Rumors are starting to circulate that Charlie Weis will not return next year if the Irish don't go bowling this year. Of course, they are just rumors, but the performance Weis has turned in this year seems to warrant some huge red flags- bigger than last year's red flags.
The excuses for poor play last year and this year have not changed. The Irish are rebuilding, they are playing with freshmen and sophomores, blah, blah, blah. Just how long is this blithering going to last?
The facts are these: Weis has had four straight top 11 recruiting classes . 2006's class was ranked No. 5, 2007's was ranked No. 11, 2008's was No. 2 and 2009's is so far, No.11.
Where are all these playmakers? Where? If it weren't for Golden Tate, just where would Notre Dame be? He, Pat Kuntz and Maurice Crum are the only playmakers on the team.
Sure Notre Dame has had some stellar recruits, but some of them haven't turned out to be what the team had hoped for.
The class of 2006 had TWO tight end recruits; Konrad Rueland, a five-star TE, transferred to Stanford, and the other highly-touted TE, Will Yeatman, got into trouble with the law and is sitting out the year.
Six highly-ranked offensive linemen were in the class of 2006, a unit that was sorely lacking in productivity last year. Two of those class' recruits are now starters this year, Sam Young and Eric Olsen. With juniors and seniors on the O-line, there cannot be an excuse of youthful inexperience, can there? The guys have had minimum three years to learn the system. But they are struggling.
Notre Dame is ranked No. 92 in rushing offense, No. 18 in passing offense and No. 51 in scoring offense. What does this mean?
Clausen is obviously getting more time to throw the ball accurately, but the line can't run block. Same problem as last year, but they have improved in protecting the passer. Or have they? More on that later.
Check out Weis' preseason projection for playing smash-mouth football: on August 27th, Weis said, "Ever since I've been here, I've wanted to be able to pound the football. And we haven't yet. So we're going to find out. Because we're going to pound it," he said.
Well? How is it that Notre Dame is ranked No. 92 in rushing? With a veteran O-line (except at center) and Weis wanting to pound the football, the Irish have miserably failed. Weis' goal has not materialized. He has failed.
ND's rushing defense is ranked No. 50, No. 65 in pass defense, and No. 41 in total defense. In other words, slightly above average in defense. But against eight teams, only four had winning records, so is slightly above average really an improvement from last year?
To put things in perspective, Alabama, who had the top recruiting class last year, is ranked No. 4 in total defense, one of the top twenty rushing teams and No. 33 in scoring offense.
Saban's top three wide receiving corps are two freshmen (Maze and Jones) and one junior (McCoy). His linebackers are a true freshman (Hightower), a sophomore (McClain) and two juniors (Fanney and Reamer). Two cornerbacks are a sophomore and junior as well. All told, Alabama is playing fifteen freshmen on their teams and is ranked No. 1 in the nation.
So why is Alabama undefeated with a tougher schedule than Notre Dame's?
The Fighting Irish's soft schedule has helped them somewhat this year, but their improvement to a 5-3 record is deceiving. Their losses are to Pitt, North Carolina and Michigan State, and at least two of those games were probable projected wins by the Irish.
So maybe the Irish have improved on paper, but maybe they haven't realistically. Consider this- while Clausen's stats have improved, look at the teams' passing defenses he has played against.
Stanford is ranked No. 106 against the pass, Michigan No. 102, Washington No. 92, North Carolina No. 81, Purdue No. 68, Michigan State No.60, Pittsburgh No. 49, and San Diego No. 26.
Interestingly, two teams that Notre Dame struggled with, SDSU and Pitt, had the best passing defense stats so far this season, and the Irish split those two games, but they also lost to two teams that are in the bottom half of division 1 football.
Has Clausen really improved, or are his stats the product of playing against teams who don't defend against the pass very well?
Clausen has avoided more sacks than last year, so according to the Irish faithful, that's an improvement. This year, Notre Dame is ranked No. 41 in sacks allowed. But how have they fared against teams individually?
Stanford is ranked No. 6 in sacks, Pitt No. 25, Purdue No. 28, Michigan No. 33, Michigan State No. 41, North Carolina No. 94, San Diego State No. 105, and Washington No. 120.
Against Stanford, Pitt and Purdue, the Irish gave up three total sacks, while against Michigan, they gave up none and against Michigan State they allowed three. Against North Carolina they allowed four, Washington, two, and against San Diego State, zero sacks allowed.
In other words, against teams that are in the top fifty in sacks, ND did quite well, only allowing six sacks in five games. But against teams that are in the bottom twenty in sacks (North Carolina, Washington and San Diego State), the Irish gave up six sacks in two of those three games.
In games where Clausen should have avoided the sack against teams that aren't sack leaders, he didn't. In the last three games, Clausen has been sacked seven times, and two games were against teams ranked No. 94 and No. 120 in sacks.
Notre Dame's predictability is one of the key reasons why Clausen is getting sacked more, and the running game has taken a dive. When Clausen is under center, the play called is usually a running play, and when in shotgun, it is usually a passing play. It doesn't vary much.
But with Weis' supposed schematic advantage- an advantage he proudly proclaimed was why Notre Dame would do well when he was hired - why hasn't he mixed it more? Sure Haywood is in charge of the play-calling, but when over 90% of the time Clausen passes from shotgun formation, the defense recognizes that as a pass play. Why hasn't Weis gotten more cute and tried more screens and play-actions? Answer: because they have no running game, and with no running game, you can't open up the playbook.
Clausen is getting sacked more because Notre Dame's predictability in play-calling has finally caught up with them. If you're a DC facing the Irish, your job is somewhat simple; if Clausen is in shotgun, blitz, if he's under center, run a 5-2 and stuff the run.
Bottom line? The Irish have not improved in sacks allowed, and if anything, are worse than in the beginning of the year. In the first five games, they gave up five sacks, in the last three, they gave up seven.
Notre Dame has a win against one team with a winning record this year. Last year they didn't have any. In the last twenty games, Notre Dame has beaten one team with a winning record- Stanford.
Nick Saban in his second year, has the Tide positioned to go to the title game with fifteen freshmen playing. Weis is looking at a possible second consecutive bowl-less season in his fourth year.
With all of these top recruiting classes, the question is, were the scouting companies off?
If you look at Saban's record this year, and the fact they he is playing those 2007 recruits, one would have to say no.
Butch Davis of North Carolina is also having great success after some solid recruiting seasons. Same with USC, Florida, Texas and Pitt, who were all in the top ten of 2007's recruiting class.
Two teams who were in the top ten in that same class, Tennessee and Auburn, have not done well. One coach has resigned (Fulmer) and the other, Tuberville, is on the verge of having his hot seat burst into flames.
How this bodes for Weis is somewhat unclear, but with the intense scrutiny facing college coaches, Weis is now on thin ice and the cracks are getting bigger. If Weis doesn't win two more games to get a guaranteed bowl berth with seven wins (six wins makes them eligible, but not a guarantee for a bowl), the Irish faithful might start getting used to seeing a new face on their sidelines next year.
* Weis quote courtesy of The Observer online.