Thank you to Matt at We Never Graduate for writing the questions for the Western Michigan edition of the Irish Blogger Gathering.
1. The Irish have posted back-to-back victories over teams that have given us fits the past decade to pull back to .500, but when you head to the message boards on ND Nation, Rivals, etc. all you see is unrelenting negativity. Some cry Kelly's in over his head and doomed to fail, others bitch and moan about the run-to-pass ratio, and many more say that even though we've won the last two there's no improvement over last year's team. What's your take on the negativity that's swirling around the program on the internet? What message would you like to convey to ND Nation?
tendomer: Fans write on message boards largely to express their complaints. They're inherently negative. I am also disappointed with certain aspects of the team, but for those who suggest this team is worse than last year's team, I would encourage them to look at the end of this season at the team's record in 2009 and 2010 against the eight common opponents relative to both years. Comparing across years, it's 3-3 with Navy and USC to go. ND lost to both last year, and that won't happen again.
2. When Western Michigan and Tulsa were announced as 2010 opponents last fall there was a full-throttle meltdown among ND fans that was surpassed only by The F-Word Incident in April in terms of sheer outrage. Well, if the opinions expressed then are the same now the apocalypse has finally arrived and a MAC squad is about to forever sully our field by stepping foot on it. Have your thoughts on the Western Michigan/Tulsa games changed since they were announced? Would you rather ND Stadium sell out and continue the streak that extends back almost 40 years or see the streak broken so that the powers-that-be know just how disrespected you feel by the audacity they showed in scheduling such inferior opponents?
tendomer: I wouldn't wish for a non-sellout to make a point, especially to a man who knows what the problem is and has worked to rectify it almost completely. Swarbrick scheduled WMU because his predecessor left him and the university in a huge bind with a poor model and even worse contract skills. Swarbrick's addition of Miami and Texas to already tough schedules proved his worth. ND is No. 18 in Jeff Sagarin's strength of strength rankings right now. I don't feel bad about bringing a MAC school to ND Stadium. It's not like an FCS opponent. I think Swarbrick agrees it's better to do a home-and-home with a BCS bottom feeder (see Wake Forest signing). People were mad because WMU and Tulsa were on the schedule in the same year and they thought this was a sign of things to come. Swarbrick showed that it's not. As soon as 2011 the schedule will be stacked with ten BCS opponents, Navy, and an Air Force team that's currently ranked. 2011 and 2012 will both be among the hardest schedules in the country.
3. Most people painted AD Jack Swarbrick as the villain when the Western Michigan/Tulsa games were made public. Since then he's made drastic moves in locking down opponents on future schedules, went through the process of firing Weis and hiring Kelly, and navigated ND through the murky waters of conference realignment. Has your personal opinion on Swarbrick been altered over the past year?
TheNDleprechaun: I had a chance to sit down with Mr. Swarbrick at the end of last year, and I was more than impressed with his knowledge of Notre Dame history. I was sold the minute he told me that he considers Jesse Harper to be his top Notre Dame hero. No one has a better grasp of what it means to be in charge of athletics at Notre Dame than this man. Not only does he have an amazing track record as a tremendous organizational leader, but he is a true Domer who loves his alma mater. When he is not working tirelessly for the Fighting Irish, he can be seen cheering on all of our teams from the sidelines. When it came to hiring coach Kelly, he conducted a top-secret campaign that would make Ethan Hawk from Mission Impossible jealous. I would love to know exactly what happened in the days leading up to that hiring, and I can only hope that he writes a book about his time at Notre Dame one day. To answer the question, I have always had full confidence in Mr. Swarbrick and recent developments only serve as further evidence that he is the right man for the job at Notre Dame. Obliterating WMU and Tulsa won't be all that painful, especially considering that I haven't witnessed a blowout victory at home since we overwhelmed Nevada (who are, interestingly enough, currently ranked #19) 35-0 on opening day last year. Also, I'd like anyone complaining about our scheduling to ask themselves what other school could possibly pull off playing in Yankee Stadium, Soldier Field, and Aviva Stadium (in Dublin) over the next three years... that's right... only Notre Dame.
4. We're at the halfway point so it's a perfect time to step back real quick and evaluate what's happened thus far. What have been your two biggest surprises at this juncture of the season? Choose one positive and one negative.
FightinIrish1313: Question number four was the toughest question I’ve ever had to answer in my life for two reasons: I don’t know how I am expected to limit myself to one disappointment this season and I don’t know what about the team has surprised me in a positive manner. Obviously as seen through my season prediction I never would have guessed that we would be 3-3 at the halfway mark of the season, so that is my overbearing disappointment. After writing out a few of my individual disappointments I guess that my biggest surprise would be at how poorly the rushing game has come together this season. With Armando Allen and Cierre Wood in the backfield, there should be no reason that we aren’t averaging over 100 yards per game on the ground. Cierre rushed for more yards in the first game than he has in the rest of the five games combined, and Allen has yet to hit the century mark. I know that we are a pass first offense but there is no excuse for not utilizing two talented backs on the ground or with the air attack. Not only would it help open up the receivers more but also help with the clock management issue we are clearly struggling with. I hope that these two talented athletes get more touches in the next six games and that we can have more than 2 rushing touchdowns by the backs during that period.
I expected that Theo Riddick and Carlo Calabrese would have exceptional seasons, so I can’t consider their outstanding performances to be a surprise. What I did not expect, however, was that the University of Notre Dame’s offensive MVP would be a walk on. I knew that Ruffer was a great kicker, but I did not expect him to be 100% on all attempts halfway through the season. He is the definition of a team player and it is a shame that he does not have a scholarship when a free one was awarded to someone just because of his father’s name.
5. Which player that hasn't contributed much to this point in the season do you see emerging as a contributor down the stretch?
FightinIrish1313: I guess my answer would have to be Ragone. He is finally having a healthy season and will be much needed over the next six games. With Rudolph out Mike will finally have his chance to shine and sure as hell better do so. I expect him not only to be ready to make key catches downfield but also to help the struggling offensive line better open holes for the ground game. He was finally incorporated in the passing game last week, expect him to put up more than 11 yards in the second half of the year.
6. Scholarships are running thin and some tough decisions are going to have to be made this spring when it comes to offering 5th years to current seniors. If you're Coach Kelly who do you offer and who is left out in the cold to make room for the incoming freshman class?
tendomer: Given the talent remaining on ND's recruiting board, I think Gray, Smith, and Dever are the only locks for a fifth year. Between Romine and Nuss, I think only one will get a fifth year unless ND has extra space as recruiting crystallizes. Despite Nuss' versatility, Romine probably has the upper hand if the starting lineup from last week is any indication. I think Nwankwo (fourth-best DE now but could be sixth if and when Tuitt and Lynch arrive) and Ragone (Rudolph is more likely to stay now that rehab will probably last through the NFL Combine) are both long shots because they're dependent on recruiting falling apart or another player leaving early.
Jordan Prestwood's recent decommitment shows just how fluid the situation is. If Floyd, Rudolph, and four fifth years are on scholarship next year and the staff doesn't renew former walk-on Nate Montana's free ride, ND could take five more commitments in this class if the prospects are good enough. ND should aggressively recruit the remaining dozen or so seniors on the board, knowing that it won't land the majority of them anyway. By the beginning of the spring semester (Jan. 18) and the NFL's deadline for underclassmen entrants to withdraw (it was Jan. 18 last season and could change slightly for 2011), the staff will have a good picture of where on-the-fence fifth-year candidates stand.
7. *****BONUS***** You've been challenged to a Tailgate Olympiad by some chaunce from Southern Cal and you need to assemble a dream team of your fellow Irish fans to compete in the following events:
* Full Beer Flip Cup (four-man team)
Who else could I possibly turn to for a strong start than the greatest four-man combo in Notre Dame history? The Four Horsemen would set the tone early for the Irish in this one.
* Hamburger Eating Contest (two-man team)
Something tells me that the brothers Golic would dominate this event. I challenge anyone from Cal Southern to find a better duo than Bob and Mike.
* Beer Pong
In their prime, the two greatest hardwood legends in Notre Dame history would be unbeatable once they adjusted their stroke to the pong table. Austin Carr (all-time career and single-season scoring leader) and Adrian Dantley (second all-time in scoring and first in free throws made) would not disappoint.
* Cornhole/Bags/Whatever You Call It
I'd have to go with two more Notre Dame Basketball greats: Colin Falls (all-time record for three pointers made with 189) and Tim Abromaitis, who has personally shut me out in cornhole on numerous occasions.
* Individual Case Race
Windell Middlebrooks - also known as the Miller High Life Guy - could be seen on the sidelines rocking a green ND jersey last season. Not only would he have little trouble downing an entire case, but he would steal his opponent's beer of choice only to replace it with an inferior product.
* Thunderdome (one shotgun per minute until someone can't answer the bell)
His nickname says it all: Angelo "The Springfield Rifle" Bertelli was more than an All-American at Notre Dame. For a man who was awarded a Heisman Trophy, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart all in the same year, I have no doubt that he could take care of business against Cal Southern no matter what the challenge entailed.
1. Survivor - Eye of the Tiger (to get in the zone)
2. Queen - We are the Champions (to celebrate our win)
3. The Greatest of all University Fight Songs, The Notre Dame Victory March
|Livin' the High Life|