Welcome to another edition of the Irish Blogger Gathering. This week’s round of questioning was put forth by the professional tailgaters at We Never Graduate.
Due to their astute decision to focus on the big picture vice the mighty Western Michigan Broncos we enlisted a smattering of our talented staff here at OFD headquarters to field their questions.
1. The Irish have posted back-to-back victories over teams that have given us fits the past decade to pull back to .500, but when you head to the message boards on ND Nation, Rivals, etc. all you see is unrelenting negativity. Some cry Kelly's in over his head and doomed to fail, others bitch and moan about the run-to-pass ratio, and many more say that even though we've won the last two there's no improvement over last year's team. What's your take on the negativity that's swirling around the program on the internet? What message would you like to convey to ND Nation?
Mouth of the South
I don't agree that "all you see is unrelenting negativity." Sure, there is probably a not-insubstantial amount of negativity out there. I think that a certain amount of negativity is normal when you're to be expected when you're 3-3, and you lost 3 very winnable games. But I just listened to Mike Frank's Power Hour. Frank and Bryan Driskell were both "pleased," if I remember correctly, with the team's progress so far. I think their views are representative of the feelings of a lot of fans and media.
I hear a lot of cautious optimism. I would consider myself more than cautiously optimistic, even perhaps dangerously optimistic. Despite my unbridled enthusiasm, I think a certain amount of criticism is justified. I don't think that Brian Kelly should be completely above reproach just because I think him the Messiah of Notre Dame football. Nor do I think he should get a pass because it's his first year. Indeed, I must admit to being guilty of a certain amount of "pissing and moaning" about the run/pass ratio. I don't understand why we give up on the run game just when it seems to be clicking.
2. When Western Michigan and Tulsa were announced as 2010 opponents last fall there was a full-throttle meltdown among ND fans that was surpassed only by The F-Word Incident in April in terms of sheer outrage. Well, if the opinions expressed then are the same now the apocalypse has finally arrived and a MAC squad is about to forever sully our field by stepping foot on it. Have your thoughts on the Western Michigan/Tulsa games changed since they were announced? Would you rather ND Stadium sell out and continue the streak that extends back almost 40 years or see the streak broken so that the powers-that-be know just how disrespected you feel by the audacity they showed in scheduling such inferior opponents?
Mouth of the South
I really don't care about the sellout streak. I live in the south and it can be very difficult to make even one game a year, especially when thieves break into my home last night and steal things, I mean honestly who does that who steals a freaking bathtub how much money are you even going to get for that... I'm sorry, where was I? Oh yes, I think it quite sad that ND fans wouldn't want to see ND play even St. Joe High. I'm sure if we schedule a home-and-home with Nebraska, they'd be happy to "red-out" Notre Dame Stadium again and to show us what it really means to be fans.
That said, I don't want to see any more MAC teams on our schedule. If we're going to win--not just play for, but win--national championships, we need to play a brutal schedule. We do not have the possibility of a conference championship to bolster our resume. Nor will we have the benefit of testing our mettle in a conference championship in December before playing in the national championship game. If you want to see the benefit of playing a conference championship game against a tough conference foe, see LSU v. tOSU, 2007 and Florida v. tOSU, 2006. tOSU, allegedly the best team ever, didn't play from the end of November until the MNC, and it showed. One could argue that LSU and Florida were just better than tOSU. One would probably be right, but I would argue that tOSU would have been much better prepared if they had played one more tough game against a conference foe.
I don't think we can be too difficult on Jack Swarbrick. Homes has come through with matchups against Texas and Miami. That's, like, to quote Chapelle, "the most balla sh@#! EVA, son!" That is to say, I am pleased with the current state of our scheduling, despite lackluster matchups with Nevada, Tulsa and Western Michigan.
3. Most people painted AD Jack Swarbrick as the villain when the Western Michigan/Tulsa games were made public. Since then he's made drastic moves in locking down opponents on future schedules, went through the process of firing Weis and hiring Kelly, and navigated ND through the murky waters of conference realignment. Has your personal opinion on Swarbrick been altered over the past year?
Most of us think that our perspectives changed rather than any objective changes in Jack Swarbrick. Irish fans probably perceived his buy-in games for this season through a post-traumatic lens. I have applauded his moves to leave the White years behind in moving towards a 6-5-1 schedule model that allows us the type of games he scheduled with Miami and Texas, his moving on from the Big East commitment Notre Dame made under White when they rejected our scheduling proposals and negotiated their bowl contract limiting ND's appearance, the skill with which he kept the coaching search as quiet as possible and his hiring of Brian Kelly, and his moves in the conference expansion pressures over the summer. White envisioned ND as a minor player in the BCS. I have confidence that Swarbrick will be a more competent representative of Irish interests with the BCS commissioners and in college football.
4. We're at the halfway point so it's a perfect time to step back real quick and evaluate what's happened thus far. What have been your two biggest surprises at this juncture of the season? Choose one positive and one negative.
My most pleasant surprise is the development of the defense. Though we returned a significant amount of starters, I was concerned over how well Diaco could direct the change to a 3-4, how much we could develop our rushing defense, what improvements we could make in secondary play, especially with a new coach in Chuck Martin and two new safeties, and whether we could recruit top prospects on the defensive side of the ball.
My biggest surprise that has fallen short of my expectations is the passing game. Crist has had to endure a learning process with his receivers and the new spread offense. I expected Floyd to be established as the best receiver in America with a Clausen-clone who could run. Rudolph is now done for the year by his hamstring injury. Floyd has dropped catchable balls and has seemed to not be involved at times. Surprising, but I expect significant improvements over the next three games so we will be ready to enter the last quarter of the schedule with a more potent offense.
5. Which player that hasn't contributed much to this point in the season do you see emerging as a contributor down the stretch?
After finding out that Kyle Rudolph was lost for the season on Tuesday answering this question became exponentially easier. The answer is Mike Ragone. Eifert is getting the start on Saturday but we know that he’s a little banged up himself. Eifert may come on but I personally think that Mike Ragone will actually end up being the guy that emerges over the course of the next six games. My thoughts on Ragone before the season started are below.
Ragone was supposed to be Rudolph when he came to Notre Dame. He has had a wild ride since that has included jumping upperclassmen on the depth chart, battling injuries and most recently a run in with the law. If Ragone is going to realize his potential the time is now.
That rings even more true now that Rudolph is injured. In the case of Ragone it also parlays into question #6 which I will answer momentarily. In short Ragone is also playing for a 5th year of eligibility over the course of these next six games and if he makes the most of this opportunity he may be back in an Irish uniform next fall. If not he, like most other recent college graduates, will be out looking for a job.
6. Scholarships are running thin and some tough decisions are going to have to be made this spring when it comes to offering 5th years to current seniors. If you're Coach Kelly who do you offer and who is left out in the cold to make room for the incoming freshman class? Here's a link to the 2011 scholarship chart for a list of potential 5th years.
This is a complicated question with many variables. I actually addressed the issue of available scholarships and how they apply to the nine potential fifth year players a couple of weeks ago. In the interest of not repeating it all here I ask that you follow the link below.
The very short answer is that I think Harrison Smith, Gary Gray and Taylor Dever are locks to return. Brandon Walker, Steve Paskorz and Emeka Nwanko most likely will not be back. Andrew Nuss, Matt Romine and Mike Ragone are all on the bubble.
7. *****BONUS***** You've been challenged to a Tailgate Olympiad by some chaunce from Southern Cal and you need to assemble a dream team of your fellow Irish fans to compete in the following events: Full Beer Flip Cup (four-man team), Beer Pong, Hamburger Eating Contest (two-man team), Cornhole/Bags/Whatever You Call It, Individual Case Race, and Thunderdome (one shotgun per minute until someone can't answer the bell). Your captaincy role on this team is Ryder Cup style so you'll be monitoring the proceedings rather than actually partaking. Throw some internet love out to your fellow tailgate All-Stars that have delivered through the years and let us know who you'd put in each slot to make sure Troy fell in the parking lot as well as on the field...and while you're at it, tell us what three songs you'd be blasting as you rolled to victory.
My beer-pong squad would undoubtedly consist of "The Ri-Dog" and "K-Mac" (not Kyle McAlarney). They were legendary pong players.
Tailgate logistics would be handled by my man Doobage. Kid had mad organizational skills.
Flip cup would be Jose and his boys. They were legendary Manor flip-cuppers.
Tailgate buildout would be supervised by my architect buddy, Chris. For the BC game in 2000, he built a table out of cases of beer. It was his Mona Lisa. His 9th symphony, if you will.
For shotgun, it would be me, except that I've hung up my keys. I used to begin every shotgun with a quotation that is perhaps the only possible quotation with which I would ever consider replacing the Play Like a Champion Today sign:
"What is best in life? TO CRUSH YOUR ENEMIES. TO SEE THEM DRIVEN BEFORE YOU. AND TO HEAR THE LAMENTATION OF THEIR WOMEN."
Come Saturday night, the lamentation of Western Michigan women shall be heard throughout the land.