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.
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.