Maize n Brew 2006 Season Preview, Part III of XIII: Notre Dame
Finally. It's done. Part III of the Maize n Brew Season Preview 2006. If you've been following it, I've already gone over Michigan's first two opponents, Vanderbilt and Central Michigan. Both are home games. Both are home wins barring the unforseen. Now comes Michigan's first true test of the season, its first road game.
Ever since the 1997 National Championship Michigan has been horrendous opening on the road. I was at their 2001 melt down in Seattle and their 2002 collapse in South Bend. I've watched in horror as seemingly great Michigan teams come unglued on the road. Under Carr, since 1997 Michigan is 1-7 in road openers. That's not good. It needs to change. And it may well this year.
Alright Domers. It's your turn. Maize n Brew takes aim at the 2006 edition of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. If you offend easily, go elsewhere. Cheap jokes. Baseless assumptions. I'll be as fair as I can, but, well, you're not gonna like this....
An Error Prone & Excessively Verbose Overview of:
The University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish
University of Michigan v. University of Notre Dame
Location: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
Date: September 16, 2006
Game Time: 3:30pm, EST
Game #: 3
Radio: WOMC-FM and CKLW-AM
University: University of Notre Dame
Location: South Bend, Indiana
Team Name: Fighting Irish
Facility: Notre Dame Stadium (Cap. 80,795)
Number of National Championships: 12 (1924, 1929, 1930, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1953, 1966, 1973, 1977, 1988)
First Season of Football: 1887 (0-3)
Last Season: 2005 (9-3)
Head Coach: Charlie Weis (2nd year)
Versus Michigan All-Time: 14-18-1
Last Meeting Versus Michigan: 2005 in Ann Arbor. Michigan lost 10-17.
A Brief History of The University of Notre Dame:
The school was founded in 1842 by the Rev. Edward Sorin and six fellow members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. The State of Indiana granted Notre Dame its charter and land grant in 1844. Today Notre Dame has grown into the premier Roman Catholic university in the United States. It consistently ranks among the best academic institutions in the country and maintains an endowment of over $3.5 BILLION. Every incoming freshman is apparently greeted with a fruit basket and a toilet made out of gold.
Notre Dame's campus is truly all there is in South Bend, Indiana, but it's worth the trip to see. The administration at ND has made sure that the endowment gets put to good use. The campus is nestled in between two lakes. Manicured grass and parks are everywhere. It's a spa-like haven in a state who's only purpose seems to be ferrying people between Illinois and Ohio.
What does it say about the Irish, my people, that they'd put a gorgeous country club in the middle of BFE Indiana. sheesh...
Echoes. Horsemen. Leprechauns. Etc... Notre Dame is one of, if not the, most storied college football team in the nation. Hordes of All-Americans, scores of national championships, and Lou Holtz. Even the populace of sub-Saharan Africa knows who/what Notre Dame is. Maybe not the people in Mongolia.
So for you Mongolians, Notre Dame started playing football in 1887. Despite their first season (0-3), Notre Dame decided to stick it out. Then in 1918, legendary coach Knute Rockne took over the coaching duties at Notre Dame and led the Irish to 6 National Championships and a record of 105 wins, 12 losses, and 5 ties. Rockne's life and career ended far too soon, when he was killed in a plane crash in Kansas in 1930. His .881 winning percentage is the highest in college football history.
After Rockne, Frank Leahy led the Irish to a record of 87-11-9 and four National Championships. Leahy had a streak of 39 games without a loss (37-0-2) and six undefeated seasons. Ara Parseghian tacked on two more national championships and Lou Holtz added another in 1988. No one likes Lou Holtz.
Last Season: 2005 (9-3)
OMG! ND BITMFH! Echoes awoken. Horsemen riding. Charlie Weis = Messiah. Brady Quinn best QB ever!
Sarcasm aside, things went well for Notre Dame in 2005. Despite entering the season unranked and with a new coach, Notre Dame opened the season with a convincing trouncing of #23 ranked Pitt in Pittsburgh. The next week they topped Michigan 17-10 in a mistake filled contest that initiated the Irish’s climb back into the top of the rankings and began Michigan’s catastrophic slide out of them. Karma being what it is, the Irish promptly dropped an overtime heartbreaker to Michigan State the next weekend. Pull out a game you shouldn’t, then lose one you never should’ve. The college football Gods do funny (mean) things.
Next, the Irish visited Seattle and their former (thouroughly underrated recruiter yet accurately described horrendous) football coach Ty Willingham. Using the talent Ty recruited far better than Ty could, Weis tied the Dawgs to a tree and the Irish gave Washington the Old Yeller treatment. They followed up the next week with a pounding of a miserable Purdue team.
Then came USC. The throw. The Push. The loss. I was there. My wife was screaming things that would've made a Marine go to confessional. Hell, I was even pulling for the Irish. ND could’ve won. ND should've won. But the Irish pass defense gave up a critical fourth down conversion and eventually USC spun over the goal-line. Despite the loss, Notre dame reeled off five straight wins to finish the season and garner a Fiesta Bowl Bid against Ohio State.
Notre Dame got pounded. The Irish managed just 62 rushing yards, gave up five sacks, and allowed 34 points. While the score was 34-20, it wasn’t that close.
What gets lost in the shuffle from last year's 9-3 and echo awakening is the fact the Irish only played 3 teams with winning records. Pittsburgh (5-6), Michigan State (5-6), Washington (2-9), Stanford (5-6), Purdue (5-6), Tennessee (5-6), BYU (6-6), and Syracuse (1-10). The only teams Notre Dame beat with a winning record were a Michigan team that posted its worst record in 20 years and Navy.
Yes, Notre Dame played USC to the final gun. Kudos. But Notre Dame's defense was no where near as good as its offense. While Samarjzcwqrpmrtghsda had a great year, I'm not buying him as a priemer receiver. 1 TD and barely 100 yards against Michigan and Ohio State combined doesn't convince me he's gonna star on Sundays.
But enough of my negativity. On with the preview.
What Went Right:
Almost everything. Notre Dame emerged from a 6-5 season to be a dark horse BCS team. They beat Michigan at Michigan Stadium. They returned to the national rankings. They found offense where there was none. Several players had break out years, specifically Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija. Coach Weis came in ESPN’s favorite coach to talk about, and turned out to be a pretty good head football coach.
Good Luck. Michigan coughs up the ball twice in the end zone. Not that I’m bitter.
Brady Quinn. Quinn quickly became the Golden Boy of the Golden Dome. He became the Irish’s all time leader in passing yards, threw for 32 TDs with only 7 INTs, collected almost 4,000 yards passing, and posted a 65% completion percentage. He’s now on everyone’s Heisman short list, and is expected to be this years #1 pick in the NFL draft.
Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija a literally appeared out of nowhere to set the school’s all-time receiving TD record with 15. He collected 70 passes and racked up over 1,200 receiving yards too. Not bad for a guy who only had 24 total receptions and no TDs in his first two years. He finished a first team All-American.
Weis. He took over ND during year four of the school’s transition from an option team to a pro-style passing team, and turned a low round draft choice into next year’s draft poster boy. Great schemer and play caller he guided ND to their best record since Willingham led ND to a 10-2 record in 2002. Completely over exposed by the national media, he used every second of it to his advantage. The majority of America now believes touching Weis’ frontal buttocks cures cancer and gives the toucher the ability to fly.
A Soft Schedule. Going into the year the Irish looked to have a somewhat difficult schedule. It didn't turn out that way. The winning percentage of the teams on their fixed schedule was .484%.
What Went Wrong:
Pass Defense? Not so much. Sure the Irish held Michigan to 10 points and almost beat USC, but Notre Dame’s schedule did their defense a lot of favors. During their five game win streak the Irish only faced one team that finished with a winning record (though BYU was 6-6). The Irish gave up 44 points to MSU, 28 to Purdue, 34 to USC, 31 to Stanford, and 34 to OSU. The Irish seemed to win games in spite of their pass defense. They held Stanford to –11 rushing yards but gave up 347 in the air and almost cost themselves the game. Even during their pasting of Washington the Irish secondary gave up 408 yards. The final insult came against OSU when long bombs, Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes torched the Irish secondary.
Bad Luck. Tom Zbikowski, the Irish staunchest defender in 2005, actually punched the football out of Leinart’s hands with less than twenty seconds left during the USC loss. Instead of getting the ball back, the ball fired out of bounds and USC retained possession, the rest you know. The Irish massively outgained MSU, yet still dropped their home opener to the Spartans.
Drawing Ohio State in a Bowl game. Do I need to expand on this?
What to Look For In 2006:
This is a National Championship caliber team on the offensive side of the ball (according to the pundits). Weis is an excellent offensive coach. Anything less than a National Championship will be seen as a failure in South Bend. Scoreboard operators will be busy when Notre Dame comes calling. However, they're gonna be busy when the Irish defense is on the field too.
Quinn will likely come in second to Adrian Peterson in the Heisman voting. The Domers at first glance seem to have enough offensive talent to run the table, but there are kinks in their armour. The absense of a legit TE threat and the question of whether Rhema McKnight is fully recovered from the injury that robbed him of the najority of last season. There is also some instability at right tackle which could undermind Quinn's health.
The big question mark will be their defense. Can a team that gave up 31 and 34 points in its last two games (one of which was against Stanford) hold up its end of the bargain? Will ND's slow and undersized corners grow two inches and become lightning fast? There is a lot of talent and speed in this year's recruiting class, and a lot of DBs. If the Irish can find a Tight End and a Corner or two, they may live up to the hype.
Without them, the ony echoes awoken in South Bend will be the ones that reverberated off of Sorin and Pangborn when Ty's seasons didn't live up to expectations.
Returning Starters Offense: 7
Returning Starters Defense: 9
Charlie Weis came to Notre Dame before last season when Ty Willingham got the axe. He stepped into a decent situation, and turned it into a great situation. He turned Brady Quinn into a Heisman candidate. He increased ND's points per game by 13 points (36.7 in 2005 after only putting up 24.1 points a game in 2004). Its hard to critize a man with three Super Bowl rings and was Tom Brady's mentor in new England, but I'll do it anyway.
As I've already pointed out, Weis benefitted from an easy schedule and a third year QB. While he can recruit and orchestrate an offense, it is apparent from last year that defense isn't his specialty.
Further, one year does not a career make as his predecessor quickly found out. Willingham guided the Irish to a better record and a similar bowl crushing in year one, then collapsed. Thankfully he didn't have a long term contract. In the highly unlikely event Weis goes in the tank, you're stuck with him. (If so, I can't wait for the t-shirts with Weis' face and the caption "I love butter")
The key's will be Weis years three and four, when we begin to see his personel take over the starting positions. They will also be indicative of his ability to adapt to the abilities of college level players (re: non-patsy d1 schools). While Weis posted impressive numbers against last year's schedule, he was the first coach to lose his first two home games since Frank Hering in 1896 (HT: Phil Steele).
The first half of this year's schedule is brutal for ND. Even ND's road opener will be much tougher than it should be. Notre Dame isn't going to surprise people this year. This year they get to wear the target that a Fiesta Bowl bid and a boat load of hype entails. I think Charlie will do fine, but it ain't going to go as smoothly this year.
Record setting last year. This year they lose key cogs in Stovall and Fasano. However, a good stable of running backs mathced with a Heisman candidate points to good things for the Irish offense. Or do they....
Brady Quinn is a fourth year starter. Last year he posted one of the best seasons for a Notre Dame quarterback ever. 32 TDs, 3919 passing yards, and a 64.9 completion percentage. Quinn became the ND all-time leader in TD passes in a single season, the all-time leader in career passing yards, and the all-time single season passing leader. Not bad.
Actually, I'm sold on the guy. I think he probably is one of the best, if not the best quarterback in college football this year. However, he's going to find things a lot tougher this year. His safety valve TE Fasano is gone. Mo Stovall is playing on Sundays too. Those losses are going to be tougher for Quinn than people give credit for.
Quinn is not the most mobile guy in the world either. A tougher schedule will likely result in him seeing a lot more pressure. In case you forgot, Quinn spent a lot of time on his back against Ohio State. The offensive line will have to step up against a tougher set of pass rushers (PSU linebackers for instance), or Quinn will see his sack total rise considerably from last year's 21 plantings.
Which brings us to the major concern at quarterback. After Quinn there is no depth. Sophomore David Wolke only threw 3 passes last year and had one of them picked. After Wolke is highly rated redshirt freshman Evan Sharpley who will get to back up Jimmy Clausen next year (or transfer). Granted Wolke's going into his third year in a pro-style system, but his lack of game experience is scary.
Like Michigan, if Notre Dame's starter goes down, they're in trouble.
While they're not going going to overwhelm you, this is an area where I'm sold on the Irish's depth. Junior Darius Walker is a true plowhorse. A little under 1,200 yards rushing, 351 receiving, 9 TD on the ground and 2 in the air. He's got some speed and is capable of running you over. His back-up Travis Thomas (if he can hold onto the ball) is another solid running back. Adding to the mix is plasma-hot recruit James Aldridge who enrolled early (like Carlos Brown at Michigan) and has done nothing but impress. Alridge is the one who scares me the most out of this backfield. Great cutter and sickeningly fast. Looking at him, possible Eddie George clone. But he's gonna need a year.
What is surprising is that in the Irish high-octane offense none of the Irish RB's had better years. Cracking the 1,000 yard mark is nice, but when the offense is scoring 36 points a game you expect to see a little more production from your running game. Notre Dame's 147 rushing yards a game would've ranked them 9th in the Big Ten, right behind Illinois (148/game [in conference]). That type of production is more indicative of a 7-5 season than a 9-3 one. If it's not setting off warning bells in Chuckles McEatsalot's head, something's wrong in South Bend.
In the running game's defense, Walker did score all three ND touchdowns against Ohio State and put up 90 yards at 5.6 ypc. If he duplicates that type of performance for the year, my critisisms are unfounded. He'll have to do that for the offense to be successful. Without a legit play action and running threat, this offense becomes one dimensional. For the record I think the running game will be fine, but there isn't a game breaker immediately in the backfield. They exist to keep pressure off of Quinn.
As mentioned previously Jeff Samardzija is pretty good. But so were Anthony Fasano and Maruice Stovall. Stovall finished second on the team in receptions (69) and receiving TDs (11). Together with Samardzija, they formed the first Irish duo to crack 1,000 yards receving in a single season. Critical outlet Anthony Fasano was third with 47 and 2, racking up 576 yards. Both he and Stovall are now in the NFL. The fourth leading Irish receiver was Darius Walker. Fifth was now departed senior Matt Shelton who only caught 28 passes and no TDs. Of the top five pass catchers only Samardzija returns as a WR. Call me nuts, but there ain't a lot of depth based on that list.
Taking Stovall's place opposite Samaradzija will be Senior Rhema McKinght. McKnight blew out his knee against Michigan and missed the rest of the season. However, prior to his injury, he was a decent receiver posting back to back 40+ reception campaigns as a sophomore and junior. However, McKnight has only 7 career TD catches and only one catch over 50 yards. Knee injuries don't make people faster, so we'll have to see how he comes back. After him, questions abound. Sophomore David Grimes got a mention in the spring prospectus but that's it. The 2006 class didn't include any 4star talent at WR, and only DJ Hord rates as a 4* from the 2005 class but didn't catch a ball last year. If McKnight returns to full strength, the Irish have two good pass catchers. But that's it. Someone's going to have to step up, and looking at the roster its unclear who it will be.
The Tight End position is where the Irish will feel the graduation hit the worst. Fifth year senior Marcus Freeman and senior John Carlson are ND's returning options. Only Carlson caught a pass last year (7rec/1TD). Both will likely lose their starting job mid season to Bond movie super villian Konrad Reuland. He looks the bad guy in Tomorrow Never Dies. Reuland was the #1 rated TE recruit in the country, and at 6'6" - 240, looks to be a star in the making. Still, he'll need a year's seasoning and a lot of work learning to block before he's ready to inherit Fasano's throne.
Past the big two, Notre Dame is short on experience and game ready talent at these crucial positions.
The line allowed 21 sacks last year against a no-so-tough schedule. This year they're a little older and stronger. Senior John Sullivan returns at center. While not a star, he a serviceable center who palyed well in 2005. The Irish really don't have anyone behind him. The guards will be seniors Dan Santucci and right guard Bob Morton. Santucci is the better of the two. Morton has also been used at Center extensively and served as Sullivan's backup center during Spring practice. That could be a role he fills all year long. If so, sophomore Paul Duncan will have the chance to step into one of the guard spots. Duncan got in five game last year and has the look of a solid prospect. As at center, there is not a lot of depth at guard.
At tackle mamoth Ryan Harris will try to make an All-American push. He'll be protecting Quinn's blind side and is going into his fourth year as a starter. The right tackle position is a question mark. Fifth-year senior Brian Mattes will likely be the initial starter despite injury concerns. Mattes has been the fill in for injuries during his career at ND, so I'm not betting the farm he'll be anything more than passable at RT. Sophomore Michael Turkovich will back him up, as will Super Recruit Sam Young who should be starting by mid season. One good tackle and a set of question marks. There is young, undeveloped talent at Tackle, but nothing seasoned enough to quiet any concerns.
The Irish running game was okay in 2005. Looking at the Irish's front five, it'll be okay again in 2006. The left side of the line will be fine, but the right side could cause some trouble. In addition, if Harris goes down the whole line could be thrown into chaos. This is a good line, but its not deep. Match that with a tougher set of opponents and Quinn is going to have a lot more company in his backfield.
Bend but don't break. That has to be the motto for this group. Last year the Irish gave up its highest ypc in five years, with opponents cashing in at 3.9 per carry. They also allowed 265 yards in the air per game. Take the Syracuse and Navy games out of the equation and it looks even worse. For Notre Dame to contend for a National Title, they're going to have to get considerably more out of their defense this year.
Not the most overwhelming group last year. The Irish return most of their Defensive Line. Senior DE Victor Abiamiri is the horse of the group. He hit 48 tackles, 8 sacks and 7 tackles for loss last year. Opposite him junior Ronald Talley logged the most minutes last year, posting 23 tackles and a sack. There is some depth at DE with seniors Justin Brown and Chris Frome both having seen significant time last year. Abiamiri will be the pass rush key. If he can take on the double teams that will be coming his way the Irish are in business. If not, unless Talley develops into a dominant pass rusher, teams will have a lot of time to throw the ball.
At the DT/NG positions the Domers are in real good shape. Senior Derek Landri is entering his fourth year as a starter and Junior Trevor Laws is going into his third season as a starter. Of the two, Landri should get the most attention. Landri had 8 tackles for loss and three sacks last year. He's a decent run stuffer and at close to 300 lbs looks to be a prototypical DT. Laws on the other hand is a little undersized at 260. He did start every game last year and posted 33 tackles. After the starters, ND has a pair of sophmores and highly touted Paddy Mullen to back them up.
The DL is the sturdiest point in the Irish defense. There's a veteran presence on the line this year and some skill from the left side. However, mobile QBs gave the Irish some trouble. So did decent lines. They only got to OSU once, Michigan State once and Michigan twice. The majority of the Irish sacks book-ended their season (5 versus Pitt and 7 against Stanford). The line will be good. They'll be responsible for stopping the run and the pass this year. Because if the ball or the abll carrier get to the next level, it could get dicey.
This is where the Irish are the most vulernable. The Irish changed their linebacking system when Weis came to town and are now in year two of the switch. Making things tougher, graduation cost them their two top defensive tacklers WSLB Brandon Hoyte (92tkl/6sk/10.5tfl) and MLB Corey Mays (80tkl/5sk/12.5tfl). The top LB remaining is Junior Maurice Crum who posted 57 tackles last year. Crum will likely slide into the MLB, but injuries during spring practice limited his reps.
The replacements at WSLB and SSLB are big question marks, whose answers come in the form of junior and senior "special teams standouts". These things tell me, 1) he wasn't good enough to take the starting job from the guy that was there, 2) he's got a motor but not the skill, and 3) they don't have anyone else to fill the hole with. Junior Joe Brockington is expected to take the WSLB slot after two years tracking down kick-offs. Brockington is fast (4.56 speed), but only played 11 minutes last year. Two other Senior "special teams standouts" Nick Borseti and Mitchell Thomas have a shot to play. Touted incoming freshman Toryan Smith and Morrice Richardson will also get looks in the fall.
This is not a deep group. Aside from Crum, no one has seen significant playing time. Those who have got banged up in spring practice. Anthony Vernaglia, a converted safety and Vanilla Ice look-a-like, saw some time at LB and could/should take over one of the open slots. The first few games will likely mean a lot of shuffling of at LB as the D coaches try to figure out who's going to take over. Inexperience will cost the Irish some first downs. So will having a bunch of old, slow seniors clogging up your depth chart. Other than Crum, no one logged over 15 minutes of playing time last year. Other than Crum no one's ever started a college game at LB. Brockington is your second leading returning tackler at LB. He had nine last year.
Tight Ends will love this group. So will linemen who get past the line. The middle of the field is going to cause the Irish more than indigestion.
Hopefully they're a year older and a year wiser. I'm betting not. The stats say the Irish only gave up 265 yards a game passing last year. The stats lie. Against Syracuse and Navy, the Irish only had to defend 13 passes. In both games combined. Take out those two games and there's a different picture. In games where the pass was actually used, the Irish gave up 302 passing yards a contest. That's not so good.
One argument to defend this group is that the teams they played were behind, and had to throw to keep up. Plausible. My problem is that the teams doing the throwing shouldn't have been able to do it that well against a good defense. Big passing days were common, win or lose. When matched up against the Irish secondary bad teams did well, good teams did better.
What's also no so good for the Irish is the group that gave up all those yards is returning, as a whole. When we last saw these guys they were watching Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn blow past them. And it wasn't just OSU that got to ND. USC, MSU, Washington, Stanford, BYU, and Purdue all put up over 300 yards on the Irish secondary. Yeah, yeah. They won most of those games. They should've won the USC game. Bull. When the Irish needed a crucial pass stop, they blew it. Just like Michigan's run defense last year, ND's pass defense couldn't be counted on.
Seniors Ambrose Wooden, Tom Zbikowski, Mike Richardson, and Chinedum Ndukwe all return. The best players back there are Zbikowski and Wooden. Zbikowski hits hard and has a nose for the ball, Wooden got thrown at a lot and responded well. Still, these guys gave up a lot of yards. And without much help at linebacker they're going to see a lot of trouble coming their way.
There is hope on the horizon. 4* DBs Darrin Walls and Raeshon McNeil come in as freshman and will likely be seeing significant playing time if their play lives up to their pedigree. Walls has the quick feet and that extra catchup gear that all corners must have. McNeil doesn't, but knows his position and hits like a freight train. He'll likely move to safety. Even with some help, only Junior Leo Ferrine saw any time last year. If a corner plays poorly or goes down there's little behind him. Ferrine will be the primary backup.
Nothing's changed in the Irish secondary. Last year's results don't lead me to believe that's a good thing for Notre Dame.
Finally graduated is DJ Fitzpatrick. Ole' Fitz was quite the ND legend. He kicked and punted (aren't those the same thing?). Now Geoff Price will likely take over the punting duties while Carl Gioia (I'd like to buy a vowel) will probably handle the kick-off and FG job. Carl will likely be pushed by touted incoming freshman kicker Ryan Burkhart. Zbikowski will claim the punt return duties again this year (2TDs in 2005) and David Grimes will handle the kick off returns (0 TDs in 2005).
If Notre Dame Was a Country it Would Be: Germany. A power generations ago. A power now. Got the crap bombed out of it at one point, now has rebuilt itself into a power. Fully capable of waking up pissed and taking over half the planet before you've had your english muffin. It's citizens can be fiecely nationalistic and ignore global realities from time to time, but overall a nice group. While never quite as important as it thinks it is, its not a country to trifle with.
Notre Dame had a great run last year. This year their a little short on defense, and long on schedule strength. The first half of their schedule is BRUTAL. ACC opener at Georgia Tech. Four straight Big 11 Ten teams: Penn State and Michigan at home, MSU away, then Purdue at home. The middle part of the season provides some relief, but Navy's got the talent to pull an upset and traveling to So-Cal is going to be difficult. Especially when Booty's had a full season to get his "ass" in gear. (har har)
Best Case Scenario:
The Irish go undefeated, beating undefeated OSU by flipping their score from last year. Echoes awoken! Horsemen riding! Charlie Weis = Messiah! Brady Quinn best QB ever!
If that's the case, Quinn walks away with the Heisman right after braining AJ Hawk for boning his sister and cracking his ribs during the Fiesta Bowl. Wies will immediately be cannonized and his picture will be inserted in the palm of the Touchdown Jesus. This will also mean that Notre Dame's defense vastly exceeded expectations and a third receiver rose from the shadows to lift the Irish.
Worst Case Scenario:
The right side of the OL collapses, no third receiver is found, and the LBs and secondary are worse than I think. The Irish open 0-3. Don't laugh. While highly unlikely, it is possible. Georgia Tech could surprise the Irish. Its gonna be hot down there and the Tech faithful will be out for blood. Then home visits by PSU and Michigan result in losses. Both of those games could go against the Irish even in Notre Dame Stadium. If that happens it means the worst has been confirmed. Then the ominus trip to East Lansing could put the Irish in a 0-4 hole. ND goes on to lose to Navy and USC, finishing 6-6 before going to a bowl. Again highly unlikely, but this is the worst case scenario.
9-3 reg, 10-3 with a bowl. I'm guessing ND will split its Big 11 Ten schedule. MSU has pig blapped ND the last few years, and with Santon a senior, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Then its between PSU and Michigan for the other loss. PSU is the more likely choice because they're much more an unknown commodity with a new (strong armed) QB. But I'm going with Michigan to put an end to this road loss nonsense. Finally, the trip to LA will be too much for the Irish as sun and pale skin don't mesh. USC's getting a tad overlooked with Bush/White/Leinart all leaving. Pete Carroll hasn't retired and there's still "ass"-loads of talent out there.
The Irish will still go to a good bowl. I predict they'll win it and finish off the season 10-3.