs, or the best fit, or even remotely interested. But I think they all bear a closer look before you scribble out your short list just based upon what you hear on ESPN.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Here some additions to the Long List suggested by OC Domer readers:
  • Butch Davis (Head coach at North Carolina, former head coach at Miami and Cleveland Browns. Personally, I'd have difficulty accepting a former Miami coach at ND)
  • Tommy Tuberville (Former head coach at Ole Miss and Auburn)
  • Terry Bowden (Head coach at North Alabama, former head coach at Auburn)
  • Mike Shanahan (Former head coach of the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It wasn't as close as the score indicated

The Fighting Irish extended to ten their streak of consecutive losses to ranked opponents, falling to the Pittsburgh Panthers 27-22 despite a furious 4th quarter rally that was prematurely terminated by a bogus instant replay reversal which turned an incomplete Clausen pass under pressure into a game-deciding lost fumble. We'll never know if the Irish would have overcome the 4th-and-16 they faced after the incomplete pass, but it certainly would have been nice to have had the final outcome of the game decided by the players on the field rather than in the replay booth by some anonymous officials. Did anybody happen to hear what conference those officials were from?

The loss drops Notre Dame to 6-4 on the season, and means the best regular season finish the Irish can hope for is 8-4, which would require wins over Connecticut (probable) and a Stanford team that beat Oregon last week and humiliated the Southern California Trojans today (not so probable).

Prior to the season I wrote, after a lengthy analysis of the team's prospects:

For me, 9 wins is what the Irish "should" achieve in 2009, all things being equal. If they earn less than nine wins, they have under achieved and only a very, very nice Bowl win would bring Coach Weis back in 2010. If they manage to win ten games, they will have beaten the odds in my view, and the extra win would have to be credited to Coach Weis who will have earned the chance to stay on as coach. If they win eleven or twelve, that would be a superior job of coaching and you'll need dynamite (or another year like 2007) to dislodge Charlie from the Gug.
So, even if the Irish win their final two games, they clearly have under-achieved against what I considered to be very reasonable expectations for 2009.

I admit I have a headache tonight. Once again the team fought hard and mounted a comeback and took a game into the final minutes. That has been their style this year. In ten games played, two have been very comfortable wins (Nevada and Washington State). The remaining eight games have all come down to the final minutes or even the final seconds. Four of those games have gone Notre Dame's way, and four have gone the other way. This team is seriously a handful of plays from being 10-0, and another handful of plays from being 2-8. It is maddening.

If the Irish had managed to score on the final drive tonight and win the game it would have been very exciting and it would have been an important win over a ranked opponent (finally!). But it would have been a win achieved despite the fact that ND was out-played in just about every phase of the game.

Notre Dame had 66 net rushing yards to Pitt's 193. The Irish averaged 2.6 yards per rush to Pitt's 6.0 yards.

While ND had more net passing yards (283 to 236), the Irish only averaged 6.7 yards per attempt and 10.5 yards per completion. The Panthers averaged 8.7 yards per attempt and 15.7 yards per completion.

Pitt averaged 7.3 yards per offensive play versus 5.2 yards per play for ND.

The Irish were penalized 5 times for 53 yards, Pitt was penalized ONCE for just 5 yards.

Notre Dame threw one interception and lost one fumble. Pitt had zero turnovers.

Notre Dame had one PAT attempt blocked, and failed on a later 2-pt conversion attempt. Pitt was 3-for-3 on PATs.

On the bright side, Notre Dame had one touchback on a kick-off, and finally had a punt return for a touchdown. It's about damn time.

The loss will only intensify swirling speculation about Coach Weis' future. I wrote at length after the Navy loss about my feelings on the matter. Yet another disappointing loss certainly doesn't change my mind that Notre Dame should give someone else a chance to lead this team. I would expect Jack Swarbrick is busily (but quietly) putting out feelers and gauging the interest level of potential replacements. Jack may like Charlie on a personal level, but he is running out of options. Weis was not his hire, but if he doesn't act to replace Coach Weis he is going to find that his tenure as Athletic Director will be bound up with a football coach hired by Kevin White. I rather expect Jack would be more comfortable sinking or swimming with a coach of his choosing rather than a coach of Kevin White's choosing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

IBG: Get Your Headlines Here!

The Subway Domer is hosting this week's Irish Blogger Gathering. Head over there to read all the IBG contributors' responses once you're done here.

Subway is being cute this week (I can't stand cute) and, since the Irish have been very much in the headlines since last Saturday's scuttling at the hands of Navy, he's asking us to come up with a headline for each of our IBG answers. I feel like I used to in school when the English teacher asked us to make a movie poster showing the most symbolic part of the lame book we just read. Groan. Here we go. No, it'll be good. Really!

1. After weeks and weeks of living on the edge, Notre Dame finally fell off of that edge into a pile of shit. Please describe your mental state since the Navy game. Are you hopeless or hopeful? Why?

Help Wanted: Head Football Coach

This isn't as hard as I thought. I think my Sunday post, "You Are What Your Record Says You Are, Charlie" fairly clearly conveys my state of mind right now.

I listen to Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio each morning on my drive to work. Colin has been having fun the past few days making fun of Notre Dame fans for unrealistically thinking that Notre Dame should be considered as on the same level as Florida, 'Bama, Texas, or USC. But Colin is knocking down a straw man. Most of us don't think Notre Dame should be a Top 5 team year in and year out. We do, however, think the Irish should be a Top 20 team year in and year out. We don't expect to beat 'Bama and Texas and USC consistently. We do expect to beat Navy and other unranked teams nearly all the time, and to beat other Top 20 teams our fair share of the time. Under Charlie we are beating unranked teams only about 70% of the time, and we haven't beat a ranked team in the last 9 tries.

Hopeless or Hopeful? Hopeful the next coach can win more games and still do it the Notre Dame way.

2. Given the sorry state of the Fighting Irish defense, are they capable of slowing down Pitt's offense, or will Stull, Baldwin, and Lewis have career days?

Clausen, Irish Out-Duel Stull

I am actually a little optimistic about the ability of the defense to slow Pitt down. Pittsburgh is a good team, but their record has been compiled against the 70th-toughest schedule in the Division I. (Notre Dame's schedule is ranked #26 by Sagarin). They run a pretty conventional offense, nothing exotic. Two of Notre Dame's losses have come against un-conventional offenses. Michigan's dramatic improvement running the spread offense surprised us, and we didn't handle the triple option well. There is no excuse in either case, but the fact is that the unusual offenses have really hurt us. We have done better against more traditional offensive schemes, and have done okay (not great, but okay) against Pittsburgh's scheme in the past. No career days for Stull & Co. But they'll still get theirs, and the Irish will just need to out-gun them.

3. Notre Dame has had serious Red-Zone issues this year. They can't score... why is that? What needs to be corrected and how can they do this?

Ragone, Riddick Lead Irish Rally

The Red Zone issues were glaringly obvious last week, and they cost the Irish the game. On one level, you can say that Notre Dame ran into some bad luck with Clausen's fumble and the ricochet interception off Michael Floyd's back. (As an aside, was I the only one impressed with Clausen's accuracy on that play? He fired the ball out there and hit Floyd square in the middle of his "3"). On the other hand, there is a premium on execution in the Red Zone. You have to convert those chances into points to win games, and Notre Dame has not been consistent converting scoring chances.

I think the problem is that Coach Weis tends to radically change his approach once the offense nears the end zone. The offense will be humming along, moving the ball with alacrity down the field using one version of the game plan, then when they get down to scoring position they throw out the game plan that just chewed up 70 yards in eight plays and try something completely different. Just when the offense is in a rhythm and has the defense back on its heels, Charlie says "Hey, let's try the Wildcat!" Or maybe, "Let's get Robert Hughes some reps on slow-developing dive plays, because Theo's been eating them up on the quick-hitters to the outside."

In the open field the passing game is quick, crisp, and aggressive. Jimmy is throwing the ball with real zip to precise spots and the defense has no answer. Then, at the 5-yard line we shift gears to low-percentage, slow developing, delicate-touch fade patterns to the deep corner of the end zone. Does Charlie not realize that every cornerback in the country is expecting the jump-ball fade to Floyd or Rudolph once we get close?

The answer in the Red Zone is to dance with who brung ya. Stay spread, keep Theo Riddick in the game, and run the same plays that have baffled the defense all day. Run Theo off the edge on the stretch play. Or fake the handoff to Theo and hit the tight end on a slant, hook, or crossing pattern. Hit Michael Floyd or Golden Tate on quick outs or maybe (open your mind here) a fade-stop.

Back to my headline, keep Theo Riddick in the game in the Red Zone, and use him as the primary runner and tight end Mike Ragone (Kyle Rudolph is injured) as the primary receiver in the middle of the end zone, with Jimmy firing the ball to him on a rope, rather than floating balls to the corner.

4. Charlie Weis and Dave Wannstache started coaching their alma maters at the same time. They have both coached on crutches. They both seem to recruit fairly well. They are both considered disappointing in their respective 5 year campaigns. After reviewing their total body of work, who would you rather have coaching ND in 2010? Explain.

Weis Whips Wanny

Look, I like Charlie. I want him to flip the switch and start winning key games and eventually get his own statue outside the stadium. He's a Notre Dame guy. Can someone remind me how many Super Bowl rings Wanny has? Give me Charlie over the 'stache any day.

5. Prediction time. How does this game play out. Please include a score, an offensive MVP, a defensive MVP, and a sleeper.

Weis Not Done Fighting, Irish Out-Punch Panthers

It's the intangibles that make college football great. These two teams are very evenly matched on paper. Notre Dame travels to Pittsburgh after a humbling and dispiriting loss at home, with their head coach under intense fire from all sides. This team could arrive in Pittsburgh resigned to the fact that they aren't going to a BCS Bowl game, that their coach is going to get fired, that Jimmy is going to the NFL, and that they are still a long way from the promised land. That team could get crushed by Pitt. Or the team could show up in Pittsburgh truly pissed off, determined to redeem themselves and their coaches, and play the game of their lives. Say what you like about the team this year, but there has been no quit in them. I expect them to roll into the 'Burgh with a serious chip on their shoulders and looking for someone to hurt.

The Panthers, in the mean time, have been feasting on baby seals and have moved up to #8 in the AP Poll and #12 in the BCS Standings. They beat Navy 27-14 back in September, and are coming off an easy win over Syracuse. On one level I have no doubt that the Panthers see the Notre Dame game as very important and understand they should be really fired up to play the Irish. But I wonder if, unconsciously, the Panthers might make the mistake of taking this game too lightly. They beat us at our place a year ago. They are highly ranked, while ND is unranked after losing to Navy. Ahead of Pittsburgh on the schedule are West Virginia and Cincinnati. Two tough games standing between them and an 11-1 season. The Panthers could come in a little too full of themselves.

It's a shoot-out. Bet the "over". Notre Dame beats a ranked opponent for the first time since 2006, 45-30. Jimmy Clausen is the offensive MVP, with another 400-yard game that puts him right back into the thick of the Heisman race. Kyle McCarthy is defensive MVP, although in reality there probably shouldn't be a defensive MVP. Mike Ragone is the sleeper with a big game in relief of Kyle Rudolph.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Three Envelopes

When Notre Dame Head Football Coach Charlie Weis showed up for his first day on his new job under the Golden Dome, there was a short letter waiting for him in the middle of his desk. It was from Charlie's predecessor, Ty Willingham. The letter read as follows:

Dear Coach Weis,

Congratulations on being named as Notre Dame's football coach. It is truly an honor and a privilege to represent this University and coach these outstanding young men. You have a wealth of experience that has prepared you for the challenges you will face, but I suspect that you may not understand the truly daunting nature of the task before you.

As Notre Dame football coach you will be famous. Most of the time you will be celebrated and praised. But there will also be dark days when your future at Notre Dame is in serious doubt. To help you through those inevitable times of trouble, I have prepared for you three envelopes. They are in the bottom drawer of this desk. When you and your program are under intense criticism and you need a little help righting the ship, you should open one of the envelopes.

Congratulations once again on your new position, and the best of luck to you and the Fighting Irish.

Yours in Notre Dame,

Ty Willingham

Coach Weis though it was awfully nice of Coach Willingham to leave him such a nice note, but he wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. He opened the bottom drawer of the desk and, sure enough, there were three sealed envelopes in the drawer, each of them bearing a number, 1 through 3. Charlie shrugged, dropped the note from Ty into the drawer with the envelopes, closed the drawer, and promptly went about salvaging the Notre Dame football program.

In 2005 and 2006, led by quarterback Brady Quinn, the Fighting Irish went 19-4 in regular season games, and appeared in two BCS Bowl games (losing both). By and large the Notre Dame alumni and fans were very happy with Coach Weis and the direction of the football program. Athletic Director Kevin White was looking pretty smart for having lured Coach Weis back to Notre Dame and locking him into a long term contract.

But in the 2007 season things really went sideways for Coach Weis and the Fighting Irish. Without Brady Quinn at quarterback, and having to play a lot of very young, inexperienced players, Notre Dame won only three games, getting blown out in several contests and losing to Navy for the first time since 1963. The alumni and fans were upset. Kevin White was taking heat for having prematurely granted a long contract extension to Charlie. Shortly after the season ended, Coach Weis was preparing for his annual program review meeting with the Athletic Director when he remembered the note from Coach Willingham and the three envelopes.

Mindful of the fact that a three-win campaign was the worst Notre Dame season since Hugh Devore's 1963 squad, Charlie Reached for Envelope #1, and he opened it. Inside was an index card that said only: "Blame the previous head coach."

Charlie went to his meeting with Kevin White, and he explained in great detail how Coach Willingham's failures in recruiting had left Notre Dame with huge holes in the roster, and that it was going to take some time to overcome such a talent deficiency. The Athletic Director saw Charlie's point, and wished him luck in 2008.

The 2008 Fighting Irish squad was much better than the 2007 team. An early whooping of the Michigan Wolverines seemed to bode well for Irish fortunes. But as the season played out the team suffered several embarrassing come-from-ahead losses culminating in a humiliating defeat at the hands of an awful Syracuse squad in Notre Dame Stadium followed by yet another drubbing at the hands of the hated USC Trojans. Notre Dame was Bowl eligible, but just barely. Committed recruits were rumored to be nervous about the future of Coach Weis and the direction of the program, whispers about Charlie's suitability to be a head coach were now replaced by loud calls for his head. As Coach Weis was preparing his team to play their Bowl Game in Hawaii, he too was worried about the recruiting class and his own future. Notre Dame had a new Athletic Director, Jack Swarbrick, and it wasn't at all clear that Swarbrick wanted to hitch his legacy as A.D. to Charlie's wagon.

Charlie opened the bottom drawer of his desk and took out Envelope #2. The card inside said simply: "Blame your staff."

Coach Weis met with the new A.D. and explained that he was going to fix the team's problems by shuffling his coaching staff. He was going to reclaim play-calling duties from his departing offensive coordinator. He elevated Jon Tenuta to defensive coordinator over Corwin Brown. He brought in new coaches for the offensive line, the defensive line, and the running backs. Jack Swarbrick wasn't completely convinced, but he gave Charlie a public vote of confidence that kept the recruits on board through signing day. The big win in the Hawaii Bowl, breaking the embarrassing bowl losing streak, had everyone feeling better about Notre Dame football.

In 2009 everyone was expecting Notre Dame to have a BIG year. Coach Weis' recruits were now all grown up, and the schedule looked very favorable. The team looked improved, but not dominant. Last second losses to Michigan and USC, combined with last minute wins over Michigan State, Washington, Purdue, and Boston College left Irish fans feeling very uncomfortable. After eight games, at 6-2, the team was within a whisker of being 8-0. But they were also arguably within a whisker of being 2-6. The quarterback and the offense was having a Heisman-caliber year. But the defense appeared all too often to be playing the season on roller skates. Nobody was sure if the team was really getting better, or if the close wins were just a mirage.

Then came the annual game versus Navy, this year played in Notre Dame Stadium. Despite a 450-yard passing day from quarterback Jimmy Clausen in the midst of a furious comeback attempt, Notre Dame lost to Navy 23-21 due to turnovers, poor Red Zone play-calling, and atrocious defense against the triple option. The home crowd in Rock's House was disgusted. Boos rained down from the student section in the northwest corner of the stadium. Parseghian, Devine, Faust, Holtz, Davie, Willingham. None of them had ever lost a single game to Navy. Yet Charlie Weis had managed to lose two home games in a row to the Midshipmen. The Charlie Weis bandwagon had suddenly become a very lonely place. Speculation had begun to swirl about who the next Notre Dame coach would be.

Charlie Weis remained defiant in his post-game press conference. But when he returned to his office, he opened the bottom drawer of his desk, and took out Envelope #3. He hesitated to open it for a moment, but finally tore it open. The card inside fell onto his desk. It said simply: "Prepare three envelopes ..."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

You Are What Your Record Says You Are, Charlie.

After the Fighting Irish suffered their humiliating loss to Syracuse last November, I wrote that I was done defending Charlie Weis. My conclusion to that post was:

If it was my call, I'd give him another year, provided he could present a serious plan for addressing the team's glaring deficiencies (i.e., at the very least getting a new offensive line coach). After all, as ugly as it is, this team really is close to being 9-2 right now.

If Swarbrick decides to keep Weis I'll support him, if Charlie is let go I'd be okay with that too. However it goes, the Irish are my team, Notre Dame is my University, and I'll be sending in my Sorin Society donation at Christmas time.

But I'm done defending Charlie Weis. How can you defend the indefensible?
The Irish are my team. Notre Dame is my University. And I'll always support and cheer for my alma mater. But a year after the Syracuse disaster and one day after the second consecutive home loss to the Midshipmen of the U.S. Naval Aademy, I have to say that if it was my call I'd give another coach a chance to lead Notre Dame's football program.

That was not easy for me to type, because unlike a lot of folks, I really like Charlie Weis. I find him a sympathetic figure on a personal level, and I think he is largely misunderstood. Charlie is a real Notre Dame guy who understands the importance of bringing in athletes of real character who are committed to getting their Notre Dame degrees. He is an excellent recruiter. I hope that the next Head Football Coach at Notre Dame does as well as Coach Weis in these important areas.

Charlie is fond of quoting his coaching mentor, Bill Parcells. One of Coach Parcells' most well known maxims is that "you are what your record says you are." With three regular season games to play in the 2009 season, Charlie Weis is a mediocre head coach. Through 59 games Charlie has 35 wins against 24 losses, for a 0.593 winning percentage. Just under 60% after almost five years.

He is 0-5 against USC.
He is 2-3 against Michigan
He is 1-2 against Boston College
He is 2-3 against Michigan State
He is 3-2 against Navy

But he has owned Stanford (4-0) and Purdue (4-1).

Under Charlie the Irish have played ranked opponents 15 times, and have gone 4-11 in those games. The last win over a ranked opponent was a 41-17 home win over #17 Penn State on September 9, 2006, when ND was ranked #4. Since then the Irish have lost NINE straight games to ranked teams. Even against unranked teams, Charlie is only winning at a 70% clip (31-13).

Navy is not a bad football team. They very nearly beat Ohio State in Columbus earlier this season. Navy is a good football team.

But Notre Dame does not aspire to be competitive against good football teams. Notre Dame aspires, ultimately, to be great. Being a great football team means comfortably and consistently beating good football teams. It means being competitive with and winning your share of games against elite teams. Under Coach Weis the Irish have never beaten an elite football team. Never. In 2009 his team has struggled mightily to win games against teams that would have to be considered "average". Last minute wins over Washington, Purdue, and Michigan State are exciting and show some character, but they are not enough. Games against teams of that caliber should be boring workman-like wins, not nail-biters. They should be mere tune-ups to get the team ready to beat USC or win a BCS bowl game. This season Notre Dame has only beaten two teams convincingly (Nevada and Washington State), and those teams are truly among the weakest in the nation.

Is it fair that a decision to fire a coach should come down to a missed field goal that should have been an automatic 3 points? Or two missed field goals? Or a fumble at midfield on the opening drive? Or a fumble at the 1-yard line as the team is about to score? Or a freak pass that bounces off the back of a receiver and is intercepted?

Is it fair that Coach Weis should lose his job when, arguably, it was really the defense that cost Notre Dame the game?

One could flip the questions around. Suppose the freshman kicker makes a couple of kicks and the Irish beat Navy by a point or by a touchdown. Does Notre Dame really want to be led by a head coach that is barely able to eke out close wins against Navy at home?

Not any more. It is clear to me that Charlie is an excellent quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. But it is equally clear that his teams too frequently show up on game day unprepared to play. Usually it's a question of emotions and intensity. Sometimes (like Saturday) it is a matter of game plan and schematics. Against Navy our defensive coaches got worked by the Navy coaches. They absolutely schooled us. Ultimately, the head coach has to take responsibility for failures on both sides of the ball. Charlie has had five years to put a credible defensive staff together. To his credit he has been willing to replace the weak links on his staff when it was obvious that it needed to be done. But waiting until the need for a new direction is obvious to a fan watching from Orange County is a failure to recognize problems quickly enough. The defensive staff belongs to him, and the five years of mediocrity on defense belongs to him too. Being an offensive genius is not enough for a head coach. A head coach has to be accountable for what happens on both sides of the ball.

As for the offensive genius, what the heck is going on in the Red Zone? Against Navy the Irish scored just twice in six Red Zone chances, after moving up and down the field at will against the middies. Why is the offense stalling out inside the five yard line?

The bottom line is, despite some very impressive offensive production from Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, and Michael Floyd, this team continues to perform well below the level expected of the Fighting Irish.

I suppose Charlie might still save his job. There are two ranked opponents left on the schedule (Pitt and Stanford), and the team knows by now that the head coach's job is on the line. They might surprise us all and dominate those two teams and U-Conn, ending the regular season at 9-3. Despite everything, it'd be tough to fire a guy who has stocked the roster with talent and gone 9-3.

Assuming that doesn't happen, I would expect Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick to drop the hammer right after the Stanford game. Announce that a change will be made, ask Coach Weis to remain through the bowl game, and name the replacement coach quickly so that the new guy and his staff can begin working as quickly as possible to keep the committed recruits on board while finishing up a decent recruiting class. If Charlie goes, I fully expect that we'll lose Jimmy Clausen to the NFL. He'll likely be in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and still might win the darn thing. He's rated very high by the scouts and would likely go very high in the NFL Draft. As fun as it would be to stick around and throw the ball to Golden Tate and Michael Floyd for another year, the fact is that the offensive line will have to be largely re-tooled for next season and everyone would have to learn a new offensive system - one that might not be as pass-happy as the Weis system.

As for Coach Weis' successor, I am sure Jack Swarbrick has some excellent candidates in mind. The new guy will have to be PROVEN head coach at the pro level or the Div-1A college level. Think Ara Parseghian, Frank Leahy, or Lou Holtz. Not Gerry Faust, Boob Davie, or Charlie Weis.

He must be a person who can be relied upon to uphold the high standards of the University of Notre Dame both on and off the field. He has to be a person of integrity who will be committed to bringing in players of character who are willing and able to perform in the classroom and earn their degrees. I don't think Urban Liar or Nick Satan meet fit description. I would rather that Notre Dame football become a Division II program with integrity than see it sell its soul by bringing in a coach of that ilk. Yes, I am dead serious. One of the things that makes me most proud to be a Domer is that I know that the kids we bring to South Bend are going to class and that they will leave Notre Dame after four years with a world class education and a meaningful degree.

I'll post later about who the next head coach should be. I haven't done my background research yet. But I'll admit that I've always like Jon Gruden.

I'll reiterate that I like Charlie Weis. He "gets" Notre Dame and has always acted with dignity and class in representing the University. I wish it had worked out better. But you are what your record says you are, and his record screams "mediocre."

Saturday, October 31, 2009

IBG: "You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas"

I must say as to what I have seen of Texas, it is the garden spot of the world. The best land & best prospects for health I ever saw is here, and I do believe it is a fortune to any man to come here. There is a world of country to settle.
(David Crockett, in a letter to his children, 9 January 1836)

This week's Irish Blogger Gathering is being hosted by the estimable Whiskey over at One Foot Down. Whiskey has always been a gracious supporter of the OC Domer blog, and he does great work over there. Once you're done here, head over to OFD to read all of this week's IBG responses, and add his blog to your regular Irish football reading.

1. The 7-4-1 scheduling model has been the subject of much heated debate amongst Irish fans since it was first announced back in 2006. This week the Fighting Irish will play the first neutral site “barnstorming game” in said model so now is as good of a time as any to weigh in on the controversial subject. What do you think about a) 7-4-1 as a whole, b) the neutral site/ barnstorming game in general and c) specifically playing Washington State in San Antonio?

As a whole, I support the 7-4-1 as a concept, IF it is implemented with games that are compelling. The Fighting Irish have a "barnstorming" tradition that goes back to the Rockne era, but that barnstorming was more in the nature of "we'll play any team, any time, anywhere" mantra in an effort to find good opponents and build the reputation of the program, much as Bobby Bowden did with Florida State in his early years, or the way Fresno State seeks top-caliber opponents today. Notre Dame played games at Soldier Field and Yankee Stadium out of necessity: as the Fighting Irish gained notoriety, such venues were the only places big enough to hold the crowds expected for big games against, for example, Army. Today, Notre Dame Stadium holds 80,000 fans so there is no longer a need to find a bigger stadium for big games. However building a credible schedule as an independent program when most quality BCS schools are looking only for cupcakes to round out their out-of-conference schedules can be a challenge. The "neutral site" game can be a useful tool for enticing a team to play Notre Dame when the potential opponent doesn't want to travel too far from home or play a true "away" game in Notre Dame Stadium, or if a home-and-home arrangement is impractical because the prospective opponent's home stadium isn't big enough to accommodate the crowds that follow the Irish even on the road. But I don't like the idea of becoming wedded to the 7-4-1 framework at all costs.

Personally, I think this particular game is poorly conceived. Playing a neutral site game in Texas against a regional opponent (Texas A&M? Texas Tech? Baylor? Houston? LSU?) makes some sense. If the parties want to play each other, but don't want to go the home-and-home route, a neutral site game works. The problem is that Notre Dame wants the "neutral" site game to be a "home" game for tickets, revenue, and television purposes. Few self-respecting "quality" opponents are going to sign up for a "neutral" site game that is so lopsided financially. And so we get Washington State. In San Antonio. Huh? If the opponent is going to be Washington State, play it somewhere near the Northwest. Put it in Seattle, or Portland, or, even better, put it in Vancouver, British Columbia. But there is absolutely nothing compelling or even logical about Note Dame versus the Cougars in San Antonio, Texas. There is no hook. The Alamo Dome is a marginal facility for a big-time college football game, and the Riverwalk is waaaayyy overrated. The only redeeming qualities of the game from my perspective are (1) to grow the Notre Dame brand into Texas and hopefully improve our ability to recruit the region, and (2) to give Notre Dame alumni and fans a chance to see the Fighting Irish play in their area.

The second game of the new 7-4-1 model will be Notre Dame versus Army in the new Yankee Stadium. That is a very enticing match-up. The opponent is no powerhouse these days, but the game is in Army's back yard and makes sense geographically, and of course it has historical context hearkening back to the real barnstorming days of Notre Dame versus Army in the old Yankee Stadium. And of course added to those reasons are the bonus of a recruiting bump in New York/New Jersey and a great game for Irish fans in New York to see.

2. I have personally had this game circled on the schedule for quite some time as the one “sure thing.” After the last few games I have really been looking forward to a drama free victory. As luck would have it I started looking at the Cougars more closely this morning and it appears that freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel went 28 of 42 for 354 yards and 2 TD’s in a losing effort against Cal over the weekend. With the Irish secondary still struggling to get it together what are the chances that yet another freshman signal caller makes this one way more interesting than it should be on Saturday night in San Antonio?

The sports books have the Irish favored to beat the Cougars by between 27 and 30 points. But USC only beat the Cougars by 21 points in the Los Angeles Coliseum (27-6). USC was beating WSU 20-0 after the 1st quarter of that game, but WSU outscored the Trojans 7-6 over the final three periods. Cougar QB Jeff Tuel got his first extended action against USC, and he played admirably. The point is, Washington State did not quit when they had every chance to on the road against USC. They won't quit against the Irish, and Notre Dame better not mail it in or the Cougars could bite us in the backside. Think of the Cougars as a less-talented version of Navy. I think the Irish will win the game comfortably, but I wouldn't bet on a final margin of victory anywhere of 30 points. So yes, it will probably be more "interesting" than it should be, but I don't think the game will be in any sort of doubt late.

3. Assuming that the Fighting Irish are able to take care of business and put this one away early what non-starters would you most like to see get some reps this week? Why?
  • QB Dayne Crist. We need to continue his development, and I want to see if he really is good enough to be "the guy" after Jimmy.
  • RB Jonas Gray. We need to figure out who the #1 RB is going to be after #5 is gone.
  • Safety Ray Herring. An emotional favorite of Notre Dame fans since his commitment out of Melbourne, Florida, I'd just like to see him get some PT. Plus, our safeties haven't been setting the world on fire in pass coverage, and maybe Ray can be part of the solution.
  • RB Theo Riddick. We need to find a RB who can be a legit big play threat. Let's see if Theo can be that guy.
  • WR Deion Walker. Always looking for the next big thing. Let's see if the 6' 2" sophomore can help fill the void caused by #3's absence.
  • RB Cierre Wood. It looks like there's a red shirt on Cierre, but he came to ND very highly touted, and I want to see if he can score from long distance.
  • Any senior player in the program who has worked his ass off for four years and who hasn't seen the field. I should actually put these guys at the top of this list.
4. With the game being played on Halloween Night chances are that if you are not traveling to San Antonio you most likely have a scheduling conflict. Whether you are supposed to be at a party dressed as Fat Elvis, taking your kids trick-or-treating or just dealing with your doorbell ringing nonstop how do you plan to watch the game? If you are going what are you most looking forward to?

I'll be monitoring the action from right here at OC Domer HQ. I will be delegating candy distribution duties to my lovely and talented bride, and my handsome and witty son. Thanks guys! Love you!

5. Trick or Treat? Predictions please.

As mentioned above, the Irish are favored by 30 points. The over/under for the game is at about 60 points. A score of Notre Dame 45, Washington State 15 would make the bookmakers look pretty smart. Let's put it a Irish 44 (5 TDs and 3 FGs) and Wazoo 20 (2 TDs and 2 FGs). That feels about right to me.

Friday, October 23, 2009

IBG: Nasty, Brutish and Short Edition

The Irish Blogger Gathering is hosted by the Brawling Hibernian. Once you're done here you can head over there to read all the other IBG entries for BC week. Last week's loss to USC left me pretty wiped out, and so I'm way late with my IBG post for the week. Because I am so late with it, the post will be nasty, brutish and short. Really the primary purpose of writing it is to check it off my blogging "to do" list so that I don't beat myself up over letting down the group. It's not about you, it's about me.

1. Coming off a very difficult loss to a rival that has now beaten them eight straight times, Notre Dame faces another that's beaten them six straight. Can Notre Dame end the losing streak against BC or will the combined weight of the USC loss and recent history against the Eagles be too much to overcome? Explain.

Personally, I have been very slow to put the emotional USC game behind me and re-focus on Boston College. And that's the problem with the B.C. game in a nutshell, isn't it? We look at B.C. as a "nice" game to play since they are the "other" big Catholic football school. But for whatever reason the Irish never seem to take the game against the Eagles very seriously. I don't know why, but I suspect it just boils down to the fact that you can't emotionally have a big "rivalry" game every week. You get fired up for Michigan and USC and even Michigan State. In the midst of a long tough slog with no real break in the action, Boston College kind of creeps up on you as just the next game on the schedule.

B.C., on the other hand, looks at the Notre Dame game as one of their BIG rivalry games. For the Eagles, beating the Irish brings a sense of validation born of the inferiority complex that comes from being, in the eyes of most, the "other" big Catholic football school.

Which means that, psychologically, Boston College has shown up to these games more ready to play than Notre Dame has most years. Add in to the mix a very draining loss to USC last week, and the Notre Dame football team is a prime candidate for a letdown loss to B.C. To stave it off, the Irish need to be a lot more resilient than I have been since last Saturday. Hopefully they have been able to shake off the Trojans and re-focus on the Eagles during practice.

I think the Irish will get it done tomorrow. (Okay, who here is truly surprised that I like ND in this game? Seriously.) It's a real break that we get this game at home, where the team can draw some energy from the home crowd and can actually build on the positive vibes of the success they had against USC last week even though they didn't get the win.

But mostly, I think we're a better team. Notre Dame is ranked at #17 in Jeff Sagarin's computer rankings this week, going 4-2 against the 13th toughest schedule in Division I. Boston College is ranked #47, with a 5-2 record against the 82nd toughest schedule. Wins against Northeastern, Kent State, and NC State don't impress me.

2. Not unlike Notre Dame's defense, BC's offense has been pretty erratic this season. While in their most recent win, they rolled up 480 total yards and scored 52 points; in their two losses, they've averaged 109 yards and 11 points. Which BC offense and which ND defense show up on Saturday? Why?

This game has the makings of Notre Dame's first comfortable win since the Nevada game. Boston College has two narrow wins over Florida State (28-21) and Wake Forest (27-24). Those schools are ranked #44 and #68 by Jeff Sagarin. Clemson, which hammered the Eagles 25-7 is ranked by Sagarin at #41, which is 23 spots below the Irish. NC State, who surrendered the aforementioned 480 yards and 52 points to BC, is ranked at #91.

The ND defense needs to improve. They really, really need to improve. They will give BC some success. But ultimately the Eagles will look more like the team that played Clemson than the team that played NC State.

3. Does anyone seem primed to have a Robby Parris-like breakout moment against the Eagles? If so, who is it and why?

Mike Ragone. We have been waiting for Coach Weis to get the multiple tight ends sets working in the offense. BC largely frustrated Kyle Rudolph (and Clausen) last year and can be expected to give #9 a lot of attention. Robby Parris is "full go" for the game (which amazes me), but I expect him to be a step slow against BC. We'll need another threat in the passing game to step up, and Mike Ragone is overdue.

4. It's been an and up-and-down year for Boston sports. After a strong start, the Red Sox folded in the second half of the year. The Patriots, meanwhile, seem to be on the upswing after a 59-0 dismantling of Tennessee. For their part, Boston College has seemed as though their season could go either way. Ultimately, will the Eagles be the Sox or the Pats?

Honestly, who cares about Boston Sports? Boston College is in something of a rebuilding year. If they do as well as the Red Sox (a wild card team who were SWEPT by the Angels in the playoffs) they will be very happy.

5. While most Irish fans refer to BC as "Fredo", tell me to which other cinematic character you would compare the Eagles.

Why mess with a good thing? The sniveling, weak, younger brother of the Godfather saga is a truly inspired cinematic comparison. To me, the Eagles are typecast as Fredo, and I can't even envision them playing another role.

Conclusion: Enough already. Just go out there and put the Eagles in their place. Get your cleats on their necks and don't let them up. No need for last-minute heroics this week. Is anybody up for a little domination?

USC Post Script

A week ago, on the eve of their much-anticipated game against USC, I posted here an open letter to the Notre Dame football team. In that post I urged the Fighting Irish to -

Play hard. Run like your hair is on fire. Hit like a freight train. If you get hit hard, hit back twice as hard. Finish your blocks. Take care of the football. Don't commit a dumb penalty. Play every play with the urgency of a last-minute drive. Wrap 'em up on your tackles. Play with all the heart we know you have.
It was my hope that if they did these things, if they gave it everything they had on every play, they would beat the Trojans.

And they almost did.

As it turned out, despite giving it their all, the Irish last Saturday ran out of time 4 yards short of a touchdown that, depending upon whether they chose to attempt a 1 or a 2-point conversion, would have tied or even possibly won the game. To get to that final play Notre Dame had rallied from a 20-point deficit earlier in the 4th quarter that left many Irish fans, including this one, worried that the game was teetering on the verge of another lopsided finish.

I share the tremendous disappointment of a missed opportunity to beat USC, and of yet another Trojan victory that extends their win streak over ND to 8.

Over the past few seasons USC's dominance over Notre Dame and their blowout wins in both Los Angeles and South Bend left me frustrated and embarrassed and, frankly, angry that the Irish were not even remotely competitive against the Trojans.

This week I have been emotionally drained, but I have not had a single moment of frustration, embarrassment, or anger. This week, I have have been able to hold my head high and I have been especially proud to be a Notre Dame alumnus. Because last Saturday the Fighting Irish played exactly how I hoped they would. They played hard, they fought and they scraped, they took care of the ball and didn't commit dumb penalties. They played with heart and with character and they surprised the college football world by going toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the nation for 60 minutes and coming within a whisker of pulling an upset that would have been one for the ages.

Great game guys. Thanks for being such outstanding representatives of Notre Dame.

Now go beat B.C.!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dear Fighting Irish

An Open Letter to the Notre Dame Football Team

Dear Fighting Irish,

Tomorrow's a big day. It's a big day for you, and a big day for tens of thousands of Notre Dame alumni and for the millions of subway alumni who embrace Our Lady's University and all she stands for. There has been an intensity and a buzz on campus all week that is felt all the way out here in Southern California. Your fans and supporters genuinely believe that this is the year the Fighting Irish can restore the proper balance to the college football universe by beating USC. We BELIEVE you can do it.

I was going to write to encourage you to think about all the history of Notre Dame football, and to go out there tomorrow and win the game for Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, and Holtz. To win for the former players that tried their best to "Play Like a Champion" when they wore that uniform and ran out through the tunnel and into Notre Dame Stadium. To win for the alumni, young and old, who will be standing in the middle of their living rooms and cheering you on because they can't sit down during a Notre Dame football game even when it's on T.V.

But I'm not going to encourage you to beat USC for me, or for thousands of other alumni and fans and players you have never met and will probably never meet. It would be both foolish and selfish to expect you to play for all of us.

You need to play tomorrow for YOU. The mighty Trojans of Southern California are rolling into Notre Dame Stadium tomorrow afternoon and they want to show the world, again, that they are better than you. Look around your locker room. No player on your team has EVER won a game against USC. Every Notre Dame - USC game gets a tremendous amount of national and even international attention and every game is broadcast on national television so that everyone who cares at all about college football can watch the game. The senior class that graduated last Spring never beat USC, nor did the seniors that graduated the year before that, or the year before that. If Notre Dame does not win tomorrow, then this year's seniors will be added to that group of players who never beat Southern Cal.

Why does it matter? It matters because the results of the USC game stick with you for the rest of your life like a giant tattoo on your face. The USC - Notre Dame rivalry is one of the biggest in all of sport, and for the rest of your life after you leave Notre Dame you will be reminded about how you played against the Trojans. In your social life, in your professional life, everywhere you go it will be with you. It can be with you in a good way, or in a bad way - but it will be with you. You'll bump into Notre Dame alumni and fans. You'll meet alumni of other college football powers. You'll be introduced to, and maybe even work with, former players and coaches from USC. And the question will always be there.

How'd you guys do against USC when you played at Notre Dame?

You chose Notre Dame perhaps for many reasons. Hopefully you have found there what you sought. But one of the things you came to Notre Dame for was the chance to prove that you have the talent and the determination to be the best. Now is your chance. For the past several years the USC game has, unfortunately, shown that the Notre Dame football team was not the best, was not among the best, and was a long way from being the best. Tomorrow is your chance to prove that things at Notre Dame have changed. That we do have great players with the talent and the drive and the heart to be among the best. You have the chance to go out into the stadium tomorrow and make that statement, and if you meet the challenge and beat the Trojans, you will have the privilege of carrying that victory with you for the rest of your life. And you will also have the distinction of being the team that restored Notre Dame to it's rightful place among the college football elite.

Play for that. And play for your fellow students in the Northwest corner of the stadium who will also be asked, for the rest of their lives after they leave Notre Dame, "How'd you guys do against USC when you were there?" You guys are all in this together.

Play hard. Run like your hair is on fire. Hit like a freight train. If you get hit hard, hit back twice as hard. Finish your blocks. Take care of the football. Don't commit a dumb penalty. Play every play with the urgency of a last-minute drive. Wrap 'em up on your tackles. Play with all the heart we know you have.

And Beat the Trojans!

Believe me, no one will mind if you win tomorrow for you, instead of for us. We'll still be just as proud to be sons and daughters of Notre Dame, and just as happy that Notre Dame football is back.

Go Irish!


OC Domer

Monday, October 12, 2009

Irish Blogger Gathering: The Quest for a Signature Win

Welcome to the USC-week edition of the Irish Blogger Gathering, hosted right here at OC Domer in a nod to the fact that I have to live my life surrounded by Trojan alumni & fans. Having grown up in California, and living in So Cal for the past 16 years, the USC game annually is the "Big One" at OC Domer HQ. Win this game, and you get a full year of smack-talk satisfaction out of it. Lose this game and you're in for a full year of crap at every cocktail party and other social function you attend for 12 long months. It's funny how many more USC fans you meet when they're winning than when they're losing.

Added to the usual stakes surrounding a USC-ND game this year is the Quest for the Signature Win. Charlie Weis is in his fifth season as Notre Dame's head football coach. He rolled up a lot of wins in 2005 and 2006, but lost the Bowl game following each season. 2007 & 2008 were unequivocal disasters with the exception of the Hawaii Bowl win last Christmas Eve. Can you name Coach Weis' biggest win to date? Neither could I, so I looked it up. The candidates for "signature win" are:

  • Unranked ND beats #23 Pittsburgh, 42-21. (2005)
  • #20 ND beats #3 Michigan, 17-10. (2005)
  • #13 ND beats #22 Purdue, 49-28. (2005)
  • #4 ND beats #19 Penn State, 41-17. (2006)
Those are Coach Weis' only wins over ranked opponents, and the last one was more than three full years ago (September 9, 2006 over the Nittany Lions). It's nice to win games over weaker teams (which itself has been pretty uncertain for the last three years), but WE ARE ND! We should be competing with and beating highly ranked opponents our fair share of the time. And it needs to start now.

This week's IBG Questions:

1. The weather forecast for Saturday's game (as of this writing) has the high temperature in the mid 40's with some chance of rain (or snow?). What weather would give Notre Dame the best chance to beat USC? Why?

Think snow. Better yet, think sleet and wind chill. Snow can be beautiful, and it might be novel enough that the Trojans find it amusing to play in. But cold, near-frozen rain in a driving wind would be ideal playing conditions. USC's players, as talented as they are, traditionally have not adapted well to poor weather in South Bend. Frankly, if it gets cold enough, you quickly get the sense that they'd just as soon be anywhere else but playing football in Notre Dame stadium. Our guys don't really like it either, but they're more used to it and can gut it out better. The worse the weather is on Saturday, the more I like our chances.

2. Irresistable Force or Immovable Object? Notre Dame's offense is ranked #10 in yards (470 per game) and #27 in points (32.6 per game). USC's defense is ranked #6 in yards allowed (238.6 per game) and #4 in scoring allowed (just 8.6 points per game). In 2008 Notre Dame had just 91 total yards against USC. Will the Notre Dame offense be able to move the ball on Saturday? If so, how?

To me, this is the key question in the game. USC graduated most of the players off their 2008 defense (you can watch them playing on Sundays now), but the guys they have plugged in this season are playing very well. Notre Dame returns most of the players who were completely bottled up in 2008. What has changed?

Without Michael Floyd in the lineup, Coach Weis has been much more creative this year with how he creates favorable match-ups and tries to get the ball in Golden Tate's hands. Thus, it will be more difficult for the Trojan defense to double Golden and take him out of the game. Also, in contrast to late 2008, Coach Weis has some more weapons in his arsenal. Kyle Rudolph is a real match-up problem, and Coach Weis has been creative in moving him around and in stretching the defense vertically with Rudolph. Mix in a little bit of Robby Parris and Shaq Evans and Jimmy should be able to find an open receiver. The offensive line has matured in both pass protection and run blocking, so I think we'll be able to move the ball some. Last year the Irish had some success running straight at the Trojan defense with James Aldridge, who will be back for this game. Rather than trying to get Armando Allen to the edge (a losing proposition), I'd like to see Robert Hughes and James Aldridge running inside the tackles, with some play action passes mixed in. I think the Irish will be able to move the ball, but I don't think we'll be able to sustain 80-yard drives. In order to score points, we'll need some big plays on defense and special teams to set up scoring opportunities.

3. USC's offense is #22 in yards (430.6 per game) and #53 in scoring (28.8 points per game). Notre Dame's defense is #100 in total defense (403.2 yards per game) and #59 in scoring defense (allowing 23.8 points per game). Will the Notre Dame defense be able to slow down the USC offense? If so, how?

USC's offense is a very balanced attack, averaging just slightly more passing yards per game than rushing yards. I'm hanging my hat on two factors. One is the fact that USC quarterback Matt Barkley is a freshman. I am hoping that at some critical moment in the game a combination of environment, moment, confusing Jon Tenuta defense, and inexperience will coalesce into a major mistake or two by the young QB. I am also hoping that the defensive stat sheet for Notre Dame against Washington is the beginning of a trend. I have been lamenting for a very long time that the leading tacklers in ND's defense are the defensive backs. The safeties have almost always been the leading tacklers, way ahead of any linebacker, and the defensive linemen were statistical ghosts. There was a sharp turnaround in that pattern against UW. Kyle McCarthy was still the leading tackler. But linebacker Manti Te'o was second, and several other members of the front seven stepped up in a big way to dislodge the defensive backs from their normal spots atop the stat sheet. In other words, the defensive front seven finally started making plays against the Huskies. If that continues, it will allow the defensive backs to concentrate on down field coverage and hopefully eliminate big plays in the passing game.

I don't expect the Irish defense to stop USC. They haven't stopped anyone else. But I think they can slow them down enough, and make enough plays, to keep Notre Dame in the game.

4. In 2008, with Michael Floyd unable to play due to injury, Golden Tate had 2 catches against USC for a team-high 15 receiving yards. How do you expect Golden Tate to play against USC this year?

I expect Golden to play much better. As noted above, Charlie is working much harder to find creative ways to get the ball into Tate's hands. It reminds me of the way Lou Holtz made sure that Tim Brown got his touches, or even the way USC always found a way to get Reggie Bush the ball.

However, I don't expect Golden to put up the clown numbers he has for past few weeks. I think he'll have perhaps 120 total yards. But he won't be able to carry the team on his back. In order for the Irish to win, somebody else is going to have to break some big plays. Who will be the hero?

5. Jimmy Clausen has started to get some Heisman buzz. In your opinion, which Notre Dame player is the most deserving of Heisman attention, Jimmy or Golden Tate? Why?

Jimmy is playing well. But in Floyd's absence Golden Tate has been ridiculous. His highlight reel is absolutely sick. If he continues to play the rest of the season the way he has the past few weeks, I think Golden is more Heisman-worthy than Jimmy. But Jimmy could change my mind on Saturday. In fact, I hope he does.

6. Overrated or Underrated. Notre Dame cracked into the AP Poll at #25 this week. Are they overrated or underrated at #25? Where would you put them in your poll?

The Irish are underrated at #25. I'd put Notre Dame at about #20. As I look at the AP poll I see about 5 teams that in my view should be below the Irish.

7. USC Song Girls: Ambassadors of Collegiate Goodwill or Anachronism from a bygone era of oppressive sexist stereotypes?

I'm gonna have to come down pretty firmly on the side of "Ambassadors of Collegiate Goodwill."

8. Green Jerseys? There's a lot of "green" talk coming from campus this week, and it raises the question of whether the team will be wearing green on Saturday. Do you want to see the green jerseys or not? Why?

Unless the team is begging Coach Weis for the chance to wear the green because they think it will really fire them up, I don't want to see the green jerseys for a while. Lately the green jerseys have not been "lucky" and they certainly haven't been associated with big wins. To me, the wearing O' the green has been a bit of contrived emotion tried by coaches who have run out of ways to motivate the team.

That said, if we're winning at halftime (or even keeping it really close at half time), coming out in green for the second half might be just what the doctor ordered.

9. Name the next number in this sequence: -3, -20, -38, -35, _______. Explain.

The next number in the sequence is +3. There is no way this game doesn't get decided in the final moments. I see a tie game at the end of regulation. USC gets the ball first, but we hold them to a field goal. Notre Dame gets the ball and scores a touchdown, and doesn't need to kick the extra point. Irish win by 3.


The Domer Law Blog IBG Contribution for this week is HERE.

The Brawling Hibernian's post is HERE.

OneFootDown checks in for this week HERE.

Subway Domer is in the house.

And Sarah at Bad Trade goes on the record.

Charlie's Nasties aren't feeling it. Yet.