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OFD Reviews: BGI 2015 Football Preview

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Interesting interviews, fun with stats, insight from new analysts, and the usual unfathomably comprehensive brain dumps from the Encyclopaedia Hibernica Lou Somogyi.

Blue and Gold Illustrated

Blue & Gold Illustrated analyst Andrew Owens reached out to OneFootDown recently and was kind enough to send us a copy of the annual football preview issue of their magazine to review.

Click here if you'd like to order it - of course we'll get into more detail below, but the short version is it's worth it.

New(ish) Faces in South Bend

One of the most interesting pieces in the magazine is an in-depth look at the homecomings of Autry Denson and Todd Lyght penned by the dean of BGI, Lou Somogyi. As you might expect, there's a thorough discussion of each man's background at Notre Dame; what's much more interesting is the dive into each's coaching history, philosophy, and competitive spirit.

Autry Denson says that both Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant have more physical ability than he did, and that his goal is to take them to greatness via the mental side. Not all that revolutionary, but his words sound almost like they were lifted from a certain West Virginian who once mentored him in the shadow of the Dome:

I explained to them when I first talked to them, 'If you want to be a good back, you might want to transfer. I'm not looking to coach a good back; I'm not even looking to coach a great back. I want to coach a back that wants to be legendary. Great is not good enough.' It's setting the bar high to really get those guys to develop.

Gee, I wonder how the coaching neophyte managed to make such an impression on Brian Kelly in his interview? Hmm...

The other Denson quote that caught my eye highlights his competitiveness not just as a player, but in all things. There were plenty of stories from his time as a player about his work ethic - how he worked obsessively on receiving so he could be a three-down back, how he was challenged by Lou Holtz and responded, and how he clawed his way to the top of the all-time rushing list at Notre Dame. A tiny glimmer of insight into the intensity of the fire within that drives him to achieve such things is apparent here:

I came in [as a player] with a goal that I wanted to be the best that ever left here and [coaching is] the same process... My first goal is to work my butt off to become #1 in everything I did. My second goal is to leave everybody as far behind me as I can. Both of them involve work. I'm at the phase now of working my butt off to become the best coach I can be, and then once I start hitting that end, it will be to leave everybody else in my dust. It hasn't changed.

Do you think you would want to play hard for that guy? Do you think he's passionate in recruit's living rooms? The more I hear about Denson the coach, the more I like.

Denson of course accomplished great things for the Irish, but few people have done more as a football player than Todd Lyght. National champion, two-time consensus All-American, top 10 draft pick, Pro Bowler, Super Bowl champion. Lyght is long since retired as a player, and has done a very respectable job of paying his dues in the coaching profession - no doubt his name helped him some, but he hasn't taken any shortcuts, coaching high school ball at Bishop Gorman and taking an unpaid position with Chip Kelly in Oregon. Lyght had possibly the quote of the entire magazine when describing his coaching style:

There's a difference between teaching football and teaching championship football. I teach championship football.

For those of a certain age among our commentariat, you may remember the scene from The Program when they're going around the room and one kid introduces himself as "Darnell Jefferson, tailback," and the next kid introduces himself as "Ray Griffen, starting tailback." Just cut the scene there and it's a good analogy.

If you're wondering how the new secondary coach will fit in with the grizzled veteran defensive coordinator, I think Lyght has dispelled any concerns along those lines in describing his interview with Kelly and Brian VanGorder:

We were supposed to work only 45 minutes and it turned into an hour and a half and getting into deep conversations about 4-3, 3-4, techniques, teaching progressions Coach Kelly came back in about an hour and a half later and said, 'You guys done yet?' We broke for lunch and then got back on the board again.

Of course there are the standard caveats about two NFL guys coming up with something that's too complex for college kids, but I think VanGorder will learn from last year and, remember, Lyght has those high school and college stops on his resume already. Regardless, I've love to be a fly on the wall for their chalk talk.

It's a Numbers Game

If you're a freak for statistics, analysis, and just plain numbers, like I am, there's plenty here to keep you busy. Here's a list of some of my favorite tidbits, which is but a small percentage of the whole:

  • Malik Zaire's touchdown throw to Will Fuller in the Music City Bowl was the first such by a left-handed Irish quarterback since the legendary (?) Art Paresian against USC in 1926. Thesis: If you're the first guy to do something since a guy named Art did it, it's been a really long time.
  • Notre Dame running backs have lost two fumbles or fewer in each of the last four seasons. That's excellent, of course, but unfortunately even at that level of rarity the occasional drop can be a killer.
  • Six different wideouts caught a touchdown pass last year, establishing a new Notre Dame record.
  • Speaking of things that haven't happened in a long time, we turn our gaze to the sport of kings. In the 11 seasons that have followed a Triple Crown winner, the Irish have a combined 97-8-5 record and ranked no lower than 9th in the AP Poll. Four times, a Triple Crown winner was followed by an Irish national championship (1943, 1946, 1973, and 1977). Hold onto your hats, ladies and gentlemen.
  • A thorough look at the winningest programs of all time, both in total wins and win percentage. Spoiler alert: In the one that's a better measure, Michigan is still #2. I hope they repainted that truck, unless it's meant to point out how immensely proud they are that they've won 33 more games than us across nine additional seasons, done mostly in the era before McKinley's presidency. Go Blue!
  • Turning 54 in October, Brian Kelly is the third-oldest coach in Notre Dame's history, trailing only Lou Holtz (58 at the time of his resignation) and Dan Devine (56). Hard to imagine. If Kelly ever ends up atop that list, I think we'll all be very happy with the seasons that got him there.
  • A great piece by Notre Dame's own Brian Fremeau, Football Outsider contributor and the "F" in the FEI ratings, that projects most likely record by breaking the season into thirds and looking at the most likely record in each segment.

Other Highlights

  • For the self-flagellating among us (you know who you are), Somogyi lists his top 15 "shocker" losses by the Fighting Irish over their long and illustrious history.
  • Solid feature pieces on some of the most important players for 2015 success - Ronnie Stanley, Sheldon Day, and Max Redfield - to go with excellent in-depth breakdowns of each position group. Keep an eye out for Bryan Driskell, formerly "Coach D" from Irish Sports Daily, among the position group write-ups.
  • Two interesting articles about Brian Kelly in the first few pages - the first is disguised as an article about the Crossroads project, so be careful not to miss it.
  • The standard opponent previews, roster, etc.
About the only negative I could mention is the recruiting coverage towards the back of the magazine - it's woefully out of date, even though BGI's own site has good coverage, but then if you care about recruiting you'll probably be up to date via the services anyway. So not that big a deal.

All in all, a good read, and a good reminder that opening day is only five weeks away. Go Irish!