Posted by BrianBoru at 5/14/2009 2:10 AM EDT
The Notre Dame Football program is being featured all week on ESPN’s College Football Live. After hosting the first two days of coverage, John Saunders, thankfully, found something else to do on Wednesday. Saunders, whose agenda against Notre Dame has much to do with his friendship and support of former Irish Head Coach Tyrone Willingham, appeared noticeably uncomfortable as he listened to fellow analyst Ed Cunningham (correctly) cite Willingham’s poor recruiting while at Notre Dame, in particular along the offensive line, as the chief reason Notre Dame had performed so deplorably inept the past two seasons.
Cunningham did say, however, the Irish needed to improve upon their fundamentals in blocking up front. In other words, though Tyrone Willingham was a train wreck on the recruiting trail, leaving Charlie Weis with a barren stretch of classes, Weis has run out of excuses. The 2009 outfit, for better or worse, is all his. Finally stocked with talent across the board, coaching will dictate this season's outcome.
If he wins fewer than 10 games in 2009, Weis will be an assistant in the NFL in 2010.
Later, upon asking Cunningham how he thought Notre Dame would fare this season, Saunders flashed his familiar snide smirk when Cunningham suggested the Irish “should win about 10 or 11 with their schedule”. Saunders then replied, "a lot of people were saying Notre Dame would do that last season". Um...No, Mr. Saunders. You're wrong. Most thought Notre Dame was a year away, particularly because Jimmy Clausen was entering just his second year under center, and they were a young team. Saunders also incorrectly claimed that Clausen was a "redshirt freshman" in 2007. Clausen was a true freshman during that nightmarish season. But facts are of incidental importance when one has an agenda. Correct, Mr. Saunders?
Cunningham, impressively demonstrating his knowledge of Notre Dame’s roster, quite aptly described what it would take for Notre Dame to appear in a BCS Bowl game: offensive line improvement. Cunningham played along the offensive line in college at the University of Washington – and later in the NFL for five seasons, so perhaps he’s biased. But it’s refreshing to, finally, hear someone at ESPN credibly assess Notre Dame’s team.
Too often we tune in to ESPN to hear yet another analyst bandy the hackneyed “speed” adage. Lee Corso, I’m looking at you. Chris Fowler? Guilty. So few “analysts” on that network actually bother to do their homework, often mispronouncing players’ names.
In any event, back to Notre Dame...The Irish will field an offensive line entirely composed of veterans this season, all of whom played at least three seasons together. However, and this is where I vacillate a bit, I have my doubts. It’s difficult for me to believe these guys will simply put it all together this season, especially after being pushed around like helpless toddlers the past two seasons. Sure, these guys entered Notre Dame with press clippings promising stardom and, until this point in their careers, they’ve offered very little indication that Irish fans ought to expect more than eight wins this season. Until I see a solid display of fundamental blocking, I will expect more of the same timid play from the Irish offensive line.
The talent in the football program appears to have been ramped up a few notches via recruiting, however, as we all know, talent in a vacuum does not win games at Notre Dame – or anywhere else for that matter.
Tracking Notre Dame’s rival…Southern Cal appears to be inching closer to bad news.
(Don't hold your breath.)
The NCAA, which has combined its investigation into the men’s basketball and football programs, is compiling information on former basketball player O.J. Mayo and former Trojan football star Reggie Bush. Reading some of this stuff in the Mayo and Bush cases, I'm certainly not surprised. I mean, seriously, these guys are even more brazen than UNLV circa 1990-91 with Tarkanian. Moses Scurry, Anderson Hunt and a bookie in a hot tub don't hold a candle to what's going on in Hollywood.
I guess I would like to see Southern Cal go down because they’ve seemingly always played outside the domain of college football ethics. I would like to see the hammer dropped on the Trojan program if for no other reason than Notre Dame would have a decent opportunity to log a first down before the fourth quarter.
Head Coach Pete Carroll deftly sidesteps talk of any wrongdoing under his watch. Carroll is charming and slippery – you can see why he's such an effective recruiter.
I recall family members telling me stories of the Trojans on-field behavior in the ‘70’s – how they could not have been cockier in victory or defeat. I'd hear also about the terrible injustices committed by the hometown officials roaming The Coliseum. At the time, in the 80’s and early 90’s, I could not understand the hatred for the Trojans – Notre Dame owned them. The Fighting Irish enjoyed a 13-game winning streak! Those were the days...
Lou Holtz, Irish fans miss you – even the fans who cheered when you were rushed out.
I suppose the Trojans near lawless image provides a suitable villain, one which can galvanize the Irish to victory. I would, however, be pleased if the Trojans were forced to play within the confines of the NCAA rules. Is that too much to ask?