Earlier this month I unveiled part one of the 2010 Shamrocks, and now it is time for the highly anticipated second and final edition.
You can read Lindy’s, Sporting News, Athlon’s or Phil Steele, but none of those publications will be as entertaining and insightful as the Shamrocks.
And the best part is that it won’t cost you $7.99 to read.
So let’s get right to the good stuff.
Just over two months until the season starts and a new era begins for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
BIGGEST SURPRISE DURING THE SPRING
LB Steve Filer
Should Filer really be that big of a surprise by now? He’s certainly a candidate for the most underachieving upperclassmen on the team, although it may be through no fault of his own.
The incoming junior is one of the most talented and athletic players on the entire Notre Dame roster and led the spring game with 12 tackles, putting his incredible combination of speed and power on full display.
And he also jumped out of a pool.
If Filer can continue refining his game, he will turn into a starter and fulfill his promise as an elite linebacker coming out of high school. Look for the Chicago native to be a constant disruptive force in opponent’s backfield in 2010.
QB Nate Montana
Count me among the group that doesn’t think Montana is about to start a quarterback controversy, but it was a pleasant surprise to see that he has made some tremendous strides since being tutored by Brian Kelly and his staff.
The coach has made it clear that he wants three quarterbacks ready before the season starts so Montana definitely has the inside track to be one of the backups. How much he sees the field in 2010 is anyone’s guess, but at least he has shown he could evolve into a serviceable backup in the mold of recently graduated Evan Sharpley.
MOST LIKELY TO OVERACHIEVE DURING THE SEASON
LB Anthony McDonald
The Notre Dame roster is loaded with outside linebackers who are adept at using their speed and playing in space, but the team is lacking experienced linebackers who specialize in stopping the run from the middle.
It is still not clear who will play alongside Manti Te’o in the middle, but after the spring it looks like McDonald has the best shot to start. This will be McDonald’s third year on campus and the coaching staff would love if he continued to improve upon his effort in the Blue-Gold game.
McDonald takes home the award as the player most likely to overachieve because no one is expecting a lot from him, but he may turn into a very reliable sidekick to the Flying Hawaiian.
PLAYER DEALING WITH THE MOST PRESSURE
S Harrison Smith
Smith has had a turbulent past 12 months, but enjoyed the support of the coaching staff in his move back to safety after playing linebacker for most of 2009.
Still, Kelly has let it be known that the leash may be short and that the team will need Smith to be a steady defender. The problem is the team lacks depth at the safety position and Kelly’s options are somewhat limited, putting even more pressure on Smith to hold down his spot.
Not many are expecting great things from Harrison Smith, but he will be asked to play his role in the defense and more importantly, improve his tackling and decision making.
PLAYER WHO WILL BECOME A HOUSEHOLD NAME
DE Ethan Johnson
Johnson is one of a handful of rising juniors who are coming off a bit of a sophomore slump, but his return to defensive end gives him the opportunity to play to his strengths as a defender and power rusher.
Already a battle-tested veteran, Johnson has impressed with his leadership and general maturity throughout the spring. He may not turn into an All-American just yet, but Johnson is most likely to lead the defensive line and increase his exposure to the rest of the college football world.
PLAYER FLYING UNDER THE RADAR
WR Theo Riddick
If this was 2002, Riddick would probably be the most talked about player on offense after his rather impressive freshman season as a kick returner and third-string tailback. But due to the coaching change, conference talk, and an abundance of other off-season chatter, Riddick’s immense talent has been somewhat hidden.
It also shows just how much fire power the Irish have accumulated over the past few recruiting cycles.
Most Irish followers would probably disagree that he is really flying under the radar, but from a national perspective Riddick is not as popular as perhaps he should be. With the preseason award spotlight shining on Floyd and Rudolph and the health of quarterback Dayne Crist still a concern, Riddick has curiously flown under the radar as he makes the transition to receiver for 2010.
S Dan McCarthy
A rising junior with three years of eligibility left, Dan McCarthy has been rightfully overshadowed by his recently graduated brother Kyle McCarthy who led the Irish in tackles the past two seasons.
Still, Dan McCarthy is very talented in his own right and may become a strong addition to the safety position if he continues to improve. Not a lot of attention has been given to the Ohio native, but at some point he will contribute to the program and 2010 may be the year.
PLAYER REALLY FLYING UNDER THE RADAR
DT Tyler Stockton
Being the number one rated prospect in the state of New Jersey and one of the highest rated defensive tackles in the country, Stockton’s signing with Notre Dame was a huge success for the previous coaching regime.
However, despite enrolling early last season, Stockton struggled with injuries and did not see any game action as a freshman. Since his arrival on campus he has been flying way below the radar, especially since Notre Dame has had trouble recruiting players of his talent at the defensive tackle position.
Look for Stockton to add some depth to the defensive line and pick up some valuable experience in 2010. He has the talent to become a future All-American.
TOUGHEST ROAD GAME
USC is probably tougher in a lot ways, but we don’t know what Notre Dame (or USC for that matter) will look like by the time the season-ending showdown is played in the Coliseum.
Playing a highly skilled Michigan State team (a sleeper Big Ten champion candidate) on the road will be an extremely tough game in the early weeks of the season. If Notre Dame heads to East Lansing with a 2-0 record, the pressure to win will be extremely amplified.
Not to mention the yearly battle between the Irish and Spartans always seems to be of the heart-stopping and pulse raising variety.
TOUGHEST HOME GAME
This is the most talented team Notre Dame will see in 2010 before they play USC. If the Panthers get decent play from their quarterback, they will be scoring a lot of points and atop the Big East standings.
They’ll likely be ranked coming into South Bend, although they have a couple tough games in September beforehand. This will be a big home game and an opportunity for Kelly to win a tough contest in front of the Irish faithful.
An undefeated record at home in 2010 would be a major building block for the future and defeating Pitt will be the toughest challenge in order to achieve that goal.
TOP TWO HOME GAMES TO ATTEND
This is probably not the first choice for many fans, but I think the first game and home opener of the Brian Kelly era is a must-have ticket.
The energy will be through the roof as the new Fighting Irish come running out of the tunnel for the first time under new leadership. Although Purdue is no walkover, a win is expected and it would be great to come walking out of the House that Rock Built with a big first victory.
Michigan and Utah are the other enticing options, but Pitt will likely be the top ranked opponent, so they get the nod. There is too much uncertainty surrounding both the Wolverines and Utes to have them leapfrog the Panthers.
Michigan and Utah have some potential, but we know Pittsburgh will be a very strong team and possibly ranked in the top ten come October.
GAME NBC IS MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO
This will be each team’s second game and is one of the best rivalries in college football. If both come in undefeated, NBC should be expecting a nice highly rated afternoon.
Yet both teams face stiff season openers, so we’ll have to wait and see how the first week plays out. Still, the 2008 match up between these schools netted over 5.3 million viewers for NBC and that was after the terrifying 3-win 2007 season and an ugly victory over San Diego State in week one for Notre Dame.
I think there is a good chance that over 6 million tune into watch the Irish battle the Wolverines in the fall and give NBC a solid 4.0 rating or higher.
MAJOR WORRY THAT WILL SUBSIDE BY OCTOBER
Besides the health and relative inexperience of Crist, the offensive line has been the biggest concern on the offensive side of the ball for the Irish faithful.
However, I’m not as worried about losing two underperforming tackles or dipping into the handful of highly regarded linemen eager to make their mark on the program under a new coaching staff.
Eric Olsen will be missed, but improved coaching, conditioning and focus on one system will assuage the concerns about an inexperienced offensive line.
Brian Kelly has proven that he can run the ball effectively and limit quarterback sacks in his past coaching gigs, so it will not surprise me if the offensive line becomes one of the team’s strengths this fall.
MAJOR WORRY THAT WON’T SUBSIDE BY OCTOBER
It is likely that there will not be great play from the safety position and that there is not elite talent at that position. Also, despite three solid and experienced corners ready to bounce back from a rough 2009, there is perilously little depth or experience behind them.
In a lot of ways the defense has nowhere to go but up, yet the secondary could have its work cut out for it against some of Notre Dame’s better opponents.
The switch to the 3-4 alignment and less blitzing will undoubtedly help the secondary in 2010, but I think we will see a few teams still moving the ball through the air next season against Notre Dame.
Perhaps there won’t be the constant let down of giving up big passing plays, yet the defense’s strength has evolved into going after the quarterback, making plays on the edge and stopping the run.
TOP 3 OPPONENT UNIFORMS
Even though their recent Adidas makeover was a step in the wrong direction (especially with their white road uniform) it is tough to beat the helmets, pants and colors of Wolverines football.
I’m probably in the minority, but I don’t think USC’s uniforms are in the top echelon of college football. Not that they aren’t nice, but they are not in the same category as Penn State, Michigan, Texas or Notre Dame.
Still, they have a very recognizable look and it is one of the best the Irish will face all season.
Boston College has very underrated uniforms that do a nice job of blending a traditional look with a more modern design. Their set of pants are among the best in college football.
BOTTOM 3 OPPONENT UNIFORMS
The Utes wear way too much red and their uniforms are pretty lifeless. Their logo and color scheme always make me think they are a team endorsing the ESPN "U" channel.
They will look a lot like an uglier version of Rutgers when they come to South Bend this November.
Their blue, gold and red color scheme has a lot of potential but their uniforms fall short in a lot of ways. It’s pretty difficult to create a logo for a "Golden Hurricane" so it’s to be expected that their helmets won’t be amazing. The rest of the uniform is mediocre at best.
Normally, I rate State’s uniforms pretty high, but their new uniforms take a step backwards. Their home jersey has changed little, but there are some rather radical changes in other areas.
These include new number fonts (ugly), the use of grey outline and a very large white stripe on the green helmets. Also, the white road uniform contains green sleeves and shoulders and a green "third" jersey contains white sleeves and shoulders.
I’ve said in the past that Michigan State should put "State" or "Spartans" on their uniform and they ended up putting the latter on their third jersey, but in a font so small it would be difficult to read. Not a good brand redesign by Nike.
SENIOR WITH THE MOST TO PROVE
OLB Brian Smith
The amount of missed tackles and needless jawing at opponents by Smith has rubbed a lot of Irish fans the wrong way and dropped his stock after a promising freshman season a few years ago.
This is Smith’s last season in South Bend and he is still considered a decent NFL prospect with a lot of physical tools. With a switch to his more comfortable outside linebacker position, he will have to prove that the he is as talented as many believe he is.
WR Duval Kamara
Kamara was one of the 2007 season’s bright spots as he went on to set freshman receiving records and displayed great toughness and consistency amidst a terrible team effort around him.
The past two seasons have been very forgettable for Kamara though and he will now be relied upon to be a veteran leader during his last season in the blue and gold. Right now he is slated to be a starter, but he will have to prove that he can be a threat on a weekly basis in order to keep that spot.
TOP 3 OPPONENT COACHES
Jim Harbaugh (Stanford)
He’s one of the hottest young coaches in all of football, he’s taken the Cardinal to a higher level and he’s beaten USC twice. His resume may be somewhat thin, but it already demands a lot of respect.
He may not be the best coach the Irish face due to his lack of experience, but he will always be a guy who will be tough to beat. He has also taken Stanford recruiting up a notch and looks to be in great shape for the future.
Dave Wannstedt (Pittsburgh)
In some areas Wannstedt is a bit of an underachiever, but he has done some really nice things at Pitt. He is still without a conference championship, yet he has recruited well and his Panthers will be a Big East favorite heading into the season.
It has taken some time to build the program in his mold, but 19 wins over the past two seasons is a pretty good sign that Wannstedt knows what it takes to win at the college level. He’s also one of the few coaches who have successfully transitioned to the college game from the pro ranks.
Frank Spaziani (Boston College)
In his first season as head coach in Chestnut Hill, Spaziani took the Eagles to a very respectable 8-5 record after most experts had the Eagles pegged as an ACC basement dweller in 2009.
A long time BC assistant, he has shown that his teams will play hard and overachieve more often than not. It will not be an easy game for Notre Dame to travel on the road in 2010 and face the "mad scientist" and his Eagles.
PERCEIVED TEAM WEAKNESS THAT WILL BECOME A STRENGTH
My article a couple weeks ago touched on this subject and needless to say I believe we will see a significant improvement from the running game in 2010.
3 GUARANTEES BEFORE THE SEASON STARTS
One Freshman Will See Significant Action on Defense
It could be super athletic Prince Shembo or the third Hawaiian recruit in two years Kona Schwenke who see minutes on defense. Or perhaps Justin Utupo and Kendall Moore in the front seven or Lo Wood and Chris Badger in the secondary.
Kelly will want to build depth and he’ll have a handful of recruits who will work their way onto special teams and at least get garbage minutes in the rare blowout victories.
Kelly has hinted that we may see someone get some minutes at linebacker, but my money is that we see a rookie playing in the dangerously thin secondary at some point.
Notre Dame Will Not Lose as a Favorite
Heading into the season, Notre Dame should be favored against Purdue, Michigan, Stanford, Western Michigan, Tulsa and Army. Those are all very winnable games.
Depending how the season unfolds, the Irish could be favored against a few other teams, including Boston College, Utah and Navy. Michigan State should host Notre Dame at 2-0 and could be a top 20 team by week four, while Pitt and USC could both be highly ranked.
Either way, Kelly will win every game in which Notre Dame is favored.
Manti Te’o Will Become an All-American
Te’o had over 60 tackles last year as a true freshman and we might not have to wait for him to be an upperclassman until he is one of the best linebackers in the country.
Over 100 tackles is attainable and depending on his amount of sacks, tackles for loss and interceptions, Te’o could garner plenty of national attention.
A first team All-American selection will be difficult, but Te’o has the ability to make the second or third team honor roll.
3 GUARANTEES FOR THE END OF THE YEAR
Rudolph Will Come Back for His Senior Year
Rudolph should have a very successful season in 2010 and could be a legitimate second round NFL draft pick talent by the end of the year. Still, he may likely stay one more season if the Irish are good enough and he can raise his stock even higher.
Floyd is a once in a generation wideout who has much bigger first round draft stock and could win Notre Dame’s second straight Biletnikoff award as the nation’s top receiver. If Floyd is a potential top 15 pick and atop some draft boards next February, he will be gone. But I think Rudolph stays for four years.
Notre Dame Will Be Ranked At the End of the Year
This is probably a bold statement to some, but talent-wise this should be a team that is ranked at the end of the year and throughout portions of the season. Eight or nine wins is all it would take, and it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise especially if Kelly’s offense is as potent as the talent suggests.
If the defense can step up and play better than last year, Notre Dame should not have a problem being ranked at the end of the year. Anywhere from No. 25 down to No. 10 is a realistic goal with the talent and experience currently in South Bend.
Kelly Will Have a Top 10 2011 recruiting class after Bowl Season.
Right now Kelly has the program in a nice spot with some solid recruits and in another couple months he could add to the total and head into the season with a lot of momentum. Eight wins or more and the Irish could have a top 10 class of verbal commits going into the off-season.
As of late June, most services have the Irish just outside the top ten, but look for Brian Kelly to secure a class that moves up and is one of the best in the country.
ONE OPPONENT THAT CANNOT BE OVERLOOKED
Tulsa Golden Hurricanes
Notre Dame will take on Tulsa in South Bend the day before Halloween in what will be the Fighting Irish’s ninth straight game to open the season before their first bye gives them a breather.
Tulsa had a rough season in 2009 (5-7 overall), but had previously gone 29-12 from 2006 to 2008 and nearly beat ranked opponents Boise State and Houston last year. Further, the Golden Hurricanes have only played three BCS opponents in recent years (including two blowout losses to Oklahoma) but did play well in a 30-23 defeat at the hands of Arkansas in 2008.
Most people think Tulsa is closer to Army in terms of talent, but the truth is they are probably a lot closer to a team like Purdue. College football expert Phil Steele has the Golden Hurricanes as his No. 1 most improved team for 2010, just ahead of Notre Dame in the No. 3 spot.
PLAYER WHO’S BANDWAGON IS FILLING UP QUICKLY
RB Cierre Wood
If he plays anywhere close to his effort in the Blue-Gold game, Wood will have a very strong season. I jumped on his bandwagon almost immediately and have praised him incessantly since the spring.
It is players like Wood, who are so young and so talented, that make the future extremely bright for Notre Dame and Brian Kelly.