Notre Dame WILL be better in 2008 vs. 2007. While this could be an obvious statement due to there not being much downward latitude, I can prove the point empirically by looking at two aspects of the schedule: bowl participation and “trades.”
First, let’s look at last year's schedule as a whole.
|LY||Bowl LY?||Team||W/L||Final Record||Bowl?||Better?|
Italics = new coach
(Here "Last Year" means 2006.) In 2007, we faced a slate that everyone knew would be hard. Now that the season’s over, we can quantify it. At the start of the season, our 12 opponents were coming off a cumulative 83-71 season (12 games over .500) with eight bowl games. At the end of the year, those teams posted a 90-65 record (25 games over .500) and went to 10 bowl games. I can’t imagine any team ever started any season with 10 straight games against teams that would go on to a bowl.
(Side note: Steele points out that only Nebraska and Notre Dame faced 10 bowl teams last season. I look for both these traditional powerhouses to rebound, partially due to softer schedules.)
The numbers are also impressive looking team-by-team: three schools (Michigan State, Air Force and Stanford) improved by at least three wins. Seven had essentially the same record, and only two (Georgia Tech and Michigan) had a worse record, and they both still made bowls.
Now look at the 2008 lineup.
|LY Record||Bowl LY?||Team||Result|
|4-8||No||S. Diego St.||??|
|11-2||Yes||@ So. Cal.||??|
Italics = new coach
That 2007 schedule that went 25 games over .500 is now a schedule that went two games over .500.
In addition, there are five slots on the sked where we “trade” opponents. I think in all five we are better off: going from 2 wins, 3 losses (and of one those wins a flippin’ miracle) to at least 4 wins, and hopefully/probably 5 wins.
Matching up home slots to home slots, and road to road, in order of the schedule, the swaps are:
Georgia Tech (7-6 in 2007) for San Diego State (4-8). Do you remember the optimism? Do you? (wistful grin) I remember being at Igoe’s apartment in Jersey City… Michigan had just lost (at home) to Appalachian State … and the buzz was that Charlie was going to run a spread offense with Demetrius Jones, after having visited West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez in the offseason.
Umm. Well, Igoe moved to the East Side of Manhattan, Michigan went to and won a New Year’s Day bowl, Rodriguez burned every bridge in the Mountaineer State when moving to the Mitten, Demetrius Jones transferred to Northern Illinois and then Cincinnati, and well, yeah. Jon Tenuta blitzed the hell out of our young, shellshocked QBs. Jones lasted barely a half; Frazer and Clausen didn’t do much better.
So we’re trading that for the Aztecs (and making Tenuta our ass-kicker instead being his kickee). Last year they beat Portland State (not D-IA), Wyoming by only three and UNLV by eight. SDSU lost their star QB and apparently anyone who knows how to catch the football. So this is a great improvement for the Irish, and though it’s insanely early, I’ll forecast a win. Do you even know what conference San Diego State is in? Yeah, me neither. I guessed WAC, but it’s actually MWC, which apparently stands for “Mountain West Conference.” Hunh!
Mitigating factor: The head coach is Iowa hero Chuck Long. His defensive coordinator is another Iowa guy, Bob Elliott, who was an assistant under Hayden Fry and K-State’s Bill Snyder, another alum of the Fry coaching tree. Long spent seven years on the staff of Iowa guy Bob Stoops at Oklahoma. A word of advice to ya: Never bet against the Iowans.
At Penn State (9-4) for at North Carolina (4-8). This was an anticipated matchup last fall ... until the season started. There was a lot of joshing among Dan Renaldo (ND) and Rob Wintle (PSU) and me leading up to the game, insinuations about poor education and what not. And then we found out that ND stunk. Anthony Morelli was not as bad as advertised. Lucky me, I was at a wedding in northwest Ohio with a bunch of Penn State fans, and the only place to find a TV was an auto-racing sports bar. Well, they did have cheap beer, since it was a small town. Other than that though, nothing good happened that day.
Butch Davis is the head coach at UNC, and I think he’s the right guy to build that program. He’s been relatively successful at recruiting so far, it just hasn’t translated onto the field. I’ll say this: I’d rather play Carolina in 2008 than 2010, when I think they will start to make some noise in the ACC. I would not be surprised if they resemble Iowa from 1999 through 2002 ... slowly improving, though not in the won-loss record, then slowly winning a few games, climbing up the ranks, and then whoa how the hell did they end up in a January bowl?!?!
Bottom line: we’re trading a known entity, a B-plus type team/program with a definite home field advantage, for a less known-entity, a C-minus type team/program with no recent success.
At UCLA (6-7) for at Washington (4-9). Hard to improve on this one, since it was a win. But under no definition of the word did ND deserve to win. UCLA committed about 10 turnovers and by the end of the game had turned to 15-year-old kid from a local high school to play QB.
But, it’s Washington. It’s Ty. This one is a win for the Irish. And don’t talk to me about Jake Locker. He’s good, but there are 21 other players on the field besides Jake Locker. And who can forget the last time we went to Seattle: Pass Right.
Air Force (9-4) for Pittsburgh (5-7). Fans of the Charlie Weis-era can’t help but grin at mention of the Wannstache, cause that’s when the awakening of the echoes (2005 version) first happened. Coming off a disappointing 6-6 season and a deflating Insight Bowl loss, the firing of Ty, the rejection of Urban Meyer, the constant “tarnished dome” scrunity of ESPN, the hiring of Weis, the Patriots-Irish double duty hand-wringing, we FINALLY played a football game … and gave up a TD on Pitt’s first drive. And then that great swing pass to Darius Walker that he trucked 51 yards for a TD. It was great.
Damn that was great. I wanna see that again:
Mmm, love the enthusiasm from Keith Jackson on that play. Was he even awake?
Anyway, Wannstache sucked last year. He pulled a major upset by beating West Virginia in a rivalry game that kept W. Va out of the national championship and helped propel Rodriguez out of state. Other than that though, Pitt is nothing to be afraid of. Air Force caught us at the tail end of our brutal opening slate. We were mentally defeated before we took the field, and it showed. This was the only game TM and I saw in person, and all I can say about the game is, the campus was quite lovely.
Duke (1-11) for Syracuse (2-10). Again, this was a near-automatic win against one of the worst programs in Division I football. Last year we were a very bad team in multiple aspects, but Duke is one of the worst teams in every aspect, every single year. They fired their coach after a 1-11 performance.
So how do you improve upon having Duke on the schedule? You swap for Syracuse, a long time removed from their Donovan McNabb/Paul Pasqueloni glory days. Last year they went 1-6 in the soft Big East, 2-10 overall. That one win was pulled directly from Otto the Orange’s ass at Louisville, then ranked No. 18 in the country. They also beat perennial doormat Buffalo, and that’s it. Even Iowa skunked ‘em 35-0. They had two close losses and eight blowouts. 4-8 in 2006, 1-10 in 2005 makes a three-year mark of 7-28. Looks a lot like a typical final score actually, given the anemic Cuse offense. So I’m not worried. By late November, Cuse should be beaten down and ND should be clicking. It’s not as sure of a thing as Duke, but it’s still comfortable.
Syracuse is so bad, Otto tried out for quarterback. He made it to the final round cut.
There are seven common opponents. Here’s how the “trades” break down:
At Michigan, with Mike Hart, Chad Henne, Jake Long, Mario Manningham, and woman-abusing Cedar Rapids native (ugh) Adrian Arrington, for home, with the Wolverines losing all that offensive firepower, head whiner Lloyd Carr, backup QB Ryan Mallett, and gaining a spread offense-minded head coach who has no one to run said offense. While Michigan will still be favored by a touchdown or two, ND has a much higher chance of winning this game vs. 2007 (say, from 2% to 45%).
Home vs. Michigan State with new coach Mark D’Antonio, for at East Lansing. This series is always wildly unpredictable. Everyone remembers what happened last time we played there. (Here's a great "I was there" from The Blue Gray Sky's Jay.) I know this guy remembers. Given the success of the road team in this series, I like this trade.
At Purdue for home. Purdue is Purdue. They are just like Son Volt live: you know exactly what you’re going to get, with nothing more and nothing less. Instead of Jay Farrar drones and crunching electric guitars, you get a 5-wide set with a QB whipping it all over the field 50 times a game, plus an indifferent defense. If there’s an advantage here, it’s Notre Dame being a year older. Then again, Purdue has that damn drum.
Home vs. BC and new coach Jeff Jagswhateverski, for at Chesnut Hill. Even without Matt Ryan, BC is damn good. They looked solid in almost every game last year. Only the heroics of Ryan saved them from a sure loss to Va. Tech, and he won’t be around to save them this year. Unfortunately, BC probably won’t need it. They are still a couple touchdowns better than ND (until I see evidence to the contrary).
Home vs. Southern Cal for out there. Umm, moving on.
Home vs. Navy for "neutral site" Baltimore, without program-building coach Paul Johnson (who moved on to Georgia Tech to replace John Tenuta). Congrats to Navy for a historic, maddening, soul-crushing, steak-ending win last year in South Bend. Don’t get used to it. That was a star-aligning, once in a generation fuck-up. New coach Ken Niumatalolo will run essentially the same triple-option offense as Johnson, so don’t look for the same type of system adjustments as say, Michigan. But even so, ND should be properly motivated to politely beat the Middies by 20 points.
At Stanford for home. Jim Harbaugh had his one career-defining victory last year, but six of his eight losses were by an average of 23.5 points (the other two were by two and seven). Don’t look for Stanford to improve, especially without veteran QB T.C. Ostrander. This trade shouldn’t matter, and it only favors the Irish.
So there you have it: we WILL be better, not only because of recruitment, coaching, execution, experience and all that crap, but because the “killer schedule almost killed me” will be more like some "Massive Nights" (if we played more night games).