On Wednesday morning, Jeff Samardzija was interviewed on ESPN's First Take to get his opinion on the Charlie Weis situation.
He started by saying that everyone needs to "take a deep breath" and that "everything's fine." That's to be expected from a Notre Dame alum who played very well under the coach in question.
There was, however, one thing he said in the interview that stood out to me. When asked why the team isn't winning despite some great recruiting classes, he said the following:
"Well, I think they're young. You've got to get out there and play the game. You can practice all you want, but until you get those young guys on the field taking reps and playing against high class Division I talent...you've just got to take your time."
I don't expect everyone to pick up on what I saw immediately, so go ahead and read that again.
Did you catch it?
The idea that the team is young has been thrown around since last season. That isn't what stood out to me.
The fact that the players need to get their playing time and that fans need to have patience falls right in line with the youth argument. That isn't it either.
The part I'm talking about isn't how much experience or playing time the players have had, but the strength of the teams that they've been playing against: "high class Division I talent."
Notre Dame's schedules these past two seasons (the seasons in which these young players have seen all of their playing time) has been noticeably weak.
To properly look at this, we must first define what "high class Division I talent" is. For simplicity's sake, I will define it as teams that finished the season in the Top 25. Since this season is not yet over, the current BCS rankings will be used for 2008.
In 2007, Notre Dame faced three teams that finished in the Top 25 in either the AP or USA Today polls: USC (3/2), Michigan (18/19), and Penn State (NR/25). But Michigan was coming off losses to Appalachian State and Oregon to start their season, so the level at which they were playing could be put into question.
In 2008, Notre Dame has faced three teams that are currently in the BCS Top 25: Michigan State (19), Boston College (21), and Pittsburgh (25). Before their loss to NC State last week, North Carolina was ranked 22nd and this weekend Notre Dame will be facing the sixth ranked USC Trojans.
In these two years, USC has been the only team securely within the ranks of college football's best. The other six teams were one loss or poor performance away from being unranked.
Jeff Samardzija said it best. These players need to play great talent to develop their great talent.
In baseball, you don't see players called up from A-ball to the big leagues. And on the rare occasion that it does happen (I can't think of one), have you ever heard of a player having success immediately after such a call-up?
The answer is no.
Major league organizations put their players in Double-A or (even better) Triple-A so that the players have experience against better players. That's how you develop talent.
Nick Saban turned Alabama around in one year with young talent. But his team is playing in the SEC with the likes of UF, LSU, and Georgia. Even the lesser teams in the conference can beat up on a good deal of the teams in college football.
The biggest knock against Charlie has been his ability to develop the players that he has recruited. But his job isn't being made any easier with these schedules.
Now, it should be noted that I'm not giving Charlie a free pass on this. He should still be able to find a way to develop his players. I'm just saying that it might not be as bad as it seems.
Look at last season. The team couldn't have done much worse, right? At least a tougher schedule would have provided some quality experience and a decent excuse.
Getting back to the current situation, Charlie has shown his ability to get upperclassmen to play at a high level. He did that in his first two seasons.
As of right now, the vast majority of the team's talented players are underclassmen. Next year, a decent portion of those guys will be juniors and a new class of great freshmen will be coming in. Maybe Charlie can do it again.
If he isn't let go after this season, then pay attention next year. That is when there will no longer be an excuse for him.
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