I cannot remember a season in recent years where I've been more excited and scared at the same time. There seems to once again be a high expectation from Irish fans and critics alike. It's hard not to feel that way. The talent pool of athletes Weis has racked up is on par with the perennial BSC mainstays. Pound for pound, I'd put up their raw athletic talent with that of any team, albeit their pool is not as deep as the likes of Florida, Oklahoma, or USC. Given a couple more offseasons like the past few and that will change.
Their raw talent is not the only reason to be excited. An unmolested look at this year's schedule lends to believe they have a shot at 10 wins. Statistically, from last year of course, those predictions are warranted. Not so fast I say. While I refuse to predict wins and losses this year, I will say I'm no longer optimistic that this year's schedule is as weak as everyone thinks. While combined 2008 wins/losses may not be impressive, to assume the same sorry teams will repeat this season without improvement is asinine!
Nevada brings back a highly potent offense led by QB Colin Kaepernick. Coach Ault invented the Pistol Formation, and this kid has perfected it. Think about this: he is only the fifth player in NCAA history to rush for 1000 and throw for 2000 yards! Do not underestimate this offense. Much like the old Nebraska option, it's a bit more gimmicky but when executed to perfection, it's hard to stop. The question mark for this team is their turnstile D which gave up somewhere around 40 points a game last year, hence their seven win season.
Michigan is Michigan. As much as I'd like to see Rich-rod fall straight on his fat face and turn out to be a bust, I don't see it happening. His style is not Michigan-like, but winning has been his business in the past, and that is was Michigan folks want and expect. I expect them to follow Notre Dame's footsteps after their 3-9 season and end up around .500 or maybe a couple better. Especially with their creampuff out of conference schedule of Western and Eastern Michigan and the powerhouse Delaware State! Pretty tough...
For once, I can go into week three and feel just a wee bit of hope that the Irish will not be embarrassed at home by Michigan State. My optimism lies only in the fact that Irish killer Javon Ringer is finally gone. Brian Hoyer is also gone which is a plus. God I hate these guys... but it is Michigan State and a huge underrated Notre Dame rival.
What should be an expected win has usually turned out to be disappointment in recent years. This is one of those games which can go either way any given season. For whatever reason, no matter how soft Purdue is, they show up for Notre Dame. Do not expect these guys to lie down. While Painter is finally gone, Sr. Elliot takes the helm. But remember who we're talking about here. It's QB U! Brees, Hance, Orton, Painter... those are just recently, the list goes on. Also long time coordinator Danny Hope takes over as head coach.
The Irish come home for a few and open up to Washington. This team is a sleeper that WILL NOT be as poor as they were previously. They've got a coach now who has the bollocks to open it up and the ability to recruit the talent to do so. Jake Locker is the real deal. If Notre Dame falls asleep at the wheel, ala Syracuse last year, they will get bitten.
If there is one season in the past decade I could actually say I'm looking forward to the USC game, it's this one. I'll admit, I still hold a grudge for 2005; I may never let that go. I still cringe at the thought that they would have ended with a one loss season, and a one loss Notre Dame who beat #1 USC probably would have played in the NC and of course would have lost to Young and the Longhorns. I digress. This season, first, off from a bye week after UW at home. Next, USC is bringing a new QB out this season. What does that mean? Nothing. He will be surrounded by ridiculous athletes like all Pete Carroll quarterbacks and will play the part as they all have. But just hopefully, he will be a little bit green halfway in the season.
USC lost nearly all of their D. Of course, like I said, where one 5-star All-American graduates (or moves on) another pops up in his place. Norton and Carroll will have whomever ready to go, no question about that. The offense is a bigger question only in the facts that they are indeed going with either new starter Corp or the No. 1 QB recruit Barkley and that their former OC will hopefully have gotten the beat-down two weeks prior. But let's be honest here and call an ugly baby an ugly baby. Chances are FUSC will come in and whip the Irish as they've done the entire Carroll era.
7-of-8, back to the Bob Davie era. That is called PWNED and that is what Boston College has done to Notre Dame over the past decade. There is not much to say about this game. There is no excuse for another loss in this series. New coach, freshamn QB, young offense all around. This is a must win, hands down.
I will be in San Antonio for the ND v. WSU game. I suspect it will be similar to an Irish home game... mostly old, quiet, white guys, and the strong Catholic Mexican presence of course. Only kidding of course...about the Mexicans. Along with their Apple Cup buddies, WSU will improve this season. While I truly don't feel worried about this game, I wasn't worried when I was in South Bend last season for the Syracuse game either. Paul Wulff will have these guys fired up for sure.
The Navy games used to be a given W; as they should be. Michigan plays Delaware State, USC plays San Jose State, and the Irish play Navy. The last two seasons, it's been a little different story obviously. This team is fairly young, small as usual, but athletic as hell. They have proven to no longer be the doormat of the Irish. I would like to see them return to that status though.
Pitt brings another question mark to the schedule. Early reports predict them to win the Big East. That and 50 cents will get you a coke compared to the Big 12, SEC and Pac-10 champs, but either way, a division championship is no small feat. Let's not get ahead of ourselves here though. New OC this season, sans McCoy, McKillop, and Kinder, this team is young and somewhat inexperienced. They do return Stull and former starter Bostic, but they have hardly been consistent. Needless to say, it could depend on how the earlier part of the season goes for the Irish. They go into Pitt expecting an easy win, they'll be sorely mistaken.
The Connecticut game will be really interesting. They're attempting to steamroll their way into legitimacy in D1 ball by signing a contract with Notre Dame. The new rivalry already brings some heat as there was some disdain from U Conn folks because of Notre Dame's demand to play the away games in a larger venue such as Foxborough or the Meadowlands. Also don't sleep on the fact that Zack Frasier is an Irish transfer a few years back. He actually backed up Brady Quinn his senior year and contended for the starting gig which ultimately ran Jones out of town. The kid has talent and it should not be over looked. I don't expect the Irish to do that, but if they're looking ahead to Stanford, they might regret it.
The Irish conclude 2009 going to Palo Alto. If you think this recent rivalry does not have some kick, think again. Weis has owned Stanford...it's about the only one he can claim right now. Remember last year, Jim Harbaugh jumping around slamming his clipboard and hat to the ground practically doing back flips onto the field? This guy wants to beat the Irish, make no mistake about that.
On offense there's one freshman and one sophomore; the rest are upperclassmen. Five sophomores on D round out the inexperienced. That's 18 of 24 starters who are juniors and above. Pritchard is back as well as Gerhart who treated the Irish D line like bowling pins last season. Depending on how the first 11 games end up, this game could be a tremendous spoiler. Remember 1990 folks! Or how about 1992?! Do not over look Stanford.
There it is. While most Notre Dame fans will not agree, I hate their pre-season No. 24 ranking. I hate the fact that there's already so much talk about this team. Zip it already! Show me something on the field not on paper. Going by last season's stats, yes, this is a tomato can schedule. But I bet the farm, this year's stats will show otherwise. I can only hope, we, the fans, do not get ahead of ourselves.
I don't want to hear about 10 wins, BCS games, and for cryin out loud, National Championships. This team has proven nothing except for the fact that they finally won a bowl game against a cream puff Hawaii team. What I hope for and what I expect are now two different things. Until I see otherwise on the field against teams worth a damned, that will continue to be the case.