Crossing the Chasm (How ND Could Make the BCS)

To be upfront, I don’t think it’s likely that the Irish will make the BCS. I do think that (if the dominoes fall correctly) the Irish are capable of it. How could Notre Dame possibly get there after a 3-9 season? I think several things have to happen and they have to happen in concert with one another. To a certain extent these are dependent variables, if one happens it makes it much more likely that the others will.

1. First and foremost we can’t lose our key players. These guys can’t get hurt:

  • Jimmy Clausen
  • Dan Wenger
  • Sam Young
  • Ian Williams
  • Brian Smith
  • Kerry Neal
  • Darrin Walls

We could afford to lose some of these players and have a good season, but not a BCS season.

2. We’re going to need several players to “cross the chasm,” grow from decent players or players with promise to very good to great players. Every year that teams make a substantial leap forward, we see some key players make this leap. This list is long.

On offense:

  • Jimmy Clausen has to age up quickly. Most players in his year would still be considered freshmen. Clausen needs to make a quantum leap to a 65% passer if we’re going to be top team.
  • Golden Tate needs to become a play-maker instead of a “go route” deep threat. It’s obvious to everyone that he has the speed and the hands to be a special player, the kind of player that can force a defense to loosen up. I’d also like to see us get him the ball on reverses and out of the backfield. If we do that he also becomes an effective decoy.
  • The offensive line on the whole needs to make a quantum leap forward, but Sam Young and Chris Stewart have a chance to be dominating on run plays. If we can get a consistent push on that side of the line, then I expect Hughes and Allen to be able to be able to put up 100 yard games. Of course they (and the running backs) have to get better at pass blocking.

I actually feel as if these players all have a decent shot at crossing the chasm. On defense, there’s hope and it begins with Mo Richardson.

  • Richardson has to make the jump from potential to playmaker. Word is that despite his size issue (not that much off Vernon Gholston) that Richardson has the strength to play defensive end. If Richardson can make this jump, the odds of Irish wins will increase exponentially. Don’t rule out John Ryan finally growing into the position he should have been playing all along.
  • Ian Williams is another player who just has to get mature before his time. He was productive when he played last season, he has the size and a nice burst off the line. If Williams can make the jump along with Richardson then our chances for a good to great season go up dramatically.
  • A middle linebacker. Will someone please rise to the occasion here?
  • I’m not the least bit worried about our defensive backfield, we’re as talented as we’ve been there in 15 years.

What gives me great hope on defense (despite the lack of seniors and 5th years) is that we seem to have a cohesive coaching staff for the first time in years. Jappy deserves credit for the performance of the defensive line last season, whether it’s because of the influence of Brown or the lack of Minter, he coached up a better than expected defensive line last season. With Tenuta coaching the linebackers and Brown with the defensive backs, I’m expecting to see a completely different curve as far as player development is concerned. We could see some surprise players next year like Harrison (not Hunter) Smith. Though Smith becoming a player wouldn’t be much of a surprise — how we use him will be. What do you do with a kid that talented?

3. We’re going to need our freshmen to come to the party ready to play. In order, I think Ethan Johnson, Michael Floyd, Brandon Newman and Darius Fleming are going to have to be battle ready to provide depth. I’m most excited about Johnson’s ability to come in and make plays, this is a guy USC wanted badly. Floyd will be our best receiver (unless Tate improves) by the end of the season. Newman has to be able to spell Ian (and there’s some good buzz on Hafis Williams as well.) Since we’re apparently going to be brining the sink on every play, Fleming and possibly Filer are going to have to be able to step in and rush the passer. Luckily, this is usually one of the easier things for Freshmen to do. If these players can not only push the starters, but break through I think we’ll see them immediately raise the level of play across the board. One thing that has to help with recruiting is Weis’s propensity to play the best player regardless of seniority. At one time we had eleven freshmen starting last year. Of course the downside is that we’re still painfully young. Most teams consider our sophomores to be freshmen, juniors to be sophomores, seniors to be juniors and 5th years to be seniors.

4. Commit to the running game. Give Clausen a breather and use our deep stable of backs. Play Action off the running game and allow our junior led offensive line to develop consistency and rhythm. Remember, even a one yard running gain can generate positive momentum. A sack is devastating. I really believe that Weis’s sense memory killed us the last two years. While his situational playcalling instincts may have been right, in my opinion he still called plays as if the Patriots were executing them. And in theory, the plays should have worked, but in reality the moving parts, blocking schemes and inexperience made even simple plays look like goat ropes.

5. Complete the transformation. To be blunt, we’ve been told that there wasn’t good team chemistry the past two years. Lack of senior numbers and talent greatly affected team leadership. Last year’s team was rudderless. The real leaders were simply too young to lead and the older players were marginalized. This is actually fairly natural when you have such a dichotomy of talent and numbers between tenured players and newcomers. As I’ve written before, there’s just no way a small number of less talented players can effectively lead a larger number of more talented younger players. With Weis’s first real class now juniors, I think we’ll start to see the benefits of that transition this year and it will be complete by ’09.

6. The schedule has to give. I’ve read countless posts about how easy our schedule looks this year, but I’m not buying it, yet. Too many times I’ve seen us project an easy schedule only to have two-thirds of those teams gel and reach bowl games (the opposite is also true.) Looking at the schedule I do see some gimmes, SDSU, Syracuse and Navy. Other than those three I don’t see absolute locks, though I do think it’s more probable the Irish will see easier games against teams like BC, Purdue and Washington. North Carolina and Pitt are going to surprise some people this year and will not be easy games. I don’t know what to think about Stanford. What’s funny about fandom, is that fans on some of these other teams are predicting lock wins against ND this year. Objectivity is not a fan trait.

Is all of this probable? No.

Is it possible? Yes.

Barring Major injuries the Irish should be bowl bound this year, but if some of our key players can “cross the chasm” this season could be the prelude to a memorable ’09.

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33 Responses to “Crossing the Chasm (How ND Could Make the BCS)”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Great article. Well written too. I would only add that I hope ND starts using more offensive trap blocking to get our speedy runners into the secondary. We haven’t seen effective trap blocking with this young line, but we’re ready for it.

  2. Michael Ahern Says:

    Loved the insight here- although I have more of a postive feel that this year’s schedule is infinitely easier than last year’s.
    I think Michigan is almost a lock- that team lost all their leaders.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    One thru six…You nailed it. The foundation is definitely set for a 8-4 season, especially IF Jimmy, David, Golden, and Michael all enroll in the Raymond Berry summer school session for QBs and Receivers. Trap blocking with mis-direction plays;pounding off the right side; receivers running precise routes and being hit in stride…whoa, I’m starting to hyperventilate here.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    While there is room for much needed optimism for this year’s team, we probably shouldn’t be getting ahead of ourselves making such predictions about which teams are “locks” and how far we can go. Heartbreak is bad enough when we are expected to do well.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    I appreciate your guarded optimism for this year; however, how could you miss mentioning the importance of David Bruton? Are we so loaded at db that we could still make a BCS run with him out of the lineup?

  6. Anonymous Says:

    great article, key is richardson. tired of watching db’s trailing on play, and power football must be part of offense. excited about the soph.,fr. classes, and no reason they cannot produce 9-3 or better. irish need to win, silence pollsters, doubting experts, and just play. hughes for heisman,2009!

  7. ND Harvey Says:

    ND Harvey said
    Kuntz has to return and be a dominant force on the defensive line. Go IRISH!!!!

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I’d only add Hughes to the list of “Can’t lose players” and Syracuse to the list of locked wins.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    To me, the Michigan game is the key to the season. Win it and I think things could get interesting, especially if we can pull off what I deem our 2nd toughest game of the season the next week at MSU. Its all about timing with this game. Lose to scUM and you could be 1-2 and lose some momentum.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    I still say that to expect any more than 6 wins is just setting everyone up for another dissappointing season. The Irish weren’t close to even competing in too many games last season, and to expect 8 or 9 or more wins this season is simply unrealistic, given that there are still many unknowns with such a young roster.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    I suggest adding Pat Kuntz to the list of must-have players. I think we saw the impact of his absence in rund efense during the BG game.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    agee 100%, Michigan is the key. Don’t think that UM will not be very competitive. They lost leadership, not their athletes and their desire to beat us. Early success is the key to confidence and a winning season.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    I am not going to say a 9 and 3 season is impossible but a BCS win is unless we would be matched with one of the service academies.Just because our schedule for the next 2 years is non challenging it does not indicate in any way that we are going to be a dominating football team.Certainly 2 very important goals have to be attained ,both the defense and the offense has to improve immensely,if we don’t see even a 50% improvement on both sides of the ball it cant happen and wee will be 8 and 4 team with no BCS game.Here is a record that has to be eradicated in annals of Notre Dame football starting this year.

    2007 Sugar Bowl
    Bowl Game

    Notre Dame Fighting Irish LSU Tigers
    (10-2) (10-2)
    14 41
    Head coach:
    Charlie Weis Head coach:
    Les Miles
    AP Coaches BCS
    11 11 11
    AP Coaches BCS
    4 4 4

    With the loss, Notre Dame lost a record-setting nine bowl games in a row,[1] including losing their three BCS bowl games by wide point margins.[1]

    2006 Fiesta Bowl
    Bowl Game

    Ohio State Buckeyes Notre Dame Fighting Irish
    (10-2) (9-3)
    34- 20
    Head coach:
    Jim Tressel Head coach:
    Charlie Weis
    AP Coaches BCS
    4 4 4
    AP Coaches BCS
    5 6 6

    2001 Fiesta Bowl
    Bowl Game

    Oregon State Beavers Notre Dame Fighting Irish
    (10-1) (9-2) 41-9
    Head coach:
    Dennis Erickson Head coach:
    Bob Davie
    AP Coaches BCS
    5 6 6
    AP Coaches BCS
    10 10 11

  14. Anonymous Says:

    I am not going to say a 9 and 3 season is impossible but a BCS win is unless we would be matched with one of the service academies.Just because our schedule for the 2 years is non challenging it does not indicate in any way that we are going to be a dominating football team.Certainly 2 very important goals have to be attained ,both the defense and the offense has to improve immensely,if we don’t see even a 50% improvement on both sides of the ball it cant happen and wee will be 8 and 4 team with no BCS game.Here is a record that has to be eradicated in annals of Notre Dame football starting this year.

    2007 Sugar Bowl
    Bowl Game

    Notre Dame Fighting Irish LSU Tigers
    (10-2) (10-2)
    14 41
    Head coach:
    Charlie Weis Head coach:
    Les Miles
    AP Coaches BCS
    11 11 11
    AP Coaches BCS
    4 4 4

    With the loss, Notre Dame lost a record-setting nine bowl games in a row,[1] including losing their three BCS bowl games by wide point margins.[1]

    2006 Fiesta Bowl
    Bowl Game

    Ohio State Buckeyes Notre Dame Fighting Irish
    (10-2) (9-3)
    34 20
    Head coach:
    Jim Tressel Head coach:
    Charlie Weis
    AP Coaches BCS
    4 4 4
    AP Coaches BCS
    5 6 6

    2001 Fiesta Bowl
    Bowl Game

    Oregon State Beavers Notre Dame Fighting Irish
    (10-1) (9-2)
    41 9
    Head coach:
    Dennis Erickson Head coach:
    Bob Davie
    AP Coaches BCS
    5 6 6
    AP Coaches BCS
    10 10 11

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Great article, hit on alot of the main points, BUT YOU MISSED ONE!! I was at most of the home games, and Blue and Gold games, that last 3 seasons, and I was at the Blue and Gold game the other week, there is a serious football team at Notre Dame now, fire an intensity, a sense of direction that I have not seen for a couple years. Top notch talent really going at it out there, I loved watching this spring ball, I didn’t like the fight, I loved it! This team is going to wash that loosing taste out of its mouth from last year by smashing a couple teams up this year…To all of those teams that cheap shotted Jimmy last year and to all the refs who allowed it (Penn State game in particular) THANK YOU, motivation enough.

    GO IRISH

  16. john Says:

    Good insight, nice atricle. I agree with you. Only qualifier is that I think it’s unrealistic to think E. Johnson can come in and play as a freshman, because he’s coming off knee surgery. He’s a great talent and a great get for ND, but knees need a while to recover.

  17. jim / Redondo Beach Says:

    …thanks again, willingham…

  18. Anonymous Says:

    good article. but y rnt people making a bigger deal about deion walker. you even said it your self that he has all american potential. the guy is 6-3 and has 4.45 speed. he had a nasty injury his senior year but i think he could come in and make an imapct or atleast push for playing time

  19. Anonymous Says:

    Excellent analysis. Let’s hope we get a few breaks along the way.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    Good analysis, but I hate any mention of BCS at this point. We have to walk before we run. I am sick of watching ND lose Bowl games. For once, I’d just like to end the year on a positive note and if that means being in a lesser bowl game where we’re not overmatched,then so be it.

  21. foxrocks Says:

    With our more aggressive D, we should see a flip in minutes: the D gives up fewer first downs and spends less time on the field per series than in recent years. This also should mean better starting position on the field for the O. If Claussen, Hughes, Allen, etc. can improve and take advantage of this, we will have found the right formula.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    I believe Hughes to be one of those key players that need to stay healthy in order to have a run at the BCS. His explosive running attack has the ability to put a defense on their heels.

  23. ndFrosh08 Says:

    agree 100%. an 8-4 season with a season ending bowl WIN (not a BCS bowl, just something managable) would not only silence some of the ND haters out there, but also give us some positive momentum going into a 2009 championship run

  24. Anonymous Says:

    After last season I do not believe any games are a lock. Air Force;s All Purpose back embarressed Notre Dame. San Diego State played a fine Ohio State team real close in Columbus a few years ago. Michigan will have two games under it’s belt. MSU out coached and played us last year. We did not sure up against USC. We actually quit in that game. So unless the Coaching staff gets Notre Dame ready to FIGHT and Play like SOB’s and are more afriad of practice and losing their jobs like it was with Ara,Lou and even Bob Davie we in for a long season no matter who we play.

    Heck I hope we win 10 games too as long as we win our Bowl Game. Even if it is a lower level game.

    I took my sons to the Insight.com Bowl . The team played with no fire or direction and lost to a less talented but better coached Oregon State Beavers Team.

    I hope Jon Tenuta’s toughness spreads to the Offensive Line too. Hopefully there was alot of bloody noses and sore bodies in the O-Line after Spring Practice.

    Practice should always be tougher than the games. It is at USC and until we get back to that level of hitting and talent across the lines of scrimage we won’t win National Championships.

    So get the talent Coach Weis and get the Lads banging and blasting each other.
    We need to get back to Be THE FIGHTING IRISH again. That will take care of everything.

  25. Anonymous Says:

    The first game will most telling. If ND struggles to win, then we know they haven’t improved since the end of last season. If they dominate (40+ to 0 would be nice), then we know there has been real improvement and bring on Michigan who’s rebuilding. MSU will be pivotal win/loss game,although after a 3-9 season, every game is pivotal.

  26. Anonymous Says:

    Let me be the first to say ND’s gonna win ’em all in ’08. Here come the Irish! Seriously though, if we get past Pitt (Wannstedt’s had this game circled for 3 years), we’re going to Southren Cal undefeated. With all that they lost, I gotta believe we’ll be better than UM, MSU, and BC. If that’s not the case, we need a new coach. That leaves UW (another lousy program by you know who) and UNC (I expect Kerry Neal to break Greg Little’s leg on the first play). Plus if there’s ever going to be a year where we don’t everyone’s best, this is it.

  27. Anonymous Says:

    yesterday I said

    With the loss, Notre Dame lost a record-setting nine bowl games in a row,[1] including losing their three BCS bowl games by wide point margins.

    Today I am GOING TO STATE SOME HARD FACTS.

    The first is a no brainier Over time, given that players do not bolt for the NFL early, great recruiting ultimately results in championships. With all of that being said, the question comes forth: Where will this year’s recruiting classes, with the likes of Florida, Notre Dame, and Alabama at the top, be in three to four years?

    You cannot accurately throw out numbers of wins or losses you realistically believe[hope] that this years team will achieve by the end of the season ,why open yourself up for a major disapointmentThere is no way to for see how good or how bad the team will be this year,you can only hope.For the last 3 years we have been in the top 10 in recruiting that is a significant plus so with that said this year should produce more wins than last which will be a very easy task since we had only 3 wins, the odds of winning 4 this years are in our favor.So it is fair to say that we will have a winning season compared to the 2007 season.Now with 3 top ten recruiting classes we have a very good foundation in place to be a better team to compete with.Since we are not in a conference we can only set our goal towards a BCS game! last year we had the ability to be competitive but we lacked the desire,this year we have to want to win!We only beat Stanford by 7 but that was enough to win you cant measure success by the total number of points scored !As I previously stated you cannot realistically throw out numbers of wins or losses in forecasting how good or how bad will we be this year.
    Question: Talk about this upcoming season.

    Holtz: I think they’re going to have an excellent year this year, I really and truly do. I think the changes that they’ve made on the coaching staff have been positive. I have great respect for (Jon) Tenuta coming from Georgia Tech. I think moving Corwin Brown to the defensive secondary … all great football teams have a great defense and all great defenses start with a great secondary. I think they’re going to be excellent in that area.

    I think the schedule is very, favorable. This is one of those years where they could possibly play one Top 25 team. Now, you don’t know when the season begins who’s good and who’s bad. But you go based on last year and what everybody lost. I think Charlie is a winner and a competitor and I think that those people will bounce back after last year. I think they started coming on at the end of the year, won their last three games I think it was. With everybody coming back, I think it will be a very good year.

    Thanks Lou BUT WHERE are the wins and the losses?

  28. Anonymous Says:

    we have the talent. the key is the chemistry between the coaching and the players. if ND wins the first three games hang on to your socks.

  29. bern Says:

    One thing not mentioned was lack of team spead especially on offense last year. The poor offensive line play was the biggest problem but lack of spead was second. James Aldrige is not quick, not shifty and if you hit him low gets knocked off his feet easily. Hughes has the best running instincts and he is hard to bring down but he still is not a break away back. Romando Allen was a disappointment, he did not show break away speed plus he failed to show the natural running instincts that good back have. He was only a freshman so that may come. Golden Tate gives them soemthing they clearly lack and that is big play ability by a wide out.

    Overall, I think they will be much improved.

  30. Malott Says:

    Off topic:

    Whatever happened to Bartley Webb?

  31. Sebastian Says:

    A .500 campaign is where my bar is fixed. Surpass it and I’m more than tickled; fail to reach it and this thing is a mess.

    Regardless, 2009 is our show-me year. Weis will have had plenty of time to develop his highly touted recruiting classes, Clausen will be a junior, and the success or failure of the season will have a direct relationship with Weis’ future at this school.

    I think 2009 is the earliest acceptable moment to fire Weis. Or we could be celebrating a wonderful year. We’ll see.

  32. Anonymous Says:

    ND Frosh ’08, you are on target.

    Fightingirishman, you need to get a life about ND Football. Fire Weis and we would see an exodus of fine young football players. You must have your head in a toilet.

  33. Anonymous Says:

    Honest question: Why did Charlie Weis surrender play calling duties? Isn’t that his forte?

    Seems to me his dificiency is in player developemnt; he should therefore have delegated development, and whatever administrative duties he could dump off, so he could focus on what he’s best at: x’s and O’s.

    Am I alone here?

    Good luck Irish.

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