I have so many emotions about this weekend that I don’t know where to start. I am nervous and fired up. I am excited and I dread. I am sober and I’m drunk. You get the picture. Regardless, I am ready for victory. If you’ll be at the game, email us, we’ll have a beer. GO IRISH. With no further ado, S&T’s answers to my questions:
1. On Saturday night were you cheering for both Stanford and Baylor, one, or the other? Why?
Both, absolutely. Kansas State was a great story, and Oregon is fun to watch, but both were standing in the way of Notre Dame’s path to the national championship. I wanted to see us get to #1 because it would mean we would control our own destiny. Beat SC and the Irish will be in Miami – no questions asked. If we had been #2, I wouldn’t put it past some voters to still put Alabama/Georgia ahead of us in the final rankings. Not to mention, I almost always root for upsets (so long as my team isn’t the favorite). Watching those games with a dozen other Irish fans, especially the moment when the Ducks’ game–winning field goal attempt bounced off the post, is something I’ll never forget.
2. USC would love nothing more to play spoiler for suddenly-#1 Notre Dame. Name two reasons why we should be concerned that they might. Then 2 why we need not be concerned.
It’s USC, our rival. Anything can happen. These teams have played 83 times, and big games are nothing new. At the start of the year, the Trojans had a Heisman hopeful and title game aspirations. Now it’s the other way around. Their coach might be fighting to save his job, and USC has nothing left to play for this season, except trying to beat #1 Notre Dame.
Their receivers. Woods and Lee are unlike anyone Notre Dame has faced this season. Oklahoma had good receivers, but these guys are in a different league.
Two reasons why we shouldn’t be concerned:
Max Wittek. I just don’t see a quarterback making his first career start being able to do enough against this Irish defense to lead his team to victory. Barkley and Woods/Lee have shredded a few defenses throughout the season, but I would be shocked if Wittek had anywhere near the same level of success.
We’ve come too far. This team knows that #1 ranking is all for nothing if it doesn’t beat SC. Behind the leadership of its seniors, I think the Irish will find a way to get it done. They’ve done a great job of taking the season one game at a time, and I certainly don’t expect them to look past the Trojans, just because they’re 7-4 and playing without their starting quarterback.
3. Looking back on this season, what’s the #1 reason for ND’s 11-0 record. Try not to focus on individual tactical factors, but rather broad themes or changes this year vs year’s prior. What helped us get here?
Two things that sort of go hand in hand: A change in culture and leadership. Coach Kelly and his staff have established a different culture in South Bend. Having been connected to the program in each of the past two seasons, I’ve seen how close of a team these guys are. They’re playing for one another. They’re playing for Notre Dame. They’re not playing for themselves. That’s not to say that teams in the previous regime were selfish or divided. I don’t know if they were. But everything I’ve heard was that Weis ran his program much more like a pro team. I think this season is a product of the foundation that was put in place in the past two seasons, and the relationships formed between these coaches and players.
From a leadership perspective, the four captains are outstanding. But it doesn’t stop there. There are numerous other seniors – Cave, Golic, Goodman, Toma, Slaughter, Motta – just to name a few – that have been integral parts of this team, on and off the field. As fans, we’re hungry for a national championship, but it’s nothing compared to how badly these guys want it.
And finally, you can’t give enough credit to the strength and conditioning and nutrition staffs. They’ve got this team in peak condition, and they’re the ones helping the Fighting Irish win those close games like Stanford and Pittsburgh. In past years, we ended up on the wrong side of many of those down-to-the-wire contests, especially towards the end of the season.