Better late than never, here are my answers to this week's IBG questions:
1. Name one offensive player and one defensive player you are most excited to see in the new systems and why.
Offensive: Michael Floyd. This system is a pass-heavy offense, and Michael Floyd is set to absolutely tear it up. Given Kelly's high praise about Michael's work ethic this offseason, I think we may be in for a special season from one of the best ever at the position this year.
Defensive: Ian Williams. In the 3-4 system, it's crucial for the nose tackle to be a dominating force inside, plugging up the interior and freeing the inside linebackers to work in space. I think Te'o will get many of the accolades, but if he does, it's because Ian Williams is doing his job down in the trenches, bottling up the A gaps.
2. What’s one reason you think Brian Kelly is the right coach this time? What’s one reason you think he might not be?
The reason I think he's the right coach this time is simple: all the evidence we have available to us points to that. The best indicator of future performance is past performance, and as a head coach at multiple stops and multiple levels over the course of 20 years, all he's done is win. There is no evidence to believe he can't do that again here.
One reason I think he might not be? 'Cause this is Notre Dame. It's a completely different ball game than any other college coaching position. I'd liken it most to the difference between being a United States Senator and the President of the United States. The pressure, scrutiny, and demands of the Notre Dame job are double that of any other position in the country. It's entirely possible he simply can't handle it.
All of the evidence thus far says he can. But the proof is in the pudding.
3. A lot of people are labeling Purdue, Boston College, and Michigan State as toss-up games. Considering Notre Dame beat all three of these teams during the disappointing 2009 season, do you consider these games toss-ups or games you expect Notre Dame to win?
I expect Notre Dame to win. This team has all of the physical tools to win; it just needed the fundamentals and desire, which were lacking under Coach Weis, who was an analytical and scheme-oriented coach. Kelly brings an old-school focus on intensity, fundamentals, repetition, and desire. Losing Tate and Clausen is not as big a step down as most people seem to think. Replacing them with Michael Floyd and Dayne Crist is reloading, not rebuilding.
Close wins last year, with Kelly's leadership this year, to me translate into wins of the double-digit variety.
4. What’s one reason you think Notre Dame could shock the world and pull off another 1964-type season?
There's nobody on the schedule that really scares me. U$C is on probation under a new coach, with a rash of transfers to deal with. Pitt is talented, but they are still coached by Dave Wannstedt. Utah has been a great team over the last decade, but they aren't really championship material this year (that's Boise State's job, remember?).
The rest of the Big 10 games? Not that scary. Navy? Trust me, Kelly will remind them that there was a reason for the 43-year win streak there. There are 12 winnable games on this schedule.
Oh, and Paul Longo is the second coming of the Terminator in my eyes...
5. What’s one reason you’re concerned we might see more of a 1997-type season?
This team still hasn't bought in. That's about the only thing that I see leading to a meltdown. If we come out against Purdue and lay a turd, we may see kids go in the tank again, and start to accepting losing as part of the Notre Dame experience.
Of course, I don't care who it is, Kelly will see it in their eyes and kick them off of campus so fast their heads will spin. No chance this season gets away from us like the last three have.
6. Which freshmen do you see contributing the most on the field this year (outside of T.J. Jones – that’s too easy)?
Lo Wood. Because of the numbers, this kid will get plenty of opportunities to see the field this year. I believe that the coaching staff will ease him into playing time, giving him reps as a nickel back mostly in non-crucial situations, but I believe that his playing time will increase as the season wears on and as we try to develop some depth in the secondary.
Honorable mention: Louis Nix, unless Coach Kelly can manage to actually redshirt him.
7. Other than Dayne Crist (too easy again), who is the one player Notre Dame can least afford to lose to injury for any significant period of time?
Kyle Rudolph. The matchup problems he creates are going to be the glue that holds this offense together, especially against stiff competition early in the season. Without Rudolph on the field, teams will be able to key on Michael Floyd, which reduces the effectiveness of the entire offense.
Our running game has plenty of options, and even though Floyd is a superstar, the talent behind him is pretty darn good. Tyler Eifert looks like he will be the real deal, but he's just coming off of injury, and there's not much behind him.
8. 2010 Season Predictions
Notre Dame record: 10-2
Bowl game for Notre Dame with opponent: Fiesta Bowl versus the Texas Longhorns
Final ranking: 12
Opponent with the the highest final ranking: Utah
Notre Dame’s Offensive & Defensive MVPs
Offensive: Michael Floyd
Defensive: Manti Te'o
Best Opponent Offensive & Defensive Player
Offense: Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pitt Runner-up: Ricky Dobbs, QB, Navy
Defense: Greg Jones, LB, Michigan State Runner-up: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Best Opposing Coach
Mark D'Antonio, Michigan State
Game you are most excited to watch
Purdue. It's a new coach, a new season, new reasons for optimism. It's like opening a REALLY big gift on Christmas morning. Sure, it could be a gross of athletic socks, but it's probably that awesome bike you've been asking for.
Game you wouldn't mind watching on DVR
Western Michigan. While I'll probably be at the game just 'cause tickets will be so cheap, I could certainly spend my afternoon mowing the yard, and at least then I'd be able to skip the commercial breaks during the replay. And drink beer.
Purdue game prediction
Notre Dame 24 Purdue 14