Curb(ing) Your Enthusiasm
What I appreciate most about the Notre Dame fan base, and what normally annoys anyone who doesn’t bleed Blue and Gold, is our unending devotion to the Irish and our blind support of the football team—including to the point of humiliation (see: 2007). If we sit around long enough and think about the team enough, we start to rationalize why Notre Dame should go undefeated this season, even though there’s no statistical proof to suggest it. We then go into the season with unattainable expectations for the team and are ultimately disappointed.
This should be a decent year for the football team, but how much stock should we put in practice reports, depth charts, or the long-winded praises of a head coach (Munir Prince anyone?). What is a realistic expectation for this year’s team? We’ll hear from you readers later in a forth-coming poll and article written by Anthony. But for now, let’s outline some different factors one should take into consideration before making any sort of prediction for this upcoming season.
Mental Errors Are Never Non-Existent
Let’s face it—even though a football team wins and loses together, a lot of the weight of a game is placed on the shoulders of the starting quarterback. And, even though Jimmy Clausen played like a Heisman Trophy candidate on Christmas Eve, it still does not erase the mental errors that he had that cost the Irish many games earlier in the season. Usually, a quarterback greatly matures mentally and physically from his sophomore to junior seasons. However, don’t expect Jimmy Clausen to be flawless in his execution and game management. No quarterback is perfect, although in the Hawaii Bowl, Clausen was about as close as you can get. Sometime, somewhere, Jimmy Clausen will misread the defense or attempt a throw he shouldn’t and in doing so, he will put the team in jeopardy of losing the game. Climbing out of that hole will depend on the mental toughness and development of the entire team, not just the quarterback.
Star Players from Last Season May Regress in Production This Season
Golden Tate and Mike Floyd had very good seasons last year. If Golden Tate can produce this season like he did last season, he will be a legitimate contender for a spot on the All-American team. However, to expect both he and Floyd to produce as well this season as they did last season is unfair and probably unlikely. Even Jeff Samardzija had a drop-off in production from 2005 to 2006.
This season, expect opposing defenses to key in harder on Golden Tate with double coverage. This should open up the passing lanes to Mike Floyd and Kyle Rudolph, especially if Weis concentrates less on his “pound the football” mantra from last season and goes back to what he does best—passing the pigskin. Because opposing defenses will be preoccupied with Tate and probably even Floyd, Clausen will spread the ball more, so even though the passing game may not regress a large amount, the Tate’s impact on the offense will likely regress.
Comparing Current Players’ Developmental Patterns to Former Players is Dangerous
Everybody is doing it and in a future article, I will do it too. However, comparing players on this year’s squad to former players and their production patterns is dangerous to do. The most obvious comparison is the expected development of Jimmy Clausen and the surprising development Brady Quinn had between his sophomore and junior seasons. Sure Brady Quinn’s development in 2005 was a pleasant surprise, but to expect that kind of leap in development from Clausen will probably lead to disappointment.
This principle can also be applied to other players. Expecting Robby Parris to resemble Jeff Samardzija in 2005, Harrison Smith to Tom Zbikowski, or Ian Williams to Trevor Laws is not only unfair to those players, but also unfair to you. The reality is that those players were once-in-a-decade players and expecting Jimmy Clausen, Armando Allen, Golden Tate, Mike Floyd, or Brian Smith to follow in their footsteps is unrealistic—even though they have the potential to do so.
Basing a Win-Loss Prediction on the Schedule Alone Will End in Heartache
Until the season actually starts, it’s almost impossible to predict an accurate win-loss record based on the schedule alone. There are simply too many questions surrounding not only the Fighting Irish, but also their opponents, to predict how a team will perform in the fall. It’s too tempting to go through the schedule and size up an opponent based on their previous records. Many people think that this season should be the easiest we’ve seen in a while, but who thought that the Irish would lose to Syracuse last year? Sure Notre Dame has more pure talent than all of the teams on their schedule this year, save for USC. But, player development and team cohesiveness is far more important to determining a team’s potential than talent alone. Less heralded upperclassmen with experience and time to mesh with their teammates often produce more desirable results than underclassmen with unrefined talent.
So, what’s a realistic expectation for this season? As I outlined in the paragraphs above, it’s hard to predict based on the schedule, last season’s star players, or expected development of current underclassmen. Too many times we, as Notre Dame fans, allow our emotions and our devotion to the University affect our predictions. We base our expectations for the upcoming season on the tradition and stories of Notre Dame seasons past.
Realistically, this should be solid year for many players at the skill positions. This year’s team will have to rely on unrefined pure talent even less than they did last season and definitely less than they did in 2007. For now, I will shy away from attempting to come up with an exact win-loss record—especially since spring practice isn’t even finished yet. Rather, I will continue to chart the development of the current team and look forward to any surprises in the class of freshman arriving this summer. I invite you to do the same.