Monday, August 20, 2007

Some pre-season blathering

There are plenty of sites you can go to get well researched season previews, and plenty of magazines or annuals that you can buy that will tell you who the backup strong safety is for your favorite Sun Belt team. So I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to make predictions about how the Big Ten (or any other conference) will finish, as I've done in the past. I'm not going to give out a preseason all Big Ten team, or list my early favorites for the Heisman (Hart!!!). Instead, I wanted to wax poetically about a few teams and issues.

Because I know close to nothing about Appalachian State and can't read any Oregon previews for more than 30 seconds without my eyes starting to water, we will start with Notre Dame.

It is obvious to all but the most deranged of Notre Dame slappies that the Irish will not be as good this year as they were last year. They lost their top passer, top rusher, two top receivers and 3/5 of their offensive line. Their defense returns only 5 starters from a unit that was torched against three of their four ranked opponents last year to the tune of 132 points and 1,321 yards. They start with a schedule that is front loaded, with seven of the first eight games against teams that went bowling last year, and four preseason top 25 teams. The question is not will they be as good as last year, but how much worse will they be.

But just because this team will not start the season with the same hype as last year's team, does not mean there isn't opportunity for the program to take steps forward. Contrary to the belief of much of the Irish fan base, they are nowhere near the top ten program they were under Lou Holtz. For them to get back to that level, they need to be more consistent than they have been in the last 10 to 15 years. The last two years were their first back to back nine win seasons since 92-93. Their bowl drought is well documented.

How do they get back to the Holtz-era level? Simple, beat mid-level BCS teams like Michigan State and Purdue on a consistent basis. From 1969 to 1995, Notre Dame went 23-3 against the Spartans and 21-6 against Purdue. At his peak, Holtz's teams won something like 15 straight games against Big Ten opponents. Since he left, the Irish haven't beaten MSU in South Bend. They are 7-4 against Purdue and have lost games to Pitt, Syracuse, Boston College, BYU, and Stanford. Despite a few wins over top ten programs, they will not "Return to Glory" and be considered a top ten program until they can consistently beat the teams that dwell at the bottom of the poll.

So the goals for the Irish are simple this year: Beat MSU in South Bend, win at Purdue, and win a bowl game. Anything above that is gravy.

Will they reach those basic goals? My guess is yes. Now, I'm not exactly the world's biggest Notre Dame fan. In fact, I wouldn't shed a tear if they decided to disband their football program all together. But I must admit that Charlie Weis does appear to be a better coach than either of his two predecessors. He's not the genius that his followers think he is, but he understands the power of the Notre Dame myth and understands how to use it to his advantage. He'll get to seven wins this year (but don't expect much more), and then look forward to next year, when almost everyone returns, the schedule is more manageable, and the expectations will be unreasonably high again.