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Irish Blogger Gathering: Kicking Off The Brian Kelly Era

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The IBG kicks off 2010 with a great series of questions put forth by Frank at UHND. I always enjoy Frank hosting as his questions are all business. Let’s get to it!

1. Name one offensive players and one defensive player you are most excited to see in the new systems and why.

Offense: Armando Allen/ Cierre Wood. While opposing defenses will be concerned about defending the pass in Coach Kelly’s spread a lot of natural space will be created for these two dynamic backs in the ground attack. I expect that we will often see these two burst through the line of scrimmage with plenty of room to maneuver at the second level. That could be a scary proposition for opposing defenses.

Defense: Ethan Johnson. I have been high on EJ since he arrived on campus as a freshman. Now that he is moving back to a more natural fit as a 3-4 DE I think the junior could have a very big season.

2. What’s one reason you think Brian Kelly is the right coach this time. What’s one reason you think he might not be?

Coach Kelly is a no nonsense kind of guy and I really like the approach he has taken with the players from day one. I still say that his approach bears an uncanny resemblance to Marine Corps Recruit Training. Coach Kelly pushes his players, demands excellence and thus far has shown no preferential treatment for "stars." Everything is about the team vice the individual and mission accomplishment. He is going to put what he sees as the best kids on the field period. At the end of the day he just wants to win and he will do what it takes to get it done.

That said Coach Kelly hasn’t actually won a game in South Bend yet! As much as I tend to believe that Coach Kelly is "the right coach" it is difficult to buy in 100% after living through the post Holtz era. When the W’s start to pile up that inkling of doubt will slowly be erased and I will get progressively more comfortable with the thought that things are going to be different this time.

3. A lot of people are labeling Purdue, Boston College, and Michigan State as toss up games. Considering Notre Dame beat all three of these teams during the disappointing 2009 season, do you consider these games toss-ups or games you expect Notre Dame to win?

I expect Notre Dame to win all three of those games.

Purdue could be decent on offense with Marve at the helm but their defense is suspect.

Michigan State and BC will both be blue collar tough and will put up a fight at home. These are the exact sort of games that make the difference between a good season and a great season or a good coach and a great coach. Which one is Brian Kelly? I still tend to think that he will prove to be of the latter variety.

4. What’s one reason you think Notre Dame could shock the world and pull of another 1964-type season? What’s one reason you’re concerned we might see more of a 1997-type season?

Shock the world? I still maintain that the Notre Dame roster has more talent and overall depth than most realize. Combine that with a shot of great coaching and a renewed sense of purpose from Coach Kelly and the possibilities are very exciting.

I don’t envision any scenario where we get a 1997 as long as Dayne Crist stays healthy. That will be especially true in the first half of the season. The first six games may not jump off the page but they will collectively be very difficult. A week 5 trip to BC followed by a week 6 visit from Pitt will be especially tough. I could see a 4-2 start with two close losses during that stretch with everyone healthy. Toss in an injury to Crist and/ or a few other key players and you might have the perfect cocktail for a rough start.

5. Which freshmen do you see contributing the most on the field this year (outside of TJ Jones – that’s too easy)?

Lo Wood- He has to. Cornerback is almost as thin as Quarterback. Almost. Lo is going to have to step up and contribute in the rotation. Kelly’s offense is based on pace with no regard for time of possession which means the Notre Dame defense is likely to be on the field quite a bit. Toss in the fact that the handful of corners on the roster will also be involved on special teams and those guys are going to need a breather here and there. Walls, Gray, Blanton, Wood and perhaps even Gallup will all have to contribute at corner as a result.

6. Other than Dayne Crist (too easy again) who is the one player Notre Dame can least afford to lose to injury for any significant period of time?

Darrin Walls. See #5. The Irish are just too thin at corner for the guy that should be the best corner on the team to go down.

7. 2010 Season Predictions

a. Notre Dame record: 9-3

b. Bowl game for Notre Dame with opponent: Champs Sports vs. Florida State

c. Final ranking: 12

d. Opponent with the the highest final ranking: Pitt 10

e. Notre Dame’s offensive & defensive MVP:
Offense- Dayne Crist
Defense- Manti Te’o

f. Best opponent offensive & defensive player:
Offense- Andrew Luck QB Stanford
Defense- Greg Romeus DE Pitt

g. Best opposing coach: Jim Harbaugh

h. Game you are most excited to watch: Purdue (It sets the tone for the season)

i. Game you wouldn't mind watching on DVR: Western Michigan

j. National Champion: TCU- They sneak into the game AND pull the upset

k. Heisman Winner: Case Keenum QB Houston

l. Purdue game prediction: Notre Dame 42 Purdue 28