Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 5:56 PM
For some reason…when Notre Dame announced last week that Dayne Crist would be their starting quarterback this season…the topic of the “national championship” kept coming up.
Coach Brian Kelly said that he was confident Crist was the kind of quarterback who could lead them to a championship. The media pretty much left this unchallenged, with a few pundits jumping on the bandwagon.
How about THIS for a response?
*Look, Coach Kelly, you guys were 8-5 last year, with losses to Tulsa and Navy. How is THAT a championship pedigree?
*You guys ranked 61st on offense and 50th on defense against a schedule that had a few week spots. Somehow, this year, you’re going to be better than the SEC powers?
*The best team you played last year was Stanford, who beat you 37-14 on your home field. That means you were more than three touchdowns worse than the national powers last season. And, Crist was your quarterback then. Now you’re championship material?
Notre Dame certainly seems to be moving in the right direction under Coach Kelly. We won’t deny that. And, we’ll continue to look for spots to exploit that just like we did last year. Handicappers have to be in touch with REALITY rather than the hype that programs try to sell about themselves…by way of a media that also profits from hype rather than reality (hence the big wake up call when so many ESPN-hyped teams run into trouble with the law…how could a SAINT like Jim Tressel ever do anything wrong?)
Notre Dame should definitely be better than they were last year. You’ll see in a moment that they return a lot of starters for a coach who’s established that he knows what he’s doing. The wire service polls have the Irish at 16th (AP) and 18th (USA Today). Those sound a lot more reasonable than anything suggesting a national championship contender…particularly when you realize that the top 4-5 teams in the sport are often WAY ahead of the field. Notre Dame would have NO SHOT of winning the SEC. The only reason they’re even in the BCS discussion at all right now is because the schedule keeps getting softer.
Longtime rival Michigan isn’t what they used to be
Longtime rival USC isn’t what they used to be
Longtime rival Purdue is a shadow of its former self
Notre Dame could conceivably be favored all the way until their season finale at Stanford. But, that’s because a team that’s maybe 15-20th best is playing a bunch of teams in the 30’s and below.
Let’s crunch some numbers for Notre Dame and the handful of other Independents as we bring our summer series of college football previews to a close.
Athlon Ranking: 6th
2010 Total Offense: 61st
2010 Total Defense: 50th
Strength: Pass Offense (34th)
Weakness: Rush Offense (92nd)
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Brian Kelly
Notebook: There we go, 8 starters back on offense…and 8 starters back on defense. The Irish did close the season well last year, which is often an indicator for a springboard the following season. The problem is, they beat up disinterested Miami in their bowl, and disorganized and distraught USC in a late season TV game. Notre Dame didn’t overpower those opponents. They outsmarted and out-grinded them. Take that into a bowl meeting vs. a fired up SEC team and you lose 24-3, or 31-10. But…before any postseason drama, this new attitude in South Bend could truly do some damage.
We see these as the “swing games” that will determine the season. Win them all, and you’re in the BCS picture until the season finale at Stanford. Split them out, and you’re a nice story that continues to develop. Struggle, and prepare for the media backlash about overselling in August.
Michigan (on the road)
Pittsburgh (with a new offense)
Maryland (in Landover)
Interesting group. None of those teams are picked to win their conferences. Yet, all but Navy were in the top 41 of Athlon’s Preseason rankings…and Navy beat Notre Dame last year 35-17. You can’t say Notre Dame has a killer schedule this year because there aren’t any real powers on it until Stanford. But, you can’t say it’s easy either because almost everyone on the slate can walk and chew gum. While hitting you!
To us, that qualifies as a gauntlet. And, the danger of gauntlets is that they wear you down over time. It’s very hard to play at a peak when you’re going at full speed almost every single week against threatening opposition. If Notre Dame runs the table…we’ll give them the appropriate kudos at the time. We’ll be watching their season opener next Saturday vs. South Florida very closely. BJ Daniels will present some challenges at quarterback. You know Skip Holtz wants to win at the site where his father used to coach.
The other Independents…
Athlon Ranking: 34th
2010 Total Offense: 73rd
2010 Total Defense: 24th
Strength: Pass Defense (23rd)
Weakness: Pass Offense (76th)
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall
Notebook: It will be interesting to see how BYU handles its newfound independence. They may have overrated themselves when making the decision. It’s easy to get delusions of grandeur after an 11-2 season. That was BYU in 2009, when they finished 12th in the final AP and USA today polls. Then they decided they could become the Notre Dame of their region…a religious school with national scope. BYU announced they were going to leave the Mountain West conference to go independent. Well, that arrogance led to a 7-6 campaign in their final Mountain West season, and the realization that they really weren’t anything special. The loss to horrible Utah State was a low point, finishing off a 1-4 start that embarrassed the program. BYU did close well vs. an extremely weak back half of the schedule.
The offense should be a strength (after a stunning drop to 73rd nationally last year). Jake Heaps at quarterback leads nine returning starters. They hope to have enough firepower to compete with Ole Miss, Texas, and Utah in their first three games of the season. It gets much easier later in the season, with Utah State, San Jose State, the two Idaho schools, and New Mexico State. Hopefully the media will adjust for context rather than being impressed by gaudy final scores against patsies.
Athlon Ranking: 56th
2010 Total Offense: 38th
2010 Total Defense: 75th
Strength: Rush Offense (6th)
Weakness: Pass Offense (117th)
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 2 on defense
Head Coach: Ken Niumatolo
Notebook: This team is seemingly automatic. They’re not going to get much respect in the polls because they don’t have breakout talent. But, they’ll battle hard every week and figure out a way to pull off an upset or two and coast to a bowl bid. Last year’s team had some poor showings, particularly one-point wins over Wake Forest and Central Michigan. And, the bowl loss to San Diego State was a non-competitive 35-14 disaster. With only two returning starters on defense, we’ll have to think about going Over in early season games against Western Kentucky and South Carolina. The basic fundamentals of handicapping Navy games never change. If the opponent is bad against the run, you take Navy. If the opponent is decent against the run, you consider the opponent.
Athlon Ranking: 80th
2010 Total Offense: 93rd
2010 Total Defense: 29th
Strength: Rush Offense (8th)
Weakness: Pass Offense (120th)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Rich Ellerson
Notebook: Army stepped forward last year, even earning a bowl trip and victory (16-14 over SMU in the Armed Forces Bowl). Defense was the calling card in terms of the raw stats. But, the schedule did include non entities like Eastern Michigan, North Texas, Tulane, and VMI…as well as back end programs like Duke, Temple, and Kent State. Some of the “step forward” was an illusion based on a soft schedule. But, there has been legitimate improvement. This program isn’t a doormat any more. If Coach Ellerson continues to build confidence and a sense of pride, the future is bright. We’ll be looking for a good live dog spot in the first month of the season with the Black Knights.
Thanks to all of you who hung with us from the Big 10 previews back in Early July all the way through the final mid major weekend here in late August! The regular season is finally here. THE GAMES BEGIN THURSDAY!
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