Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Sorry to keep popping my head up only for serious things, but these I suppose are serious, joyless times under the Golden Dome, and now is a good time to take a deep breath and take stock. Humor will return next year, I promise.

If you haven't heard already, Charlie Weis will more likely than not be the coach in 2009, which I'm sure this readership regards with a wide spectrum of emotions ranging from "the-soup-is-too-cold-and-has-what-appears-to-be-a-portion-of-an-insect-in-it-but-the-waitress-is-really-rude-and-it's-probably-not-really-worth-making-a-scene-over-so-what-the-hell-i'll-just-be-a-grown-up-about-everything-and-try-my-best-to-enjoy-my-lukewarm-meal-because-seriously-with-the-recession-and-the-wars-and-everything-it's-not-terribly-bad-cosmically-speaking" (which, not that you asked, is the official emotional position of this blog. Well, I'm not sure about irishoutsider, he can speak for himself if he ever finds the time to post) to the more NDNation-esque reaction of basic smashing-all-electrical-appliances-in-the-house and whatnot. Regardless, it's time to get pragmatic about it and sort of lay a framework, emotion-wise, for how to handle the 2009 campaign and generally minimize drunken Domer-on-drunken Domer violence should the subject of Notre Dame football come up in bar conversation over the next twelve months or so.


We'll first go to the tape to see where we stand at the conclusion (potential bowl game notwithstanding, and, you know, not meaningfully regarded anyway) of this letdown of a season. Taking a look back at my statistically wonky data sheet I cooked up last week (with updated numbers and averages), we can safely say that the running game has not changed from 2007. Last week, I saw a 10 or so yard difference from last year, but I've since fished out that all that change in rushing yardage is attributable to the change in sack yardage from last year, which I forgot counts toward rushing totals in the college game. Restoring itself from epic futility last year, this year's team was able to hew off about 19.5 yards of sack yardage (ugh, redundancy [sic], but I don't know how to recast that sentence. Sorry, grammar Nazis), which more than accounts for the supposed improvement from last year. The pass protection improvement aside, this means that in terms of actually lining up and running the ball, the 2008 team was the same as (actually, worse than, although statistically insignificantly so [triple adverb score! {sorry, I'm at a heightened sense of grammatical awareness after spending this football season distracting myself by reading through the complete works of David Foster Wallace, which I guess would also explain the excessive parenthetical action you're getting here too, now that I think about it (footnotes being not really an option in the whole format of blog posting, after all)}]) the 2007 team, sort of undermining the whole experience excuse from last year (hopefully you still remember what we were talking about before that whole parenthesis thing, which, again, sorry).

On the other hand, the passing numbers are undeniably better, even better than I first expected when I glibly tried to write it off as the result of a single player. Properly assigning sack yardage to the passing statistics, you can see a net improvement of 117.57 yards per game, which is a whole hell of a lot, actually. Just looking at the pretty pretty colors on my chart, it can be stated with some statistical authority that the team has, in fact, improved in overall offense from last year, which shouldn't be interpreted as great praise for the team considering what they started with, but should be passively observed.


Maybe if I say it really fast, I won't get my skin flayed off by cynical Irish fans, so... TheOverallTalentOnTheRosterIn2009IsEnoughToGetOneExcitedDespiteTheLastTwoYears. Yes, yes, they're all underperforming bums who haven't been taught the fundamentals of football &c., but 2009 will be the, roster-wise, the payoff year for having Charlie Weis do his Recruitasaurus Rex job that (if you read between the lines of the athletic director's sort of faintly mumbling vote of confidence) is, ostensibly, the main thing that is keeping him (Charlie, that is) employed for another year. The 2009 Irish offense will line up end to end with 4- and 5-star upperclassmen, even at many backup positions. As a result of his (supposed) retention, Charlie Weis will get at least one year to get behind the wheel of the offensive big rig that he (earnest praise for coach coming up here, so shield your eyes if you don't want to see it) worked his ever-loving ass off on the recruiting trail to build. Now, history (and statistics, q.v. supra) has (or have? Do parenthetical expressions change the plurality of a sentence's subject?) shown that developing high school talent into college football players is not even remotely within the skill set of this coaching staff, but I guess next year will be the big chance to prove or disprove that once and for all.

Defensively, the outlook is bright too, especially since the unit wasn't half bad to begin with this year. And, of course, the schedule, for better or for worse, will once again continue its path of being dumbed down. It's a little to early to go line-by-line and start picking games damn near a year in advance, but on paper I think it's fair to say that the Irish will have superior talent and experience (that latter being crucial to the equation) to 11 of the teams on the schedule.

In light of this, I think that expectations for 2009 should be very high (hopes, on the other hand, are free to and probably encouraged to plunge into the abyss). The standard for success for 2009 should be set very high, and withering punishment should be wrought down on those responsible if they are not attained.


You can allow yourselves to be relieved about the retention of Charlie Weis (even if you're among the television-smashing crowd, q.v. supra) because it means that this winter will not involve the bungling, super-publicized campaign of futility that would be a brand new athletic director still unpacking his clickly-clacky kinetic energy balls on string thing at his desk (I'll save you a thousand words and link a picture. What the hell are those things called?) ambling around the country looking for the sixth Irish coach of the decade without any sort of plan or design at all. Ceding 2009 to the "Hot Seat" gives the administration a chance to conduct its due diligence in the privacy of its own office. Regardless of whether it turns out to be necessary or not, the athletic department will need to spend the next year compiling names, checking (and re-checking, by God!) resum├ęs, and sending out innocuous, non-illegal feelers and whatnot so that a big, thick, detailed action plan (and I mean, literally, a giant book with one of those fancy leather covers) will be in hand if firing becomes necessary at the end of the year (note, this also means getting a very precise handle on this buyout clause).

We'll talk more about the objective standards of the Hot Seat as the season gets closer and we have a good handle on what the competition will be like, but as of today I think 10 regular season wins is a pretty safe number to guess, determined by "How many wins could [insert Tier 2 coaching candidate that we passed on this year, e.g. Brian Kelly] scrap together with this talent?" After that, it's just sit back and enjoy the ride. If Charlie Weis can do it, then saints be praised, we might actually be on the right track. If not, then at least his successor will be stepping into a much, much better job than the one he inherited. While I'm sure this legacy would be viewed as a crushing failure for a hyper-competitive guy like Weis who, let's face it, had wanted ("had wanted" sounds clumsy here, but I want to stress the use of the conditional tense. Using the past tense "wanted" would make it sound like his fate was already sealed, which it is this blog's editorial opinion that it is not) with all his being to succeed at this job, I think at the end of the day Irish fans, who have been through every form of soul-suckerpunching that exists over the last decade, will (erm, I mean, would), in time, learn to count it as a blessing.