Friday, November 30, 2007

Coaches Poll v3.0 | by Jeff

In 2005 and 2006, we looked at the inherent bias in the coaches poll. This is the third year that the coaches votes have been made public, and the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Getting Worse
With so much at stake this season (an automatic qualifier from the WAC, the #2 spot in the BCS, and some wrangling around the #14 spot), it is no surprise that some of the trends seem to be getting worse, particularly among conferences.

  • Coaches still rate their own team about 2 1/2 spots higher than everyone else, just like they did last year.
  • Conference affiliation meant much more this season, as coaches rated teams from their own conference over two spots higher, up from only one spot higher last season.
  • Simply being on a teams schedule accounted for a 1/2 spot boost in the polls for the third year running.

2005 2006 2007
Self Promoting +1.7 +2.5 +2.5
Same conference +1.0 +1.0 +2.3
On the schedule * +0.5 +0.5 +0.5
* non-conference

The WAC pushed hard to get Hawaii into the BCS, with WAC coaches bumping the Warrior's ranking by over five spots. Not stopping there, they also boosted Boise State's ranking by an average of 4.8 spots. Only Dick Tomey of San Jose State was closely in line with the majority of ballots; he boosted Hawaii and Boise State by more typical numbers (+2.9 and +1.3 respectively).

Ranking Boost by Conference Voters
WAC +5.0
SEC +2.5
PAC 10 +2.1
ACC +2.0
Big Ten +2.0
Big East +1.9
Big XII +1.8
MWC +1.8
CUSA +1.6

Feeling the Love
Apparently, the Big Ten coaches wanted to send coach Lloyd Carr out with a little recognition as Michigan was ranked by five Big Ten coaches. In addition to Carr voting for his own team, Wisconsin's Brett Bielema, Indiana's Bill Lynch, Purdue's Joe Tiller, and Illinois' Ron Zook also added Michigan to their lists. And, as proof that nothing says "I'm sorry" like a vote in the coaches poll, Les Miles also gave Lloyd a nod. Apparently, rivalries mean something, however, as Ohio State's Jim Tressel and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio were among the other 54 coaches who left the Wolverines unranked.

The Envelope Please...

The Brady Hoke Award is given to the coach who omits the highest rated team each year. The award is named after Ball State coach Brady Hoke, who completely omitted Arkansas from his ballot in 2006, despite the fact that they were ranked 13th in the country. And the winner is...

Beloved former coach of Notre Dame and Stanford, and current Washington coach Tyrone Willingham. Coach Willingham either didn't feel that otherwise-14th-ranked Boston College deserved to be ranked, or perhaps he stayed at ND long enough for some anti-BC bias to rub off. But, if there is anything you'd think Ty would be good at, it is keeping a correct scorecard.

The Yosemite Sam Award is given to the rootin' tootin'-est craziest coach out there who's votes least match up with the other coaches. These individuals are not afraid to blaze their own trails and are not swayed by the consensus votes of their other coaches (or apparently by actual performance on the field). This year's winner is no other than Howard Schnellenberger, who averaged three spots different than the final poll with his selections. Most notable among the former Miami coach's rankings were: Southern Cal (6 spots lower), Florida (9 lower), Kansas (6 higher), Hawaii (7 higher), Boise State (12 higher), and UConn (10 higher).

And, finally, we come to the Dan McCarney Award. In 2006, Coach McCarney's ballot differed from the final rankings in by only three total places. His 6th and 7th picks were swapped, and his #25 team was first in "other's receiving votes" section. Amazing. No one came close to Dan's acumen this season, but Sonny Lubick of Colorado State did the best, with a .8 average difference between his poll and the final tally.

Another BGS BCS Post | by Jeff

Even a Broken Clock is Right Twice a Day
When we threw out, "Anyone up for a West Virginia vs Missouri national championship game?" a few weeks ago, little did we know that we were actually predicting the current national championship matchup. Now, the real question is whether these teams will make it through the weekend. If they do, expect an entertaining national championship game with a lot of scoring. If they both lose, Ohio State and a two-loss Georgia team (that didn't win their division of their conference) will compete for the title. With one or two upsets, it may be interesting to see what kind of jockeying the coaches do this season in the final coaches poll.

Roses and Champaign
If Missouri or West Virginia lose this weekend, Ohio State will take their spot in the national championship game. If either Tennessee or Hawaii lose as well, Illinois is likely to sneak into the #14 spot of the BCS standings and qualify for an at-large bid. If this happens, expect the Rose Bowl to select Illinois to maintain their traditional Big Ten v PAC-10 rivalry. Remember that Ohio State and Illinois were 5th and 17th when they finished playing, so they'll be gaining this ground while eating cheesburgers.

By the way, if Oklahoma knocks off Missouri but the rest of the games go to form, Illinois will be the only at-large team selected. Georgia and Kansas/Missouri will be auto-qualifiers at the #3 and #4 spots, and Hawaii will qualify with a top-12 finish. That leaves only one spot left for an at-large pick and the Rose Bowl will have first dibs. This will also drive an interesting choice for the Fiesta Bowl, as they will be forced to match up Oklahoma against Kansas/Missouri (whoever finishes #4 in the BCS standings) or Hawaii. OU didn't play Kansas this year, but Missouri would be a rematch of the Big XII championship game going on this weekend. The other choice, Hawaii, is a risky proposition for the Sooners, as last season's non-BCS-conference team, Boise State, knocked them off in a thrilling game. Hawaii has the weapons to do the same.

A little on the Irish
I'm really stretching to find a silver lining for ND this year. But, the last time an Irish team finished their season with two straight wins was 15 years ago ('92). And we all know what happened the following season...

Thank you
As much as I dislike PAC-10 replay officials, this weekend reminds me of something I really like about the PAC-10. When the NCAA allowed teams to permanently schedule twelve regular season games, the PAC-10 went from eight to nine conference games, and thus moved to a true round robin. While many other teams were scheduling patsies to soften their schedule, the PAC-10 actually took a step to improve the integrity of it's conference season.

BCS Prediction. Not that I've been even remotely accurate, but here it goes again...

National Championship: West Virginia vs Ohio State
Rose Bowl: Southern Cal vs Illinois
Orange Bowl: Boston College vs Georgia
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs Kansas
Sugar Bowl: LSU vs Hawaii
I'm assuming that Oklahoma, LSU, and BC win their conference championships, and Hawaii beats Washington.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Reverse Angle | by Pat

Apologies for being a bit slow on the Stanford recap; a few real world tasks are taking priority this week. In the meantime, BGS reader John D. sent in this great reverse angle shot of David Grimes stretching out for the overturned touchdown catch.

There are plenty of ND fans discussing what ND should and could be doing with regards to filing a complaint with the Pac-10. Hopefully we'll hear something about what the University is doing when either Charlie Weis or Kevin White sit down with the media at their next press conference. I'm not so interested in ND getting a public apology or a replay official fired as I am in what steps ND is or is not taking. We'll see. In the meantime, I'm giving David Grimes credit in the BGS record books for one hell of a touchdown catch.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Stanford Game Photo Galleries | by Pat

We'll get to picking apart the game shortly. But for now, enjoy some photo galleries of ND's season finale. I'd recommend you start with the Mercury News photo slideshow of the game, which includes a nice series of pics of David Grimes's touchdown catch. The last in the series is included below. Other galleries to check out include the South Bend Tribune (including another great shot of Grimes getting his hand under the ball), Matt Cashore's pictures ($), and AP Photos. As always, if you find another quality gallery, link it in the comments and we'll add it.

As a bonus, here's the video of the crazy lateral-happy play that ended the first half.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Great Way to Go Out | by Jay

Like most of this season, it was a chippy, choppy and sloppy game today, but man, it's great to go out on a winning note. (Special thanks to Steve, Bryan and Mark, who all sent in gameday pics.) Let's raise a helmet, dance a jig, and sway to an alma mater. We won. We won!

Game on! | by Jay

the Chirping Cardinal | by Jay

I love the BMFDF of Stanford, Jim Harbaugh. I mean that sincerely. He runs his mouth, talks out of line and isn't afraid to stir the pots of the PTB in college football. But he's a blast. Earlier this year he told everyone that Pete Carroll wasn't long for Southern Cal and was only going to stay one more year. Carroll was pissed. "If he's going to make statements like that, he ought to get his information right," Carroll said at the time. "And if he has any questions about it he should call me." Harbaugh fired right back: "We bow to no man...We bow to no program at Stanford University." And then he backed up his words, knocking off #1 Southern Cal in one of the most improbable upsets of the year.

Harbaugh also mixes in some truth with his braggadocio from time to time. Harbaugh, if you recall, spent much of the spring poking the hornet's nest in Ann Arbor, railing against Michigan's academic inequities and chastising them for 1) pushing players into easy classes and then 2) failing to graduate them. Carr, Mike Hart, and just about all of Wolverine Nation savagely attacked him, branding him a Benedict Arnold, or worse: Hart even told him he wasn't a "true Michigan man." (Because ND was mentioned so many times in the Harbaugh-UM crossfire I started to keep a file of articles and links, but a BGS piece never materialized. You can catch up on the grist from my Trapper-Keeper here, if you're interested. There's some good stuff in there if you ever get in a debate about Michigan academics vis-a-vis football.) The war of words dragged on all summer, and bridges were burnt to charred embers. So when Harbaugh preemptively took himself out of the running for the Michigan job earlier this week, it was either press-conference-as-performance-art, or a genius bit of comedy, depending on your artistic tastes. I loved it.

Harbaugh's been pretty low key towards the ND game this week, which is probably the right tack to take. He knows neither team is very good, so there's no reason to get the Irish fired up with some bulletin board material. As it stands right now, his Cardinal are a 4- to 5-point favorite.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Just a Game | by Jay

Football is a sport resplendent with warlike terminology -- battles of the gridiron between two squads fighting over territory; aerial attacks; bombs, blitzes, advances and flankers; veterans in the trenches; field generals who throw bullets from shotgun formations.

Football isn't war, of course (well, unless you're Nick Saban), but sometimes it comes close, symbolically speaking. Take an innocent game between two teams, stir in a liberal helping of deep-seated regional hatred or nationalistic pride, and suddenly you've got a proxy for all kinds of latent, provincial anger and animosity. It's not just two sports teams trying to win a game; it's England and France reliving the Hundred Years' War in every soccer match between the two national teams; it's Cold War brinksmanship played out between the Americans and Soviets on an Olympic basketball court; it's Michigan and Ohio State fighting a war over Toledo (a war that Michigan surely won, Lou quipped last night, because who would fight to gain Toledo?) In an extreme example, it's La guerra del fĂștbol, with soccer riots escalating an actual shooting war between El Salvador and Honduras.

The "Border War" tomorrow night between Kansas and Mizzou is a prime example of a game taking on historical dimensions. In the 100+ year history of this matchup the stakes have never been so high: it's a battle of top-five squads, and both teams having a legitimate shot at the BCS Championship. But it's much, much more than that. The Jayhawks versus the Tigers is a proxy for a simmering state feud that goes back to the Civil War, a rivalry that throughout history often erupted in armed conflict.

Adam Thompson in the WSJ had a great cover story earlier this week on the Border War and all the latent ill will it's stirring up. This is what makes college football so vibrant, visceral, and sometimes terrifying: it can awaken a century-old feud and get people hopping mad like it happened yesterday. Everything comes spilling out; tempers flare; the blood boils. The game is no longer just a game.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- As the universities of Kansas and Missouri prepare to play the most important football game in their 116-year-old rivalry, trash talking is rampant here in a metropolis that straddles both states.

Yet this isn't just the usual back-and-forth about which quarterback or defense is superior. Nor is it centered on the inevitable jokes about how many Kansas (or Missouri) students are needed to change a light bulb. Rather, this trash talking is focused on which state's residents behaved more abominably amid the Civil War.

Fans "go back to the history books and start calling people names for things that started 150 years ago," says Kevin Worley, a Kansas City-based documentary filmmaker who isn't immune to that tendency himself. A die-hard Missouri fan, Mr. Worley suspects that "there's this ancestral hatred of Kansas bred in me" by a lineage traceable to soldiers who marched with Confederate general Jo Shelby.

To most of the nation, the showdown Saturday between second-ranked Kansas and fourth-ranked Missouri will most likely determine which team will play in the national championship game. (To reach that final, the victor Saturday would need to win one subsequent game.)

But to many here on both sides of the state line, the game is merely a proxy for a war that never really ended. Perhaps no other football rivalry in the nation pits against each other states that once fought as brutally as did Kansas and Missouri...

Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen | by Brian

The autumn of our discontent comes to an end this weekend with the Irish hoping to make it two-for-two on west coast trips this year, this time traveling to the Bay Area to take on the 3-7 Stanford Cardinal.

The Cardinal are led by former Michigan, Bears, Ravens, and Indianapolis Football Club quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who was hired by Stanford following back-to-back 11-1 seasons as head footbawl coach at the University of San Diego. Harbaugh is not merely the coach of Stanford, he is the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. The BMFDF turned heads during the offseason by getting cheeky with the Alpha Dogs of the Pac-10, the Southern Cal Trojans. He first insinuated that Pete Carroll would be leaving Southern Cal for the NFL after one more year, and later declared the Trojans to be arguably the greatest team in the history of college football. The former is likely untrue, and the latter was definitively proven untrue when Harbaugh led the Cardinal to a shocking 24-23 victory over the Trojans at L.A. Coliseum.

Walt Harris shares his thoughts on
Jim Harbaugh and Ty Willingham.
Regular readers may recall that I ran into former Stanford coach Walt Harris in the company of John L. Smith in a Venezuelan rain forest during the offseason. I asked Harris for his thoughts on Harbaugh at that time, and this was his response: "HE's a waRrior-poet in the classic sense, maN. Some MEN SPeak the truth; he IS truth!!" Suffice it to say, Harris approves of his successor. I also asked Harris about former Stanford and Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham; he replied: "Mediocre coach. Lazy recruiter."

With Apologies to Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A team as lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the Golden Bears' broad chest;

A tree that looks at Jim all day
And lifts its roots to run the play;

A tree that may in autumn wear
A nest of Cardinal in its hair;

Upon whose branches gold is lain
To praise it for the Trojans slain;

Teams are made by fools like me
But only Jim can make a tree.

The Gipper as the Gipper (dice,
whiskey and women not pictured)
Hail to the Chief

Both Notre Dame and Stanford possess ties to American presidents, real and imaginary.

• Notre Dame: Ronald Reagan/Josiah Bartlet

Ronald Reagan's most famous acting role came as noted Notre Dame boozer, womanizer, and inveterate gambler George Gipp in 1940's Knute Rockne, All-American. Reagan portrayed Gipp as a sweater-clad clean-cut young man who likes kittens, small children, and taking his special gal out for a malted with two straws. He would go on to use the Gipper nickname to great effect throughout his political career. Reagan eventually received an honorary degree from Notre Dame, along with his Rockne co-star, Pat O'Brien.

Jed Bartlett discusses his political
future with Dennis Hopper.
Josiah Bartlet is the fictitious Notre Dame alum-turned president on TV's The West Wing, series creator Aaron Sorkin's Emmy Award-winning tale of an idealistic staff's efforts to thwart the Republican Boogeyman. He was portrayed by Notre Dame subway alum Martin Sheen.

Stanford: Herbert Hoover/Chelsea Clinton

Herbert Hoover was an 1895 graduate of Stanford. Hoover was president of the rowdy fraternity known as Delta House. According to the crusty old dean, Dean Wormer, Hoover had a 1.6 GPA one semester, with four C's and an F. A fine example he set! Eventually, Delta House was raided, and the fraternity shut down. Hoover recalled this incident in his memoirs: "They confiscated everything, even the stuff we didn't steal!"

Chelsea never had a chance.
Future president Chelsea Clinton is a 2001 Stanford grad. Future president Chelsea is the daughter of former president Bill Clinton and potential future president Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Musical Equivalent of Costanza Wiping Strawberries on The Babe's Uniform

The Stanford band has been, well, banned from Notre Dame Stadium since 1991, only one instance in its long history of wacky shenanigans. We here at BGS have learned that the Band of the Fighting Irish has decided to follow suit, and will unleash a halftime show this Saturday designed to get them thrown out of Stanford Stadium, going out in a blaze of glory. Details of the planned halftime extravaganza are as follows:

--- Trees from around campus will be chopped down, carried into the stadium, and burned, while the band plays Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire."

--- In an homage to the Great Depression, which began under Stanford alum and benefactor Herbert Hoover's watch, the band will play a popular song of that era, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?", while a band member dressed as Hoover hits the bottle hard and wanders around the field like a drunken stumblebum, lamenting the poverty and mass suicides (as pantomimed by other band members) brought on by the Depression.

--- Former Stanford and Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway will be burned in effigy, to the strains of the John Denver classic, "Rocky Mountain High."

--- The corpses of legendary Stanford coach Pop Warner and player Ernie Nevers will be dug up with rusty kitchen utensils, while the band performs a spirited rendition of the novelty song "Monster Mash."

--- Craig T. Nelson and Jobeth Williams will inadvisedly build a house at midfield on the burial grounds of the Stanford Indians. Apparitions will appear, clown dolls will come to life, chairs and tables will fly of their own accord, and little Carrie Ann will disappear into a television set. In a spectacular display of early-80s cinematic special effects, the entire Stanford campus will be wadded up and sucked into another dimension, leaving Jobeth, Craig, and the Irish marching band laughing relievedly on what used to be the fifty yard line. Finally, the band will play an uproarious version of the Ray Parker, Jr. song, "Ghostbusters," and everyone will dance hilariously.

That oughta just about do it.


Giving his final prediction of the season, here is The Blind Oracle at Bristol.

"Ditka's Bane helps a tree take root. The longest year ends in misery. Bottom line, the Irish lack the team speed to keep up with the Cardinal. Stanford beats---"

[Suddenly, two shots ring out, striking the Oracle in the left temple. He falls to the floor, blood rushing from his head. The Blind Oracle at Bristol is dead.]

[From the darkness, a familiar figure emerges. It is that other purveyor of footbawl truths, that other visionary with keen insight into the footbawl ether. It is Notredamus.]

"Enough of this. Men, if you look at that Lady on the Dome, she will guide the way. The University of Notre Dame is going to win this football game by two touchdowns. Let's go!"

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving | by Pat

Happy Thanksgiving from BGS. It's been a rough year on the field, but we're still thankful for everyone who took the time to stop by and help make writing this blog a rewarding experience. We hope you have a great holiday.

Before slipping into a delightful food coma after dinner, make sure to check out a very special post on Irish Roundup concerning one young Irish fan's trip to South Bend this past weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Football | by Jeff

Ever since the Jamestown Fightin' English took on the Grand Sachem Indians in 1621, football has been an important part of every Thanksgiving celebration. Who could forget the famous halftime speech by coach Plymouth Rockne (pictured), which rallied his team to a dramatic victory over the home team. Even Canada, the 51st state, moved Thanksgiving to October 8th this year in order to celebrate ND's victory over UCLA and Stanford's win over Southern Cal. However, despite the obvious connections to ND and Stanford, there are plenty of other games this weekend that someone might want to watch just to kill a little time.

The upset losses by Oregon and Oklahoma last week knocked out two contenders for the national championship, but the picture still isn't perfectly clear. Kansas was the big winner, as the Oregon loss ensures that the Jayhawks control their own destiny, but a couple of new contenders are edging their way into the picture. With rivalry games and conference championships over the next two weekends, there is still a lot of room for change in the BCS picture.

#1 LSU : vs R-Kansas, SEC Championship vs Tennessee (or Georgia)

#2 Kansas : vs Missouri, Big XII Championship vs Oklahoma (or Texas)
These two control their own destinies. Win out, and they are playing for the national championship, no questions asked.

#3 West Virginia : vs UConn, vs Pitt
A win by UConn this weekend locks up the Big East for the Huskies, as would a loss by West Virginia against Pitt the following week. But, winning out will keep West Virginia on Kansas' heels for a shot at the national championship.

#4 Missouri : @ Kansas, Big XII Championship vs Oklahoma (or Texas)
Missouri may control its own destiny, as the Tigers are nearly tied with West Virginia in the human polls, but a few spots back in the computer rankings. Beating Kansas would certainly close that gap, and winning a rematch with Oklahoma would put the Tigers in good position to claim the #2 BCS spot.

#5 Ohio State : season complete

#6 Arizona State : vs Southern Cal, vs Arizona
The PAC-10 and Big Ten are still waiting in the wings, but would need a lot of help to make the national championship game. The Missouri v Kansas game is both a blessing and a curse, as it guarantees a loss by a higher ranked team, but also guarantees a victory. Two more losses by LSU, WVa, and the Big XII champion could open the door for either of these teams. ASU can close the gap with OSU by winning out, but the voters would have shift votes to the Sun Devils for them to jump the Buckeyes.

The Thanksgiving TV Guide. In addition to those teams competing for a spot in the national championship, there are many games with BCS implications on the line over the holiday weekend:

Thanksgiving Day:

• An ASU victory over Southern Cal locks up a Rose Bowl berth for the Sun Devils, while a loss puts Oregon back in the drivers seat for the PAC-10 title.


LSU has locked up the SEC West, but must win out to stay in the NC hunt.

Texas can win the Big XII South with a win at Texas A&M and an OU loss on Saturday.

Boise State and Hawaii face off for a chance at an automatic bid in the BCS. Both teams need a decisive win in order to jump into the Top 12 of the BCS. Hawaii can gain a couple of spots over some ACC teams (possibly the UVa/Va Tech loser or ACC championship loser), but needs some upset losses by BC, Texas, Florida, Southern Cal, Oklahoma, and Oregon to make a jump in the polls. Right now, the best bet for the WAC champion looks like a UConn loss to West Virginia, followed by a Mountaineer loss to Pittsburgh.

Nouvel is taking on Blissfield for the MHSAA Division 6 championship at Ford Field. Nouvel made the championship game by defeating Montague, stopping two fourth quarter scoring drives inside their 10 yard line. Bo Themm kicked the go ahead field goal for Nouvel.


Virginia and Virginia Tech face off for the right to play BC in the ACC championship. The loser might be out of the BCS completely, although Va Tech has a strong enough resume to possibly stay in the picture.

• A Tennessee victory at Kentucky earns them a date with LSU in SEC Championship. A loss will hand Georgia the SEC East title.

UConn travels to West Virginia in a matchup that will almost determine the Big East championship. If West Virginia loses either of its last two games, UConn will win the Big East and claim their first ever BCS spot. UConn making the BCS will likely generate an automatic bid for the Hawaii v Boise State winner.

Missouri plays Kansas at Arrowhead Stadium for the Big XII North championship.

• Keep an eye out for an upset when Oklahoma hosts Oklahoma State and Oregon travels to UCLA. A loss by either Oregon or Oklahoma kicks them out of the BCS picture this season.

• And, of course, Notre Dame travels to Palo Alto for Round II of the "SAT challenge." Stanford is absolutely a better team than Duke, but the Irish have a lot to play for. Winning the game would prevent this team from earning the lowest winning percentage in ND history (technically, this would be the second worst winning percentage as the team did not win a game in 1887 and April of 1888, their first football games).

BCS Prediction. No one ever went broke betting against me, but here's my take on the BCS Bowls...
National Championship: LSU vs West Virginia
Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs Oregon
Orange Bowl: Boston College vs Texas
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs Southern Cal
Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs Virginia Tech
I'm assuming that Kansas beats Missouri but loses to Oklahoma, Southern Cal knocks off ASU, BC beats Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship, and the Orange Bowl selects Texas over Kansas or Missouri for a better TV draw.

We're Number One
Forbes has rated ND as the most valuable college football team,, although they did misspell Coach Weis's last name. It is worth noting that the Irish football program contributed over $20M to the university's academic program, more than the next five teams combined.

Presser points | by Pat

Charlie had a number of interesting answers from last Sunday and Tuesday's press conferences. As always, I'd recommend reading both transcripts. If you're more of a Cliff Notes type, here's a quick spin through a few answers, starting with a topic that surprisingly has generated some debate among the Irish faithful: Zibby as ND QB at the end of the Duke game.

Personally, I thought it was great to see. Fans of ND and ND opponents alike have criticized Charlie for treating the team like he's still in the NFL and failing to realize his players are college kids, not professionals. So it was great to see Charlie letting the team have some fun and rewarding one of the hardest working players on the team on his Senior Day. But as Charlie explained, Zibby role's as quarterback started on a far more serious note.

Q. Zibby (Tom Zbikowski) talked a little yesterday, if I understood him correctly, that he had practiced some quarterback maybe during the bye week and so forth. I guess my question is trying to read between the lines, was Jimmy to the point physically that in that time frame Zibby was really the backup quarterback those two weeks?

COACH Charlie Weis: Well, put it like this. Jimmy wasn't ready to play, and actually Darren [Bragg] and Justin [Gillett] were running two and three in our normal stuff. So what I had to do was I had to have a package ready -- I had to have a package ready where if Jimmy wasn't healthy, and Evan went down, we needed to have something you could turn to if the regular offense wasn't getting you anything.

So the week of the bye we did -- we spent, you know, two periods, okay, putting in ten plays. So we called it the Zibby ten pack, kind of like that. So we had ten plays that he was involved in of which you saw -- let's see, you probably saw four of them yesterday: Run to the right, run to the left with two backs, and run to the right and a run to the left with one back, and then a hand off. I guess four or five plays, but that was like five of the ten.
Basically it sounds like Zibby was the emergency QB for at least the Navy game while Clausen healed up. Sharpley never went down though so Zibby wasn't needed. And when ND got up by four touchdowns on Duke, Charlie decided to let one of his favorite players take a few snaps behind a largely walk-on offensive line.

I noticed that ND wasn't the only team to let the seniors have some fun at their last home game. As pointed out by EDSBS, Boise State threw a pass to one of their senior offensive lineman (who then struck a Heisman pose and did a Lambeau Leap into the stands) and let a defensive tackle kick an extra point. It wouldn't surprise me to see these kind of Senior Day shenanigans spread to other schools and I think that's great for college football. As with most things there is a line between having fun and rubbing it in, but I don't think playing someone out of position during their last home game is anywhere near a level of taking shots at the end zone late in the 4th when you're already up by 3o or 40. As the pressure, responsibilities, and time commitments on players grow to near professional levels, I think it's great to keep some of the innocent fun of the college game intact. Just watching Darrin Bragg slide around the field just to get his uniform dirty after his turn at quarterback was a great reminder of this.

Moving on to more serious topics, Charlie addressed what his plan of attack would be at the conclusion of one of the worst seasons in ND history.
Q. Probably not going to ask a humorous question, but a couple big picture questions if that's okay. You said earlier in the press conference you said, "I probably made several mistakes this season." Why do you say that?

COACH Charlie Weis: The first thing I have to do, when you're 2-9, you have to start with you. As you go to evaluate what happened in your year, I think you always have to start with you personally. I think that you can start the other way; you can start with the players and work your way up, or you can start with you and work your way down, okay.

So I think that what I'm going to do, the 17th of December, when I'm off the road recruiting, I'm going to start that week, early on that morning on the 17th of December and go through that entire week and try to go through the entire year and evaluate what the problems were. Are they schematics; are they personnel, okay; what exactly the problems are. I'm not even worrying about fixing them yet. I want to first identify what they are, and then after identifying where they are, then you can share the blame after you've done that.

But I think unless you hold yourself accountable, it isn't like one thing; it might be a plethora of things. I really don't know yet at this point until after I've gone ahead and did a full analysis. But once I've identified what the problems are, then you can go about fixing them and some of them can be schematics. Some of them will be X's and O's and some of them might be methodologies of teaching, and there's a lot of different things that could be involved.
It's obvious that Charlie made mistakes and that this season was unacceptable. The good news is that he acknowledges that the program needs a system-wide reboot and he has plans to do so. Part of his plan involve getting a performance review of sorts from his buddies in New England.
Q. Someone pointed out there was a feature on television or interview where you were talking about spending some time with your old team in February or after the season. Just wondered what you hope to get out of that.

COACH Charlie Weis: Well, I think that I've probably made several mistakes this year and in my system. You know, the ones who know my system the best are New England, and I think that those guys would have no problem telling me what things I did right and what things I did wrong.

And the problem sometimes, you go to different coaches for some help, and they don't want to tell you what you did wrong. You know, but I want to know, hey, what would you have done different.

And I think those resources, those people, because we're close enough and have a very close relationship won't be afraid of saying to me, what the heck are you doing, and that's what I want. I want somebody to tell -- to be able to tell me, to say it like that, and I know that those guys would do that.
It's unlikely that the Pats are the only people that Charlie will talk to. They are just the ones mentioned by name in the presser. We'll probably hear more about some of these meeting as the off-season slowly crawls by. In the meantime, we can focus on more immediate concerns, such as the role of Robert Hughes for the upcoming Stanford game.
Q. Do you really need to see what James is doing in practice this week or is there a chance it will be more of a Robert Hughes week?

COACH WEIS: I think because of Robert, James might get healthy quicker (laughter). You know how that goes. I think we'll have to see. Fortunately we have some options at that position. I think when you don't have options, that's when you have more of a problem. We know Armando will always be involved in the mix. Robert stepped up nicely when James went back. We're not looking to write James off. I know when the big boy gets it rolling, I think that gets people healthier quicker.
My guess is that either Allen or Aldridge, if healthy enough, will start. But I expect Hughes to get plenty of carries. Stanford's rush defense is ranked right around were Duke was, so hopefully ND will continue to feature healthy does of the run game.

Finally, Charlie described his feelings as the team heads west for the last game of 2007.
Q. This final game of the season isn't maybe what you envisioned at the beginning of the season. A road trip, chance for the guys to be together. Does that make it a little more special, be away from other distractions, celebrate the fact you worked hard and spent the year together?

COACH WEIS: I think Thanksgiving week is always a special week regardless of who you're playing and where. It's one of my favorite holidays, not because of the food, but because of what it stands for in America. I think it's a time when these guys being together, we're a family oriented team. I think they'll feel that way Thursday when they're having dinner together over here on campus, Friday when we're making that trip, Saturday, realizing this is the last game, let's see if we can't take another step and move it in the right direction.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Senior Day photo galleries | by Pat

With a return to the win column, here are a few photo galleries from last Saturday's Senior Day win over Duke. Starting with the always excellent Matt Cashore ($), you can also find photos galleries courtesy of the South Bend Tribune, Era of Ara (password: mikefrank), RocketShark, Joe Lipka, and the AP Photo Wire. If you know of any other high quality galleries, link them in the comment section and I'll add them to this list.

Update: Make sure to check out NBC's latest concoction. They have unveiled five different 360 degree videos of all phases of a Notre Dame gameday. It's a pretty neat piece of technology that puts you in the middle of the walk to the Stadium and smack dab in the middle of the band as they march out onto the field. Have you seen the cyclorama in the JACC before games? It's like that, but with full motion video. Pretty cool.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Odds & Sods - Devil's Haircut Edition | by Mike

The big question following Notre Dame's victory over Duke is how much of the Irish victory is attributable to improved play and how much is due to weakness of the opponent.

The Middle. Filling in for injured starters, Dan Wenger and Ian Williams made their first starts as center and nose guard, respectively, and both held strong along the middle of their line. Wenger consistently got the better of Duke DT Vince Oghobaase. Given that Oghobaase is a former five-star recruit and freshman All-American, I don't think Wenger's play is diminished by the opponent. On the other side of the ball, Williams held his ground, despite the challenge of playing nose guard in a 3-4 as a freshman. Williams should give the Irish much needed flexibility along the DL next year, including allowing the defense to shift to an even-man front when needed.

This guy is a bulldozer. With a wrecking ball attached! Freshman Robert Hughes turned in one of the best performances by an Irish running back this year, gaining 110 yards on 17 carries and bulling his way to a touchdown. Of those 110 yards, more than 60 came after first contact with a Duke defender. Obviously, rushing for 100 yards against Duke is not the same as rushing for 100 yards against Southern Cal. It wouldn't be reasonable to expect Hughes to break that many tackles against every opponent. Nonetheless, Hughes showed some qualities that are impressive regardless of opponent. The vision on short-yardage plays and the balance he demonstrated are both key attributes for a running back and largely independent of the opponent faced.

Jimmy Jazz. Clausen completed 16 of 32 passes for 194 yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Those numbers would have been even better but for five drops. Clausen also completed passes to eight different receivers. Perhaps the best measure of Clausen's improvement was the Irish offense's performance on 3rd down. The Irish converted on 10 of 18 third downs, the most third-down conversions for ND since the 2005 Southern Cal game. A few of these came via Jimmy's feet, as Clausen displayed a good feel for knowing when to scramble for the first down. Although he did underthrow a deep pass to Golden Tate after Tate had slipped by his man, Clausen threw with dart-like precision for most of the game. The first touchdown pass to Grimes was the type of throw that had recruitniks drooling over Clausen's play. Obviously, the Duke defense played a significant role in Clausen's success, but at least three other factors appear to have contributed to Clausen's development. First, Clausen is simply healthier than he has been at any other time this season. Clausen entered the season dinged up and then took some pretty brutal hits early in the season. Second, Clausen has the benefit of game experience against Division I defenses. Third, I think Clausen has more confidence in both himself and his pass protection. Earlier in the season, Clausen (understandably) seemed to play as if his first priority was to avoid getting sacked. Yesterday, he knew when to work through his progressions and when to bail out of the pocket and make something happen on the run. Whether Clausen can maintain this level of production against better defenses remains to be seen, but it will certainly be exciting to see what Clausen accomplishes if he can stay healthy and get quality blocking.

Carry the Zero. Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis entered the game with a touchdown pass in twelve straight games, but the Irish defense ended that streak. But for a Zack Asack scamper with 1:12 left, the Irish defense would have had a shutout. The touchdown didn't seem to bother Weis, who said after the game, "I'd rather get those kids in the game than worry about the shutout." Even if the opponent was Duke, it was still nice to see the defense put up such a solid performance.

No Confidence Man. There's a Lou Holtz quip to the effect that a fast player that doesn't know what he's doing will just run himself out of the play sooner. A player with average speed that knows what he's doing will generally beat a fast player that's not sure of his responsibility. I think this principle extends to confidence - a confident player with average speed will generally beat a faster player who lacks confidence and therefore plays tentative. One of main the problems for this year's Irish team appears to be a crisis of confidence. I can recall reading quotes from Air Force players that they could see the lack of confidence in the faces of the Irish players. This lack of confidence has led to hesitation on the field, which has led to big plays for opponents. On the game's first drive, the Irish seemed to be gaining some confidence. However, after the bizarre personal foul call on John Carlson and the ensuing missed field goal, the team seemed to have a "here we go again" mentality and proceeded to muddle through most of the first half. For this reason, I think the biggest play of the game was Eric Maust's punt in the second quarter. With the Irish set to punt from the Duke 49, Maust was unable to pull down a high snap. Yet somehow Maust was able to locate the ball, pick it up, and get a punt off before the three swarming Blue Devils reached him. The improvised punt then rolled to the Duke 20. This play saved at least 50 yards in field position. Had Duke ended up with the ball at the Notre Dame 30 - or worse, returned a blocked punt for a touchdown - any trace of confidence the Irish had could have been lost. I don't want to think about whether that would have changed the outcome of the game, but it seems possible.

That personal foul on Carlson, by the way, was positively baffling. It's unrealistic to expect officials to call a perfect game. For example, while it was clear on television that a Duke receiver committed offensive pass interference against Darrin Walls, I can understand how officials miss plays like that on the field. Things are happening at a fast pace, and officials may find themselves with a poor angle, screened by other players, or simply out of position. I'm sure similar errors were made in Notre Dame's favor at other times in the game. But the PF on Carlson defies any explanation. This was a dead ball foul after the play was over. Carlson was flagged simply for extending his arm to make the first-down signal. He did not get in the face of a Duke defender when he did it; in fact, he was still on his knees. It's also clear that Carlson did not say anything to a Duke defender, so he wasn't flagged for taunting or trash talk. Players routinely make the first-down gesture in a far more ostentatious manner without drawing a flag. I simply can't guess as to what was going through the officials head when he threw the flag. Ultimately, I guess this was just a case of getting the officiating a game between two 1-9 teams deserved.

Leaders of Men. Once again, Trevor Laws did what Trevor Laws does, which is fight to the whistle every single play. Laws's sack of Lewis, where he came up off the ground to make the play, was typical of his persistence. I don't know how the defense will replace Laws, but he seems less concerned. Speaking of the underclassmen forced into action this season, Laws said after the game, "When they grow up a little bit, come into their bodies and their positions, with that work ethic, it's going to be great." Hopefully Pat Kuntz and David Bruton will follow Trevor's example and join Maurice Crum as next year's senior leaders on defense.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Senior Day | by Pat

Deviled Dukies | by Pat

It's going to be hard to expand upon Brian's comprehensive Duke preview, covering such players as Duke QB and Duke WR, but I'm going to give it a shot. After all, this is the Blue Devils' Super Bowl.

The first personality of note is Offensive Coordinator Peter Vaas. Vaas was fired by Charlie last year along with defensive coordinator Rick Minter. Vaas, who still has one daughter at ND and one at Saint Marys, is familiar with the ND offense (or at least last year's effective version) and Charlie admitted as much.

It's a little pain in the butt, to tell you the truth, because he knows the system. He knows the system very well, is a smart coach and an experienced coach and knows the system.
Vaas however noted that whatever knowledge he has is more personnel-related that anything schematic.
In a certain context, yes. Obviously, I have an intimate knowledge of the abilities or lack of abilities of some of the players because of my involvement over the last couple years. But at the same time, I don't have any intimate involvement with the schemes and concepts they're trying to accomplish because that all changed after I left.
Vaas also had an interesting quote about the role of assistant coaches at Notre Dame, something that Irish fans have wondered about recently.
"When you get here [at Duke], you're involved in a decision-making process which [at Notre Dame] was basically a suggestion-making process," Vaas said. "Here, those suggestions become decisions on my part.... That's been a tremendous experience."
Keep in mind this is coming from a fired coach, but it's still worth noting.

Peter isn't the only Duke coach with an ND past. Head coach Ted Roof was unofficially Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, if only for a few hours.
Roof had served as O'Leary's defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech for three years when he was asked to move with the coach to Notre Dame. Roof agreed in principle to join the Fighting Irish as defensive coordinator and traveled to South Bend with Bill O'Brien and David Kelly, two other members of O'Leary's staff. ...

"I was at home and the phone rang at about two o'clock in the morning," Roof said. "When you coach college football and your phone rings at two in the morning, or I guess just if you're a human being and your phone rings at two o'clock, they're not pleasant calls. That one wasn't either."

The call was from O'Brien, and he had some unpleasant news. Revelations about falsifications on O'Leary's resume, which incorrectly stated that the coach was a three-year football letterman at the University of New Hampshire and that he had earned a master's degree at NYU, had come to light. O'Leary was forced to resign the next day, and with that development, any of Roof's dreams of coaching beneath Touchdown Jesus vanished into thin air.
While you wouldn't think there is much to worry about with a team that's won one game in three years, there are a few talented players on the Blue Devil squad worth mentioning. Sophomore quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, Armando Allen's high school QB, was thrust into a starting role last year as a freshman. Understandably, he struggled somewhat with an 11 to 16 touchdown to interception ratio. However, he's done a solid job of reversing that this season as he currently has thrown 19 touchdowns versus 10 interceptions. Only two quarterbacks in the ACC have thrown for more touchdowns. He's also riding a 12 game streak with at least one touchdown pass.

His favorite target is junior Eron Riley. Riley has 751 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns, good for 13th in the nation, and is one of the more effective deep ball threats that the Irish have faced this season. Earlier in the week, I noted the solid work of the Irish pass defense so far in preventing the big pass play. Riley will test the secondary for sure as he is 3rd in the nation in yards per catch at a whopping 21.46 yards. Not only that, but he already has 6 touchdown receptions this year over 40 yards. And 4 of those are 64 yards and longer. Expect Duke to try and hit Riley on a big pass play and get up early on the Fighting Irish.

The weak link in that plan is the Duke offensive line. A veteran unit with plenty of experience, they have still allowed 40 sacks this year, ranking 115th in the nation. If they are able to give Lewis time to throw deep or open holes for Re'Quan Boyette (36.1 yards/game), the Irish will be in deep trouble.

Defensively, the Blue Devils have a pair of active linebackers in sophomore Vincent Rey and senior Michael Tauiliili. Tauiliili led Duke in tackles the past two seasons, but so far this year he is slightly behind Rey. Despite those two though, the Duke defense has given up plenty of yardage both on the ground and in the air. If their defensive lineman and cornerbacks start making plays consistently, ND might be in for yet another long day.

Like Notre Dame, Duke has had some struggles with their field goal kicking. So much so, that they help open auditions to replace struggling one for five kickers Joe Surgan and Greg Meyers. In the end, backup freshman punter Nick Maggio took over the starting job and so far is two for two with a long of 40 yards. Let's just hope this game doesn't come down to a battle of field goals.

Friday, November 16, 2007

the Greatest Upset | by Jay

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of one of Notre Dame's all-time great victories. In one of the biggest upsets in college football history, coach Terry Brennan's Irish defeated the Oklahoma Sooners, 7-0 in Norman. The victory broke the Sooners' 47-game winning streak, which is still the longest-ever in football history.

Following is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for Maple Street Press' Here Come the Irish about some of the big Irish football anniversaries we'd be celebrating in 2007: Brown's Heisman in '87, the '77 championship, the '47 team (maybe ND's best ever), the first ND football game in 1887, and the like. The Oklahoma upset in '57 ranks right up there among the greatest of ND milestones:

Ironically, Notre Dame had also been the last team to defeat the Sooners, in the 1953 season opener. Bud Wilkinson, the Sooners coach (who had already had strung together a 31-game streak once before at Oklahoma) launched the record run after the 1953 loss to Notre Dame and a subsequent tie to Pittsburgh. Oklahoma then rattled off 47 straight victories, including undefeated seasons in 1954, '55, and '56. They had won consecutive National Championships in '55 and '56.

The Irish arrived in Norman on November 16th as 19-point underdogs. The stout Notre Dame defense never allowed the Sooners offense to get on track, stymieing them for 98 rushing yards and only 47 through the air. The game was a war of attrition, with ND finally breaking a 0-0 stalemate with a touchdown with 3:50 left on the clock. Led by their brilliant fullback Nick Pietrosante, Notre Dame drove from their own 20, setting up a third-down touchdown by halfback Dick Lynch, the only player from either team to see the end zone all day.

On the last drive of the game, Oklahoma reached Notre Dame's 36 yard line, but was intercepted in the end zone to end the game. The sellout crowd of 62,000 was stunned into silence.

Zero points for Oklahoma also ended another record for the Sooners, who had scored in 123 consecutive games. It was only the ninth defeat for Wilkinson in his Oklahoma career to date, going back to 1947.
Oklahoma had been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated that very week, in what has to be one of the earliest examples of the SI cover jinx. The cover title, "Why Oklahoma Is Unbeatable", appears just below the issue date of November 18th, two days after the fateful game. Cosmic karma, indeed.

Tom Coyne has an AP piece this morning on the game, recounting some of the memories of that day:
Several members of the 1957 team said the thing they remember best about the victory was how quiet the stadium got after Lynch scored.

"The silence was deafening," then Irish coach Terry Brennan said last week.

They also recalled how thousands of Sooners fans stayed in the stands long after the game was over.

"After we dressed and came out to leave the stadium, half the stadium was full," Schaaf said. "I think they just couldn't believe it happened. That's a big memory, all those people still there. I remember that very clearly."

Left end Dick Prendergast said Sooner fans helped inspire the victory.

"When we got down there, there was a lot of graffiti on the walls and signs up saying, 'Don't feel bad, you're going to lose,'" he recalled. "It really got the team turned up."

Brennan, who is 79, said the Irish were so young when they lost to the Sooners in 1956 that he took some chances that didn't work out. He felt more confident of his team's ability in 1957 so he played the game more conservatively. He also said he got "lucky."

"In a game like that, you guess you right," he said.

It wasn't all guessing, though. Brennan described Wilkinson as "predictable."

"So I thought, 'Here's our shot,'" he said...

Notre Dame drove 80 yards for the game-winning score. Brennan said he never thought about attempting a field goal on fourth-and-3.

"Because we felt we could score. If you kick the field goal, they could still get you 7-3," he said.

When the Irish returned to South Bend there were thousands of waiting.

"The students were going bananas. It was a long night, but it was a fun night," Brennan said.
Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman had a great article and mailbag roundup this week, with lots of folks from in and around Norman writing in with their memories of the loss. Here's one of the most interesting anecdotes, from a student press box attendant who was working the game:
My other assignment on game day was to cover the Notre Dame dressing room after the game for quotes to be handed out to the reporters in the pressbox... I left the pressbox after Dick Lynch scored (with less than four minutes left in the game) and made my way on the concrete walk between the south end zone and the scoreboard to the east side of the stadium where the visiting team’s dressing room was then located.

“When I walked in, there was not a single person inside. About three minutes remained in the game. There was a large chalkboard at the front of the room. It looked as if someone had taken an eraser and wiped out the X’s and O’s from the coach’s halftime talk. Instead, the only words in chalk on the board were, “WE WON THIS ONE FOR ALL THE CATHOLICS IN OKLAHOMA.” I don’t know whether a student manager or a priest or who knows who else ran in after Lynch’s touchdown and grabbed the chalk. Or, whether it was written as the Irish were leaving the room at halftime. Berry, the words on that board must have been erased as soon as the team reached the dressing room after the game. That one line on the board was never reported by anyone.

“My recollection of what I heard Jack Ogle say on the public address system when the game ended differs with what someone told you. The crowd of 55,000 was 98% Sooner, and the silence when the clock hit 0:00 was eerie. I heard Jack say, something like, ’Folks, if this team has given you any pleasure or joy in the last five years, let it be known now.’ And at that point the crowd stood and roared as the OU team left the field. The feeling of shock that day and for several days after that are still etched in my memory. Thanks for your column. It relived an eventful day in my life.
The Oklahoman also put together this poignant video feature, which gives you some insight into just how shattering the loss was for Oklahoma fans.

Finally, our man T.J. unearthed some rare film from the big upset. This is the game-winning, 80-yard drive, capped by Lynch's run for the touchdown, and the ensuing celebration by the Irish team.

T.J.: This is some truly rare footage from this game : COLOR film. You never see any color film when they show clips of this game on TV. I gotta believe only a handful of us have this in the archives. Unfortunately, it is silent film and no play-by-play is known to exist.

Statistically Speaking - Navy and Air Force | by Pat

(Apologies for missing last week. Here's an all-Armed Services version)

It's a Numbers Game

• The Trevor Laws Watch continues. With 98 tackles on the season, Laws is ranked 33rd in the nation and is the only defensive lineman in the Top 100. He is on pace to break ND's single season tackle record for defensive lineman set by Steve Niehaus in 1975 (113 tackles) Laws is also tied for 6th in the nation in kicks blocked.

• One of Corwin Brown's talking points this season has been the goal of limiting big plays, or as he calls them, "explosives." While the defense has struggled against the run this season, they've performed substantially better against the pass. The following chart shows the breakdown of long passes against the Irish D in both 2006 and 2007. Two important points to note. First, the 2006 totals are for 13 games while the 2007 totals only include the 10 games played to date. Second, as the Irish have been losing regularly this year, you might guess that teams haven't had to pass as much against them. However, opponents attempted 339 passes against ND last year (26.1 per game) while at this point in the season they have attempted 273 (27.3 per game). In other words, teams have been throwing against ND slightly more this year.

• With Pat Kuntz out with an injury, freshman Ian Williams is scheduled to start for the Irish at nose tackle. He will become the 7th freshman to start a game for ND this year joining Jimmy Clausen, Armando Allen, Golden Tate, Duval Kamara, Kerry Neal, and Brian Smith. Here's a quick breakdown of the 220 total possible starts this season (10 games, 22 positions) for ND, courtesy of the game notes. We've had more than twice as many Sophomore starts as Senior starts:
Freshmen:           19 (8.6%)
Sophomores: 60 (27.3%)
Juniors: 55 (25.0%)
Seniors: 27 (12.3%)
5th-Year Seniors: 59 (26.8%)
Saurian Sagacity is continuing to track ND's offensive ineptitude. With the games against the service academies under their belt, the ND offense has made slight progress in its quest to avoid being the worst offense in the past nine years. To avoid that ignominious mark, the Irish must average 193.0 yards per game over the next two games. Duke currently is averaging 442.9 yards given up per game and Standford is averaging 455.3 yards given up.

• The Irish offensive line have given up a school record 49 sacks this season. That is more sacks than the defense has accumulated in 2007 and 2006 combined (33). It is almost more sacks combined that the ND offense gave up in 2006 and 2005 combined (52). The previous school record for sacks given up, set in 2002, was 38.

Gotta Have M.O.E.

Two games to note here. Against Navy, the Fighting Irish posted a 14% M.O.E rating. Not a good number, but still the 4th lowest of the season. Unfortunately, Navy's offense was much more mistake-free and their M.O.E. rating was 7%.

In the game against the Falcons, the Irish offense took a big step backwards with a 20% M.O.E. rating. The killer against Air Force were the sacks and dropped passes. In fact, it was the first game all year where the Irish avoided any offensive penalties. If you're looking for signs of improvement, in the last three games, the Irish have only committed 3 offensive penalties total after committing 14 in the first three games. Air Force tied Georgia Tech for the most mistake free offense with a low M.O.E. total of 4%.

Full season list and individual game breakdown here.

Season Long Running Averages

Get your numbers here. Hot off the press.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Let's take that first step | by Pat

ND's Annus Horribilis Continues Against Duke | by Brian

So it's come to this: Notre Dame prepares for senior day hoping to avoid a winless home campaign with a victory over Duke. This is not a matchup which, even in the best of times, would have inspired Grantland Rice-like prose, nor drinking deep the aura of the game a la George Will. With that in mind, I hereby present Blue-Gray Sky's Half-Assed Notre Dame/Duke Preview.

Famous Dukes
We were somewhere outside Barstow
when the losing began to take hold.
  • Duke Ellington, jazzman
  • Duke Phillips, animated character, The Critic
  • Duke Cunningham, disgraced ex-Congressman
  • David Duke, professional bigot
  • Marmaduke, beloved dog
  • Raoul Duke, gonzo journalist
  • Patty Duke/Patty Duke's Cousin, identical cousins
  • John Wayne, actor/patriot/founder of Duke University (see below)
  • Duquan "Dukie" Weems, former student of Baltimore cop-turned-teacher Roland Pryzbylewski
  • The James Madison Dukes, 2004 FCSOABM Champions---famous JMU Dukes include former NFLers Gary Clark, Charles Haley, and The Toast of Buffalo, Scott Norwood
  • Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh
  • Duke of Earl, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl
  • Isaac Hayes in Escape From New York
  • Randolph & Mortimer Duke, commodity brokers who like to make the occasional wager (see below)
  • Tom Wopat, just a good ol' boy never meanin' no harm
A Few Words About Duke Footbawl

It's been another long year for the Blue Devils, but as we've all figured out by this point, we can't just put this game in the win column for Notre Dame. Duke is dangerous. Duke's head footbawl coach has the team focused and fired up for this weekend's matchup. Duke's quarterback is, no doubt, going to throw it several times to Duke's receivers or Duke's tight end, or possibly even to one of Duke's running backs. But the offensive weaponry doesn't stop there---look for Duke's running backs to occasionally try to run the ball through holes opened up by Duke's offensive linemen.

On defense, special attention must be paid to Duke's linebackers, but the Irish offense will also have to contend with Duke's defensive tackles, Duke's defensive ends, Duke's cornerbacks, and Duke's safeties. Each will be attempting to tackle Notre Dame ballcarriers, bat down passes, make interceptions, and so forth. Essentially, Duke's defensive game plan will be to allow fewer points than their offense scores.

And it almost goes without saying that Duke will get vital contributions from Duke's kicker, Duke's punter, and Duke's kick returners.

Looking over the roster, it appears that, while the Blue Devils are the easiest team ND has faced, their names are the hardest to pronounce:
  • Greg Akinbiyi
  • Zack Asack (didn't they have a hit with "Friends Forever"?)
  • Adrian "Donnie" Aye-Darko
  • Pontus "Give Us Barabbas" Bondeson
  • Re'quan Boyette
  • Evalio Harrell
  • Vince Oghobaase
  • Ayanga Okpokowuruk and Ifreke Okpokowuruk (of the Newport Okpokowuruks?)
  • Chris Rwabukamba
  • Michael "I'd Like to Buy an I, Pat" Tauiliili
Yes, it will be a long day for our old friend, NBC's Tom Hammond. By the end of the game, he'll be in such bad shape that he'll have to be put down, like one of the champion throughbreds he's so fond of covering.

Duke founder John Wayne and President
John Ford, after cavalry lessons
The Southern Cal of the East

Duke University was founded in 1948 by the actor John Wayne, who envisioned an east coast version of his beloved alma mater, Southern Cal. Under the university's first president, John Ford, the school's mission was to teach acting and train cavalry officers, both of which continue to this day. Duke's motto
is Eruditio et Religio, which is Latin for "Howdy, pilgrim." The school's nickname, the Blue Devils, derives from Wayne's 1946 film of the same name, in which he played an officer with a devil-may-care attitude who leads an elite squad of flyboys into action over Holland, in support of Operation Market Garden.

An all-male school until the 1970's, the men of Duke used to spend their free time with the girls of Duke's sister school, Maureen O'Hara College. Even to this day, with Duke coed, the bonds between Duke men and Maureen O'Hara women remain strong. Duke's students continue to follow John Wayne's example of patriotism, riding straight in the saddle, and facing all of life's challenges with guns blazing. This spirit is epitomized by the Blue Devil football team, which each year bestows its coveted Rooster Cogburn Award upon the player voted by his teammates as the squad's most inspirational leader and grittiest drunkard.

"Do you think Eddie will give us cameos
Coming to America?"
"Looking good, football team." "Feeling good, basketball team."

Are Duke's struggles as a football program a result of their environment, or are they genetically destined to fail at sports? That's the premise of a wager between immensely wealthy Philadelphia commodity brokers Randolph and Mortimer Duke. The brothers hatch a scheme in which the Duke basketball team is framed for NCAA violations, and demoted to the football squad, while the football team is given the keys to the kingdom, so to speak, and is promoted to the Good Life of Duke basketball.

In this "nature" vs. "nurture" experiment, Mortimer believes that, despite the change in fortunes, the well-bred basketball team will rise to the occasion and succeed as a football team, while the lowly riff-raff of the football team will fail no matter what opportunities are presented to them. Randolph, on the other hand, feels that the basketball team will fall apart when faced with the challenges of trying to field a competitive football team and playing in an empty stadium, while the football team will take full advantage of the tremendous opportunity it has been given, and will become a winning basketball team. A dollar hangs on the outcome.

Will the two teams discover that they are innocent pawns being used for the Dukes' amusement? If so, will they be able to turn the tables on the brothers? And will a young Jamie Lee Curtis bare her breasts? Those are questions for a better writer than me to answer.

Vitale LOVES Notre Dame football!

NO!!! The Dukies are my precioussss!
One Shill to Rule Them All

Dick Vitale is a noted shill for both Notre Dame football and Duke basketball. He was recently asked which program was more precious to him. This was his Vitale's response:

[Vitale smiles, and speaks animatedly]

"The University of Notre Dame is Awesome, baby, with a capital A! I was so honored to send both of my girls to Notre Dame, and my son-in-laws went there. I coulda gotten into Notre Dame too, baby! I got a 1400 on my SAT! Yeah, if you add my scores together---I took it twice!"

[He turns, and suddenly his face twists into an evil expression]

"NO!!! Duke basketball is where it's at, baby! Coach K epitomizes what college athletics is all about. It's like he says in the commercial, he's not just a coach, he's a Leader of Men. He learned from the best---the General, Robert Montgomery Knight."

[Vitale turns, and his face again returns to an innocent grin]

"Notre Dame football is what it's all about. Yeah, I know they're struggling, but Charlie Weis is one of the best in the business, and he will right the ship. Look at some of these youngsters they've got---Jimmy Clausen, Armando Allen, Duval Kamara---they're Diaper Dandies, baby! And check this out, look at this---they have the number one recruiting class in America, baby! They're going to be back in a big way!"

[He turns again, and his expression is full of hatred and anger]

"OHHH!!! OHHH!!! It's the Dukies, baby! The Cameron Crazies!!! It's unbelievable!!! J.J. Redick: he's the three S's: Super, Scintillating, Sensational!!! Shane Battier: what a class act, what tremendous ath-a-leticism. And the current crop is as talented a group as Mike Krzyzewski has had. I mean, you've got Greg Paulus, he's on my All-Thomas Edison Team. He's an innovator!"

Eventually, Vitale tired out before giving a definitive answer to the question.

The Blind Oracle Looks to Cash In

Having been unfortunately accurate for an alarming number of games this season, The Blind Oracle At Bristol is looking to profit. He recently announced a plan to charge customers $9.95 for access to his prediction for this week's ND/Duke game, in what he was calling The Blind Oracle Golden Horseshoe Lead Pipe Lock of the Year. Luckily, Blue-Gray Sky's cadre of lawyers intervened, forcing the Oracle to fulfill his contractual commitments to us. Here is his prediction:

"Imagine a doormat rising up and kicking down the door. From the Triangle, the Devil went up to Indiana. The defense slaps the grass as a display of intensity. The old arena's lights go out on its darkest year. Bottom line, the Irish lack the team speed to keep up with the Blue Devils. Duke beats Notre Dame 35-10."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Irish Live | by Jay

John and Tiff pulled together another nice show this week, going over the Air Force game and highlighting some of the protection breakdowns that plagued the Irish offense. I pop in there at the end to talk about the season and wax hopeful about doubling our win total this Saturday. (I feel like Stuart Smalley, or maybe Jesse Jackson: keep hope alive! Etc.)

You can check out the show here.

Looking for leadership | by Pat

As the Irish team keeps losing and the youth movement is gathering more and more steam, it was nice to hear that one of the younger players is already looking to take on more of a leadership role. Here's Charlie's take on an early morning meeting on Monday.

Not getting into one player, but it was probably one of the most enjoyable parts of my entire week, happened yesterday morning at 5:30. Yesterday morning at 5:30 I'm sitting in my office and I keep the door locked because I don't like just anyone walking in at 5:30, and my phone rings and one of the players on our team is outside. I said, oh, no, here we go again. He wants to talk to me so he knocks on my door. I thought we had another person that was looking to pack his bags and go.

And it was just the opposite. He said he hasn't slept all night. He's an underclassman. He hadn't slept all night and he felt he needed to step up and take on more of a leadership role, and he was asking for some advice on how to do that. I mean, that's the type of guys you want on your team, guys that aren't sleeping because they're worrying about how they can -- he's a regular player, but how they can step up and take on more of a leadership role. I thought that was a good way to start the week.
Later in the day, Sam Young admitted during media interviews that he was the player who met with Charlie.
"I just want the team to do well," Young said. "Whatever position I need to be in, I want to fill it."
With John Sullivan out, Young, still only a sophomore, is now the veteran leader of the line with 23 career starts under his belt. He's had a rough second year campaign, slowed by a wrist injury and a switch to left tackle. Still, it's great to hear about him stepping up to take on more of a leadership role with this young team.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

BCS Rundown | by Jeff

As the BCS continues to get messier and messier, some order appears to be slowly emanating forth from the primordial ooze of one-loss teams and unusual suspects. At this point, there are five (no, three!) real contenders for two spots in the BCS championship game: LSU, Oregon, and Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri. Let's look quickly at each of these five (no, three!) teams and their remaining schedules:

#1 LSU
Remaining Schedule: @ Ole Miss, vs Arkansas, SEC Championship (vs Tennessee or Georgia)

LSU has a tough schedule to close out the season, but certainly not impossible. After feasting on some of the worst run defenses in the country, Arkansas' Darren McFadden's production was relatively contained against Tennessee's average run defense last week. With the third best run defense in the country, LSU should beat Ole Miss and contain Arkansas to make it to the SEC Championship game without much trouble. Beating Tennessee or perhaps Georgia will be slightly more problematic, but the Tigers should be double-digit favorites in that game, and are more likely to face the Vols than the suddenly hot 'Dawgs. LSU is ranked first in both polls and by the computers, and their strength of schedule looks solid for their remaining games, so winning out means the Tigers will almost certainly be in the championship game.

#2 Oregon
Remaining Schedule: @ Arizona, @ UCLA, vs Oregon St

With by far the easiest remaining schedule among the contenders, Oregon looks poised to win out and stake their claim to a spot in the BCS championship game. However, the Ducks are ranked second in both polls and number 3 by the computers (behind Kansas). So, a strong finish by Kansas or possibly even Oklahoma could send the Ducks to Pasadena instead of the BCS championship. I won't be too surprised to see some gamesmanship again among the voters in the BCS polls to give an edge to either the Big XII champ or Oregon. However, it looks like the Big XII and PAC-10 will get two teams into the BCS regardless, so at least the financial incentives for coaches to play with their votes is minimized this time around.

#3-#5 Big XII Champion
Remaining Schedules:

Kansas: vs Iowa St, vs Mizzou, Big XII Champ (vs Oklahoma)
Oklahoma : @ Texas Tech, vs Oklahoma St, Big XII Champ (vs Kansas-Missouri winner)
Missouri: @ Kansas St, @ Kansas, Big XII Champ (vs Oklahoma)

The Big XII appears to be involved in a play-in tournament for a spot in the BCS championship game. For the first time, the Kansas v Missouri game will actually mean something, as the winner will take on Oklahoma for the Big XII title. Those tough games may be enough to jump the Big XII champ over Oregon and into the the BCS championship game, although an undefeated Kansas has perhaps the best shot at the leapfrog, followed by Oklahoma. Kansas wasn't even ranked in the top-25 until October 7th, so a place in the BCS championship game would be truly remarkable. A one-loss Missouri team will likely end up in the Fiesta Bowl.

The rest of the BCS
The rest of the BCS will be full of the usual controversy this season. It appears that the 10 BCS teams will consist of two representatives each from the Big XII, SEC, ACC, and PAC-10 and one each from Big Ten and Big East, regardless of who makes the championship game. Here's why...

The BCS rules require a team to finish in the top 14 of the BCS with at least nine wins to be eligible for an at-large bid. But this season, the BCS eligible teams are likely to be concentrated in just a few conferences, and BCS rules also limit participation to two teams from the same conference. So, based on today's standings, the BCS eligible teams are:

SEC: LSU, Georgia, Florida
PAC-10: Oregon, Arizona State, Southern Cal
Big XII: Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas
Big East: West Virginia
Big Ten: Ohio State
ACC: Virginia Tech, Virginia

The only way to fill the ten spots from these fourteen teams is to take two teams from every conference that has more than one team eligible. This means currently-fourteenth Virginia would get a BCS bid over Florida, the ASU/Southern Cal loser, Texas, and the odd man out of KU/OU/Mizzou.

While there is still plenty of football to be played, most of the jockeying around the BCS cutoff will be among ACC teams. The ACC holds the 10th, 14th, 15th, and 17th positions, with two pairs of those teams playing each other before the end of the season and the two winners facing off in the ACC championship.

The past three national champions occupy the 11 to 13 spots, and if they win out (Texas over Texas A&M, Florida over Florida Atlantic and Florida State, and Southern Cal over ASU and UCLA) they'll almost certainly be BCS eligible by the end of the year. However, only Southern Cal has a good shot at the BCS, as Texas is behind three Big XII teams and Florida trails two SEC teams. Look for Georgia to possibly claim a spot in the BCS despite not winning their division, and possibly Texas as well (especially if Oklahoma beats Missouri to win the Big XII).

Hawaii has a shot to join the big boys with a top-12 BCS finish or a top-16 finish if UConn wins the Big East, but with a possible injury to Colt Brennan and a relatively tough schedule to finish out the season, it doesn't look like the Rainbows will make it this year.

Defying logic
I'm rooting for Tennessee to win out and claim a spot in the top twelve of the BCS and above both the Hawaii vs Boise State winner and the ACC runner-up. This will make the Top 14 teams:

Big XII: Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas
PAC-10: Oregon, Southern Cal, ASU
SEC: Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Florida
ACC: Virginia Tech
Big Ten: Ohio State
Big East: West Virginia

Go ahead, try to fill the five BCS bowls with those teams without taking more than two teams from one conference. It can't be done. I don't know what the BCS backup plans are, but I am very curious to see what would happen in this scenario.

Now all we need are about three or four upsets to make this year a real mess. Anyone up for a West Virginia vs Missouri national championship game?