Irish Blogger Gathering: It’s Go Time

Finally, the wait is almost over.  My Saturdays will soon be filled with college football, loads of junk food, and far too much alcohol.

My liver is already cringing–all is right in the world.

Of course, now that we are in a game week, it’s IBG time.  This time around, our host is Frank from and here are his questions for this week’s gathering with my responses:

1. The big news of last week was Dayne Crist winning the starting QB spot.  Are you happy with the outcome and how comfortable are you with Crist as the starting quarterback for the 2011 season?

I’m quite happy with the predictable outcome.  As far as QB goes, I want experience whenever possible with the only exception being if there is a younger kid with a clear amount of greater talent.  I don’t believe that was the case here as all the other QBs seemed to be on pretty equal footing to a point, so going with Crist seems beyond obvious to me.

The main concern, of course, is injury, especially since Dayne has run out of healthy knees to blow up.  I’m hoping that he has learned how to better avoid injury when he’s out in the open field, but time will only tell with that.  My gut says that he’ll stay healthy for most of the season, but hey, if all else fails, Rees is a solid backup.

In the end though, you can’t worry about injury every snap.  Dayne was a solid weapon on the field and you have to believe that the red zone issues that plagued his game last season would be a thing of the past.  You also have to remember that Crist is a dual-threat at QB as well which fits in very nicely with Kelly’s offense.

Overall, he has the tools to succeed and he is proven (sorry Rees, a handful of wins does not a starting resume make).  There is no sense in benching the senior for another young gun this time around.

2. A lot of people say you see the biggest improvement between year 1 and 2 after a coaching change.  What area do you hope to see the biggest improvement in 2011?

I’m hoping to see dramatic improvement to the running game.  It seemed that the ground attack finally got a little bit of tracking later in the season and I think that starts to carry over in a big way this season.  With a year’s worth of experience under Kelly and several returning starters, we should see much more success this time around.

Plus, if Dayne stays healthy, you have to think that aids the running game as well. Crist should have a much better feel for the option plays this go-around and that will create several holes in opposing defenses.

3. I think we’ve all covered this year’s highly touted freshman class quite a bit this off-season already so instead, who do you see as this year’s Corey Mays?  Mays played primarly special teams for 3 seasons before a breakout season as a 5th year senior in 2005.  Who on the Irish roster can pull off a similar performance this season?

I’m going to go with Jonas Gray (yes, I know, I’m all about the running game this post).  He played some special teams, but has mostly been an afterthought in a crowded Irish backfield totaling only 75 carries and 5 receptions in his career.  Now the backfield will be lead by Cierre Wood, with Jonas seeing significant playing time and touches according to Kelly.  He ripped off a 36 yard run against Utah, so he’s definitely got some potential for some big plays.  I see him as a solid piece in this year’s backfield and considering that he will actually have the ball in his hands this season, I can definitely see some solid numbers from him.

4. Theo Riddick is a player I’ve been touting all off-season and think the is ready to become a big name in college football.  What player on Notre Dame’s roster who hasn’t yet broken out are you expecting to put up big numbers in 2011?

I should’ve just entitled this post “I think our running game won’t suck this season” because my money is on Cierre Wood.  The kid has loads of talent, but is probably better remembered for his fumbles and awful kickoff return decisions last season more than anything else.  However, he managed to put together an impressive rushing average of 5.1 yards on 119 carries (603 yards total) and also had 20 receptions for 170 yards as well.  Toss in his 300 kickoff return yards and you are looking at a total of 1,073 all-purpose yards.  Not too bad for a guy that started the season as a backup and coughed up the ball more than he should have.

Now, Cierre will be the featured back and should have his mistakes down to a minimum this time around.  With the majority of the opposing defensive focus on Floyd and the passing attack, this should open up some major opportunities for Wood to pad the stat sheet.

5. Notre Dame plays a legit opponent in South Florida unlike a lot of teams around the country.  How do you see this game playing out and does it help or hurt Notre Dame that they play a BCS conference opponent this weekend while Michigan plays Western Michigan?

Opening games in college football always scare the crap out of me.  Teams can spend all offseason to plan and figure out how to attack one team.  To add on to that, South Florida is coached by a Holtz who I’m sure would love to create a little bit of his own legend at ND, even if on the opposing side.  I’ll have more on my thoughts for this game in a later post, but the bottom line is that I believe ND is just simply far more talented than USF and we will win; however, I would not be surprised at all to have periods of the game that are just too close for comfort.

As far as playing a BCS conference opponent, I think it’s the best way to go.  Just ask Michigan how that whole Appalachian State thing worked out for them.  While it may seem logical to schedule a cupcake game, and while you might come out on top 99 times out of 100, I’m leery of playing the team that has absolutely nothing to lose and has an entire offseason to prepare for it.  Plus, why delay the season intensity?  If you want to be BCS/NC bound, you have to be ready to play every single game to perfection and not take an opponent for granted.  Starting off your season with a “we’ll destroy that cupcake” mentality doesn’t seem like the best way to start off the season.

And hey, if you happen to lose to a tougher opponent early, you can find so many ways to rationalize it and bounce back the next week.  If you lose to a team you are supposed to wipe the floor with though, kiss your confidence goodbye.

I just don’t see much of a benefit of “starting off easy”.  Give me the team that started their season off in hell any day.

6. Stealing this one from my IBG pre-season questions from last year – who is the Notre Dame player the Irish can least afford to lose this season?  For the sake of getting some different response, you can’t use Michael Floyd or Manti Te’o here.

David Ruffer.

Ok, sorry,  I couldn’t resist another DMQ shot.

In all seriousness, ND, for once, has some quality depth on most of their roster expect for one area in my mind: the secondary.  More specifically, color me terrified if we lose Harrison Smith this season.  Smith had a breakout end to the 2010 campaign and is now a force to be reckoned with on defense.  Dig past him on the depth chart though and you don’t have anything close to that.  Dan McCarthy is the projected backup and he’s seen very little playing time period.  You might be able to slide Zeke Motta over, but again, that’s quite the downgrade.

On a side note, if you had asked me last year at this time if I thought Harrison Smith was this vital of a player on the Irish squad, I would’ve laughed at you.  Crazy how things things in a season.

7. Obligatory pre-season prediction question:

  • Notre Dame’s final record (noting the losses): 12-1, lose to Stanford (I cannot believe I am predicting a record like this), and yes, I think we win the bowl game
  • Notre Dame’s bowl game and opponent: Fiesta Bowl against Big XII Champ Texas A&M (let me dream, this will be hilarious), ND wins the bowl game and we can claim we beat an SEC team
  • Final ranking for Notre Dame: 4
  • Best opposing offensive and defensive player ND will face in ’11: Offense – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford, Defense – Jerel Worthy, DT, MSU
  • Best opposing coach ND will face: Skip Holtz
  • Notre Dame game you won’t miss for anything: ND vs USC (helps that I will be there)
  • Notre Dame game you could watch on DVR: ND vs Purdue (thanks to the fact that someone decided to HAVE A FALL WEDDING)
  • National Champion: Alabama (/vomit)
  • Heisman Trophy Winner: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford