It's comical to suggest that there are only "5 Things To Watch" in any Notre Dame game, but to infer that merely a quintet of storylines are worth mentioning during a season opener is beyond ridiculous. I'll be watching a million "things" on the field this Saturday afternoon and so will you when ND squares off against Temple. Later I'll be scanning for a million more during multiple re-watches. Since you sure as hell won't read the entire, never unfinished, list of "things" I will be reading into between the lines at Notre Dame Stadium – I'll continue to put out just five items of interest for you to peruse and if you care to let me know what YOU'RE most intrigued by then by all means the comment section is open season. Notre Dame should be lining up a game plan this weekend that includes an Action List of : 1. Big Early Lead 2. Play A LOT of Guys, 3. Show Little to Michigan. The possibility of a very delicious offering awaits those clamoring at possible sneak peeks of highly touted freshmen or more accurate depth charts. Let's kick this season off!
I highly recommend you tune into my most recent podcast featuring Twitter royalty and former Sports Illustrated writer John Walters (ND 88') and current CollegeSpun.com columnist Tyler Moorehead (ND 13') as we preview the season. When I popped a surprise question to Walters about Temple University's most famous alum, Bill Cosby, he returned volley with a interaction he once had between himself, Cosby, and Tom Brokaw. Walters also laid out his plan to re-name the Heisman Trophy and explained why Tommy Rees isn't the most important player to a successful Notre Dame season. Tyler detailed his thoughts on Tommy Rees expectations based off my recent review of Brian Kelly's offensive tenancies with this style of quarterback. We also discussed his recent controversial article about Everett Golson's plans for the fall semester that includes zero classes and stints in San Diego.
Five Things To Watch
5. Dan Hicks Replaces Tom Hammond – Caught up in the offseason of discontent was the news regarding long-time NBC play-by-play man Tom Hammond, who was removed from the booth after 13 seasons calling ND home games. Fans who'd grown tired of Hammond's often droll broadcasts are embracing the change even if Dan Hicks chops as a football mind are not well-known in comparison to his time calling Olympic swimming. If the 2008 Olympics of Michael Phelps are any indication – Hicks isn't afraid to raise the decibel during moments of necessary intensity. It would also seem that Hicks, who is extremely aggressive on-air in comparison to Hammonds, is better suited to bounce commentary off color man Mike Mayock who always operated with Hammond like the two were driving separate cars at varying speeds to different destinations. I did not know until recently that Hicks in married to another famous TV personality – Notre Dame alum Hannah Storm. This can only be another bonus to the switch, right?
4. Offensive Line Replaces & Reshuffles – It's not an exaggeration to believe in alternate scenarios that the entire left side of Notre Dame's offensive would be competing to start on NFL teams at this juncture. Zack Martin & Chris Watt have soared under the national radar for the past few seasons while dominating consistently in all phases of the game. When moving to their right we begin to encounter some uncertainty headed into the 2013 season where all three spots are slated to be manned by different players. Christian Lombard did start every game in 2012 at Right Tackle but he'll be taking over a new role at Right Guard if the depth chart and practice reports are accurate. Brian Kelly has preached his OL philosophy of "getting the best five players on the field" and apparently that instituted the change to ensure two youngsters get their opportunity to play early. Listed Right Tackle starter Ronnie Stanley may be the heir apparent to Zack Martin on the other side but he holds the inside track over true freshman Steve Elmer who we expect to see plenty of Saturday at tackle and guard. Zack's younger brother is locked in at center and all reports share raving reviews of his ascension. The reason this is all important is because Tommy Rees lack of athleticism dictates that this group must be solid in all phases to be productive. Rees can't escape a mistake by this unit like an Everett Golson did so many times last fall.
3. Ishaq Williams Is "Done Marinating" - Over the past 10 days Brian Kelly has revealed that the former 5-Star recruit was now the team's #3 defensive end <wild applause> , having moved from OLB, and that he is "done marinating" <ears perked> and ready to contribute extensively on defense. This is a change in praise by the head coach who often inferred that Ishaq never had a handle on the responsibilities at OLB and that the effort rarely matched the talent. For many – that was already plain to see. Ishaq opened 2012 with a fantastic forced fumble against Navy but didn't contribute much the rest of the way for the Irish defense. He still has zero career sacks. Against a lower tier team like Temple, who is instituting a new pro-style offense, Ishaq has no excuse to not wreak some havoc when rushing the passer. Let's hope Week 1 is the beginning and not the end of a season filled with tackles for loss.
2. Running Backs For Days - It's often said about quarterback competitions that drag into the season "if you have two viable starters you really have none" but it usually applies much less to skill positions. With Will Mahone out for the game, the team still features five quality players vying for snaps vacated by Theo Riddick & Cierre Wood. I'll say this from an offensive lineman perspective – I didn't enjoy expansive RB timeshares, especially when their skills and running styles are completely different. How an offensive line blocks over the course of a season shifts as they become accustomed to tenancies. This is extremely difficult to gage on film unless you're the coach or players involved but it holds true. I'm not necessarily saying it's a bad thing but I expect Temple to be the beginning of the George Atkinson experiment with Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle & Greg Bryant taking 20-30% of the snaps opposed to others who think it rails closer to a 30-20-20-10-10 that includes Tarean Folston.
1. Jaylon Smith Debuts – Is he the "most important" development in regards to Notre Dame's 2013 success? Absolutely not. Will his Saturday be the most talked about? That is very likely. I had him on the Top 5 list heading into the week, but Smith's turn on the Strong & True documentary over the weekend has Irish fans losing their shit and he moved up to the top spot. Jack Nolan and Brian Kelly only show so much during the practice videos for good purpose, but you can't hide the impressive skills of Jaylon Smith whenever he flashes on the screen. He's set to become the first true freshman starter at outside linebacker since one of my idols – Kory Minor in 1995. I expect him to make one or two eye-opening plays against Temple and rile up the fans expectations heading into the meat of the schedule in Ann Arbor next week. This is likely the start of something very very special.
Mayock's Man: An addition to this post is a prediction of who NBC color analyst Mike Mayock will feature from the opposing team. There is only one option here and it's linebacker Tyler Matakevich. The sophomore was the Big East Defensive Rookie of the Year and totaled 101 tackles in 2012. This is notable for a number of reasons none more so than the fact he had 6 stops on October 5th and hadn't started a game. Expect Mayock and the production crew to have a camera on Matakevich to highlight how Temple uses him and the ways in which Notre Dame attempts to divert the tackling machine. When the Irish get up by 21 is when this likely stops and extended commentary on "rebuilding Temple" with a new coach and highlighting ND freshmen will commence.
Tomorrow – Game Preview: Temple