Sunday, July 29, 2007

Road Trip!

OC Domer and the OC Family are getting ready to go on a road trip. The Domer daughter is getting ready for her junior year of high school, and it's time to start looking at colleges. She has been an excellent student since she was a tot, has been a varsity volleyball player since her freshman year, is an officer (three years running) in student government and volunteers at a local children's hospital. Does anybody know of any colleges that might be interested in this type of student?

Of course, she has a few ideas of her own about where she would like to go to school once she has successfully run the high school gauntlet. Let's call that Plan "A". But Our Lady's University has gotten very, very competitive and you can't reasonably assume that Plan "A" is going to come to fruition. You've got to have some contingency plans. My daughter loves the look and feel of ND, and looks forward to going away to college. So we've been poring over the guides to top colleges looking at other schools that could give the OC Daughter a Notre Dame-esque experience. Some are Ivy League and near-Ivy caliber. Some are just a notch below that.

It just occurred to me this morning that I have had an odd kindred with most of these schools since I was a little Domer wannabe. Do you remember watching college football as a kid (maybe an Oklahoma game), and then getting all the scores from around the country at halftime? When I was really young, ABC would actually have the scores printed out on signs hanging on a wall of the studio and the camera would pan across them as the announcer read them off. Later, they developed the first generation of cheesy on-screen graphics to display the scores. Finally they took the quantum leap to the crawler scrolling the scores along the bottom of the screen while you were still watching your game. And I mean ALL the scores. Slippery Rock. Dartmouth. Virginia Commonwealth. Places that I had never heard of, which, to a nine year old, seemed slightly exotic and mysterious. As far as televised coverage of college football has come (so many channels, so many games, on so many days of the week), I miss the crawl at the bottom of the screen telling me how the Ivy League schools did that day, or how the small colleges in Pennsylvania and upstate New York and New England fared. I think the relentless focus on the Top-25 and the BCS conferences is a mistake.

Well, on this trip I'm taking the family back in time to my exotic and mysterious childhood. We'll see and take the tours of Princeton, Lehigh, Bucknell, Cornell and Boston College. Perhaps we'll take a quick drive by Columbia, NYU and Harvard just because we'll be in the neighborhood and they would be neat to see. I laughed this morning because I remembered it was schools like Princeton, Lehigh, and Bucknell that had their scores flashing across the T.V. screen back when I knew absolutely nothing about them. Fast forward three decades and I'm taking my family to the east coast to play tourist in NYC and Boston, and to finally know those places that once seemed so foreign and unknowable. The Domer Son is looking forward to the trip because many of the schools we're visiting are Top-25 teams - in lacrosse!

We're still praying that Plan "A" comes through for us, but I am looking forward to seeing what Plan "B" might look like, just in case. Wish us luck.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Now you're talking! (Irish to play Sooners)

Hey, wake up! Kevin White did something right! No, really. ESPN reported earlier today that the Fighting Irish will play the Oklahoma Sooners in football during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Now that's barnstorming. I am all fired up about this. As a young kid watching televised games on Saturday mornings and just learning to appreciate football, Oklahoma was one of my favorite teams. (Notre Dame was on Sunday mornings via the highlights show). It seems like they were on T.V. a lot, and I loved their flashy option offense, with the quarterback making the pitch just as he's getting creamed and the tailback streaking down the sideline to the end zone. When I think of classic college football I think of Notre Dame, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Was that so hard, Dr. White? Find a worthy opponent, and schedule a home-and-home. It makes for two great games that fans of both schools will be dying to see, along with the rest of the country. It beats the crap out of playing random lesser schools (WSU, Baylor) at random locations (San Antonio, Dallas) for no good reason ($$$$).

A game against Oklahoma will mean something. OU is a school with a proud history of winning championships and courting scandal. ND and OU have squared off nine times in the past, and the Irish have won eight of those games. The only Sooner victory came in 1956 when Oklahoma was in the middle of what would become an NCAA-record 47 game winning streak. OU was ranked #2 in the country and they beat an unranked Terry Brennan squad 40-0. But the best part? Here was the cover of Sports Illustrated the week leading up to the game:

Yep, the unranked Irish playing #2 OU on a huge winning streak, and the Golden Boy gets the cover. That had to rankle a few Sooners fans. By the way, another unranked Terry Brennan-led Notre Dame squad went into Oklahoma the next year and ended the #2-ranked Sooners' 47-game win streak with a 7-0 victory. How did that taste, OU?

Yes, this is how Notre Dame should schedule. Storied programs, home-and-home, with a little bad blood thrown in to make it interesting. I still hate the 7-4-1, but I have to commend Kevin White for this one. It's Christmas in July.

Domer Domain Dead?

Does anyone know what's going on with Domer Domain? The site has been down for a few days. Did someone over there forget to pay the electric bill? Is this something that's going to be fixed soon? Or is Domer Domain dead?

UPDATE: Sir John writes that Domer Domain is not dead. They are a victim of their own popularity and keep running out of bandwidth. To fix, they are in the middle of switching servers, and hope to be up and running again very soon. Thanks John for the info.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Dog Days of July

July is killing me. Football is still more than a month away. Baseball is in the boring middle part of the schedule. The insufferable NBA & NHL are finally over for another year. As bad as both sports are to watch, at least they give sports fans something to listen to as background noise while they go about their lives. The top sports stories in the news are (1) NFL superstar Michael Vick is a sadistic prick, (2) An NBA referee making about $250k per year was gambling on and apparently influencing the outcome of NBA games, (3) A UCLA assistant football coach has been arrested for suspicion of residential burglary, (4) Matt Leinart either is or isn't a bad father, (5) Hank Aaron's home run record is about about to be broken by one of the biggest jerks to ever play the game, and (6) The drug scandals of the Tour de France make MLB's steroid problems look quaint by comparison.

July sucks. For college football bloggers trying to keep their blogs fresh and interesting, this is a very tough time. How tough? Blue-Gray Sky is the best blog in the blogosphere on Notre Dame football. The guys over there are original, creative, talented, tenacious, meticulous, and fanatical about the Fighting Irish. But July is so bad that the folks at BGS have resorted to posting a series of "what if" articles about key moments in Irish history. What if the Irish had beaten USC in 2005? What if Urban Meyer had landed in South Bend instead of the Southeastern Conference? Don't get me wrong, the articles are very thoughtful, detailed, and well written. But it kind of reminds me of the guys sitting at the bar after a few beers who start talking about high school, and about how different things might have turned out if only Coach had given me a fair chance to be the starting fullback. Or how life would be so much better if only that cute cheerleader had gone with me to the prom instead of that good-for-nothing Matt Leinart. It's a great discussion, especially with the beer flowing, but at the end of the day it doesn't mean a whole lot. You didn't get that scholarship to State U, and Betty has been a pretty good wife to you despite your being a knucklehead.

There a couple of Notre Dame related items worth commenting on:

1. Coach Weis lost his medical malpractice suit against the doctors who nearly killed him. Not a big surprise. This case was always a bit of an oddity. Given his current financial position and his professional position, I never thought the case was about money for Charlie. I always felt it had to be about principle. I have assumed that Coach Weis really felt that his doctors badly botched the surgery and should be accountable for that, or that he was so angry about the pain his coma and near death caused his family that he felt he owed it to them to try to get some satisfaction. In any case, his lawyers have said there will be no appeal, so Coach can now return his focus 100% to football.

2. I wrote earlier about my hope/prediction that Notre Dame would schedule Alabama as our opponent for one of the two "barnstorming" games to be played in Orlando in 2011 and 2014. Apparently Coach Saban and/or Alabama fans are only kidding when they say they want to play Notre Dame, because when I floated the idea to Crimson Tide Nation, they came up with all sorts of reasons why my idea just won't work.

There is no way Alabama is going into a one off game for an appearance fee, even if it is against Notre Dame.

As appealing as the idea of playing ND in one of these open spots is, it is largely unworkable though because we already have out of conference road games in 2011 (at Penn State) and 2014 (at Georgia Tech) and I don't see us playing six road games in a year. I think only playing four road games a year is too little, but playing six is way too much. The only way the 2011 or 2014 dates could even conceivably work would be to do a 50/50 revenue split (which would also include splitting the tickets evenly) since that would leave us with only six home games.

That sounds almost as weak as our own "I don't know where we'd put them." Let's be honest, 'Bama fans, you'll never agree to play the Irish unless it's in your house. You won't come to South Bend. Heck, you won't even come to Orlando. So please tell Coach Saban to stop flapping his gums about scheduling unless he really means what he's saying. Which would be the first time he has ever meant what he says.

3. The Notre Dame recruiting class of 2008 is now "standing room only." The latest verbal commitment brings the total already on board for next February's signing day to 19. Steven Filer is a highly rated linebacker from Chicago. Let's parse that sentence. "Highly rated" means four or five stars, depending upon who you ask. We are starting to take these four and five star guys for granted, but it was not long ago at all that we were recruiting three-star classes with a light sprinkling of four-star players. "Linebacker" is significant because our recruiting on defense has not been up to par in recent years. Filer is yet another top recruit on the defensive side of the ball. The strength of this class on defense is what will set it apart from Coach Weis' first two classes. "Chicago" is the hometown of new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown. Under coaches Davie and Willingham the pipeline of Chicago-area talent into Notre Dame had been almost completely shut off. Coach Weis has committed to re-opening that pipeline, and with the arrival of Coach Brown the Irish are now drinking from a fire hose, figuratively speaking. All signs point to this class of 2008 being one of the most important recruiting classes in Notre Dame history. I have two major questions about the Irish this Fall, and they are both relevant to this recruiting class. First, will Coach Brown be as good a defensive coordinator as he is a recruiter? If Corwin can coach these kids as well as he woos them, we'll be a very good defensive team very soon. Second, are the young kids we are recruiting good enough to get onto the field right away? Notre Dame has some areas of need, and our success over the next couple of years will be determined by how quickly we can get the young kids on the field.

4. Put OC Domer down as a "NO" on the 7-4-1 scheduling plan. Many Domers have been calling for Kevin White's head for several years. A persuasive case can be made that for all the good he has done for the athletic program as a whole, he has botched some key decisions when it comes to football. I have generally given AD White the benefit of the doubt in the past. It has been my feeling that he has done a good job overall of improving the facilities for the athletic department as a whole (including football). I feel that the across-the-board competitiveness of Irish teams in men's and women's sports has been very good under White's tenure, despite the disappointment we have felt with the football program. I do not agree that Dr. White does not get the "Notre Dame Way." Under Kevin White, the academic success of our student-athletes has been excellent, and the integrity with which he and the coaches have run the program has been largely beyond reproach.

Originally, I thought Dr. White's "barnstorming" idea was intriguing. Let's get out into the countryside and play some opponents we don't normally face. It will help recruiting, and it will give our fans in other parts of the country a chance to see the Irish play. Unfortunately, the implementation of the plan has been flawed. The major flaw is that Dr. White is treating these "barnstorming" games as virtual home games. Thus, virtually all gate revenue, concessions, parking, and television revenue would belong to Notre Dame. Which sounds good, until you walk through the ramifications. For "virtual" home games you can only schedule teams who would essentially be willing to play you at home (in South Bend). These teams come in two classes. First are high-caliber programs that Irish fans would love to see a game against. This class of teams will not come to Notre Dame Stadium (or anywhere else) on a one-time basis. They will not risk recording an "L" in a tough road game without some serious "quid" for their "pro quo." The "quid" is almost always a "home-and-home" agreement. But Dr. White can't offer "home-and-home" agreements for these virtual home games because it knocks the 7-4-1 concept all out of whack. You end up a 7-5 home/away schedule every other year, on average, which defeats the whole purpose of the neutral site games. The other "quid" that might work would be a 50-50 revenue split. For the national exposure, the recruiting exposure outside their home markets, the chance to play Notre Dame somewhere other than in South Bend, top teams might well meet us in Orlando and risk an out-of-conference "L" for half the cash. To me, this makes the most sense. We already have the revenue of seven home games locked up, and a marquee neutral site match-up would bring in a lot of money even at a 50% share. Add to that the benefit of playing top opponents at neutral sites and you have a winner. Sadly, AD White wants his cake and he wants to eat it too. He wants all the neutral site revenue for the Irish. This approach effectively rules out any chance of playing high-caliber opponents.

Which leaves the Irish with the second class of teams - those that would be willing to come to South Bend on a one-time basis for a decent check. This option is unacceptable.

If I am lucky, I get to one Notre Dame football game per year. When I get to see the Irish play, it is special for me, special for my family. Usually I see ND vs. USC in the Coliseum. Sometimes it's against Stanford on "the farm." If the Irish play in the Fiesta Bowl or other nearby bowl game, I try to get to that. Every once in a while I get back to Notre Dame's campus for a home game. Here's my philosophy on going to a Notre Dame football game: If it's a great game against a traditional power, I would gladly go anywhere to watch it. If it's a game a against a lesser opponent but at a neat venue (like a cool college campus or historical stadium), I will go to enjoy the overall experience of visiting another school. If it's a home game, I will gladly go back to South Bend to see the campus again despite a weak opponent or bad weather. But if we're playing a lackluster opponent in Orlando or San Antonio I'm not spending a nickel to see that game. I will sit at home and watch the game in high-definition on my new 60" widescreen television. Why in the world would I travel to San Antonio to watch ND play Washington State? I've been to San Antonio. It's overrated. Way overrated. If I'm going to watch ND play WSU, I want to go to Pullman, Washington and see another Pac-10 campus that I haven't visited yet. I'm willing to watch the Irish play some of these lesser opponents, if there is a good reason to go.

Give me a reason to go to the games: (1) great match-up, (2) chance to see Notre Dame campus again, (3) fun road trip to another school. The way Dr. White is putting these games together he is adding neutral site games that would be more appealing if they were either true road games or true home games. More appealing for fans, anyway. If you want to play in Texas, schedule a home-and-home with A&M. If you want to play in Florida, schedule home-and-home with FSU. If you want to play the Crimson tide, what would be more fun than a home-and-home against Nick Saban? We can make room. We don't need to play Stanford, Purdue, USAFA, or even Michigan State every damn year. We don't have to play UM every year, if we are picking up 'Bama or Texas instead. But under Kevin White's "plan" Notre Dame gets the revenue of one more home game every year, instead of every-other-year. Notre Dame has a history of being pretty shrewd financially, but a pure money grab for the sake of just the money is not the "Notre Dame Way."

July sucks.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Irish to Play Alabama in 2011

Well, isn't this an interesting confluence of events? Just days ago, Alabama's head football coach Nick Satan Saban announced how eager he would be to play the Fighting Irish. Saban said that it would fit his philosophy of playing one "big time" intersectional game per year.

Shortly after Satan's Saban's announcement, Notre Dame's associate athletic director threw a big bucket of cold swamp water on the notion of an Irish Tide game. Said John Heisler:

"It's not for lack of interest," said John Heisler, Notre Dame's senior associate athletics director who is in charge of scheduling. "I just don't know where we'd put them."
But today, as I booted up the computer, my Google alerts delivered to me the news that:
Notre Dame will play football games at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., in 2011 and 2014. No opponent has been announced for the games.
Hey, John Heisler, I think I know where we might be able to fit the Crimson Tide into our schedule! How about in 2011 in Orlando? It makes perfect football sense. The Irish want to play some big games at neutral sites to return the program to its "Independent" roots. Playing Alabama in Orlando would sell lots of tickets, and would draw high-paying television coverage. It would broaden the reach of Notre Dame into SEC territory. Perfect. For Alabama, it's pretty good as well. 'Bama wants to play the Irish. They don't have to travel outside the deep South to do it (and we know how SEC teams hate to leave Dixie to play big games). And they get great exposure in Urban Meyer's back yard, recruit-rich Florida.

Of course, the finances would have to worked out. I know Notre Dame envisions these games as virtual home games from a revenue standpoint, and 'Bama may not want to travel to Orlando for a regular visitor's share of the cash. But the marquee nature of this match-up means the Irish could give up a little revenue to the Tide and still get a nice payday.

Go Irish! Beat 'Bama!

[EDIT: I had included a comment (now removed) about Saban's earlier criticism of USC's schedule (which includes Notre Dame) as being soft. But it wasn't Saban (former LSU coach), it was Les Miles (current LSU coach). Thanks to Anonymous for pointing out my error.]

The Devil Writes on the Meaning of Life

The #1 topic here at OC Domer is Notre Dame football, but occasionally something else catches my eye that I want to pass on. If you've poked around the blog at all you have noticed that I have a list of "News & Info" links that I visit every day. is one of those links. The "Instapundit" is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and an icon in the blogging world, generally posting about politics, the law, and current events. He is something of a renaissance man with a very broad range of interests, and is generally quite thoughtful in his commentary. I don't agree with him on everything, but we do agree on most things. The Instapundit today had a pretty serious philosophical post dealing with morality, right & wrong, and the existence (or not) of God. I recommend the whole post, but here is a short excerpt to give you the flavor. The excerpt (quoting yet another source) is written from the point of view of the Devil, addressing mankind on whether our existence has any meaning:

There are ... not very many possibilities. In fact, there are, I think, just two. The first is that mankind is a species that doesn't mean anything at all, except to itself. [...] Oh, it's not so awful. If being isn't meaning, and it isn't, meaninglessness isn't nonbeing either. You and the species get to live. It's just that you have to shape your living, and its meaning, all alone.

The second possibility is that God exists, and still cares. My own opinion is that the Hand that holds you suspended over my fiery pit doesn't abhor you, but has forgotten completely that It has anything in It. But God may still care, and, if that is so, you have but one epistemological problem, to learn the will of God. If there is no God, everything is permitted; if there is a God, it's even more terrifying, because then some things are not permitted, and men have got to find out which are which. Since He has the right and power to evaluate you, but no duty to do so, you are bravely right: you must pray.

But while you try to live as best you can until His revelation, perhaps you will accept some practical advice from me. Look around you at your species, throughout time and all over the world, and see what men seem to be like. Okay? Now take this hint from what you have seen: If He exists, Me too.

Philosophy and religion on a Friday? Why not!? I thought this treatment of a very fundamental question was so well put that I had to share it. Of course, this still leaves unanswered the most important question: Does God care who wins football games?

I now return you to your regularly scheduled obsessing about the upcoming football season ...

Monday, July 16, 2007

BCS Bowl Predictions are Trickling In ...

It's never too early for predictions. It's always best to be the first to go on the record with a crazy prediction, especially if it pans out. In that spirit, Subway Domer has been working hard to forecast Notre Dame's fortunes for the coming season. Over the weekend he posted his prediction for who will be in the BCS bowl games, and how the Irish will fare. You have to go check it out, if for no other reason than to see the picture he has posted of "Super Zibby."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

College Football Preview Rags: Athlon Sports

Quick re-set: The college football preview magazines for the 2007 season have come out. I grabbed a few of this year's editions off the shelf at my local supermarket, and this is the second of a sporadic series of posts reviewing the preview rags, from the perspective of a rabid Notre Dame fan. First up was the Sporting News, which apparently has very little respect for Notre Dame generally, and Head Football Coach Charlie Weis in particular. This time it's the National Edition of the Athlon Sports College Football preview. As with the Sporting News, I'll generally work from the front of the magazine to the back.

First Things First. I'll remove any suspense, Athlon did a very nice job with their preview. Factually accurate, fair presentation, no cheap shots. As a result of Athlon's professional integrity, I have very little material to work with from the standpoint of scathing criticism or witty commentary. But, the magazine is chock full of interesting information, so I do have some thoughts and observations I want to share.

1. Cover Boy Zibby. Athlon has four different covers for their National Edition, and Zibby appears on each one. Being in Southern California, my edition has Zibby and USC QB J.D. Booty on the cover. Athlon also releases seven different regional/conference magazines, and no Notre Dame player is featured on any of those. As a Notre Dame fan, you always like to see a Domer on the cover. I'm sure it's also a good way to sell magazines. My only comment is that the picture they use is kind of odd. What is he doing exactly? If he had a ball in his hand, he might be throwing a pass. As it is, he looks like he's directing traffic.

2. Photogenic. The magazine opens with a big 2-page photo of Notre Dame versus Michigan last year. The picture shows Michigan running back Mike Hart diving diving over a pile of Notre Dame defenders and into the end zone. Although it's better UM shot than ND shot, it's a great college football action photo.

Athlon has a very nice gallery of photos from that game in the "Scenes From Saturday" section of their website.

3. The 7th Annual Athlon Awards. Athlon ranks the "best units" in college football. Given the youth and inexperience the Irish will have all over the field this season, it is not surprising that Notre Dame failed to make the Top 10 for any unit (QB, RB, OL, WR, DL, LB, DB). That stings a little. It was mostly the usual suspects that made the lists, but there were a few mentioned that were pretty hard to swallow as an Irish fan. Both Boise State and Rutgers have Top 10 offensive line units. That's right, Boise State and Rutgers have better O-lines than Notre Dame. Missouri has a Top 10 corps of wide receivers (ND doesn't). And Western Michigan has a Top 10 group of defensive backs. W-E-S-T-E-R-N M-I-C-H-I-G-A-N. It is very tempting to argue that Notre Dame's secondary is actually better than Western Michigan's. But I have more pride than to stoop to that level.

4. All-Americans. Like everyone else with a printing press, Athlon has their own list of All-Americans. As far as the Irish go, it's pretty standard fare. Tight End John Carlson and Safety Tom Zbikowski are first teamers. Center John Sullivan is second team. I have no doubt that Carlson will be super, assuming there are no lingering effects from last year's minor knee injury. Zibby is getting a lot of love because of his reputation a a big hitter, and because of a great 2005 campaign. But he did not play like an All-American last season. It seems accepted wisdom now that he was hampered by a shoulder injury for most of last year, but I don't remember hearing much talk about that after mid-season. In any case, Tommy needs to have the best year of his career for Notre Dame to be competitive. He can't be seen chasing the play after Mario Manningham catches a ball on the seam route. Instead, he has to plant Mario at midfield just as the ball arrives, and make Mario not want to run around in the middle of the field any more. I can't help but feel that Sully is getting a lot of love because of the Notre Dame tradition at offensive line, and because he is the stalwart elder statesman of the group. I was so disappointed in our (in)ability to run the ball with power last year that I have a hard time believing that we had any All-Americans in the mix. But I admit I haven't watched a lot of film on offensive linemen, and the pundits seem to like him an awful lot. So maybe Sullivan is the real deal. I sure hope so.

5. We're #38! It doesn't quite have same ring as "We're #1!" But it's all we've got right now. Athlon's estimation of Notre Dame's prowess is pretty much in line with the pack right now. I can't really blame the analysts. Who can objectively project that we'll be better this year than last, when we've lost our entire offense (practically), and most of a defense that wasn't very good to begin with? So we'll have to prove it on the field. That said, it's very hard to look at a list that has Notre Dame ranked lower than Arizona (#37), BYU (#36), Boise State (#35), Wake Forest (#32) and South Florida (#31). It's even tougher to be thirteen spots lower than TCU (#25), nineteen spots behind Hawaii (#19) and twenty-eight spots lower than Rutgers (#10). Punditry aside, I'd gladly take the underdog Irish straight-up against any of those favorites.

6. Greatest Air Conditioner Ever. Totally off the subject, but there is an advertisement in the magazine for York's new "affinity" air conditioning units. For the Notre Dame fan who has everything. Be the first on your block to own this baby:

7. Conferencing. Much is made of the fact that Notre Dame doesn't play in one of the "brutal" power conferences. But flipping through Athlon I noted some interesting "conference" items.

  • The Irish play three ACC teams. Boston College is ranked by Athlon as #2 in the ACC's Atlantic division. Georgia Tech is #2 in the Coastal. Duke is #6 in the Coastal division.
  • Notre Dame plays nobody in the Big East. Interesting, since our schedule is going to be riddled with Big East opponents in the next few years.
  • We play four teams in the Big 10. Michigan is ranked #2 in the conference. Penn State is ranked #4. Purdue is #6 and Michigan State is a surprising #10. (You'd hate to be Minnesota, who has the dubious distinction of being rated #11 in a ten team conference).
  • From the Pac 10, the Fighting Irish take on USC (ranked #1), UCLA (ranked #3), and Stanford (ranked #10).
So let's take a look at a hypothetical "conference" schedule for Notre Dame. BCS teams typically play 8 conference games. How about this for an 8 game conference schedule:
  • Georgia Tech (#2 in ACC Coastal)
  • Penn State (#4 Big 10)
  • Michigan (#2 Big 10)
  • Purdue (#6 Big 10)
  • UCLA (#3 Pac 10)
  • Boston College (#2 ACC Atlantic)
  • USC (#1 Pac 10)
  • Michigan State (#10 Big 10)
That's a pretty tough conference schedule. Sure we fill out our "non-conference" schedule with a Duke, a Stanford, a Navy and USAFA. But those are all D-I teams, and two of them are from BCS conferences. If Michigan State were at their normal level, we'd have no easy games "in conference." No Baylor, no Kentucky, no Vandy. In fact, by being Independent our "conference schedule" ends up being much tougher than if we were actually in a BCS conference.

8. Notre Dame Preview. Kudos to Athlon for writing a fair and accurate assessment of the Irish. Rather than just making stuff up, they admit they don't know who the QB will be, and that there are many other unknowns as well. Here is Athlon's bottom line on Notre Dame this season:
Charlie Weis is confident that his playcalling and teaching, a more power-oriented ground game, and the arrival of [Corwin] Brown as defensive coordinator will be a combination that surprises non-believers in '07. But the Irish likely will go as far as the inexperienced and thin defensive front allows.

If Notre Dame could ease into the season against a few patsies, it would help. But the Irish face a brutal schedule that doesn't let up until November.

An 9-3 season would be a successful transition season in Weis' third year at the helm. But a 7-5 or 6-6 record would not be a shock either.
That doesn't sound too bad. Did they really say 9-3? Not really. They seem to be hedging their bets quite a bit. Their real feelings are found elsewhere in the review. For each team in the magazine, Athlon has the season schedule along with Athlon's prediction of which games that team will win, which they will lose, and which are "swing" games (i.e., could go either way). For the Fighting Irish, Athlon predicts five wins (MSU, Navy, USAFA, Duke, Stanford), five losses (G-Tech, PSU, UM, UCLA, USC). Athlon has BC and Purdue as "swing" games. Thus, far from a 9-3 prediction, Athlon predicts no better than 7-5 if we win both swing games, and 5-7 if we lose both. In order for ND to get to nine wins, we'd have to win both swing games and then win two more upsets that Athlon predicts we'll lose.

I think we can do it. I agree that we take the five games Athlon predicts. I also think we win both swing games, which gets us to seven wins. Of the remaining five games, I feel like we should be favored against Georgia Tech and Penn State, which, if things fall right, gets us to nine victories. Obviously we're heavy underdogs to USC and Michigan. Mark May would probably have to consider a win against either of those teams a "quality" win. But you never know with him. To me, the "pivot" game on the schedule is UCLA. It falls right in the middle of the season, game number six. If the team is playing well and exceeding expectations, they will win in the Rose Bowl. If the Irish are not rolling by week six, we will go to Los Angeles and lose badly. Lucky me, I only live 45 minutes from Pasadena (without traffic)!

Conclusion. Athlon's College Football Preview is far superior to the Sporting News preview. The presentation is objective, factual, fair, and there are no cheap shots taken against the Irish or anyone else. The publication is high-quality glossy paper with good photography and is easy to read. Although there were no surprises for those who follow the Irish really closely, I think this magazine will be most useful in researching Notre Dame's opponents for the coming season. Not surprisingly, Athlon is not as optimistic about Irish fortunes in the coming season as I am. But I fully admit that whatever optimism I have is based largely on blind faith in Notre Dame and Coach Weis. I can't reasonably expect others to share my irrational exuberance.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Reality Check: A Decade of Mediocrity

Talk about a slap in the face. I was in the car this morning, listening to Colin Cowherd's radio show, and he was talking about the top college football programs of the last decade. Apparently the management at ESPN has asked folks there to rank the top college programs of the past decade from 1 to 120. Colin had his top 15 done, and he had Ivan Maisel and Pat Forde on as guests to talk about their lists. Forde and Maisel each had their lists done only to about 15 or 20 as well. It was an interesting segment, with LSU, USC, Ohio State, Florida State, Michigan, Texas, Oklahoma (and others) figuring prominently in the discussion. But not Notre Dame! I was incensed at this blatant display of anti-Irish bias from ESPN (again!).

I resolved to write an e-mail to "The Herd" setting him straight about why the Irish, despite their recent struggles in big games, deserved to be at least in the Top 15 or 20 programs over the past decade. After all, we play a very tough schedule year-in and year-out, and although top programs USC and Michigan have basically owned us recently, we did very well against them early in the decade.

That's when reality slapped me in the face. Hard. I set about gathering the facts to plug into my e-mail, and I discovered that I did not have a leg to stand on. Using George Macor's Notre Dame Football Database to research game results for the past 10 seasons (1997-2006), I rapidly came to the conclusion that, despite our tremendous tradition and football heritage, despite our commitment to doing things "the right way" on and off the field, Notre Dame's football team has been pretty darn mediocre for a decade. "Blasphemy!" you say. I'm afraid not. Here are the cold, hard facts.

  • From 1997 - 2006 the Irish played 122 games, earning 75 wins against 47 losses, for a .615 winning percentage.
  • At home, the Irish were 45 wins against 17 losses, for a winning percentage of .726.
  • On the road, 24 wins and 23 losses. Winning percentage of .511.
  • Against unranked opponents we played 77 games, winning 58 and losing 19 (.753 winning percentage).
  • Against opponents ranked at the time in the Top 25 Notre Dame had 17 wins against 28 losses. That's a "winning" percentage of .378.
  • Against opponents in the Top 10 at the time the Irish had 5 wins against 16 losses (winning percentage of .238).
  • Against opponents in the Top 5, Notre Dame has 2 wins and 12 defeats (winning percentage of .143).
  • Notre Dame has played in seven bowl games over the past ten seasons, but have lost all seven games. The average margin of loss was just over 17 points.
But what about my "memory" that we had done pretty well against Michigan and USC early in the decade? Must have been some other decade I was remembering. Here is how the Irish have done against selected opponents over the past ten seasons:
  • Michigan: Irish 4 wins, UM 4 wins
  • USC: Irish 3 wins, Trojans 7 wins
  • Michigan State: Irish 3 wins, Sparty 7 wins
  • Boston College: Irish 3 wins, Fredo 5 wins (including the last 4 games)
  • LSU: Irish 2 wins, Tigers 2 wins
  • Purdue: Irish 6 wins, the Big Drum 4 wins
  • Oregon State: Irish 0 wins, Beavers 2 wins
Wow. I guess we've really owned Purdue, haven't we? Needless to say, I never quite got around to sending that e-mail. So what's the point of all this negativity? I guess the point is that Notre Dame football dug itself a pretty deep hole under Bob Davie and Ty Willingham, and we really aren't anywhere near climbing out of the hole yet. Certainly Coach Weis has brought us hope, and better talent, and glimpses of a bright future. But I've been deluding myself. I have been rationalizing that although we haven't yet broken into the ranks of the elite, Top 5 caliber programs, those depressing losses to USC, Ohio State and LSU shouldn't obscure the fact that we are a solid Top 10-ish team. Aren't we?

The bottom line is we need some big wins. We need to beat G-Tech, Penn State and most importantly, the Wolverines. We have to beat the Wolverines. And if we don't beat USC, we have to make a game of it. And Notre Dame has to win a bowl game. Against somebody. Against anybody. Even if we lose a game or two we shouldn't, it will be much more important to the program if we can also win a couple of big games we shouldn't. The streak against Navy, the game against Stanford almost don't matter. You can explain the odd loss to a bad team as a letdown, or as looking ahead. But you can't explain, year after year, getting your ass handed to you by the big boys.

I'm usually the blogger in the rose-colored glasses, and I try to be very positive where the Irish are concerned. But I was very surprised by the reality of the past decade. In my mind, the streak of 12 wins, 0 losses and 1 tie against the Trojans from 1983 to 1995 is recent history. Beating the Trojans 15 out 19 games from 1983 through 2001 is still fresh in my mind. But this morning I sniffed the smelling salts, and the rosy glasses fell of of my face. I really hope that Coach Weis and Notre Dame can write a much better history over the next decade. Starting on September 1st.

[ADDED 7/11: Welcome to those readers who have linked in from the forums at I'm not a registered member there, so I have no idea what the discussion looks like, but I hope they're treating me fairly. And I hope you'll bookmark OC Domer and come back often!]

[ADDED 7/13: Welcome Rakes of Mallow readers! And thanks to Rakes for the kind word and the link. I hope you'll all stay a while, and come back often.]

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Do you remember the "Chicken Soup Game"?

Irish fans everywhere are anxiously counting the days (55) until the start of the 2007 season. We are all looking forward to seeing how this very young, underdog team will play. Will they wake up the echoes or shake down down the thunder? Will new Irish legends emerge? And if so, who? Will it be the likely suspects? Or the unknowns?

As we wait for this year's squad to race out of the tunnel, now is a great time to look back and remember the Notre Dame heroes from our childhood. For me, it's Joe Montana. Do you remember the "Chicken Soup Game"? If you're more than about 40 years old, you're probably nodding your head with fond memories. If you're younger, you may have heard about the 1979 Cotton Bowl, but your personal memories of it are likely hazy at best. And, of course, if you're younger than 30 you were still an infant, if you were even born yet. If you're that young the '79 Cotton Bowl was "before your time." Asking young Irish fans today if they remember that game is the equivalent of asking fans of my generation if they remember the Frank Leahy teams that went 36-0-2 from 1946 through 1949 (undefeated for four straight seasons). If you had asked me that question in 1979 I would have probably asked "Frank who?"

But I do remember Joe Montana in the Cotton Bowl, and it changed my life. Subtly, perhaps, but certainly significantly. On New Year's Day of 1979 I was fourteen years old, a 9th grader in junior high school. I had been a Notre Dame fan as far back as I could remember, watching the Notre Dame Highlights shows on Sunday mornings, with Lindsey Nelson (the TRUE voice of the Fighting Irish) calling the action. My favorite Irish player of all time up to that point was quarterback Tom Clements (#2). Joe Montana changed all that.

On a bitterly cold New Year's Day the Fighting Irish were getting walloped by a team that I had never even heard of. The Houston Cougars? We weren't losing to mighty Texas, or Oklahoma or even an old nemesis like Michigan State. We were getting embarrassed in front of the whole world by the Houston Cougars. The score at halftime was 20-12 Cougars. Intolerable, but manageable. But things would get much worse. As the team came out for the second half, an ill quarterback Montana stayed in the locker room. His body temperature had dropped dangerously and he couldn't stop shivering. With their leader out of commission, it looked hopeless for Notre Dame as Houston scored 14 third quarter points to take a 34-12 lead into the fourth quarter. By that time Montana had returned to the game, with the help of some hot chicken soup. But he wasn't playing like he felt any better. He completed 1 of his first 11 passes in the second half, with an interception.

Midway through through the fourth quarter, with the score still 34-12, the comeback began. A blocked punt returned for a touchdown, plus a two-point conversion, trimmed the lead from 22 points to 14. A defensive stop and an efficient 61-yard TD drive (highlighted by a Montana pass to Jerome Heavens) cut the deficit to six points with 4:15 left in the game. A defensive stop followed by a Montana fumble gave Houston a chance to "ice" the game. But when the Cougars decided to go for it on fourth-and-one, they left the door open. The defense held and the Irish had the ball and a chance to win with 28 seconds remaining.

Montana scrambled for one first down, and threw to Kris Haines for another, putting Notre Dame in a first and goal situation with just 8 seconds left. On first down, Joe had to throw the ball away, leaving just 2 seconds on the clock. As time expired, Joe took the snap and rolled right, finding Haines in the front corner of the end zone to erase a 22-point deficit in less than 8 minutes. An Irish penalty meant that they actually had to kick the extra point twice to seal the win. The Comeback Kid was born.

Joe Montana became my favorite football player that day, and when he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round that year, I switched my allegiance from the Raiders (Coached by John Madden and featuring greats like Kenny Stabler, Jack Tatum, Cliff Branch, Fred Biletnikoff, Dave Casper, and Ted Hendricks) to the 49ers (coming off a 2-14 season in 1978 and led by first year coach Bill Walsh, who led them to another 2-14 season in 1979).

I remember when Joe was a brand new 49er that I went to see him at a personal appearance at the J.C. Penney store in Fairfield, California, not far from my home town. To my amazement, there was almost no one else there. This was Joe Montana! And he was sitting there by himself, behind a small table, near the escalator, ready to sign autographs if anyone wanted him to. Not many did. I don't remember if I was too cool to ask for an autograph, or if I simply forgot to bring something for him to sign. I said "hi" and told him what a big fan I was, and he thanked me for stopping by. My Dad made some small talk with him for a bit. Joe was fairly shy even then, and I was a bit starstruck, so not much more was said. But he was the biggest celebrity I had ever met, and I'll never forget it.

Fast forward to 2003. My family and I are back on Campus for the game against USC. While we were browsing through the bookstore, Joe Montana walked in with his family. I was excited to see him (along with every other adult in the store), but when I told my kids who I had seen, it was obvious from the looks on their faces that they had no idea what I was talking about. I might as well had been talking to them about one of the stars who had played for Frank Leahy.

How could they not know who Joe Montana is? Well, how would they know? Sure, they've been watching Notre Dame football games since they were tots, but they never saw Joe play. Not even as a 49er.

Which brings me around to the purpose of this post. How do we, as Notre Dame fans, pass along the tradition and history of the Fighting Irish to the next generation? Notre Dame alumnus Paul Kostolansky ('89) is trying to do just that through a set of illustrated children's books called Irish Tales. Each book in the series tells the story of a famous Irish game and contains a lesson about life for kids. The first book is called "The Chicken Soup Game" and details for young fans the amazing story of the 1979 Cotton Bowl and the importance of a never-say-die attitude. The book is an officially licensed product of the University of Notre Dame and has been featured in Notre Dame Magazine Online.

Paul wrote to me recently asking if I'd consider blogging his Irish Tales, and I told him I'd be happy to, if it would benefit a worthy cause. So, thanks to Paul and, the Children's Memorial Hospital (in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago) will receive a monetary donation as well as the gift of some Irish Tales books.

Who do you want to pass your love of Notre Dame football on to? Your kids? Grand kids? Those nephews and nieces who are being tempted by the dark forces of USC, Michigan, or Boston College? The Chicken Soup Game would be great as a bedtime story for the youngest Irish fans, and appropriate material for readers up to about a 4th grade reading level. Readers more advanced than that will certainly consider this a younger kids' book.

So as we wait anxiously to find out who will be the next Joe Montana, let's not forget to teach the next generation about the first Joe Montana, the Comeback Kid.

Monday, July 2, 2007

College Football Preview Rags: The Sporting News

The college football preview magazines for the 2007 season have come out, and for true CFB junkies, these rags are just about the only thing that keeps us sane between the Spring game and the opening day of Fall practice. Dark days. So I grabbed a couple of this year's editions off the shelf at my local supermarket, and eagerly sat down to soak up the goodness.

What a fool I am!

This post will likely be the first of a sporadic series of posts reviewing the preview rags, from the perspective of a rabid Notre Dame fan. First up is the Sporting News, which apparently has very little respect for Notre Dame generally, and Head Football Coach Charlie Weis in particular. I'll generally work from the front of the magazine to the back, taking the insults and outrages in the order in which they offend.

1. Toughest Schedules. On Page 4, TSN editors give the Irish credit for having the 2nd toughest schedule in the land, behind only Florida State. But while giving with one hand they slap Notre Dame a backhanded compliment with the other hand. Noting our brutal schedule, they can't help but drop in a snarky reference to our unofficial competition for the Commander-in-Chief's trophy because we play service academies. So, to the guys at Sporting News, having the 2nd toughest schedule in the nation isn't good enough. Should we drop the academies and play half the SEC too?

2. Bowl projections. On page 6 TSN has nice grid laying out the Bowl game predictions of two experts (Tom Dienhart and Matt Hayes), followed by the Sporting News' projection. Both of the named experts project the Irish into the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day. Dienhart has us playing Florida State, Hayes has us playing Virginia Tech. I can live with that. I admit I don't expect the Irish to make it to a BCS Bowl game this year, and the Gator is a respectable alternative. Either of these opponents are worthy, the location, date, and history are respectable. So what is the Sporting News projection for the Irish? The Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas on December 31st against Oregon State. A decidedly less prestigious game. Why does Sporting News have a significantly less favorable view of the Irish than the two experts whose names actually appear in this feature? No explanation is offered. Just a good chance to take an anonymous swipe at Notre Dame.

3. Gotta See Games. Page 7 has a list of "Gotta See Games." LSU appears in three games. Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, and USC each play in two of these games. Notre Dame has "zero" games listed as "Gotta See." So there's no need for you to tune in and catch the Irish against Michigan, USC, Penn State, or even in their historic return to the Rose Bowl against UCLA.

4. Upsets. On page 8 TSN lists 56 that "if they happen, will turn stomachs and quash dreams." Pretty wishy-washy description. They aren't actually predicting the upsets, but seem to be warning of possible upsets. Hey, on any given Saturday .... Of the 56 upsets listed, Notre Dame figures directly in only one - a possible upset loss to Purdue. Ouch. But the Irish figure indirectly in several other games flagged as possible upsets. Purdue (the same team that Notre Dame needs to watch out for) is tagged as a possible upset loser to both Indiana and Toledo. So, Purdue is seen by TSN as a team that could possibly lose to Indiana and Toledo, but also could beat the Irish. Where's the love?

5. Newcomers. Page 11 lists several "Newcomers You can't Miss." It's not clear what that means. Does it mean these newcomers will have the most impact? Get the most publicity? That these are the guys you will most want to keep an eye on? Who knows. But, leading the pack is Jimmy Clausen. Sporting News doesn't whiff on this great opportunity to take a cheap shot. Says TSN:

The most-hyped high school recruit since Brock Berlin, and we all know how that turned out. Oddly, both are from small lower-classification private schools.
What did Clausen ever do to these guys? Jimmy has yet to take a snap, and all of a sudden he's the next Brock Berlin? And do we all know how that turned out? I looked it up, and while it wasn't easy, Brock ended up with decent numbers at the University-that-shall-not-be-named, while his pro career has fizzled.

6. Top Coordinator Hires. On page 12 TSN grades out the head coaching hires, and also includes a list of the Top 5 coordinator hires. Corwin Brown failed to make the cut. Now, I have no idea, really, how Corwin Brown is going to do as a defensive coordinator. Maybe his defenses will have us crying in our beer for the return of Rick Minter. But I doubt it. What do we know? We know that coaching is teaching, and that teaching is communicating. We know that Coach Brown was able to be an effective NFL assistant coach, which means he was able to effectively communicate defensive concepts to the New York Jets' defensive backs. We also know that he has been exceptional as a recruiter since he joined Charlie Weis' staff. It has been remarkable how many of the kids Notre Dame has landed so far have commented on how impressed they were by Coach Brown, how much they enjoyed talking to him, how at ease he made them feel, and how he made them want to come play for him. That's all communication. It's motivation. And I think it's going to make him a pretty good D-coordinator. I have Corwin in my Top 5.

7. Ranking the BCS Coaches. Page 13 includes a list of the BCS coaches, from top to bottom, 1 through 66. Pete Carroll of USC is #1, Gene Chizik of Iowa State is #66. Notre Dame's Charlie Weis is #42. Not even close to being in the top half of BCS coaches. Some of the great coaches ranked by TSN ahead of Coach Weis? Joe Paterno (#18), Houston Nutt (#20), Mike Riley (#25), Chan Gailey (#30), Joe Tiller (#32), Brian Kelly (#36), and Rich Brooks (#40). All Charlie Weis has done in two years at Notre Dame is win 19 games with talent so depleted that other "better" coaches were afraid to take the Notre Dame job. He has lost six games over two years to the following opponents: USC (twice), Michigan, Ohio State, LSU and Michigan State. With the very notable exception of the loss to the Spartans, these losses were to teams considered among the most elite in the nation at the time. Is Notre Dame a Top 3 or a Top 5 team yet? No. But Coach Weis' teams have beaten just about everyone but those Top-5 caliber teams since his arrival.

8. Hot Air. But the Sporting News crew isn't done with Coach Weis yet. Also on page 13 is a short list of the five most overrated coaches. Guess who is #5? That's right, Charlie Weis! It's not clear if TSN thinks Coach Weis is overrated on their own list (at #42) or if they think he's properly slotted at #42 and that everyone else thinks too highly of him. In any case, they were able to irrationally slam Coach Weis twice on the same page, which shows good focus on their part.

9. The Top 25. On page 18 TSN begins discussion of their Top 25 teams for the upcoming season. Surprise! Notre Dame didn't make it. That didn't surprise you? Then you're paying attention. Teams that TSN ranked well above Notre Dame? BYU made it (#25). Southern Miss made it (#24). TCU made it (#20). South Florida and Boise State made it (#21 & #22). Thank goodness we don't have to play any of those guys. Instead, we get to play real Top 25 teams: USC (#1), Michigan (#3), UCLA (#10), and Penn State (#15).

10. The Top 39. Notre Dame is ranked by Sporting News at #39. That's behind all of the teams listed above, as well as the following programs: Missouri (#26), Boston College (#28), Alabama (#31), South Carolina (#36) and our opening day opponent Georgia Tech (#37). We barely edged out Purdue (#40). Does anyone here have bulletin board I can borrow?

11. Zach Frazer. On page 174 (right after the Sun Belt Conference) is the Sporting news preview of Notre Dame. There are at least a couple of glaring clues that tell us the author of this preview has no idea what the hell he is writing about. My personal favorites concern recently announced Irish transfer Zach Frazer. About Frazer as possible starting QB:
Strong-armed Zach Frazer played as well as anyone in the spring.
And, from the "A Pro Scout says ..." item:
I don't know about Jimmy Clausen, but I've seen Zach Frazer, and he would play for a lot of schools. Big kid, stands tall in the pocket, strong arm. Don't be surprised if he wins that job.
How in the world can anyone not on the Notre Dame team or coaching staff say that Zach played as well as anyone in the Spring? All the practices were closed, and Zach went 0 for 4 with an INT in the Blue-Gold game. What can this possibly be based on? And of course, we'd all be surprised if Zach were to win the job now, since he is about to become a U Conn Husky.

12. Schedule tidbits from the preview. Sporting news has Michigan as our toughest game, with USC as our best chance to pull an upset. Wow. According to the Sporting News, we have a better chance of upsetting USC than we do of upsetting Michigan, UCLA, Penn State, Boston College, or Georgia Tech. (Remember that TSN ranks all of these teams ahead of us, so beating any of them would be an upset). Call me crazy, but I'd probably count USC as our toughest game, with best chance of an upset against G-Tech, Penn State, B.C., or UCLA.

What's the bottom line? The editors at Sporting News hate the Irish, hate Coach Weis, and don't even know what the hell they're writing about. Which means I totally blew $6.99.

New Color Scheme for OC Domer

You may have noticed a modified look for the OC Domer today. Although I love blogger as an easy-to-use, relatively hassle-free interface, I have been a little bothered by a couple of issues. First, the number of available templates in "New Blogger" (XML) is pretty limited. I picked the current template because it was the closest fit to what I wanted out of the very few choices available. But I've never been completely happy with the colors, as they weren't quite "Notre Dame" enough for me. So I finally sat down and edited the colors of all the page elements so that they look more like the traditional blue, gold, and green that Fighting Irish fans are used to. Although I'm sure I will still tinker with it, I'm much happier with the new colors than I was with the old. What do you think?

The other issue I have had is the width of the main column for posts. It's too narrow! I want to figure out a way to make the main posting area wider, but I'll need to do some more research to figure out how to edit the template without messing the whole thing up. If anyone can point me to a simple "how to" on this topic, I'd be really grateful.

The last issue I have had is that I would like to put a photo in the main header to dress the blog up a bit. From my limited research this seems like it would be fairly simple, but I haven't sweated it too much yet since I'm not sure what photo/artwork I want to use yet.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

U Conn Do It, Zach!

ESPN's Joe Schad is reporting that Irish Quarterback Zach Frazer will be transferring to the University of Connecticut. The Huskies run a pro-style offense that relies on a strong running game to set up big plays in the passing game. Apparently last year's leading passer for the Huskies has been moved to wide receiver, leaving sophomore Dennis Brown and junior college transfer Tyler Lorenzen to battle for the QB job. It seems that Zach should have a very good opportunity to step in and compete for playing time a year from now.

I've shared at length my thoughts on Zach Frazer in the past, so I just want to take this chance to wish him the best of luck at U Conn. Go Huskies!