With the travel plans already set in stone, the Fighting Irish are setting their sights on their Hawaii Bowl game with the hometown Warriors. Even though this is not what many Irish fans had hoped for, this game is a good alternative on many levels.
First of all, this a pretty good option considering that the other bowls like Shreveport were not marquee destinations that you want to send your team or fans to. To be perfectly honest, I believe the Irish have a good chance to win this ball game even though you are playing in Hawaii's backyard.
The alternative would have been a dangerous 9-3 Rice squad that is loaded on the offensive side of the ball. Definitely a shootout that Notre Dame wouldn't have wanted to be a part of.
What I don't understand is, why all the negativity of going to the Hawaii Bowl? It's a snobbish, elitist thing to do if they didn't go, and worst yet, the media and all the ND haters would have thought the same too. I'm perfectly happy with this game on many levels.
1) Playing in front of their top target.
Notre Dame didn't do a good sales pitch the first time Manti Te'o saw the Irish against Syracuse. Now he has two huge weeks of Notre Dame infomercials throughout his state of the Irish playing in the bowl game.
2) Keeping up with the Joneses.
With all the extra practice time, Notre Dame can stay on par with the other 60+ schools that will be playing in the postseason. If the Irish don't go, then they are well behind the other programs that are benefiting from the 15 extra practices. Better yet, Nevada is going to a bowl and will have this time to get others ready for spring ball and next season.
3) Stresses fundamentals.
These extra practices the Irish get for Hawaii Bowl preparations are great for the younger players. It helps them get up to speed on technique and a leg up for spring ball.
4) Stop the streak.
Simply put, if you don't play, the streak continues for another year. What do they have to lose, really? Is there much difference between 6-6 and 6-7? A win won't erase the entire 2008 season, but it will definitely build some momentum heading into the 2009 campaign.
So leading up to the Christmas Eve showdown, there are a lot of questions that still need to be answered.
Q. How are the Irish health-wise?
A. They are going to be fairly healthy and full go with most of their players. Brian Smith and Michael Floyd are the two most Irish fans are concerned about. If everything goes well with them this week, they should be on the practice field on Friday before they chart the plane to Hawaii. So they'll get in a few practices before they head into the Aloha state.
The Irish are only practicing 10 times total before the game, and both Smith and Floyd have already missed practices one and two. Both of them are pretty much good to go on Friday unless there is a snag in the plans.
Armando Allen is also scheduled to be back on Friday as well. His return will give Notre Dame some more added depth at the running back position.
Robert Hughes, who was originally thought to have been suspended for the first half of the bowl game, instead will miss the first half of the Nevada game. Per NCAA rule, a player must sit out a half of a regular season game. They do not punish a student-athlete during a bowl game.
Terrail Lamber, who missed the last three games, is back practicing at full speed.
Mike Anello will not be playing against the Warriors due to a cracked fibula and will miss two to four months to heal. Basically he'll miss spring ball. And yes, he's right at the top of the list of fifth-year returners.
Lastly, Robby Parris had a knee sprain and missed the USC game. If he does come back for practices, it won't be until the Irish arrive in Hawaii on Dec. 20. So you're probably not going to see Parris in action at all during the bowl game.
Q. Any Possible Transfers Looming?
A. This is definitely the time of the season for it, and you're probably not going to hear any talk until after the bowl game. There's not going to be as many like last season, but I've already heard rumblings of one player. He's not a surprise by any means if he does decide to transfer, and he would be leaving on good terms, which wasn't the case for some players last season.
We'll have to wait and see how it plays out this week. You're not going to see a mass exodus with hard feelings like last year, that's for sure.
Q. Did Notre Dame have many bowl options, and is this the best option for the Irish?
A. After hearing the players talk on Monday, I do believe this is the best situation for them. They were pretty excited about going to Hawaii and breaking the bowl skid. Had it been Shreveport or Detroit, I would have said it would have been a real downer. You're 6-6 and being rewarded with the Independence Bowl against Louisiana Tech. Yee-haw!
I don't mean to bad-mouth Shreveport, but I've spent almost two years down there, and it felt like forever. It's not a fun place to go for a bowl game.
I realize this is a business trip, but when you're 18, 19, or 20 years old, you want to enjoy this moment. From that standpoint, it was a good decision.
Plus there are a few benefits from going which I didn't state from above. Besides being in Te'o's face for a few weeks, if we land him in South Bend, he'll be the biggest victory for the Irish this season. He's that good of a player.
Secondly, this bowl game gets Notre Dame away from the negative residue that is still bubbling around the team's recent struggles and Charlie Weis. If the Irish are going to have a lot of media following them around on this trip, which there won't be too many, it's not going to be bash on ND week. So you won't see and read stories of an Irish meltdown or train wreck.
Basically you're going to see the media legitimately cover the Irish in a professional manner. So no Jeff Carroll hate on the Irish pieces. Thank God!
If fans weren't happy about this game, the alternative would have been worse: Rice in Houston at the Texas Bowl. The Owls have a dynamic offense with a good quarterback and an All-America receiver in Jarret Dillard. Once again Notre Dame would have been playing in an opponent's backyard. Plus, how many fans have the NFL network?
I'll take paradise over a bad loss any day. And yes, I'll explain why I believe the Irish will beat Hawaii in the coming days.
Q. How often does a long snapper get a scholarship?
A. How many teenagers are willing to clean their rooms without any complaining? That's how often it happens in college football. Jordan does come from a great high school that produced Sam Young and Dan Wenger, and also next year's punter Ben Turk.
Maybe Charlie is looking back at the bad snap in the Syracuse game. We do criticize him for not taking special teams seriously. But by getting a guy who's only going to be doing this for four years, and doing it well, is definitely worth the scholarship. He's one of the best in the country at long snapping, so this one is justified.
Maybe this is something new we haven't seen before, but ND usually can get someone like a J.J. Jansen to do this job. Charlie, unlike some other coaches, doesn't like to use other position players as long snappers. So if Weis is serious about special teams, he's putting his money where his mouth is.
Q. Scholarship Availability: Are they OK to give one to a long snapper?
A. It's okay because the Irish are not chasing many players. I think if there was a coaching change, you would have seen Notre Dame go after a quarterback. Right now, all they are mostly looking at is defensive linemen and linebackers for their remaining scholarships.
When you start looking at some of the positions, the Irish are building some depth. There's pretty good depth at running back as long as nobody leaves. They've got the two recruits, Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, as well as this year's freshman, Jonas Gray. At the receiver positions, ND is awfully deep, and at tight end they'll be back to being deep next season.
It's really the front seven of the defense they are focusing on, with the two top targets at linebacker in Te'o and Jelani Jenkins. Both are the top linebackers in the country, and chances are the Irish are not going to land both, if any at all. So it is justified to give a scholarship to Cowart.
Charlie hasn't used his 85-scholarship limit either. ND is not going to get involved in anyone new that is looking at non-BCS conferences.