This is maaaaybe premature there, ESPN. Maryland #1 FWIW.
So long, Charlie Weis; Hello, Brian Kelly! After another disappointing year, Charlie Weis was fired as Notre Dame's head coach. The Irish started the year with a bang, pasting a respectable Nevada outfit by a score of 35-0, before the last-minute loss in Michigan Stadium. Tight wins over Michigan State, Purdue, and Washington (in overtime), and yet another close loss, this time a 27-34 affair against USC, saw the Irish hit the halfway point at 4-2. The second half of the year wasn't so kind, however, as wins over Boston College and Washington State preceded a 4-game year-ending slide against Navy (twice in three years!), Pitt, UConn (double overtime), and Stanford. The Irish were bowl-eligible, but chose to forego a trip to Hawaii.
Notre Dame now moves from the Weis Administration to the Kelly Administration. Though Weis was willing to spread the ball and throw it, he was adamantly "pro-style" in describing his system. Kelly, on the other hand, is not afraid to operate mostly from the shotgun, with 4- and 5-receiver sets. A more important difference comes on defense, where Weis's teams were routinely mediocre-to-bad, despite a wealth of talent. At Cincinnati, Kelly had good defenses in each of his three years, despite tons of personnel turnover, and limited talent to start with.
The Irish replace departing starters with decent recruits over the past few years. The freshman class was ranked the #14 haul in the nation by Rivals. 2009's crop was #21, the Irish were #2 in 2008, #8 in 2007, and #8 in 2006.
Note: A bunch of Notre Dame's football players are facing discipline after arrests for pot possession and underage drinking. We'll see if Brian Kelly suspends anyone through the Michigan game.
|Notre Dame/Cincinnati Offense 2009|
|Category||ND Raw||Rank||Cin Raw||Rank|
|Yards Per Game||451.75||8||447.46||11|
|Points Per Game||30.08||32||38.62||4|
|Yards Per Play||6.39||t-13||6.98||2|
|Yards Per Pass||8.68||9||8.50||12|
|Yards Per Rush||3.84||76||4.99||13|
|Playcall Distribution||1.26 Pass:Rush||1.41 Pass:Rush|
As mentioned above, Notre Dame was a pro-style pass-heavy attack last year. Under Brian Kelly, they'll spread the ball a bit more, and throw it even more. The 2009 Irish were good at throwing the ball, but poor at running it. With a scheme change and massive attrition at key positions, it will be interesting to see what Brian Kelly is able to do this season.
For comparison to his team last year, Cincinnati, despite its more frequent throwing, was less successful on a per-play basis, meaning they were probably more screen heavy (or perhaps didn't have the personnel to push the ball deep). The Bearcats were much better at running the ball, despite doing it less.
Happy Trails, Jimmy Clausen. It's a shame you didn't manage to quiiiiite land that fourth national championship in your three years in South Bend. Clausen developed into a very good quarterback by his final season, but Dayne Crist will step into the starter's role, assuming he's healthy. Crist missed part of last year and all of spring practice with an ACL tear. The burden of being his backup will likely fall to a true freshman.
Rating: 1/5. Though Crist came out of high school with plenty of hype, he was unimpressive last year, is coming off a major surgery, and missed spring practice in a new offense. Irish fans are hoping he spent plenty of time with his playbook. Behind Crist, the depth is scary for Notre Dame. If he goes down (which has been known to happen), they'll play a true freshman or on-again off-again walkon Nate Montana, who spent last year at a California JuCo.
|Notre Dame QBs 2009|
|Notre Dame QBs Rushing 2009|
The Irish return the majority of their running back stable, losing only James Aldridge, who shifted to fullback last year. With Brian Kelly's spread offense, speedy Armando Allen will reprise his role as the starter, and Robert Hughes will bruise in the middle.
Rating: 4/5. The Irish didn't run the ball much under Weis... and don't be surprised if that continues under Brian Kelly. However, when they do elect to run, there are a number of options, with speed (Allen, Riddick) and power (Hughes, Gray) both available.
|Notre Dame RBs 2009|
|Notre Dame RBs 2009|
The exceptional (and exceptionally-named) Golden Tate is out the door, taking with him a good amount of Notre Dame's production. Michael Floyd (pictured at right, courtesy of my nightmares) will have to step up as the #1, but after serious injuries in each of the last two years, he is starting to earn the "injury-prone" tag. Robby Parris is also out the door, but Duval Kamara and Shaquelle Evans both have the hype, and now the opportunity. John Goodman stepped up in Michael Floyd's absence. At tight end. Kyle Rudolph returns, as does the possibly-suspended Mike Ragone.
Rating: 3/5. The Irish have a great 1-2 in Floyd and Rudolph, but the guys behind them haven't proven it on the field yet. There's potential for them in Kelly's high-flying spread, but this is a results-based rating service.
|Notre Dame WRs 2009|
|Kyle Rudolph (TE)||33||364||11.03||3|
|Mike Ragone (TE)||6||60||10.00||0|
|Bobby Burger (TE)||2||10||5.00||0|
|Notre Dame WRs Rushing 2009|
The Irish lose their best three offensive linemen. OTs Sam Young and Paul Duncan exit stage left, along with OC Eric Olsen. Guards Chris Stewart and Trevor Robinson are the returners, along with Dan Wenger, who start one game in relief of Robinson. Wenger will shift to the Center position, where he's the expected starter. The tackle positions are unsettled, with senior Matt Romine a favorite to win one spot, and senior Taylor Dever competing with sophomores Alex Bullard and Zach Martin for the other position.
Rating: 2/5. The Irish were poor in pass protection last year, especially considering some of the competition they went up against. Losing the best three players, including two of the bookends, isn't going to help that. They were 84th in net rushing, and 76th in yards per rush. The screen-heavy Kelly offense should take pressure off the QBs and the running game.
|Notre Dame Defense 2009|
|Yards Per Game||397.75||86|
|Points Per Game||25.92||63|
|Yards Per Play||6.19||103|
|Pass Yards Per Game||227.50||76|
|Yards Per Pass||8.01||102|
|Sacks Per Game||1.58||89|
|Rush Yards Per Game||170.25||89|
|Yards Per Rush||4.75||101|
Notre Dame's defense was awful last year, which explains Charlie Weis getting the ax despite a prolific offense. On a yards-per-play basis, they were terrible against the run, pass, and overall. They didn't get to the QB, they didn't didn't do anything.
It all could have been worse, too. They faced the 9th-fewest total plays of any team last year, and if they had seen something closer to average, would have been in triple digits in nearly every defensive category ranking.
Ethan Johnson and Ian Williams both return after starting the majority of last year - though Sean Cwynar also got a start in place of Johnson. Kapron Lewis-Moore shared time with the departed John Ryan. In Notre Dame's hybrid 3-4/4-3, the DEs and DTs sometimes overlapped as well. The Irish were poor against the run last year, as well as getting to the QB (89th in both).
Rating: 2/5. Losing only one contributor should help Notre Dame's defensive front improve this year, but there's a long way to go even to reach mediocrity. They didn't play many backups last year either, so the depth is unknown.
|Notre Dame Defensive Line 2009|
The Irish return their top four tacklers from the linebacker corps, though Brian Smith was the only one who started all 12 games last year. Neal and Fleming split the starts at the other outside position, and Te'o got most of the starts on the inside. Toryan and Scott Smith(s) are the departers.
Rating: 4/5. Te'o was a beast as a true freshman, and Notre Dame's opponents would have loved to see him go on his mormon mission instead of returning. With a year of experience under his belt, and most of the unit returning around him, he could have a breakout year if he stays healthy.
|Notre Dame Linebackers 2009|
If the defense on the whole hadn't been so bad last year, this is the unit we'd be looking at as a major weakness for Notre Dame. Nearly everyone who has played significant time at safety is gone (Harrison Smith moved to linebacker halfway through last year), along with Raeshon McNeil, who has starting experience at corner. Smith will probably move back to safety this fall, along with Jamoris Slaughter. Blanton, Gray, and Walls will fight it out for two corner positions.
Rating: 1/5. A position switch starter? Check. Replacing both safeties? Check. Unit was terrible in the first place? Check. The Irish will have to hope that the defensive line improves a ton, or they could be quite vulnerable through the air this fall. Big leaps forward for the corners and someone emerging at safety are necessities.
|Notre Dame Defensive Backs 2009|
the Irish were awful in net punting average last year, coming in at 99th nationally. Eric Maust and Ben Turk both return, so that number should improve slightly this year, especially since Turk was but a true freshman. Freshman kicker Nick Tausch was mostly excellent, though he missed from 28 against Michigan, and 41 and 30 yards against Navy, a game his team lost by 2 (AWKWARD!). In the return game, Golden Tate's loss will be substantial, but kick returner Theo Riddick can replace him as the deep man on punts. A step back is still likely.
|Total Margin||Int For||Fum For||Sacks||Int Lost||Fum Lost||Sacked|
|+0.42 (t-29)||12||7||1.58 (89th)||5||9||2.08 (67th)|
I expect an increase in turnovers for the Irish, as Clausen was a robo-QB last year (less than 1% interceptions/attempts), whereas Crist threw picks on 5% of his attempts. On the other side, they aren't adding much QB pressure, and the defensive backfield is weak, so there shouldn't be an uptick in picks for. The fumble margin was about even last year.
Position Switch Starters
Harrison Smith moving back to safety for a starting spot is a scary sign, as he was a big contributor at linebacker last year, and this seems like something of a last-resort move. It bodes ill for the secondary, which we already knew.
There is also shuffling between outside linebackers and defensive ends, but those distinctions aren't a big issue, as the duties aren't going to be too different. Same story between defensive tackles and ends.
Offensively, the Irish are counting on Dayne Crist being both a) fully healthy and b) ready to play like a 5-star prospect, not a Threet-esque efficiency guy. I think he's going to be good, but not great. If he goes down, the Irish offense will have difficulty stretching defenses, even with Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph working deep. The Irish will be heavily pass-biased, which is par for the course after the Weis era.
On D, the Irish have a bit of upside with the highly-rated recruits they have in the system, but they haven't put it together on the field just yet. The defensive line and secondary are both quite weak, and it might take a couple years before Notre Dame fields a good D.
If this game was in Ann Arbor, I'd like Michigan's chances. However, something always seems to go wrong in South Bend, and we'll hear all about the standard "Wake up the Echoes" talk that we get every 3-5 years. This is a winnable game, but not a guarantee.