at Notre Dame
Offensive Starters Returning: 7 (QB, RB, FB, WR, OT, OG, OC)
Defensive Starters Returning: 9 (2DE, 2DT, LB, 2CB, SS, FS)
Specialists Returning: 0
Offense: All hail Lord Jabba! He is an offensive genius, this unit cannot be stopped! This unit was indeed good last year, but let’s give credit for that to Weis, rather than Brady Quinn (who I see as one of the most overrated players in a very very long time). Despite losing a starter in Maurice Stovall, the Wrs will still be good with Rhema McKnight returning from a medical redshirt season last year. That’s right, before you give Weis credit for finding a diamond in the rough in Jeff Samardzija, a player that Ty Willingham refused to start, keep in mind that he wasn’t supposed to start last year, either! I think he is a great player, though not a burner, and he will be a legitimate threat opposite McKnight. RB Darius Walker is still just a slightly quicker Hart-lite. The offensive line will probably be the weak point, with Weis’s recruits unable to step in right away. Also, Quinn loses his safety valve (and one of his favorite receivers) in TE Anthony Fasano.
Defense: This was a big weakness for the Irish last year, and I expect that trend to continue. Had our offense not sucked last year, we could have put up 30 points on the Notre Dame defense. (Even as poorly as we played, a missed read for an easy Touchdown, and goalline-gate took away 14 points that we should have had). The secondary and the line both return all their starters, with Tom Zbikowski being the highlight of the backfield, and DE Victor Abiamiri being the supposed stud up front. The Irish lose probably their best defensive player in LB Corey Mays. The line is weak aside from Abiamiri (who I see as overrated), and we should be able to run the ball against the new linebackers. The secondary, despite all returning, was pitiful against the pass last year.
Special Teams: P/K DJ Fitzpatrick is gone, so the Irish will be looking for a new leg. Tom Zbikowski will probably handle return and boxing duties for the Irish again. I didn’t see Zbikoski as much of a threat last year, but he did manage to take two all the way back, so be wary.
Other: This will be a big-time game for us. Although Michigan (unlike, say, an Ohio State) famously does not circle dates on their calendar, I see this as the biggest game of the year (yes, even bigger than the third weekend in November). Going against a team that will probably be ranked at or near #1, with a revenge/chip-on-shoulder attitude, this game will tell the tale of the whole season. The game is also sandwiched between a Penn State home game and a Michigan State road game for the Irish, so it’s questionable whether they can afford to circle this date as much as we can. Our schedule, with this game flanked by home contests with Central Michigan and a down Wisconsin team, is decidedly easier. The home-field advantage of all the fairweather ND fans may be a factor in this contest.
Conclusion: To be honest, we should have won this game last year, and I feel the same way about it again. With a good but not great offense, and a still weak defense (but watch out when Weis’s recruits start hitting the field), this game should be winnable. I see it as pretty much a tossup, and hope it is the game that derails ND’s presumed National Championship train.
Posted under Analysis