Spring football is just weeks away, and the smell of fall lingers in the not-to-distant future for the most energetically optimistic college football fan.
For Golden Domers, a three-week Big Ten grind of Purdue, Michigan, and Michigan State await in early September. Serious questions surround each program as they prepare for their NCAA allotted 15 spring practices, or 37 if you’re living among the mathematically challenged members of the Michigan Wolverines coaching staff.
Blatant jabs aside, there’s no better time than early March (?) to start breaking down the Notre Dame schedule, especially when three important Big Ten games could so clearly define the first days of the Brian Kelly epoch.
Who will quarterback Purdue come opening day at Notre Dame Stadium?
Miami transfer Robert Marve and junior-to-be Caleb TerBush (the back-up to Joey Elliot during the 2009 season) are both vying for the job.
Head Coach Danny Hope landed a true impact transfer when Marve decided to leave sunny South Florida for the splendid beauty of West Lafayette. Marve brings an 11-game resume that includes 1,293 yards, nine touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a 107 passer rating as a 2008 Miami starter.
But Marve also brings baggage. He was suspended at the start of the 2008 season in connection to a misdemeanor mischief charge from an earlier incident. He was suspended again for a violation of team academic rules for the final game of the season, the Emerald Bowl, in San Francisco.
After watching the play of Jacory Harris and disagreeing with the disciplinary rules of Head Coach Randy Shannon, the enigmatic Marve made his move to Purdue.
TerBush is a 6’5", 222-pound physical prototype for the drop-back Big Ten passer. The former three-star, 33rd ranked Scout.com quarterback coming out of Illinois, TerBush backed up Elliot last fall. TerBush appeared in one game, a 37-0 loss to Wisconsin, in which he completed just four of 10 passes for 22 yards.
On paper, it’s not a match. Marve was a highly touted national prospect coming out of Tampa and has proven he can play on a national stage. But his off-field antics, apparent lack of academic focus, and mercurial on-field play opens up an opportunity for TerBush.
After a 5-7 campaign, a year of in-conference struggles, and a deep desire to return to an age of prominence, the Boilermakers will have an interesting set of spring practices.
For Notre Dame fans, September 4 is shaping up to be a day of unveilings with the Brian Kelly debut, the introduction of the Kelly spread offense, the first appearance of a new Notre Dame quarterback, and the arrival of the next Purdue signal-caller to follow the footsteps of names like Griese, Breese, and Painter.
RichRod Looks Defensive
We all know that Michigan Head Coach Rich Rodriguez is dealing with third degree burns from his current position on the hottest of coaching hot seats.
Bo is turning in his grave, “Meeechigan” Men worldwide are sharpening the blades of their guillotines, and ESPN beat-writers have already drafted their “Fire RichRod” stories for the fall of 2010.
But it’s not the offense that has the “Master of the Spread” most concerned, because the athletes have, and will always, come to Ann Arbor.
It’s the defense that has Maize and Blue Nation losing sleep, hair, and faith.
Gone are 10 of the 22 sacks from 2009 and four of the 11 interceptions with the matriculation of Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren to the NFL.
Present are names like Kovacs, Ezeh, Woofolk, and Van Bergen.
Charles Woodson and Ty Law are not walking through that door.
The Wolverines finished last season with five straight losses, a 5-7 record, and devastating defeats to traditionally inferior Big Ten rivals like Michigan State, Illinois, and Purdue.
Tate Forcier will lead the offense, but the defense will rely on a handful of unknowns and unproven big-name recruits.
The 2010 haul included Scout.com four-star talents like cornerback Cullen Christian, safeties Josh Furman and Denar Dorsey, and defensive tackle Jibreel Black. The ’09 class was led by five-star studs William Campbell (DT) and J.T. Turner (CB).
No matter who starts at Notre Dame Stadium on September 11, it will be a match-up of young Notre Dame offensive weapons and an even younger Michigan defensive unit.
Let the fireworks begin, just don’t aim them at RichRod.
The Next Suh
Remember The Lion King ? Remember the hyenas and the voice-over of Whoopi Goldberg? “I just hear that name and I shudder. Mufasa! Ohhh, do it again!”
That’s the way I feel about MSU’s Greg Jones, except I DON’T like to hear it again, and again, and again as he punishes Irish ball-carriers and torments ND tight ends.
Let’s do the Greg Jones resume: 2009 consensus First Team All-American, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Linebacker of the Year, First Team All-Big Ten, third in the nation in tackles (154), and eighth in MSU history with 359 tackles.
But don’t worry, Notre Dame fans, we have two new offensive line starters and the tollbooth operator otherwise known as Dan Wenger lining up at center.
In conclusion, Brian Kelly will need to get off to a fast start. The Purdue quarterback decision, the restructured defense of Michigan, and the Ndamukong Suh-like destructive nature of Greg Jones present a triumvirate of questions and pending obstacles for the Irish.
The bottom line is:
A record of 3-0 and ND is a national contender again.
At 2-1, and Irish fans start to feel good about BK2010.
At 1-2, and the echoes will begin to quake.
And at 0-3, AD Jack Swarbrick will be making phone calls to a Kansas City area code to see what Charlie Weis is up to.
Notre Dame may still not want the Big Ten, but the Big Ten will certainly help define Notre Dame come next September.