Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE
"No, I'm not crying. You're crying. That's great but I'm not crying. I'm not a crier. I don't cry. I work out. I have hobbies."
1. Saturday will mark the last game inside Notre Dame Stadium for the seniors. What will you remember most about this class of true seniors?
The two things that immediately pop into my head are leadership and accountability.
With Te'o leading the way this group of seniors has been phenomenal in understanding the changes that needed to be made when Brian Kelly was hired in 2010.
It's been a long time since we could say this, but we've been spoiled by this senior class.
Te'o could have left early and never bought into what Kelly was selling. Ditto for Tyler Eifert. Zeke Motta could have remained a ball of potential but never blossomed into a leader of the secondary. Theo Riddick could have complained about bouncing back and forth between positions.
There was a lot of opportunities, especially after the USC snafu last year, to pack it in and stop getting better. To their credit they've built something truly special this season.
2. Rank the top 5 most important seniors, weighing heavily on who will be missed the most.
1. Manti Te'o
Enough has been said. He's the rock of this class always and forever.
2. Tyler Eifert
Eifert hasn't been greatly visible to the media over the past three years but according to Kelly he's a big-time leader on the team. Think about how workman-like and productive he's been throughout his career. Now think about how he actually has a year left that he won't use!
3. Zack Martin
Our third captain on this list and the leader of the offensive line. Let's hope he returns for another season.
4. Zeke Motta
I never would have thought he'd make this list even before the season started. Not only has he stepped up his game but he's been a mentor to a seriously young and inexperienced secondary.
5. Theo Riddick/Cierre Wood
I can't separate them. Who knows where this team is today if Cierre Wood didn't turn out to be a highly productive running back from day one? Likewise, who knows how this offense would have evolved or how many games might have been lost without Riddick's versatility?
3. Rating a program on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the equivalent of Alabama right now) where does Tennessee stand once they fire Derek Dooley?
I don't know if it's exactly been quiet, but the Tennessee program has fallen off a cliff over the past 5 years.
In fact, the Vols have been on a path that looks awfully Notre Dame-y: They had a legendary coach (Fulmer) who was likely past his prime and the program was slipping under his leadership. But they follow that up with terrible hires that only magnify the team's problems.
Seriously, how can they justify going from Phil Fulmer to Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley?
It's also interesting in that Tennessee's last reign of dominance corresponds to Notre Dame's last reign from the late 80's to mid-to-late 90's.
So the question Tennessee fans have to be asking themselves is...just how good is this program? How strong can it be with the right coach?
Remember, Tennessee's last run of dominance predated the rise of the SEC becoming the STRONGEST CONFERENCE EVER IN HISTORY OF MANKIND. In the East division they had to battle an elite Florida team every year, but Georgia was just okay while South Carolina was usually mediocre. Of course Vanderbilt and Kentucky were always pushovers. Even in the other division Alabama was all over the place, LSU was pretty bad, and Arkansas was worse more often than good.
In a way it felt like Tennessee was taking advantage of a power vacuum back then but they haven't been able to compete once the SEC began fielding 6 or 7 strong teams on annual basis. Couple that with the program going 22-26 (and an unbelievably bad 8-22 in the SEC) since 2009 and you could make a case that they are at about a 6 right now out of 10.
However, I'll bump that up to a 7 because this is one of the stronger programs tradition-wise that just needs a better coaching staff. The past 5 years have been tough but from 1950 to 2008 the Volunteers were the 8th winningest program going 466-199-20.
They'll come back eventually.
4. Outside of Jaylon Smith, which incoming freshman will have the biggest impact in 2013?
That doesn't mean Heuerman is going to see a ton of playing time, but there should be plenty of opportunity for him to see the field.
5. Notre Dame is currently on a 7-game home winning streak and has the chance to go undefeated at home for a full season with a win over Wake Forest this weekend. How long can this streak last?
I initially thought it could go well into the early-teen's but the Irish will be tested at home next year.
Following the home opener against Temple to start next season, Notre Dame will then face Michigan State, Oklahoma, and USC in their next 3 games.
If they can get past those teams we could be looking at another undefeated season at home for 2013. What's more, the 2014 schedule isn't very daunting at home either.
Could we be looking at 20 or more straight home victories?