It Won’t Get Any Easier in 2011, 2012

This column is named in honor of Notre Dame’s teams of the 1920s, nicknamed “Rockne’s Ramblers” for their willingness to play anyone, anywhere, at any time.  Observations on the world of Notre Dame, college football, sports….and life in general.
By Jim Lefebvre, Editor, Forever Irish.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Coach Kelly has been famously quoted as having not a five-year plan but a “five-minute plan” for improving Notre Dame football. As in, the advancement needs to happen now; we’re not building up to some imagined level of performance years down the line. The focus has been on the here and now.

But now, we can at least get a glimpe of future years, as the 2011 and 2012 schedules have been officially released by the University, confirming numerous earlier reports of scheduling agreements with various schools.

And if there is one overall theme of the new schedules, it is this: nothing will come easy. If the Irish are to work their way back to the elite in college football, they will have earned it against as challenging a lineup of games as could be imagined.  Just look at one month as an example: in October of 2012, the lineup is Miami (FL), Stanford, BYU and at Oklahoma.

The complete schedules:

Sept. 10 at Michigan
Sept. 24 at Pittsburgh
Oct. 1 at Purdue
Oct. 15 (open)
Oct. 22 USC
Oct. 29 NAVY
Nov. 5 at Wake Forest
Nov. 12 MARYLAND (Fed Ex Field, Landover, Md.)
Nov. 26 at Stanford

Sept. 1 Navy (Dublin, Ireland)
Sept. 8 PURDUE
Sept. 15 at Michigan State
Sept. 29 (open)
Oct. 6 MIAMI (Soldier Field, Chicago)
Oct. 20 BYU
Oct. 27 at Oklahoma
Nov. 10 at Boston College
Nov. 24 at USC

Monday, September 13, 2010

Properly Preparing the “Next Man Up”

There’s a reason for the caveat in my pre-season prediction…specifically about injuries. Dayne Crist getting knocked out of the first half on Saturday was the example that no Irish fan wanted to see. Yet the whole scene was rather strange. The repeated sideline TV shots showing Crist standing pretty much alone — no medical staff working on him, no coach talking with him. He looked shellshocked, and one has to wonder why he wasn’t taken to the locker room, or even a spot on the bench, away from the cameras, and received some attention.

What was worse, of course, was that the entire team played and looked shellshocked, and before you knew it, Michigan had put up 21 points. It was almost as if nobody was prepared for this setback.

So it was at least reassuring to hear Coach Kelly take full responsbility for “not properly preparing” his backup quarterbacks to step into such a situation. For all that has been said and written about Kelly’s “next man up” philosophy, it has to be shown on the field.

In many instances, it has shown up on the field. A total of 62 Irish players have recorded playing time in one or both of the first two games. At many positions, three and four players have seen action. At other spots (particularly safety) the lack of healthy, available bodies has hamstrung the operation.

It’s a safe bet that the next time (and let’s face it, there more than likely will be a next time) that Crist has to leave the game, a solid, safe package of plays is ready for his replacement.

And, every man on the roster is ready to be the “next man up.”


Friday, September 3, 2010

How Big To Build the Bandwagon?

Predicting an entire football season is tricky. There are so many things that can happen,
from injuries, suspensions, lucky or unlucky bounces, bad calls, suddenly hot teams – the
list is endless.

So maybe the best thing to say about the 2010 Notre Dame season is this:

I predict ND will again truly become the Fighting Irish, playing with a passion and spirit
we haven’t seen consistently for years. They will be extremely well-conditioned, and
exhibit mental and physical toughness. Above all, they will play with a spirit of unity that
will make ND fans everywhere proud…and certain that we’re back on the right track.

So how does this translate to wins and losses? That’s the tricky part, but I’ll give it a
go. Read these picks with the knowledge that I am an incurable optimist. My mantra is
actually, “Who’s gonna beat ‘em?” And it’s possible the Irish could be favored in every
game. Here goes…

Sept 4 vs. Purdue. Yes, the Boilers practice against the spread every day, but not with
these unexpected twists, and not with these athletes. The Irish get a huge lead, then get
nicked a bit by Robert Marve after the issue is no longer in doubt. ND 38, Purdue 13.

Sept. 11 vs. Michigan. The Wolverines are reeling after a dismal showing vs. UConn.
But it plays to their advantage, as they feel a sense of desperation and throw everything
they can at the Irish. The ND defense makes some late key plays. ND 28, Michigan 20.

Sept. 18 at Michigan State. As usual, Sparty is playing with early-season confidence
before heading into their typical swoon. A pitched battle ensues, with Cousins finding
holes in the Irish D, and fortunate breaks favoring the home squad. MSU 27, ND 23.

Sept. 25 vs. Stanford. The Cardinal begin a brutal three-week stretch that includes
games vs. Oregon and USC. Andrew Luck’s Heisman campaign is well underway – but
falls a bit short, and a Band Alumni Day crowd sees a thriller. ND 34, Stanford 31.

Oct. 2 at Boston College. The Eagles, coming off a war vs. Virginia Tech, wish they had
prepped for these games by playing someone other than Weber State and Kent State. A
down-and-dirty battle turns on some key plays by Irish defense. ND 24, BC 20.

Oct 9 vs. Pittsburgh. The Panthers have rebounded from their opening stumble at Utah,
and enter ND Stadium with supreme confidence, recalling their rolling of the Irish last
year. They quickly learn this is a different team, falling behind early. ND 33, Pitt 24.

Oct. 16 vs. Western Michigan. A beautiful fall afternoon among the Indiana sycamores.
What more could anyone ask for? The Broncos get a scenic bus ride, a nice paycheck
and a few bruises for their trouble. No contest. ND 47, WMU 9.

Oct. 23 vs. Navy. The first big college football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium.

Coach Kelly teaches the Irish about the history of the series….and then reminds them that
there is no way the Middies should be able to play with us. ND 44, Navy 13.

Oct. 30 vs. Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane come in as something of a mystery team,
despite their 5-2 record. They look a little bit in awe of Notre Dame Stadium….and the 7-
1 Irish. ND’s return game comes to life and cooks up a blowout. ND 39, Tulsa 17.

Nov. 13 vs. Utah. A week earlier and the Utes might have been too much to handle. But
their 8-0 bubble was burst by TCU last week. The Irish find the going tougher than in
previous weeks, and need some key defensive stops to get by. ND 26, Utah 23.

Nov. 20 vs. Army. The pageantry, the history, the glory of gridiron tradition. It all
comes together on the field of the new Yankee Stadium, as the memories are raised of
past great battles between the Black Knights and Irish. This one isn’t. ND 51, Army 16.

Nov. 27 at USC. With a 10-1 mark and No. 5 national ranking, the Irish head to the
Coliseum convinced this is the year to break the streak. Probation-plagued USC treats
this as their bowl game, and get some dubious calls along the way. USC 30, ND 27.

You have no idea how much I hope that last one doesn’t come true!!! I’m probably still
feeling the ill effects of our trip to SoCal in 2008.

Like I say, this team is night-and-day different from what we’ve become used to.

The only question is how big the bandwagon will get.

Saturday, June 12, 2010
A Moment of Sanity Amid Expansion Frenzy
As a regular reader of natonal college football columnists, I’ve gotten used to their tpically wild mis-statements about Notre Dame and the changing face of the sport. The typical talking point in recent weeks is that, surely, conditions will “force” ND to join a conference.

So I was surprised — in a good way — to read this today from Matt Hayes of The Sporting News:

“Notre Dame appears closer to staying the course as an independent. The thinking in South Bend is that the Irish brand name is too powerful and that the university won’t be left out of any new landscape because bowls and television want access to Notre Dame in any postseason scenario.”

That, folks, is it in a nutshell. ND football is a national brand with a huge cache built up over decades of superior performance amid high standards on and off the field. Nothing short of — heaven forbid — a long string of disastrous seasons would ever change that.

Now would be a good time for University leaders to stand up and reaffirm that the Fighting Irish will continue as a national independent in football.

Friday, June 11, 2010
Finally — Justice Arrives
After some four years of investigation, and numerous delays, it’s finally happened – the NCAA has found the University of Southern California guilty of massive cheating violations in football, primarily surrounding the “extra benefits” provided Reggie Bush and his family.

In what’s been described as “a history of misdeeds by an out-of-control athletic department,” USC was found to have had a virtual open-door policy as boosters, agents and others flooded Bush, basketball star O.J. Mayo and, no doubt, other Trojan athletes with cash, cars, travel, and housing all beyond anything resembling the rules.

For months, there had been great debate among college sports observers as to whether the NCAA would have the guts to bring the hammer down on such a prominent “sacred cow” as Southern Cal. The answer came with the penalties handed down yesterday – including a two-year bowl ban, loss of 30 football scholarships and forfeiture of the 2004 National Championship game and the entire 2005 season, including the infamous “Bush push” game against the Irish.

In a spot-on analysis by the LA Times’ Bill Plaschke, the leaders of the USC machine —  mainly coach Pete Carroll and athletic director Mike Garrett – are castigated for their arrogance. Interesting to use that word.  Think of all the times you heard Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis described by the national media as arrogant in his five-year tenure.

Writes Plaschke:  “They were whacked by their ego. They were steamrolled by their self-importance. They were sanctioned by themselves.”

The NCAA only had to come in and do the paperwork.  And, for the sake of some justice in an oft-crazy sport, thank goodness they got it right.


Friday, February 19, 2010
There’s a Reason for Lack of Real ND-Big 10 Talk
I know this is going to come as a terrible shock to numerous sports columnists and so-called college football pundits across the country — but your call for Notre Dame to join the Big 10 makes no sense, and is not going to happen.

Yes, it’s somehow convenient for you to overlook the basics — history and geography — and think that this somehow makes sense, or is a “must” to “keep Notre Dame football alive”, but, well….

Ugghh..I’m tired of trying to educate you. Let’s listen to someone else — how about Wisconsin athletic director and coaching legend Barry Alvarez, defensive coordinator at ND before heading to Madison 20 years ago. Here’s what he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel yesterday:

“My read is that Notre Dame wants to be a national school, and they want to play a national (football) schedule. And unless you’ve been there and seen the magnitude of their fan base and the interest nationally, it is hard to understand.

“I understand.”

Monday, February 8, 2010
Strange Days Indeed in College Football Recruiting
Things have gotten a tad bizarre in the world of college football recruiting.

For weeks, followers of this ritual were on the edge of their collective seats, waiting for the final, decisive word from several of the top high school players across the land — which baseball cap sitting in front of him would Mr. Big clutch.

And there was none bigger — literally — than 6-8, 340-pound man-child Seantrel Henderson of St. Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall High. Now Cretin has produced a wealth of terrific athletes, including former Irish lineman Ryan Harris of the Denver Broncos. Word had leaked that ND was not on the top of Seantreal’s list, but his “choice” was still surprising.

Henderson chose not to sign a Letter-of-Intent with anyone. He’ll wait and see whether the NCAA finally brings the hammer to the pro football outfit in LA, known to some as USC.

Things got even stranger in the days that followed, with the news that a 13-year-old — that’s right, a middle schooler — from Delaware announced his intent to play at…again there’s that place, USC.

What adult in his right mind — whether the kid’s parent, middle school coach, quarterback guru or potential college coach — thinks that’s OK, and does nothing to stop such talk? Apparently, none of the so-called adults attached to this kid.