Irish Blogger Gathering: The Trials of Stanford

irish blogger gathering

Welcome to the Irish Blogger Gathering on Subway Domer. Keith Arnold of NBC’s Inside the Irish has this weeks questions.

Let’s IBG this thing…

1. Obviously, Saturday night’s game is massive. Win, and the Irish get to nine wins after starting 0-2, and you can make a really persuasive argument that they’re deserving of a BCS berth. Lose, and ND only makes incremental progress over last year’s 8-5 record. Three potential outcomes: Win, close loss, ten-point loss. How does your takeaway for the season change?

From a purely practical viewpoint, defeating Stanford on Saturday probably wouldn’t do a whole lot for Notre Dame’s bowl prospects.  At this stage of the season, a BCS berth is probably unlikely, and the Champs Sports Bowl the probable post-season destination for the Irish.  Beyond such considerations, however, there’s the psychic effect on both team and fans of improving on last year’s win total and defeating a Top-10 team.  With these things in mind, my breakdown would be as follows:

  • Win: Notre Dame’s younger players feel an enormous surge of confidence which carries them to a post-season victory, a few fence-sitting recruits decide the arrow’s pointing up on the program and toss the Irish their commitment and Irish fans breath a sigh of relief comparable to the ending of the bowl losing streak.
  • Close Loss: Players feel disappointment, but are able to take solace in a hard-fought game under tough circumstances, and regroup during the run-up to their bowl.  Fanbase is split between those who blame the loss on injuries, turnovers, Tommy Rees and those who find rays of sunlight in even the most disappointing outcome.  Much navel-gazing ensues.
  • Ten-Point Loss: Players demoralized after challenging and slightly disappointing campaign, and a handful (well, Te’o) confirm they’re not coming back next year (probably going that way, regardless).  Fanbase goes apoplectic and some cracks begin to appear in the “Kelly’s Our Guy” foundation.  Decommittment chatter begins making the rounds of the interwebs.

2. Right now the Irish have 15 prospects committed to the 2012 recruiting class. Let’s assume every starter with a year left is coming back (Cave, KLM, Cwynar and Slaughter) and the Irish end up signing 20 recruits. That’ll make 93 players technically available for the 85-man roster (With Mike Ragone potentially being No. 94). Assuming Te’o and Eifert are back next season, what reserves do you invite back for a fifth year? Why?

Fifth-year candidates:

  • Crist: Couldn’t have asked for a better representative of the school, or a more unfortunate sequence of events in a career.  Hopefully, Crist can use his last year of eligibility at a school where he can showcase the talent which made him a 5-star recruit coming out of high school.
  • Goodman: Had a few nice moments in his career (against WSU in the Alamo Dome, especially), but ultimately, becomes a victim of young talent at his position.
  • Walker: Great expectations coming in, but things just didn’t work out for Walker.  Not likely to be back.
  • Golic: Tough call.  Cave will be back next year, but center’s too important a position, and Cave’s injury too concerning, to not have a solid insurance policy.  I vote ‘yes’ on bringing back Golic.

  • Clelland: Like others in this group, an injury hurt his chances to be a bigger contributor, and it’s unlikely he’ll be back in 2012.
  • Hafis Williams: Williams has provided some depth along the defensive line this year, but probably not enough to warrant another year.
  • Brandon Newman: A guy who seemed to come into college on an upswing, but was never able to put it all together.  As with Williams, depth alone is probably not a sufficient reason to bring Newman back.
  • McDonald: Much like his high school teammate, Dayne Crist, McDonald’s career at Notre Dame never really matched the high expectations which marked his signing.  Not coming back.
  • Posluszny: Anytime your older brother is one of the best to play the position at a school with that position as a nickname (that would be in the halcyon days when Penn State was known as “Linebacker U,” rather than, well, you know), expectations will be unreasonably high.  Sadly for Posluszny, things didn’t shake out as hoped.  Not coming back.
  • McCarthy: Another player who had to endure comparisons with a successful older sibling (this one a recent Irish hero), McCarthy was another guy victimized by injury and tough competition, and is not likely to return.
  • Ragone* (Sixth Year): With so much misfortune due to injuries, it’s hard not to feel badly for Ragone.  It’s also tough to justify bringing him back for a sixth year.  For everyone involved, it’s probably time for him to move on from his football career.

3. If you ran the website NDNation, what would you do with it? It’s the most prominent Notre Dame hub on all of the internet, but it’s got a very vocal faction of readers/fans that seem to control the agenda — most often with a significantly negative point-of-view. What would you do if that was your website?

I would actually leave it as is.  The last 18 or so years of relative Irish football struggle have exacerbated the strong opinions of the Notre Dame fanbase to a point where, at the antipodes, you have those who want the coach fired with every loss and those who feel every win is evidence of the coming resurgence.  

NDNation largely represents the interests of the former of these two groups, and that’s ok by me.  Fans should have forums to give voice to their opinions and, if other’s find them to be disagreeable, they can either slug it out in that venue or find another in which they’re more comfortable.  To me, sites like NDNation provide a product that a sizeable number of consumers value and, therefore, should be able to continue plying its wares until voting by foot (or diminished site traffic) necessitates change.

4. You’re Brian Kelly. You spent last recruiting class successfully upgrading the front seven of the defense. Over the next two recruiting classes, what position groups do you absolutely need to upgrade to get the Irish over the BCS hump?

I guess one obvious choice is the secondary.  While there’s some young talent among that group, it’s unproven, and the defensive backfield is an area where depth is always key.  

The other area I suppose I’d focus on is the offensive line.  

Having seen the difference between the way an offense, and particularly running game, operates with a weak (2007-2009) versus strong (2010-2011), it’s hard to take for granted the importance of depth and experience in the offensive trenches.  

Certainly other areas (WR, RB, LB) could have a case made for them, but to me secondary and offensive line, given the number of positions involved, and importance, rank highest.

5. I’ve seen dozens of analogies used to describe the current state of the quarterbacking position at Notre Dame. What’s your favorite, or the one you think is the most appropriate?

Fish out of water/Plenty of fish in the sea.  As the season has worn on, it has become increasingly apparent that Tommy Rees is a fish out of water in the Notre Dame offense.  While his performance has been mostly adequate, and sometimes good, it’s fair to say his inability to stretch the field with his arm, or challenge the defense with his feet, makes him ill-equipped to run the type of offense Brian Kelly has traditionally had in place.

Conversely, there are plenty of fish in the sea as Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson and, dare we dream, Gunner Kiel wait in the wings.  While none has Rees’ experience, each of them seem to possess the requisite physical skils for running a Brian Kelly offense.  The big offseason question then becomes, who will prove to be the big fish in a small pond.

Ok, I’m done with the fish analogies; moving on..

6. Get out the crystal ball. Even after an unimpressive weekend, the Irish are right around a seven-point underdog to Stanford. Do the Irish leave Palo Alto victorious?

While I’m not a terrifically huge fan of the “on the one hand/on the other hand” approach to analysis, it seems apt in this case.  On the one hand, Notre Dame is banged up, coming off an unimpressive performance and playing the type of opponent (highly ranked) they’ve struggled against since George Gipp was signing his letter-of-intent (ok, it just seems that long).  On the other hand, close scrutiny of Stanford’s schedule suggests they’ve played a fairly weak schedule, struggled against the better teams they’ve played and possesses a defense which seems especially vulnerable, giving up 48 points to USC, 53 to Oregon and 28 to a pretty mediocre Cal team.  To me, what this comes down to is, can Notre Dame muster sufficient motivation to knock off the Cardinal.  As mentioned earlier, Notre Dame’s bowl future is likely sealed regardless of outcome, whereas a loss probably knocks Stanford out of BCS consideration.  If the Irish can somehow find it within themselves to “Win One for Jonas,” or just for their own pride, this is certainly a winnable game.  

Unfortunately, I think a combination of a fired up Stanford and depleted Irish result in ND dropping their fourth of the season.

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