If you guys haven't noticed the guys at One Foot Down have been helping us out all week as we get ready for the season opener against Notre Dame. In this edition of Bulls Recon, burger23 talks to us about Brian Kelly, expectations for 2011, and who he's excited to see play their first game with the Fighting Irish.
1. How are you guys enjoying the Brian Kelly era?
It’s hard to find any reason to complain about the job Kelly and his staff have done since they came on board last December. The big questions coming in were how Kelly’s spread offense would work at Notre Dame and whether he could recruit. While the offense was rather up and down in 2010, I was encouraged by the way the team ran the ball at the end of the year, and with Michael Floyd, Tyler Eifert, and Theo Riddick coming back, the passing game should be strong. As for recruiting, the Irish signed a strong class heavy on defensive linemen and has the makings of a good 2012 class so far. The biggest positive has to be Kelly’s dedication to improving the lines on both sides of the ball, something that has been a weakness seemingly since Lou Holtz left. Of course, Notre Dame fans won’t be truly happy until the Irish are playing in BCS bowl games on a consistent basis, making 2011 a big year for Brian Kelly.
2. There was a pretty big quarterback controversy between Tommy Rees and Dayne Crist. Do you think Kelly made the correct decision going with Crist?
Absolutely. I appreciate the job Tommy Rees did for the team when he filled in for Crist after he went down and I’m sure we could be successful with him at quarterback, but I think Crist gives us the best chance to become an elite team. Rees sports that shiny 4-0 mark as a starter, but the offense didn’t exactly light the world on fire with him behind center. That perfect mark was built mostly on a lights-out defense and a resurgent running game (and having Michael Floyd to throw to didn’t hurt). As I heard someone say once, Tommy Rees won’t lose you any games, but Dayne Crist can win you some games. Crist seemed to struggle at times running the new offense but also looked absolutely brilliant at times. He has all the tools necessary to be a very good quarterback.
3. Once again, you guys had a really good crop of kids come in to South Bend. Which newcomers are you excited to see?
That’s easy: Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt. Both are big time defensive end prospects that are only 18 years old but look like seniors. Lynch opened a lot of eyes during the Blue-Gold Game when he seemed to live in the backfield and made Trevor Robinson, about to enter his fourth year starting at right guard, look foolish. And Tuitt… Dear lawd that boy is huge. These are the types of linemen Notre Dame could never sign under Weis, so fans are especially excited to see them. Expect to see them play a couple snaps on Saturday against the Bulls.
4. If there is one big weakness on the team what is it?
Notre Dame is finally playing with a full cast of 85 scholarship players, but depth is still an issue at some positions. In the secondary, we have three solid safeties and two experienced corners, but the experience drops off dramatically after that.
On the offensive side, this may sound silly, but wide receiver is a concern. Floyd and Riddick are obviously great talents, but Notre Dame struggled to find a third receiver to compliment them last year. TJ Jones played well but disappeared at times and John Goodman has size and decent speed but hasn’t been very productive in his time in South Bend. I’m hoping youngsters Daniel Smith and Davaris Daniels can make an impact. Finally, depth at running back is almost dangerously thin. Cierre Wood is the established starter with senior Jonas Gray backing him up. Gray was a pretty big prospect coming out of high school but hasn’t seemed to put it together yet. After that, the Irish have a pair of true freshman in Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson III, who was supposed to be a slot receiver but was moved to running back out of necessity. Irish fans will be holding their breath every time Wood carries the ball.
5. How do you see this season playing out? Do you think that the Irish could be back in a BCS bowl this year?
Optimism is certainly high this year. The Irish are a bit of a trendy pick to make it to the BCS (when have we heard that before, right?). I think the Irish will definitely be better than they were last season. I’ve heard some people claim we have an easy schedule, but I think it’s actually quite tough. There are no gimmes, outside of Wake Forest and maybe Purdue. The first four games alone are USF, @Michigan, MSU, and @Pitt. It’s not like we’re playing Alabama every week, but I doubt many teams play that many quality opponents to start the season. Despite all that, the Irish should be favored in every game outside of Stanford and maybe USC and Michigan State. I think 9-3 is a fairly reasonable prediction with a late season loss to Stanford probably keeping the Irish out of the BCS. This team is too talented to win only 8 or fewer games. But double-digits are certainly attainable, and that would probably be enough to get Notre Dame back to the BCS.
6. Any predictions?
South Florida has a stout defense, but the offense was, quite frankly, pretty dreadful last season. I expect the Bulls to be well coached under Skip Holtz and BJ Daniels’ ability to keep plays alive with his legs scares me, but I think Notre Dame has too much talent for USF to keep up. If ND can force the Bulls to score 30 points to win, something I don’t think they can do, I think the Irish take the game. I doubt Notre Dame will win big, but I do think they win comfortably.ND 27, USF 17.
Thanks again to burger for helping us out, and check back to One Foot Down for my answers to his questions.