Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Forecasting | by Jay

With Ernesto bearing down on the southeast, it looks like Atlanta might get some residual weather this weekend from the tropical storm. If you're going to the game, be sure to bring a rain coat (or this guy).

Likewise, team BGS is bearing down on the season like a ND cop on a student tailgater. Our picks for '06: here's what we got.

W W W W W W W W W W W W 12-0
W W W W W W W W 12-0
Jeff W W W W W W W W W W W W 12-0
Mark W W W L
W W W W W W W W W W W 12-0
W W W L W W W W W W W L 10-2
Pat W W W W W W W W W W W W 12-0
Pete W W L W W W W W W W W L 10-2
W W L W W W W W W W W W 11-1

(Apparently there was a special on little green 'W's. Out of 108 game predictions only...seven losses? Holy hell.)

We also have a special Celebrity Guest this year: it's Gerd from the O-Zone, here to give some balance to the pollyanna prognostications. Gerd's picks for the Irish:

W W L L W W W W W W W ? ?

A possible 10-2? Actually, that's pretty sanguine, coming from a Buckeye. I guess we might be good after all.

Gerd sez - In my B10 previews at the ozone, I've got both MSU and UM beating ND. MSU because it's a home game (and I realize E. Lansing has been very good to ND) and I'm taking UM because ND clearly has the advantage. But I think I'm obviously going against the grain, not just homer grain, but national grain. It's too early to pick the USC game because we don't know if JD Booty is going to plug right in like Leinart did.

Now for the prop bets.

Identify a possible upset game; that is, a game we should lose but might win.

Michael - None. We'll be favored in every game this year, including the USC (2 losses) game.

Gerd - at GT. After the three games mentioned above, this is the only other game that would qualify. I think it'll be a 14 point win at least for ND. Say 34-17 ish.

Dylan - N/A. Godammit, it feels good to say that.

Jeff - The only game in which we might not be the favorite is USC. But, I’m not convinced that their Chow-less offense can get the most out of their talent.

Teds - I think SC sounds as good as any. It's on the road and I expect them to have a lot of the kinks worked out by the time ND arrives on 11/25. Still, as well-contested as the game was last season, the result was ultimately decided by the elite, battle-tested players coming through in the late moments for the Trojans. This time around, ND has more of those players than SC, and I expect the Irish to win the game on their shoulders.

Jay - None. I see absolutely no reason to pick a loss this season. Might it happen? Of course. But unlike last year, each game in '06 seems well within reach, so it's cowardly to pick otherwise.

Mike - After four straight losses, including the three epic depantsings of the Willingham regime, I think a victory over USC would have to be considered an upset.

Pete - Considering that we probably won't be considered underdogs in any game this season, I will use this opportunity to reiterate my intense platonic love for Charlie Weis. I love Charlie Weis. A lot.

Pat - ND should be favored in every game this year, although it's possible that ND will still be the underdog at SC if their new skill position players develop quickly. That's really the only choice this year where ND could be the underdog.

How about a pitfall game? (A stub-the-toe game, a shit-the-bed game). That is, a game we should win, but might blow.

Michael - Purdue. We'll be 4-0, having just gotten our revenge against Michigan State. It's a home game, and after last year's game, the team and Charlie will have a lot of confidence. However, I think that Purdue's offense, believe it or not, represents one of our more difficult challenges in '06.

Dylan - UM. If you can believe it, I think we might get caught looking ahead to MSU. A physical game following two games in which we score 35+ points could knock us on our heels. Henne is inconsistent, but if he has a decent game, they’ve got the skill to score 4 TDs.

Jeff - Michigan State – We may be prime for a letdown after crushing Georgia Tech and Penn State and beating Michigan. They could beat us if we get into a shootout.

Mark - Michigan State. Every year it's their Super Bowl and they play accordingly. Why should this year be any different?

Teds - Stanford appears to be the biggest potential toe-stubber to me. ND gets them right before the bye week and after having played five consecutive Saturdays against tough and physical competition. If there's a point in the season at which the Irish are most banged-up and physically worn, it may be when Stanford arrives. Further, it's my belief that only an upstart with a good offense that can throw points on the board and hang with the Irish attack is capable of upsetting ND. Stanford qualifies, returning most of its offensive starters, including probably the most underrated quarterback ND will face this season in Trent Edwards (17 TD/7 INT in 2005).

Gerd - I gotta believe Stanford wants some measure of revenge. So would Purdue. Walt Harris is eventually going to beat somebody he shouldn't...then lose to UC-Irvine. I think either of these games could provide stubbed toes, but stubbed toes don't equate to losses, imo.

Mike - Either MSU or UM. Michigan should emerge from its opening laughers with well-rested starters and without having revealed much of their new coordinators' schemes. If the light finally goes on for Henne, we could be in real trouble. Fortunately, I have no reason to expect that to happen. I'm predicting a loss to MSU more because I don't expect us to emerge from the first four games undefeated than because of any qualities particular to MSU. If we win the opening three games, we'll be ripe for a letdown and MSU is not the team to face in that situation. On the other hand, this year it's plausible that we might have a letdown against UM because we're looking ahead to MSU. After all, fifth-years such as Morton, Santucci, McKnight, Freeman, and Landri are 3-1 against UM and only 2-2 against MSU.

Pete - Michigan. Just think if we had played the game we played against them last year as the 10th game of the season instead of the 2nd? We'd all be tearing our hair out and panicking, but at that point in the season we just wanted to see how far we could ride the feel-good train. We absolutely lucked into that win, and while I think Charlie can beat scUM, it's a tough stretch to start with, and this could be the deadly hiccup. Llllllloyd's ball-control, pussyfoot strategy may actually work against us, provided he catches some breaks.

Pat - Michigan. ND has plenty of advantages and should be able to beat the Wolverines, but these games are always close. It's the stereotypical "throw out the record books" type of game. A few big runs by Hart and consistent pressure by their defensive line could pose trouble for ND.

Who's the team MVP going to be?

Michael - Brady Quinn. As the QB goes, so do Weis's offenses.

Dylan - Quinn.

Mark - Brady Quinn and Victor Abiamiri.

Gerd - Assuming Quinn is the RSTLN and E, I'll go with Darius Walker. Because if Walker weren't a serious running threat, the passing game wouldn't be as effective as it is.

Teds - Quinn is the obvious choice here. He's the best player and the heart of the team. If we're looking for a debate, it would be for #2 on the list. My pick would be Victor Abiamiri, who is in fantastic shape and primed for a big final season. He's the closest thing that unit has to an indispensable player, and a great individual performance from him is likely to mean good things for the Irish defense.

Mike - I don't think we can have the year we're hoping to have without an improved pass rush, so I hope the answer is Abiamiri.

Pete - To not be redundant, let's say Zbikowski for his playmaking, gamebreaking ability.

Pat - I picked Quinn last year and I pick him again this year. Baring the obvious choice, I'll go with Victor. If the team really has a great season, it will because of the defense. And if the defense is playing well, Victor will likely be one of the prime reasons why.

How about a surprise or breakout player for this season?

Michael - Chinedum Ndukwe. Everyone was down on our free safety last year, I think he'll enjoy a Maurice Stovall-like rebound.

Dylan - I’ll take Leo Ferrine. Based on Charlie’s comments in the preseason pressers, and despite his injury, he seemed to be coming on.

Jeff - I think Travis Leitko is hungry and ready to play (a la Julius Jones in ’03)

Mark - Ambrose Wooden. I think he has all the talent to be a top cover corner.

Gerd - I'm guessing McKnight doesn't qualify. How about Travis Thomas? Kind of a gimmick pick, but the reviews have been pretty good, no?

Teds - Among quality candidates like Grimes, Freeman and Price, I have to dig into the bag o' freshmen and go with Morrice Richardson. Used strategically in specific instances and schemes, I believe that Richardson will serve ably as the pash-rushing terror that ND's defense so desperately lacked a year ago.

Mike - Is McKnight eligible? If so, he's my choice.

Pete - Travis Thomas. The guy's been so close to tasting the field as a starter for a long time, and I think he's going to tackle (pun intended) the linebacker position with a vengeance. I think Charlie is deliberately placing a lot on his shoulders, encouraging him to go prove the doubters wrong. And it's a great move to make sure that our best players see the field in any capacity, which can only help.

Pat - I'll go with David Grimes. He won't match the production of Samardzija or McKnight, but "the man the defense forgot" will have opposing fans and casual ND fans looking through their programs for the name of #11.

Who is your freshman rookie of the year?

Michael - Sam Young seems destined to play the most, I think.

Dylan - Sam Young is hard to ignore. Literally. He’ll probably be a year-long starter, but I’ll pick Darrin Walls. I think he’ll play a lot, and his availability will give Weis more flexibility in putting in different packages.

Jeff - Young will certainly have the most playing time, but I’ll go with Prince. The Thomas move may have been out of desperation at LB, but I have to think that Weis is very impressed with the young RBs.

Mark - Sam Young.

Teds - Richardson will be the biggest surprise, but I think that Sam Young will prove to be the most valuable freshman in 2006. It may take him a little on-the-job training to settle in, but I expect him to be a rock as a bookend on the Irish line for this year and several more to come.

Gerd - Sam Young. Not just because he's starting, but because he has the chance to be very good, very early. Of course a guy like Morrice Richardson will have a lot of opportunities to make plays. And Munir Prince is nearly as fast as an average-speeded Nittany Lion player, so he's up there too.

Mike - Sam Young. Barring injury, I can't see any other freshman logging more minutes than him.

Pete - Ryan Burkhart. He needs to have an iron toe and ice in his veins, or we may very well lose a game this year we didn't intend to.

Pat - Sam Young is the logical choice, but I'll go with my gut and say Morrice Richardson. In the later half of the season, cries of "Mo" will ring out from the student section as Richardson finishes 3rd on the team in sacks.

Any off-the-wall postseason predictions for the Irish (bowl, matchup, outcome)?

Dylan - We will play in the BCS Championship, but we will not be ranked #1 before the game. We will after, though.

Jeff - NC game vs West Virginia in a rematch of 88 (with the same result). Boring pick, and WVa will likely choke at some point, but damn that schedule is easy.

Michael - UF-ND. Leak vs. Quinn, Meyer vs. Weis, etc in the BCS championship game Weis brings back Lou for one game to coach the defense, and he comes up with some specialty defense (a la '92 Sugar Bowl) to stop the vaunted spread option. Ron Zook is Weis's personal guest at the game.

Teds - How does a rematch with West Virginia out in the desert for all the marbles strike you? Nah -- just kidding. West Virginia sucks. ND beats Auburn in the championship, 24-20.

Pete - Notre Dame vs. surprising upstart Iowa in the Rose Bowl. Notre Dame wins by 80 points, game called at halftime. Take that, bowl curse.

Pat - ND will defeat Texas in Glendale, AZ for the national championship. I really don't expect Texas to get to that game with a rookie QB, but that's who I'd most like to play and beat.

Finally, any general expectations for this year?

Michael - I think this schedule will appear weaker than many first thought; Lloyd Carr will step down at the end of the year (due in part to his recent failures against the Irish); the whining about Travis Thomas being undersized and unable to shed blockers will cease as fans realize there aren't many dangerous power rushing offenses on our schedule and that people were saying the same things about Courtney Watson during his first year as a Will backer; many freshmen will play; stellar recruiting will result from terrific on-field performance; Rhema McKnight will have a better year than Jeff Samardzija; Weis will open the offense with more 4 WR sets than we're accustomed to seeing; kick-off returns will be much improved and we'll take at least one to the house.

Dylan - There will be improvement across the board (particularly in the secondary), with the exception of the field goal unit. If we lose a game, it will be because of a missed field goal, or a failed 4th down conversion. I think we'll go undefeated because I can't pick a single game that I think we should (as opposed to "could') lose. USC is 50/50, but I think their offensive overhaul leaves more doubt than our defense. This gets back to the kicking game in that, when I look at the schedule, I see a lot of games that should not be close enough for a FG to sway it one way or the other. The two games where I see a potential problem are SC and Michigan. My criterion is "which team will hold us under thirty points." We won a national championship with Reggie Ho.

Jeff - Anything less than a BCS bowl and a top-5 finish would be a bad year. Only injuries should keep us out of the Championship game.

Mark - Michigan will underachieve....again. Ohio State will NOT win the NC. USC will finish in the Top 5. Cal will beat USC.

Teds - My expectations are that the team will start laying waste to some opponents this year -- the sorts of games which are no longer in doubt at halftime or shortly thereafter. The improvement in offense will not be nearly as obvious as last season, but I expect that improvement in the running attack (in part due to overplaying Quinn) will make it a more effective unit on the whole. The defense will make more noticeable gains, with more rotating of personnel keeping all involved fresher and allowing Minter to mix and match based on the game situation. Injuries will bite ND on several occassions, but the team will find itself better-equipped to fill the gaps than they were a season ago.

Gerd - If ND is undefeated, nobody can take the Heisman from Brady Quinn. In fact, if everybody (including ND) has one loss, it's still Quinn's to lose. Whoever wants to win the Heisman from Quinn will need to have at least one more win than ND.

Mike - A national championship contender, a Heisman Trophy winner, a monster recruiting year, and Notre Dame's best showing in the NFL draft in 10 years.

Pete - Much to the chagrin of ND fans, Florida will greatly improve, challenging LSU for the SEC title. OU will find the wheels flying off their program at record speed due to distractions in the offseason. USC looks rougher, but still impressive. Purdue unveils 8 new mascots, including Corn Stalk Sal and the World's Smallest Kazoo.

Pat - I expect ND to make it to the National Championship game. I expect Brady Quinn to win the Heisman this year. I expect those sportswriters who mistaken thought ND's secondary lacked speed to write articles amazed at how fast the players got in the off-season. I also expect opposing fan hatred of Charlie Weis to be ratcheted up as ND keeps winning big.