Today, I’m taking over the IBG from Tex, who is nursing a nasty hamster bite on his typing hand. As I understand the rules, four questions will magically appear here, each one posed by a different blog. They are, in no particular order, Strong & True, NDNation, UHND.com, and Inside the Irish. I have sent my question to them, and their answers will be linked as they go live.
My question: Does this 8-4 feel any different to you than Brian Kelly’s previous 8-4′s under the Dome? What I mean by this question is this: did this team under-, or over-, perform in your eyes, or did you get what you expected from the 2013 Fighting Irish? Does the loss of Coach Martin change your outlook on 2014? Does the “gain” of Golson?
Aaron Horvath (Strong & True): Now that the 12-game regular season is done, give me the player who surprised you the most this season and the player you are most excited about for next season?
In a deflationary way, I was equally surprised by Tuitt and Nix, whose injuries robbed them of what I had hoped were going to be exclamatory seasons. That said, Jarron Jones most surprised me. Why? I expected a lot of Jaylon Smith and TJ Jones, and I got what I expected out of Tommy Rees and Davaris and Hercules. I also like redemption stories, and Jones can be one. He was a beast against BYU, with a blocked punt and seven tackles, and earned his start against Stanford, where he picked up four more tackles. He has all the ability to be a starter next season. The question is whether he seizes the moment.
Frank Vitovitch (UHND.com): What position where Notre Dame will be replacing starters in 2014 concerns you the most heading into the off-season. Additionally, what position where Notre Dame returns starters in 2014 needs to see the most improvement for the Irish to get into the playoff conversation next year?
To me, both questions are answered in the same position: quarterback. The loss of Everett Golson was massive. Getting him back should be as well. I think if you look at the limitations Tommy Rees forced upon the offense, e.g. being in the shotgun on certain short yardage plays, you can look back on the season wistfully and think of what could have been. Compare Tommy’s arm to Golson’s or their ability to extend plays with their feet. Or to pick up that first down by themselves. Tommy teased us in Fall practice by scrambling for a touchdown. In retrospect, it was nothing more than a poignant homage to what could have been.
Mike Coffey (NDNation.com): As Brian Kelly searches for a new offensive coordinator, what direction do you hope he’ll go? Should he promote from within, or should he look outside? Either way, what name is on top of your list?
There are really only two names Notre Dame should consider: Lou Holtz and Ara Parseghian. If neither of them are possibilities, and that’s after Swarbrick takes out the check book, writes a one and a comma and says, “I’m going to start writing zeroes, you tell me when to stop,” I think Kelly needs to look within the program, and then at Mike Denbrock. Tony Alford is a close second (or fourth if Holtz and Parseghian are not being considered). For candidates from without, Kelly needs to make some unannounced visits to NFL teams.
Keith Arnold (Inside the Irish): With the Irish not playing in a top-tier bowl, how do you treat the practice and run-up to the game? Is it best served getting young players practice and game reps? Is winning the game most important? If you’re Brian Kelly, what are your priorities?
I treat it as an opportunity to win another football game. “Nine and four” looks better than “eight and five” and there’s some internet rumor swirling around that Notre Dame doesn’t fare well in bowl games that I would like to deflate a little with a December win. The extra practices are incredibly valuable to the young players generally speaking, but the way we sit with injuries, most of them have seen and will continue to see plenty of reps come gameday. If you can reward a senior or otherwise-departing player with a chance to get their jersey dirty, that’s a real plus, but I would devote most of my effort to winning the game.