Man, Josh Flynt, Notre Dame’s Official Sports Blogger, keeps getting really lucky — this is the second time in a row he’s run into me for the Irish Blogger Gathering!
Naturally, coming off of a scary, almost-upset bid vs Pittsburgh, many questions remain about which Irish team will show up versus Boston College. Here’s what I asked Josh:
1. Boston College is humorously (but seriously) nicknamed Backup College by Notre Dame students. But BC is so bad this year that I’m not sure their starters could be our backups — is there any position battle that they would/should best us in or we should be particularly worried about?
If there is one, I don’t see it. The Eagles pass for more yards per game, but the Irish make up for that on the ground.
We might be able to learn a thing or two from Spiffy Evans (what a name!), who has helped Boston College to – get this – a first place national ranking in punt return average. The Eagles have nine returns for 225 yards, including an 82-yard touchdown from Evans on Sept. 8 against Maine.
2. Notre Dame has been completely average at best when it comes to special teams so far this season, particularly in the punt return game. Because this game is supposedly an easy win (and we’ve already had our wake-up call to keep us focused), do we look to get something going there (or actually break through), or do you think we are pretty content just catching the ball?
I was a marketing major, but I’m going to rely on some (very) basic finance for this one: Return on investment. It’s certainly not to say the team/coaching staff doesn’t make time for practice punt returns, because I’m sure they do. However, I don’t believe it’s a top priority.
Defense wins games. Offense wins games. Kicking wins games. Rarely do punt returns win games.
Maybe this is too conservative, but I think there’s a much greater likelihood of fumbling or suffering an injury than there is of breaking off a long game-changing punt return. Even a solid return might only pick up 10-15 yards. While people have been critical of Notre Dame’s offensive inconsistency this season, the Irish have done a pretty darn good job of moving the football when they need to get points.
Sure, there’s the rare occasion that a punt returner takes it to the house, but is it worth the risk of potentially losing the ball deep in one’s own territory? I’m not a football coach, but if I was, punt returns would be towards the bottom of my priority list.
That being said, Davonte Neal is a talented freshman, and I hope he gets more involved during these next few games – whether it be on punt returns, or somewhere else offensively. Otherwise, I think it’s a little disappointing that he’s using a year of his eligibility.
3. Bigger picture question — if Notre Dame is to blow out Boston College as expected, will the Irish gain some immediate respect back in the eyes of the pollsters? Or does struggling against Pitt outweigh anything the Irish could prove this week?
No. People expect blowouts against Boston College – and for that matter, Wake Forest. Only a 1966-esque blowout win at Southern Cal might help the Irish with “style points.”
For as much as I’d like to think the Fighting Irish control their own destiny, at this point, I don’t think there’s anything they can do to leapfrog the teams in front of them (unless Alabama, Oregon or Kansas Statelose, obviously). Getting to the national championship game will require more than just wins against BC, Wake Forest, and Southern Cal.
And honestly, even if the Irish had beaten Pitt by three touchdowns, I still think they would be on the outside looking in. The BCS is flawed. I love college football, and I love bowl season, but the sport will be much better off when the playoff debuts in 2014.