Monday, June 08, 2009

The Notre Dame 2009 Football Preview

Last year, to celebrate the day Phil Steele’s yearbook comes out (aka Steelemas), I wrote a long essay about Notre Dame’s 2008 schedule and how it boded well for an improved season. Today, Steelemas Eve 2009, I already have my Steele but in honor of the day, here is my look at the upcoming season.

It's that time of the year again.

The key themes of Notre Dame football 2009 are high expectations and a ‘the future is now’ mentality. I’m going to key in on three main factors for this: the schedule, the talent on the two-deep chart and the impatience of the fanbase, born of recent history.

Schedule. The sked was the main focus of last year’s preview, and while it is not the key factor for me in 2009, it deserves mention. I start with a look at last year's schedule as a comparison point.
Notre Dame 2008 Opponents
LY Bowl LY?TeamW/LFinal RecordBowl?Better?
4-8NoS. Diego St. W2-10No No
9-4Yes Mich.W3-9No No
7-6Yes@Mich. St L9-4YesYes
8-5Yes Purd.W4-8No No
4-8No Stanford W5-7No --
4-8No@No. Caro.L8-5Yes Yes
4-9No @Wash. W0-12No No
5-7NoPitt L9-4Yes Yes
11-3Yes@Bost. Coll.L9-5Yes No
8-5YesNavyW8-5Yes --
2-10NoSyracuse L3-9No --
11-2Yes@ So. Cal.L12-1Yes Yes

Italics = new coach in 2008.

(Here "Last Year" means 2007.) We knew 2008 would be easier than 2007, and the numbers bear that out. I’m not going to give credit to Stanford for “improving” from 4-8 to 5-7, or Cuse going from 2-10 to 3-9, particularly when the coach got fired.

ND’s 2008 opponents, when it was all over, went seven games under .500, and if you exclude the USC juggernaut, the other 11 squads were 18 games under .500 (60-78). In other words, ND 2008 faced a slate that was coming off a cumulatively mediocre 2007 and managed to do even worse. The Irish should have cleaned up, and it’s clear that ND under-achieved against Navy, Pitt, Syracuse and had the UNC game in hand.

Now look at the 2009 lineup.

Notre Dame 2009 Opponents
LY RecordBowl LY?TeamResult
7-6Yes Nevada??
3-9Noat Michigan??
9-4Yes Michigan State ??
4-8No at Purdue ??
0-12No Washington ??
12-1Yes USC ??
9-5Yes Boston College ??
2-11No Washington State ??
8-5Yes Navy ??
9-4Yes at Pittsburgh ??
8-5YesConnecticut ??
5-7No at Stanford ??
76-77seven ??

Italics = new coach in 2009.

One more bowl team, but two putrid Pac-10 teams (two of the worst in Div. I-A, in fact), two struggling Big Ten teams, a big pile of unimpressive to mediocre, and just three legitimate Top 25’ers in MSU, BC and Southern Cal. Overall score: Eminently beatable.

Or think about it this way: the nine repeating members of the sked from last year went 59-55. Those schools rotating out (SDSU, UNC, Cuse) finished 13-24. Those rotating in (Nevada, Wash St., UConn) were 17-22. Any way you cut it: this is not a murderer’s row.

I want to see more of this.

Talent. The bigger issue, then, should be the on-field performance by this assemblage of talent. Although it’s been written about all over the Internet, it was my friend Steve who helped me see the quality and depth of talent on the roster. I don’t think I’ve seen the top-two guys at basically every position be so talented and ready to contribute in my short tenure as a fan.

Acquiring Steele helped put it into focus. Look at the PS#s (“Phil Steele number” is his method of judging talent coming out of high school) on the two-deep roster at the skill positions:

QB: PS#5, PS#5
RB: PS#13, PS#9, PS#2
WR: PS#8, PS#31
WR: PS#2, PS#10
WR: PS#27, PS#9
TE: PS#2, PS#2

The offensive line isn’t as impressive, but still some great numbers:

C: PS#24, PS#39
RG: PS#14, PS#13
LG: PS#28, PS#58
RT: PS#1 (Sam Young), PS#19
LT: PS#53, PS#18

The defense has PS#1’s in Steve Filer and Manti Te’o and a PS#2 in Darrin Walls, returning from a year in exile. Bottom line: the talent is there.

Also want to see more of this.

Impatience. Which brings us to the third factor: the ability of the coaching staff to finally put it all together on the field in Year Five of the Weis era. A brief history:

  • 2005: Brady Quinn, Darius Walker, Jeff Samardzija (I spelled that without looking it up), BCS game, 9-3.
  • 2006: same crew, BCS game, 10-3.
  • 2007: everyone leaves, Weis’ inexperience as a college coach is exposed, fundamentals are awful, historic loss to Navy, 3-7.
  • 2008: talented recruits begin arriving/developing, still an awful loss (Syracuse), first bowl win in ages, 7-6.
The complaints about the hangover effect of Willingham’s awful recruiting, while I believe were valid in 2007 and '08 to an extent, are gone. The team is stacked with capable athletes. Weis has the players he wants and the coaching staff he wants. Most of the key players have been in the program for three years (Clausen, Tate, Young, Kyle McCarthy, Brian Smith). To quote the coach: “9-3 is not good enough.” Or another quote: No Excuses. (For a discussion of whether 9-3 really is good enough for this team, see here.)

Last year the question was: we'll be better, but how much? This year the question is: will the won-loss record (based on my three factors) be as good as it SHOULD be?

1 comment:

Jeff Ogden said...

Good post and good insights. Found you on Twitter. Keep it up.

Herb 82, class of 1982