Independents Football Preview
Notre Dame wants a BCS bowl game
By Raphielle Johnson
Is Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis sitting on a hot seat?
Some may say so while others will state that he’s got more time to get the
Irish back to being “Notre Dame”. But there is no argument when it comes to how
important a big year would be for he and his program. After ending 2008 on an
upswing thanks to a blowout of
QB Jimmy Clausen took ownership of the offense in the
offseason, hosting a few of the wide receivers at his home in
Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, Duval Kamara and tight end Kyle Rudolph make up a quartet of receivers that can give opponents fits all season long. And in talking about the passing game one must not discount RB Armando Allen, who finished second on the team with fifty receptions in 2008. Allen was part of a three-back platoon in the run game, with Allen, Robert Hughes and James Aldridge all rushing for at least three hundred yards apiece. Jonas Gray also saw action and stands to add depth to the position. Up front the Irish return four starters with seniors Sam Young and Chris Stewart leading the way.
Defensively, Notre Dame will need to return more than a few contributors to the 2008 edition. Six starters return, but the Irish will have to replace defensive mainstays David Bruton and Maurice Crum Jr. Leading tackler Kyle McCarthy, who finished 2008 with 110 tackles and two interceptions, is back as is fellow safety Harrison Smith. Linebacker is a position where youngsters could make the biggest impact, with Brian Smith being the lone returning starter at the position. Senior Toryan Smith has a wealth of experience, and he’ll now start in the middle.
Strongside linebacker will be an interesting competition to watch, with senior Scott Smith looking to hold off challenges from sophomores Darius Fleming and Steve Filer. Other youngsters expected to earn snaps this season include sophomores David Posluszny and Anthony McDonald, and highly touted freshman Manti Te’o. The secondary may be in the best shape of any unit despite the graduation of Bruton.
The aforementioned McCarthy and Harrison Smith are back, as is corner Raeshon McNeil. McNeil finished 2008 with two interceptions, tying McCarthy in that category for the returnees. The special teams will also be solid thanks to the abilities of kicker Brandon Walker and punter Eric Maust. Both will be challenged by freshmen in the form of kicker Nick Tausch and punter Ben Turk and the Irish will also look to duplicate 2008’s kick return unit, which led the nation by allowing just 16.5 yards per kickoff return.
The pieces are there for a run back to the BCS, especially considering the personnel losses that hit many of their opponents on the 2009 schedule. But has Notre Dame matured enough to handle the heightened expectations? That’s a question that will have to be answered in time.
Due to the difference in talent pools that they can recruit
from, the service academies have leaned upon option offenses for years. The
objective of the coaching staff in the spring was to make sure they had players
in the positions where they’d be most effective within the triple option
system. That’s why you’ll see 6-foot-10 Ali Villanueva, who started spring
drills by moving from tackle to guard, now on the field as…a starter at wide
receiver. Damion Hunter and
But the key positions in the triple option are the spots in the backfield. Chip Bowden and Max Williams entered fall camp in a tight battle for the starting spot, and senior Carson Williams and sophomore Jimmy Reiter will also work in hopes of garnering a look under center. There were also changes on the line with Coach Ellerson favoring slimmer linemen that can move their feet, thus making the triple option a true threat to defenses. If your linemen can’t move with fluidity you’re going to have a hard time springing the option attack loose.
CeDarius Williams will look to replace the departed Collin Mooney at fullback, and that will not be an easy task. Mooney rushed for 1,339 yards in 2008, breaking the school’s single-season yardage record (considering that Army also produced Glenn Davis and Felix “Doc” Blanchard, “Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside”, that’s an amazing feat). Slotbacks Patrick Mealy, Jameson Carter, Ian Smith and George Fletcher are all in the running to see playing time as well; everyone will be given a fair chance to go out and earn snaps.
The lines are in a state of change, with the offensive line
looking to get quicker and the defensive line getting acquainted with the
“Double Eagle Flex” system that Coach Ellerson actually helped devise. The work
of he and others on that
At linebacker Stephen Anderson is the lone returning
starter, leading the Black Knights with eighty-two tackles in 2008. Due to a
hamstring injury during the spring other players (notably Bill Prosko and Andre
Shinda) got an opportunity to compete at middle linebacker in
The secondary has a lot of experience, with Mario Hill and Jordan Trimble being the leading candidates to start at corner. Safeties Donovan Travis and Desmond Lamb are just two players with game experience who should fit into the new system quite well. Matt Campbell performed well as the placekicker in 2008, but there is a question to be answered in regards to the punting job. It may be a bit too much to expect huge strides in the won-lost record for Army, but if they can improve upon last season’s win total (3) it would be a good start to the Ellerson era.
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo had a tough task in front of him
in taking over for the departed Paul Johnson in 2008. But there wasn’t drop in
Navy has a number of experienced players back on campus, with quarterback Ricky Dobbs looking to lead the Midshipmen back to a bowl game. Dobbs played in eight games last season despite the presence of Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada and Jarod Bryant, rushing for more than 500 yards on the season. But the question will be in the backfield, with leading rushers Shun White and Eric Kettani both graduating. Alexander Teich has the inside track on the fullback position while Bobby Doyle and Marcus Curry left spring on top of the depth chart at the slotback positions.
Navy also enjoys the comforts of having some experience at wide receiver as well as on the offensive line. Mario Washington and Mike Schnupp are the likely starters and they’ll have a lot to do in replacing 2008 leading receiver Tyree Barnes. On the offensive line LG Osei Asante leads a group that features two seniors and two juniors heading into 2009. Sophomore Brady DeMell is the lone underclassman starting on the offensive line this season.
Defensively the Midshipmen return a number of experienced options on all three levels. Jabaree Tuani, who was named ECAC Rookie of the Year last season, is back on the defensive line as are seniors Michael Walsh, Matt Nechak and Jordan Stephens. But for as much experience as there is up front, the linebackers may make up the best group within the defense. Ross Pospisil, Clint Sovie and Ram Vela are all back for one more rodeo, as are inside linebacker Tony Haberer and outside linebacker Craig Schaefer. In a 3-4 scheme you’re only as good as your linebackers, and the Midshipmen have some very good answers at the position.
The secondary has just one senior starter in corner Blake
Carter, and he’s also the secondary’s leading returning interceptor with just
one pick. Players such as Carter, free safety Kwesi Mitchell and rover Wyatt
Middleton will have their work cut out for them in replacing standouts such as
Rashawn King and Ketric Buffin, both of whom tallied three interceptions in
2008. If the secondary can make strides in fall
However, the kicking game will be an area to watch as well. Punter Kyle Delahooke is back after averaging 41.6 yards per punt in 2008, but how will Coach Niumatalolo go about replacing the reliable Matt Harmon? Sophomore Jon Teague led the kicking battle heading into fall camp, but he’s yet to attempt a field goal at the collegiate level.
Also working against the Midshipmen in regards to answering questions about the secondary and kicking game are the first three games of the season: at Ohio State, Louisiana Tech and at Pittsburgh. That could put their streak of six straight seasons with eight wins or more in jeopardy.
Storyline: Can Notre Dame take advantage of a manageable schedule and get back into BCS bowl contention?
Players of the Year: Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen and Notre Dame SS Kyle McCarthy
How they’ll finish
Notre Dame 9-3
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