Notre Dame Preview and Interview With Ty Hildenbrandt

Gators FirstCorrespondent IAugust 18, 2009

Written by Gatorsfirst.com and Ty Hildenbrandt

With the college football season rapidly approaching, Gatorsfirst.com is presenting a different take on the 2009 season every day for the entire month of August. We call it our ''Full Month of College Football Previews."

As part of the project, we are having fellow bloggers and other college football personalities from around the SEC and the rest of the nation give us their take on the current state of college football. This approach will allow us to bring you a much more in-depth look at the 2009 season than we could possibly provide on our own.

The next in this series is the Notre Dame season preview, by Ty Hildenbrandt. Ty co-hosts the Solid Verbal podcast and writes for SI.com.

As he is a lifelong Notre Dame fan, we turned to him for his take on the Fighting Irish's outlook for 2009. Check out the interview below.

Gatorsfirst (G1): How did you become a fan of your team?

Ty Hildenbrandt (TH): I’m not your typical Notre Dame fan, seeing as how I was raised in eastern Pennsylvania and have a bachelor’s degree from Penn State University. But when you’re raised by a large Italian family, all of which is Catholic, your fate is pretty much sealed from birth. 

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Despite the jarring realization at age 12 that I would never run one-eighth as fast as Raghib Ismail, I remain a rabid Irish fan.

(G1): Describe the gameday atmosphere.

(TH): The gameday atmosphere at Notre Dame is actually somewhat muted compared to that of State College and other places I’ve been. (Perhaps I’m biased after enduring four years of intense, alcohol-centric tailgating during college.) 

If I were to describe the scene, I’d say it’s more “mature” than “fanatical.”

I don’t want to give the impression that fans don’t get into the game—that’s not the case at all—but it’s definitely more “rehearsal dinner” than “bachelor party.

With that said, Notre Dame Stadium is a cathedral for college football, and an all-around fantastic place to watch a college football game on a fall day. 

The stadium is so closely interwoven into the campus that you really get to fully experience how time stands still on a major college when college football is in the air. 

I’d recommend a Notre Dame football game to almost anyone. And by “almost anyone”, of course, I’m referring to people that don’t stick for Southern Cal. 

I’m just about ready to scrap that rivalry and substitute IUPUI for USC.

And, if you’re interested, my gameday ritual usually involves a No. 10 Brady Quinn or a No. 3 Michael Floyd jersey (purchased during the maligned Ron Powlus-era) and lots of screaming at the TV while watching the game with my mother.

Yes, my mother. She might be a bigger ND fan than anyone I know—she’s five-foot-zero and I’m convinced she’d kill an elephant with her bare hands if it blocked her view of the television on gameday. Don’t eff with Mama Hildenbrandt.

(G1): Give me some thought on your coaching staff. Are you satisfied? Do you wish your team ran different schemes? How is recruiting?

(TH): From the very beginning, I was the biggest proponent of hiring Charlie Weis, and I’m sticking to my guns until the bitter end, whether that means an unceremonious dismissal or 10 consecutive national championships. 

Though I’d like him to be a little less pompous, I think people need to realize the state of the football program when he grabbed the reins from Ty Willingham. 

In hindsight, the worst thing that could’ve ever happened to Weis was Brady Quinn, if only because he fanned the flames of unrealistic expectations.

I am satisfied to the extent that I think Weis has learned and continues to learn from his past mistakes.

He’s learned that he can’t micromanage. He’s learned that he needs to get better at picking assistant coaches. He’s learned that he can’t be quite as abrasive as Bill Belichick and get away with it at the collegiate level. 

He’s probably even learned to accept that stupid “Lord of the Rings” nickname that Brent Musburger gave him during his first season. I think he’s evolved and progressed as a coach, and after Willingham, that gives me the warm fuzzies.

Recruiting has been outstanding, and I can’t say enough good things about how Weis and his staff have replenished the program with talent. The problem, though, as with any program, is piecing that talent together in a way that builds a winning foundation. 

Weis hasn’t proven that he can do this yet, and if he doesn’t soon, people like Paul Finebaum will continue spreading unfounded rumors about Urban Meyer bolting for South Bend. 

In reality, if Weis can improve upon last year’s record and use ND’s bowl win as a catalyst for 2009, I’d be completely content. Everyone wants to go 12-0. I just want people to be realistic.

(G1): Who is a player we might not know from Notre Dame that you are excited about this season? Why?

(TH): You might already know about running back Armando Allen, but I’m still excited about him, especially because he won two Heismans in my NCAA ’09 dynasty last year. Guy was money. 

Here’s someone with great versatility and blinding speed—the problem for him has been the fact that ND’s offensive line has refused to block anyone for the last two years, hence the reason the offense, as a whole, hasn’t clicked. 

I’m hopeful that ND’s line has improved from “Waiting For The Bus” to “Getting In Someone’s Way” this season, and I expect Allen to play a much larger role in ND’s offense.

(G1): Make one point about Notre Dame you think is overlooked on the national level.

(TH): This is officially the first time “Notre Dame” and “overlooked” have ever appeared in the same sentence. Honestly. I need a second to digest that.

(G1): Take your time. Fire when ready.

(TH): Phew. Thanks. OK, I’ll get back to a point I raised earlier: I don’t think people really understand the state of the ND football program after Ty Willingham was dismissed. 

I’ve heard countless stories from trusted sources who claim that the players had lost all faith in their coach and no longer respected him.That’s a pretty big deal. 

The offense had no identity, the defense was being asked to win every game, and it was just a lousy situation that wasn’t conducive to long-term (or short-term, for that matter) stability.

So, I think Weis deserves some slack, even though that honeymoon period has just about run its course.

He entered into a situation not only with many built-in advantages, but also with several major obstacles that people ignored simply because it was fun to pile on Notre Dame.

(G1): Would it be a good idea for Notre Dame to join the Big Ten?

(TH): Depends on your perspective. 

If you’re the Big Ten, it’s the best idea since sliced bread. If you’re Notre Dame, then I’m not so sure. 

Notre Dame doesn’t have to split its NBC revenues with anyone, plus, it gets an automatic BCS berth (and payout) if it finishes in the top eight of the final BCS standings. 

The Big Ten doesn’t offer a package quite as peachy. 

The issue with this setup, though, is that it only makes sense (long-term) if Notre Dame is a steady, top-eight team. That hasn’t exactly happened. 

Each year, it’s either a big win-win situation or a big lose-lose. 

Personally, I’m just hoping that Notre Dame is allowed back into a BCS bowl if it should ever find itself in the top eight. Did you see ND’s last two BCS games? They made cyanide look like an attractive condiment.

At the end of the day, this all comes down to money. Anyone who talks about the pageantry of remaining independent doesn’t know what they’re talking about. 

College football is a business nowadays. Notre Dame will find a way to join the Big Ten when it is no longer as profitable to stay independent. End of story.

(G1): How much did you like the bowl system pre-BCS? As a fan, how much do you concentrate on 'National Championships'? Has this changed in the last decade or so?

(TH): I hated the bowl system almost as much as I hate the BCS. Almost. But, at least it knew what it was and embraced that fact that a “true” national champion might or might not be crowned. 

It was completely chaotic and controversial, but the most charming thing about it was that it simply didn’t care. Hey, whatever! We’ll make it up as we go along! It works for the adult film industry!

The BCS, on the other hand, should lose a sponsor every time it claims to crown the real champion in college football. Gag me. 

Does anyone really believe this? 

If this were the case, why don’t we see the BCS being used to determine the champion of the NFL, NBA, or Major League Baseball? And how is it that every other college sport has some version of a playoff to determine its champion? 

This is a corrupt, money-driven system in a corrupt, money-driven world. Period. How else do you explain an automatic berth for Notre Dame whenever it finishes in the top eight? 

Far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth, but let’s be honest here.

That said, I stopped concentrating on national championships when Notre Dame lost to Syracuse two years ago—that was rock bottom for me. I think I blacked out. 

My new goal, as a fan, is for Notre Dame to beat all the service academies and Syracuse-like teams on its schedule. Do that, make a bowl, and I’m happy. 

If the Irish should happen to make a BCS game, just make it competitive. That’s all I ask.

(G1): What sort of changes, if any should be made to the BCS system?

(TH): Though I’d love to see an eight-team playoff, I know that’s not going to happen anytime soon. 

So, I’d like to see a plus-one format retrofitted onto the existing system. That’d be a good starting point, and might stop Orrin Hatch from launching anymore BCS hearings. Even C-SPAN was bored with those.

(G1): Are the polls a good idea in the first place? Should they play a role in determining a 'National Champion'?

(TH): Polls are a good idea in ice skating, where results can only be subjectively determined. 

But, in football? I’ve always looked at them as a cheat sheet for people who can’t watch every single game, or the gasbags who drink a few beers and want to act like know-it-alls. 

Should polls determine a champion? Of course not. But that’s what we’re sort of stuck with, so live with it.

That said, I will say that they are a GREAT cheat sheet if you do find yourself, you know, not being able to watch EVERY SINGLE GAME—basically, if you’re a normal human being with a social life. 

While there may be some biased voters out there, there are also a lot of unbiased, educated pollsters (like SI’s Stewart Mandel) who vote honestly and know what they’re talking about.

(G1): How much should non-BCS teams be included in the BCS and other high payout- bowls? How much do you watch these teams?

(TH): Admittedly, I don’t see a whole lot of them unless they’re playing against a team from a BCS conference. And that’s a shame, because teams like Utah and Boise State play an exciting brand of football. 

The question, though, is whether that brand of football is equal to the likes of the power conferences. Start asking questions like that and it gets a bit murkier, which is why I’m especially interested in BYU’s season. 

The Cougs play both Oklahoma and Florida State this year. If by some miracle they should beat both AND go unbeaten in the Mountain West, we could be looking at another cataclysmic situation that the BCS has yet to face: a non-BCS team sneaking its way into a BCS championship game. 

It’s a long shot, but since inventing doomsday scenarios for the BCS has quickly become as American as apple pie and baseball, I figured I’d just throw it out there.

The extent to which non-BCS teams should be included is a tricky question. Obviously, you can’t include every Sun Belt team that goes 12-0 because the competition is considerably weaker. 

But in the same breath, you can’t discount the fact that both Utah and Boise State have won BCS bowl games. The BCS’s answer has been to add an extra game and overcompensate by throwing the Mountain West a stray BCS berth every year. 

It’s not a terrible idea and allows worthy programs to grow, but it’s still not 100-percent fair.

My point: If teams like Utah can never play for a real national championship, then why bother being in the bowl subdivision at all? Seriously. 

Supporters of the current system would say that the Utes still get a payout for playing in a BCS game (or any bowl game for that matter). I’d thank those people for proving my point that this system is entirely money-driven. 

Any competitive person would argue that a huge payout isn’t any consolation for the pride of winning a championship, or at least competing for one.

Unfortunately, this is one dilemma that would remain even with a playoff, so I don’t really know the answer here. 

Should non-BCS teams be given a fair shake at the title? I think so. How? Um, do we have time for a round-robin, 119-game schedule? If not, then I honestly have no idea.

You can view the original interview here: http://gatorsfirst.com/index.php/florida-gators-sports-news/college-football/notre-dame-preview-interview-with-ty-hildenbrandt.html