The Light at the End of the Tunnel

One thing seems certain, Irish football fortunes are going to snap back faster than the housing market. For the first time since 2005 I’m forecasting returns above guidance for the Irish. Of course, that doesn’t mean much coming on the heels of last season’s clusterbacle, but this season looks like a good buying opportunity.

I knew the Irish were over-hyped in 2006, because we were in prime over-hype position. We greatly exceeded expectations in 2005 and we were returning players at the glamor positions, which is all any preseason prognosticators have the ability to focus on. Yet we had significant losses and weaknesses. Michigan was in a similar over-hype position last season, after exceeding expectations in 2006 and returning glamor players at quarterback, running back and wide receiver.

Heading into 2008, the Irish are now in a prime under-hype position. Notre Dame underperformed against any expectation last year leading Athlon to rank the Irish 60th in the country in their pre-season rankings (purportedly.) But the Irish talent level is rising back to contender status and we should be in title race by 2009. This chart on the right shows four and five star players weighted to the junior, senior and 5th year classes. As you can see Notre Dame is spiking dramatically up this year (granted this was done before Rueland, Frazier, Carufel and Jones transferred,) but regardless you can see a sharp rebound for the Irish in 2008. And one reason I’m not as fazed by the defections is that everyone of those players was beaten out by a younger player.

I’m gaining slow confidence that we’re going to see a significant Irish resurgence for three reasons.

First, the overall talent level is finally rising from underneath. That means for the first time in years, we’re going to have heated competition at most positions. If you remember last year at the Blue and Gold game we didn’t have enough offensive linemen to make a two deep. This year, we’re going to have six talented and fairly seasoned offensive linemen who can almost legally drink and you have to like the potential of a guy like Chris Stewart and the attitude of players like Wenger, Turk and Olsen. And even at positions where we don’t have great depth, we’ve at least got young talent coming in. It’s certainly not a perfect mix, but it’s hard to improve when your starters are young and surrounded by more young.

Second, Weis has made some very positive coaching moves the last two years. He deserves a great deal of credit for dumping Minter (they didn’t mesh) and hiring Brown and now Tenuta. Those are outstanding additions and I think we’ll see much better player development on defense. Additionally, Weis stepping out of the signal caller role shows great self-awareness (albeit forced a bit) and hopefully will lead to a stronger run-pass mix which will in turn set Clausen up for success.

Third, Clausen himself. Our quarterbacks were sacked over 50 times!!! last season and Clausen still put up respectable numbers. I think Jimmy showed much better toughness and field awareness than he got credit for considering almost every play was a jail break and our receivers were, to be kind, not yet ready for prime time. By the second half of this year (assuming we finally get some blocking,) I think Clausen will be playing at a very high level. Weis’s offense demands accuracy from the quarterback, which is why I think Clausen could be playing at a higher level than Quinn in just his sophomore season. If our freshmen and sophomore wide receivers can reach their potential early and Hughes and Allen can create some room, we might see a dramatic jump up the offensive rankings this season.

Above all, despite poor recruiting and numbers in the senior and 5th year classes, we’re finally going to have three straight classes with decent talent and numbers. We’re building depth, something we never had under Davieham or in Weis’s first three seasons. We’re finally becoming a program school again.

And as I pointed out previously, just as everything can go wrong in a perfect storm like last season, just fixing one or two parts can snowball rapidly in a positive direction.

If this team can just start believing it can win, the Irish could become the surprise story of 2008.

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35 Responses to “The Light at the End of the Tunnel”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I agree 100% with the optimism. I think this year’s team will be as good as the lines allow on both sides of the ball. The o-line should at least play with great enthusiasm having Hughes charging through like a runaway train. The d-line will benefit greatly from Tenuta’s backers playing downhill from all angles (especially since the secondary should be on lock-down mode from day one of training camp).

  2. Bill V. Says:

    You’re right about the experience levels and the coaching improvements. And Jimmy Clausen does have very good accuracy when he gets time – but, as once John Elway said, “If I were in charge of a defense- I would be blitzing all the time!” unfortunately for JC, the real test of a QB comes when they have to play under great pressure. I just don’t see it in Clausen. But Sharpley can handle it – and I think that’s going to be the surprise of the season.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Oh no, not again with getting my hopes up. A lot of those 4-5 stars left or can’t even make the starting lineup. Weis lost some credibility last year. We’ll see, but actions on the field will speak louder then words. I’m staying away from the kool aid this year.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Remember one thing- weis has yet to beat a ranked team

  5. Rob Says:

    “Remember one thing- weis has yet to beat a ranked team”

    What? Weis’ first 2 games as ND head coach were against #25 Pitt at Pitt and #3 Michigan at Michigan. Both were wins… Later in 2005, ND beat ranked Purdue. In 2006, ND beat Penn State who was ranked 19th.

    Let’s not just throw out random made-up stats here, especially when you hide behind Anonymous.

    Go Irish!!

  6. Anonymous Says:

    No one that we play has ever seen anything like a Tenuta influenced Defense. Tech’s problem for the past 5 years was that the offense was so anemic they couldn’t do anything. Our linebackers and secondary are going to be unblockable against the Big10 opponents.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Actually not true that Weis hasn’t beat a ranked team. Pitt was ranked #23 in his very first game and N.D. won 42-21. Michigan was ranked #3 when N.D. beat them 17-10 in 2005, though they missed the top 25 (would have finished 28th). Navy also received a significant number of votes in the final 2005 poll despite getting abused by N.D. Purdue was ranked #22 when N.D. thrashed them 49-28 in 2006. In 2006 he beat P.S.U. which was ranked 19th at the time and also finished the season ranked 24th in the A.P. poll. Georgia Tech also received a significant number of votes in the final poll. Even in the woeful 2007 season, UCLA was 4-1 (having just beat Or. St. 40-14) and was just outside the top 25 before getting beat by ND 20-6. So by any definition, Weis has “beat a ranked team.”

  8. ando Says:

    I think the other important point to consider is that our young talent will not be so overmatched by older talent this year. Most teams that we play have significant losses of 3-4 year starters at key positions (Michigan and BC come to mind). We’ve out-recruited a fair number of teams in the past three years and now they’ll have to fill those positions with, theoretically, less talented and less developed players.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Solid analysis, Rock, though I have one exception:

    Weis relinquishing play calling, IMO, is a bad call. His forte is play calling; his weakness is player development. He should delegate the latter, and remain the primary game time tactician. (Reminiscent of Spurrier; if the OBC ever delegated play calling, it would be a step down).

    Am I the only one who sees this? The first time I heard it, I thought I heard wrong…and I haven’t really heard anyone else second guessing that decision.

    …sure he’s botched an occasional call here and there, but he was still kinda’ new, and overwhelmed with other tasks; shed/delegate some of those, not play calling.

    My $.02

    ’92 Gator

  10. The Rock Says:

    At first I didn’t think it was a good idea to relinquish playcalling, but after watching Charlie for the last two years I think he’s been off. My theory is that he developed a reflexive playcalling memory in the pros that relies too much on flawless execution that doesn’t exist on the college level…

    he calls plays as if he were coaching the Patriots — I also thought he was trying to get Quinn the Heisman.

    I think Weis’s reflexive playcalling mechanism was broken.

    Weis has given Haywood all the situational calls to make and Mike will make them within very specific guidelines. Hopefully this will give Weis some better college perspective and reset his playcalling to adjust to college.

    I’m sure when he sees an opportunity, he’s going to let everyone know about it.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    I agree with cautious optimism, yet it remains to be seen how OL, DL and special teams will perform. Still many question marks for 2008. I am hoping for the best, expecting the worst and being patient for 2009.

  12. TedNict Says:

    Thanks Rock for an insightful analysis of the Irish. I believe you are on target, but there are not any guarantees.

    To Anon who claimed Weis has never defeated a ranked team…I believe you had that statement shoved down your throat. If you are going to make statements like that, quit hiding behind “Anon” and use your name.

    You obviously didn’t know what you were talking about.

  13. jimkress76 Says:

    Let’s just hope the “light at the end of the tunnel” isn’t an oncoming train…

    Yeah, I know that’s a cynical remark but the team has to prove themselves with deeds, not words.

    Every team is undefeated at the beginning of the season and always has high expectations. I just hope we can live up to ours.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    Will Weis be flying a banner this year?
    Perhaps,

    3-9 is not good enough

  15. Anonymous Says:

    A slight nitpick, but worthy point:

    Does Weis’ offense require accuracy? or does it require rhythm?

    Bill Walsh’s offense were unique in that they required his teams to play with great rhythm. Its not as if other teams hadn’t done this before, but Walsh’s optimized the importance of rhythm and timing in a pass oriented offense.

    The WR had to run precise routes. The QB had to release the ball at precise time and speeds, so that when the WR turned the ball was already on its way and there was not much a defense could do except make the tackle and give up that short passing yardage.

    So yes, I’d say Weis’ offense requires accuracy, but the critical aspect that makes his offense so successful is RHYTHM.

    All QB need a certain level of accuracy. However, I believe Weis’ QB’s need accuracy and rhythm.

    (And yes, I expect Clausen to show good improvement in this area this season.)

  16. Anonymous Says:

    I sure like to see that this year the students,team and the bloggers are very enthusiastic about 2008-2009 football season.A week or so ago I posted a statement that we were mentioned as a possible choice in one of the lesser bowl games which did not surprise me.This year we have more positives than negatives to work with.Our main asset this year is the Big East Conference since every Bowl game that pits the Big East against a opponent has to insert ND.There should be no more than 3 or 4 teams which would qualify the number of wins needed to become bowl eligible and these teams could also find them selves in the bottom half of the top 25 and possibly one could crack the lower half of the top ten.We are fortunate to be playing one of the teams here at home.Also check out what BCS BOWL Games are aligned with the Big East.
    Now here where this years team controls it own destiny.

    S06 SAN DIEGO STATE
    S13 MICHIGAN
    S20 @ Michigan St.
    S27 PURDUE
    O04 STANFORD
    O11 @ North Carolina
    O25 @ Washington
    N01 PITTSBURGH
    N08 @ Boston College
    N15 @ Navy (Baltimore)
    N22 SYRACUSE
    N29 @ Southern Cal

    We have to go 5 and 0 to start the season,this is the only way for a sure shot at a and 3 or 10 and 2 season,it is going to be tough to win on Nov. 1 after being on the road 2 straight games,who are we going to be looking ahead at Pitt or B C..The Southern Cal is our ticket to a top 4 BCS Bowl.I am from OHIO and want USC to take OSU out of the BCS picture ,right now there are only 2 or 3 Big Ten Teams In the BCS .OSU plays at Wisconsin and Illinois so OSU IS PLAYING 3 TOP BCS contenders on the road.

  17. The Rock Says:

    I don’t think you can develop a rhthym with an innaccurate quarterback.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    Rock:

    “…after watching Charlie for the last two years I think he’s been off…”

    That makes it sound like he’s second guessing himself, and that’s essentially what one is inclined to surmise, without furhter elabortion.

    …a slip in confidence…

    Why confess to the world that you we’re off of your game? Why communicate that to your players?

    IMO, that’s the very last thing his young players need to hear. He’s their leader; they need to believe in him completely, ESPECIALLY after last year. How can one pretend to be an effective leader (let alone coach), if his own confidence is compromised?

    Unfortunately, I believe that Notre Dame will be “flirting with disaster”, before they right things–that is, ND will be in a close game early in the season–and Weis will not be able to resist, and/or he won’t like a play the OC calls, and he’ll resume his rightful role.

    Predictable; unnecessary; counterproductive.

    It probably won’t be too detrimental in the long run, but I definitely don’t see it as a plus.

    b/t/w: your point is well taken about the Pats’ execution v. cfb execution; I just don’t like the solution. There’s plenty of time in the offseason to take inventory of what he has, game plan to those strengths, and to otherwise correct or address dificiencies in play-calling.

    My $.02.

    ’92 Gator

  19. The Rock Says:

    I’m throwing darts here. I have no idea what Charlie was thinking.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    Rock:

    I realize your comment was conjecture, but that’s what we’re left with, w/o further elaboration. I didn’t mean to read too much into that one comment–my comments were directed more at the decision in general. It’s puzzling, and Weis hasn’t shed too much light on it.

    Whether he intends to or not, he is communicating to his players and the outside world with such a decision. What’s he communicating? Who knows for sure, but I don’t really like where my best guesses lead me to.

    Minor issue.

    I liked the article, and think the Irish should be very good this year–well on their way back to the top 10.

    Notre Dame could very well be 8-0 going into BC game–hopefully they get that monkey off their back, and probably will. I think they’re a year away from taking down USC, though, especially in LA.

    ’92 Gator

  21. Anonymous Says:

    ’92 Gator,
    when you say Weis is weak in player development, can I ask what you are basing this off of? Is it the one year when 11 true freshmen were on the field? Or is this the year when you saw Brady Quinn go from average QB to first round draft pick QB? Or better yet, are you reading what ESPiN says because of the ONE bad year the he has had at ND?

  22. Anonymous Says:

    Anon:

    OK, Weis showed he can develop A qb with Brady Quinn.

    His background however, before ND was as an OC in the NFL. His reputation before ND, was as a great play-caller. That’s how he made his name; that’s how he got his job.

    I therefore base that contention on a lack of an established resume in developing talent.

    I further base it on several beatdowns that betrayed a “softness” that is a byproduct of player development–or lack thereof–which b/t/w, preceded last year (USC, OSU, LSU…).

    FWIW, I had a similar gripe with Steve Spurrier when he first started with UF. Not so much the player development as much as “softness”, and lack of depth.

    You may recall the ’92 or ’93 Sugar Bowl I think it was–Holtz ran Bettis down our throats. We needed to step up our game.

    …enter one Mr. Bob Stoops…

    Perhaps ND has a similar fate with the addition of Jon Tenuta…

    ’92 Gator.

  23. Anonymous Says:

    Has Weis ever beaten a team that was ranked at the end of the year? I actually don’t know if any of them were ranked at the end of the year. If not, why are people being willfully obtuse about what that poster pointed out? Even if he meant “ranked when played” the larger point isn’t exactly destroyed…It’s pretty damning to have gone three full seasons without beating a team that ends the year ranked.

  24. Michigaines Says:

    That is the dumbest thing I have ever read. ND’s offensive line still sucks, their false bravado at the spring game hasn’t fooled anyone, the defensive backs still aren’t good, and Weis still can’t coach players that aren’t already NFL caliber. ND might be good enough for a Bowl game this year, but expect 1993 to still be last time they won an actual Bowl game. The only title that ND will be contending for in 2009 is the Hula Bowl title.

  25. Timmy Says:

    All good comments. One concern I have that is not mentioned often is the special teams. If the Irish can’t kick field goals beyone 35 yards or relieve pressure from the defense by having a consistenly solid punting game, they’ll be playing on their heels against too many good teams. I would like to see some real effort at getting a 4-5 star kicker…

  26. Hal Says:

    Gator,

    Your insights (and comparisons to Spurrier) are appreciated. Always nice to hear civil, smart talk from someone who follows other teams.

  27. Anonymous Says:

    Michigaines:

    I happened to read something even dumber just this morning: your blog. My what a compelling blogger you are, as evidenced by the comments generated by each of your billiantly researched and eloquently written articles: 0,0,0… It’s basically you, writing to yourself, right? I bet you crack yourself up something fierce…

    Viva le’ Vest!
    __________________________________

    Hal:

    Thank you.

    …I just hope one day I can achieve the depths of analysis that the above referenced poster has achieved…

    …one day…

    ’92 Gator

  28. fightingirishman Says:

    why cant any nd man call out weis as a fraud ?the con has started- a cautious 6 and 6 -hopeful 8and 4 – really a 4and 8-michigan will be out to knock jimmy and big and little charlie out from thefirst play ”get the kid with the spike hair and the goof with the crew cut”-lindys college 2008 football preview at page 228 NOTRE DAME -‘IT CANT GET MUCH WORSE FOR NOTRE DAME THAN LAST SEASON—–AND IT WONT. AN EASIERSCHEDULE WITH FOUR OUT OF FIVE GAMES AT HOME SHOULD-HELPTHIS GROUP GAIN CONFIDENCE.. ——-”A WINNING SEASON(NOT AN UNDEFEATED SESON AFTER 4 YEARS AND SPYGATE)—–ISNT OUT OF THE REALM OF-possibility, setting up a POTENTIAL RETURN (NOT REAL SURE )TO ELITE STATUS IN——-2009(YOU GOT IT THIS YEAR IS A DISASTER AGAIN) ——–IF———QB JIMMY CLAUSEN AND OTHER YOUNG PLAYERS FROM HIGHLY RECRUITING CLASSE4S CONTINUE TO IMPROVE . ”if not it could be a long year in south bend”” when rick, ty in sattle and pete disrobe charlies coaching can we all agree that if it is 6 and 6 charlie ,little charlie and kevin white get greyhound tickets from the la colesium -one way to resume duties with bob craft in boston ???

  29. Anonymous Says:

    Whatever happens this season ~ and I’m NOT holding my breath ~ Charlie Weis is responsible for the worst single season in Notre Dame football history. Every time “the genius” looks in the mirror, he should see THAT GUY.

    No Notre Dame coach in our team’s history with anything close to such a nasty record has EVER come back to be a great coach. Why should Weis be an exception? Well, he won’t be.

    Instead of the bar of excellence being raised during Weis’ watch, the bar of expectation has been lowered. I’ve read ~ more than a few comments ~ that a 7 win season this year will be considered “successful.” Come on! When I attended Notre Dame, such talk would get you expelled!

    20 years ago, we won our last National Championship. Kids that grew up during this period think “Rudy” is our great tradition. On the other hand, they think USC, LSU, Florida, Ohio St., and even V-Tech!! represent “the best.” Notre Dame football now represents “The Best Wannabe.”

    Let Charlie Weis prove me wrong. This year. And the next 2,3,4,5,6,7 . . . years. I don’t think he will. I think Weis will be nothing but a bad memory, sooner than later. If I’m wrong, I will publicly eat these words. But for now . . .

    I would have more confidence in this year’s team with Willingham as head coach, and Davie as his assistant!

    ~mps, ND’72

  30. Jim Says:

    Why would we be a “surpise”? Everyone knows we are going to be better, with better players, better coaches, and an easier schedule.

    Now, if you were to go out on a limb and predict we are going to be a BCS team, THAT would be a surprise story.

    As it is, though, where is the “surprise” in your story?

  31. JK Moran Says:

    Let me ditto the remarks of mpsND’72. Some of us remember when ND was a perennial power, still within living memory of its periods of absolute domination under Rockne and Leahy. 2007 was without parallel the worst season I’ve seen in 50 years of following ND football – and that’s on Weis. I would not have believed that I would ever see a Notre Dame football team so inept, so unmotivated, and so humiliated. It was CW’s 3rd year, and that of course had been the NC year for most of ND’s great coaches. But Weis’s teams have been regressing, self-evidently. Combined with the dumbing-down of the schedule (we are actually playing San Diego State?), we have lost so much respect in non-Irish eyes that it will take a heck of a lot more than a winning season or two – or even I daresay more than a NC – to put ND back in the same conversations currently populated by USC, UM, Florida, LSU and others. Hard times indeed – glad that the Rock can see a light at the end of the tunnel. Most national commentators do not.

    Jimk ND’71

  32. The Rock Says:

    Jim —

    ND will be a surprise to those who don’t follow ND. Athlon has us ranked 60! Don’t expect much better from anyone else.

    If ND cracks the top 25 it will be a surprise team to the rest of the country.

    Guess it shows you how out of whack our views are with the rest of college football.

  33. JK Moran Says:

    Rock – good point, as always. And I am hoping for a top 25 finish with at least one victory over a team that is ranked at the end of the season, like UM or USC. In the discussion about Weis beating ranked teams above (he has),the conversation could easily have turned to beating a top 10 team (he hasn’t) that has regularly bashed us in bowl games. I am dismayed by how far we have fallen in the esteem of the national commentators – Colin Cowherd of ESPN (not my favorite guy in any case) dismissed the Notre Dame HC job and whole program as not being among the elite of the nation. Ouch. It passed almost without notice that Michigan replaced us maybe three years ago as highest winning percentage – we had held that since the days of Leahy – and Texas passed us in number of total victories (I believe) last season, almost without comment at ND. We may be coming back – but we have a long, long way to go – much longer, I think, than many in ND circles acknowledge.

    JimK ND71

  34. Anonymous Says:

    FightingIrishMan, et.al:

    Ok, maybe Charlie Weis doesn’t pan out as the next iconic coach at Notre Dame; Maybe my comparisons to Spurrier don’t hold up in the long haul; maybe the “Davieham” era is amended to “Davi-ing-Weis” or similar, after this year.

    I have another UF coach he compares to, in the worse case scenario: Ron Zook.

    I’ll be the first to admit that last year was just plain shocking, as to how bad a Notre Dame team could actually be: weak; soft; slow…

    …I’ll go one further, and say Weis lost me as a supporter, when he (IMO) blasphemed the Lord, with his “…may the Lord strike me dead if you ever hear that word (rebuilding) come out of my mouth…” comment. Besides being dead wrong in substance (he WAS rebuilding), it was patently offensive to most any Christian–especially to a Catholic, since it came from a Catholic, in a high profile position–and by extension, on behalf of a prominent Catholic institution (THE (de facto) flagship Catholic univesity, no less). There was also the 60 min. special, where, if recollection serves, they had to bleep out several GD’s…there’s just no cause for that nonsense; in fact, it is unacceptable (though I’ll defer to the Lord himself, for forgiveness, and refrain from passing judgment)…

    …but Notre Dame is still Notre Dame, and if nothing else, few can argue with the foundation Weis is laying with his recruiting.

    …just like Ron Zook from ’02-’04.

    The bottom line: Charlie Weis was relatively inexperienced, and immature during his first 3 years, and probably overwhelmed by the demands of the position. But he is making strides, especially in the humility department.

    …now, if he can only reconcile humility with confidence (show some dog-gone respect to our Creator, for starters)…

    …he may yet pan out to be that next iconic coach at Notre Dame.

    If he can’t, he still re-established Notre Dame as a recruiting force to be reckoned with–in the wake of a 3-9 catastrophe of a season, no less–which should at least serve as a solid foundation for his successor.

    That is the light at the end of the tunnel which I see.

    My $.02.

    ’92 Gator

  35. deadmonywalking Says:

    he calls plays as if he were coaching the Patriots — I also thought he was trying to get Quinn the Heisman.

    I concur

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