How Low Can the Irish Go?
by Trevor Whenham - 09/18/2007
Wow. As I was watching the Michigan-Notre Dame game on Saturday that word kept coming to my mind. The more I watched, the harder I found it to believe that any team could be as irredeemably bad as the Irish are. I have spent the last 30 hours or so since the game ended trying to come up with one nice thing to say about the team, but I can't. The offense is truly incompetent, the defense is worse, the special teams are hopeless, and there is apparently a total talent vacuum in South Bend. The kick returners looked like they have the potential to be good, but they did little in the end, and the team could do nothing with the field position they did earn. Michigan went from doormats to dominators in one week thanks to Notre Dame, and freshman QB Ryan Mallett had perhaps the easiest first start any young quarterback has ever had against a major program. In all the many years I have been watching football I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen all four defensive linemen get to the quarterback at the same time. It happened to Jimmy Clausen twice.
There is enough fodder available that I could write about how terrible this team is (no touchdowns in 12 quarters?!?!?), but that's not what we are here for. What we do need to figure out is how bad this team could get, and whether they are worth any betting consideration. In theory, the public should be deserting the team en masse, so there could be value on the team if there was even the smallest reason to be optimistic. Is there any reason, though? Here's a look:
Offense: Ugly. If Jimmy Clausen doesn't have his confidence totally shredded then he is going to be a solid player, but Joe Montana couldn't do anything in this offense as it is. The running game is in desperate need of a workhorse, the receivers are next to useless, and Clausen has defensive players down his throat within seconds of taking the snap on every single play. It would be one thing if the team had one part of the offensive unit that could be relied upon disproportionately while everyone else catches up, but there is literally nothing to build on. Michigan showed how to make a young quarterback who might not yet be quite ready for the big time comfortable - give him a running game that can be relied upon for 200 yards and 40 plays. Notre Dame's leading rusher has 87 yards in three games, and their second most ground yards come from a quarterback who now attends Northern Illinois. The one faint glimmer of hope is that both Clausen and backup Evan Sharpley have been reasonably accurate and somewhat effective given all that they have to overcome, but serious numbers are still a long way off. How bad is it? A defense that gave up 624 net yards to Oregon one week earlier used essentially the same personnel to limit Notre Dame to 79. The offense will not be winning any games.
Defense: Ugly. Three games, 104 points against. Three sacks. One interception. A whopping 239 rushing yards allowed. Per game. You could argue that the fact that they have allowed a total of just 342 yards passing, but that hardly matters when you consider that they have played two quarterbacks making their first start, or that the opponents have not needed to pile up passing yards to score points by the ton. The team can't tackle, can't pressure a quarterback, can't stop the run, and can't do anything to make even the most inexperienced quarterback uneasy. The defense won't single handedly win any games, either.
Schedule: Ugly. Consecutive home games against Navy, Air Force and Duke followed by a trip to Stanford should be just what the doctor ordered for a mightily struggling team, but to get to that they first have to play Michigan State, Purdue, UCLA, Boston College and USC. The two Big Ten teams are better than expected, Boston College is impressively unbeaten, UCLA should be much better than they were this week, and there is absolutely no way that this team will beat USC. It would take a total miracle for this team to get the six wins it would need for a bowl berth. At this point it would take a serious change, or a lot of them, for this team to avoid 0-8.
Coaching: Charlie Weis is a genius. I know that because I am told that at least 30 times every time I see Notre Dame play. I just don't see a lot of evidence of it. At a time when Ty Willingham has Washington well ahead of schedule and George O'Leary almost earned an upset of Texas, Weis has his team looking as bad as a major program can look. He said in his post-game press conference that he was going to act as if it was the first day of training camp all over again, but it's hard to see how that will help. This team has already been through one Weis training camp, after all, and it's hard to see how there is enough talent and potential for 40 training camps to make a significant difference. Weis deserves enough respect that I have to say that he can fix some of the many problems that his team has, but this team could be 10 times better than they were on Saturday and they still would have lost by two touchdowns.
The verdict: Notre Dame is 0-3 ATS. Obviously. The problem is that the spreads are going to start to get big enough that they may be able to find a way to cover them. I truly don't see them winning more than one outright in the next five weeks, but they could cover a couple (they did come within 3.5 points of covering against Penn State). Or they could fail to cover any. At this point the team is so bad, and yet so much in the public eye, that the spreads are going to be a mess, and I would struggle to come up with a good reason to even considering betting on or against them. Notre Dame is a car wreck, and the thing to do when you see a car wreck is slow down and stare at the carnage as you keep on driving by.