Sorry to kill your buzz. But that's one big reason you shouldn't go all in for Notre Dame. Remember? The Irish blew a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead at home to the Orange on Nov. 22. That was the day fans pelted Irish players with snowballs, even hitting a policeman in the process.
Notre Dame might have never sunk lower.
It's also a reason you should dive head first into the Notre Dame passion bucket. Also on that day, five-star recruit Manti Te'o showed up for a visit. He was greeted by cold weather, unruly fans and an ugly loss.
Why leave an island paradise for that mess?
"I didn't close the door on Notre Dame that day," said Te'o, now a freshman linebacker with the Irish, "because of the fact it's Notre Dame."
That's deep, philosophical and inspiring coming from an 18-year-old. It's also a sign some of the old Irish magic still exists in the hearts of true believers. It also begs a more objective question: What is Notre Dame these days? The program seems to be the demarcation point of college football opinion.All-Decade team | Irish: SB Nation | B/R | Podcast
If there is a consensus about No. 1 Florida, the Irish are a conundrum. For all the momentum created by a bowl win at Hawaii, coach Charlie Weis knows he is essentially on a one-year contract. Apparently it's BCS bowl or bust. AD Jack Swarbrick isn't saying for sure, but he did hesitate for a few days before deciding to bring Weis back for a fifth season.
|QB||Jimmy Clausen||Jr.||Notre Dame|
|RB||Armando Allen||Jr.||Notre Dame|
|RB||Cierre Wood||Fr.||Notre Dame|
|WR||Golden Tate||Jr.||Notre Dame|
|WR||Michael Floyd||Soph.||Notre Dame|
|TE||Kyle Rudolph||Soph.||Notre Dame|
|OL||Sam Young||Sr.||Notre Dame|
|OL||Trevor Robinson||Soph.||Notre Dame|
|OL||Eric Olsen||Sr.||Notre Dame|
|DL||Ethan Johnson||Soph.||Notre Dame|
|LB||Brian Smith||Jr.||Notre Dame|
|DB||Kyle McCarthy||Sr.||Notre Dame|
|DB||Raeshon McNeil||Sr.||Notre Dame|
|DB||Darrin Walls||Sr.||Notre Dame|
|Ret||Golden Tate||Jr.||Notre Dame|
The first four years have produced divergent results. There have been two BCS bowls but none lately. Weis' 28-21 record is slightly worse percentage-wise than Tyrone Willingham's when he was fired.
Which way you headed, Charlie?
"I'm not really worrying about the past. Right now, the only thing I'm worried about is the start of this football season," Weis said. "I could sit there and tell you the lofty goals I have, my expectations. But guess what, it's time for us to back them up."
Give Weis credit. He's a stand-up guy with two bad knees. Coming off a horrific 3-9 season in 2007, the Irish fought their way back to bowl eligibility. That's where most Notre Dame fans get their optimism. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen had a career day in Hawaii. The optimism meter swung up, at least in South Bend, and hasn't wavered since.
Te'o eventually followed Notre Dame back from Hawaii as part of another excellent recruiting class. The nation's No. 2 recruit will play in the Sept. 5 opener against Nevada and could start. Both parties haven't ignored the elephant in the room. Te'o could take his two-year Mormon mission after this season.
Still, the planets have aligned for the Irish to return to a BCS bowl. Or so we are led to believe. The schedule is Charmin soft even for Notre Dame. The Irish play only one team (USC) ranked in the preseason polls. Eighteen starters are back, 10 on offense. That's the most since 2001. That's also a cautionary sign when you start buying into Notre Dame hype. Sometimes it's way overboard.
That 2001 team went 5-6 and was Bob Davie's last.
"Don't tell me about expectations, show me," Weis said.
You all in?
Offensive Player of the Year
Jimmy Clausen , QB, Notre Dame: Coming off the third-best passing season in Notre Dame history, Clausen is expected to blossom and become a legitimate Heisman candidate. There are no doubts here. The junior has a pair of the best receivers in the country -- Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. Clausen took some teammates back home to California to bond, work out and play on the beach. That's what leaders do.
Defensive Player of the Year
Brian Smith, LB, Notre Dame: Before he is done, Smith could be one of the all-timers at linebacker. Even though he has started only 12 career games, like Clausen he is expected to break out in his third season. Smith has a nose for turnovers. His dad, Chris, played for Notre Dame in the early 1980s. "I don't want to be Chris' son," he said. "I want to be Brian Smith, middle linebacker for Notre Dame."
Predicted order of finish
1. Notre Dame: It's all in place -- the schedule, the front-line talent, the network, the hype. Forget all that. Notre Dame goes nowhere this season unless Clausen makes the next logical step in his progression. The junior improved last season, adding 18 pounds and throwing for 25 touchdowns. It all came together in the bowl game when his only four incompletions against Hawaii were drops. With better protection, a better running game, better receivers and a better outlook, Clausen should begin to fulfill the promise he brought to South Bend. Whether it's enough to save Charlie Weis' job is another issue. It's BCS bowl or bust for The Big Guy. Weis will ride as far as Clausen can take him. The kid will benefit from the return of four starters on the offensive line. Experts have fallen in love with receivers Michael Floyd and Golden Tate. The running game (No. 100 nationally) has to get better with the arrival of freshman Cierre Wood. Clausen can give Wood a few pointers on how to approach that freshman season. The quarterback had his ego knocked back to the Stone Age in 2007-2008. But Clausen seemingly has lived and learned. With his body still intact from all those sacks, Clausen should thrive. But will it be enough to win at least nine games? Must-see game: Oct. 17 vs. USC. For the first time since 2005, Notre Dame should play the Trojans close and maybe ... win?
|2009 Conference Previews|
2. Navy: If everything goes right for the Middies, they could be the best of the independents. They won one more than Notre Dame last season. The past two seasons they've been competitive with the Irish, which is important after four decades of losses. The prospects are bright for '09. In his first full season as head coach, Ken Niumatalolo won eight games, a sixth consecutive Commander-In-Chief's Trophy and got Navy to a bowl. The best thing to happen to Navy, in a weird way, might have been an injury to dangerous quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada. That allowed budding talent Ricky Dobbs to start four games in '08. Dobbs wants to be president someday (after his Navy commitment, of course). His moves could make the triple option even more dangerous. The front seven is the strength of the defense. Look out, Ohio State and Pittsburgh. Navy visits both in the first three weeks of the season. Dobbs and the option are coming. Must-see game: Nov. 7 at Notre Dame. This just in: The Middies are no longer a pushover for the Irish.
3. Army: Good things are being said and written about new coach Rich Ellerson. If he can transfer his magic to this run-down program, then ... well let's wait and see. There have been 12 consecutive losing seasons. The Army brass has made bad decision after bad decision. There is no reason the Black Knights shouldn't at least be on a par with Air Force and Navy, but somehow Army has sunk to the depths of Division I-A. Ellerson comes from I-AA Cal Poly bringing the triple option on offense and double-eagle flex formation on defense (think Arizona's "Desert Swarm"). Army won't go to a bowl but it needs to build enough momentum to give Navy a game. Must-see game: Dec. 12 vs. Navy in Philadelphia. One of the great spectacles in college football no matter how the teams are playing. Currently, it's seven in a row for Navy.