Archive for October, 2007

Taking Stock, Part II: Identity crisis

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

(This is Part 2 in a series of three posts evaluating the first eight weeks of the season and looking forward to what’s ahead. Part 1, “19 reasons why Notre Dame’s offense has sucked so badly in 2007,” is available here.)

Will the real Charlie Weis please stand up?

In the span of a mere three years, the head coach of the Fighting Irish has gone from an unknown quantity with a whole lot of jewelry on his fingers, to the savior of a program that had been mired in a decade of mediocrity, to a clever schemer with a penchant for running up the score on service academies who couldn’t win the big game, to an inept loser arrogantly presiding over the downfall of his alma mater’s proudest athletic program. The following numbers might be able to give some sense of the reasons for this transition:

Put another way, for those of you who prefer graphical representations to hard statistics:

And again, if you’d really just rather have it summed up in a picture:

Nope, there’s no way to get around it: the 2007 version of the Fighting Weises has been bad - really bad, especially on the offensive end. And I argued yesterday that none of the eighteen other explanations we might give of this team’s struggles can carry as much weight as the one that starts and ends with the head coach himself. In case my argument wasn’t good enough for you, though, here’s Weis saying pretty much the same thing in his Tuesday press conference:

Q. For those of us who haven’t followed Notre Dame football as closely as those people who cover it on a regular basis or are fans, could you kind of just quickly summarize what you feel has happened this year? Is it simply a case of being hit hard by graduation and the younger players who have been asked to fill in just haven’t performed or were not ready or the inexperience? In your overall big picture analysis, what’s led to 1 and 7?

COACH WEIS: Well, that’s a loaded question. (laughter) Well, first of all, let’s start with coaching, because what you just did in your question is gave me about 15 different excuses for us being 1 and 7, so why don’t we just start with 1 probably, with the transition that we’ve had from last year to this year, have not done the best job of having the team ready to go on a week in and week out basis, and we probably should leave it at that one because if you are looking for me to give you a whole dossier of problems that have happened this year, there would be too many things. If you want good fodder, let’s just throw me out there, okay.

Q. But in general, though, the fact that you have such an inexperienced team is a crucial factor…

COACH WEIS: It’s a factor, but that’s what it is. It’s a factor. It’s not the factor. There’s a lot of things that come — I think when you do that — once again, it would be easy for me to sit there and say, well, if these five things weren’t the case we’d be 7 and 1 right now. Well, the problem is they are the case. I started with what I felt was the number one reason, and I think that if you start with the head coach doing a better job, then you’d probably have a better record.

Now, all of this raises a natural question: which Weis is the real Weis? The one whose team had nineteen wins, many of them in blowout fashion, in 2005 and 2006, going to two straight BCS bowls and re-writing the offensive record books in the process, or the one who’s the head coach of a bowl-ineligible team that’s currently 1-7 and on pace to re-write those record books in quite a different way?

The primary schools of though on this question break down into two major groups:

  • The Dr. Jekyll Theory: Charlie Weis is an offensive genius and a brilliant head coach who’s simply been crippled by an undertalented and inexperienced roster this year. Sure, he’s made some mistakes in the way he’s done things - e.g. by not having enough full-contact practices, or doing too much scheming instead of taking a more piecemeal approach - but on the whole there aren’t any problems he can’t fix. We just need to be patient with him, and give him a chance to get his players on the field.
  • The Mr. Hyde Theory: Charlie Weis is the worst coach in the universe. He’s too fat, too stupid, too stubborn, and too ugly. He rode the coattails of Tom Brady while he was with the Patriots, and did the same with Brady Quinn and the rest of Tyrone Willingham’s recruits in his first two years at Notre Dame. Now, without a bunch of stars to carry him along, his true ineptitude is being exposed.

The argument I want to make here is that Charlie Weis is actually both of these characters at once: he’s Dr. Jekyll AND Mr. Hyde, the creative genius AND the over-scheming fool, the coach who squeezes the most out of his veteran players AND the man lucky enough to ride his star talent to victory. In other words, what we’ve seen in 2007 is just the other side of the coin from the previous two years.

Here’s why I say this. In the first place, I think the advocates of the “Mr. Hyde” theory are right to insist that the deficiencies in Weis’s coaching this year have gone far beyond problems of the “learning curve” variety: for example, while there’s no doubt that Weis was speaking truly when he said that he’s never been part of a team that practiced full-speed during the season, it’s also the case that he has a number of assistants on his team who presumably have seen that done, as well as other college coaches he knows who can tell him how they practice with their own squads. And even as Weis has begun to alter the way he runs practices, the reports I’ve seen indicate that the changes have been less than wholesale (with the possible exception of the “back to training camp” week following the Michigan game). In other words, the fact that Weis runs his practices in this particular way seems to be more than just an accident, more than just the result of ignorance: it’s plausibly an essential, if not quite central, aspect of the way he thinks that teams should prepare for games.

Similarly, consider the case of game-by-game adjustments in the offensive schemes. There’s no doubt that this sort of thing is a crucial part of Weis’s approach to gameplanning, and that it was a huge element of his success in the NFL and in his first two seasons with the Irish. But there’s also no denying that it’s been a big part of what’s kept this offense from generating any consistent production. The key thing, though, is that this sort of constant tinkering is just a part of who Weis is: if he doesn’t do it, he simply isn’t going to be successful; but when he does do it, it’s sometimes going to blow up in his face.

In other words, both of these examples - and I think there are many, many others - suggest that the aspects of Weis’s coaching style that have doomed the 2007 squad aren’t just accidental traits of a coach trying to figure out the college game. Rather, they’re just parts of what make him Charlie Weis, as opposed to Tyrone Willingham, Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, or Pete Carroll. And so on reflection, it really shouldn’t be surprising that with Weis at the head, this particular Irish team has performed so poorly. He simply isn’t the right coach to make this group look even mildly respectable against teams like the ones they’ve played so far.

But on the other hand … there’s NO reason to deny the obvious fact that VERY SAME coaching style was a HUGE part of Notre Dame’s success in 2005 and 2006. Given a (relatively) experienced group of savvy veterans, a quarterback who soaked up the playbook like a sponge and practically had to be dragged from the practice field when it was time for his backup to take some snaps, a versatile tailback and a group of wide receivers who together were proficient at every aspect of the game (rushing, blocking, route-running, pass-catching, blitz-pickup, and so on), an experienced offensive line with the ability to make game-by-game adjustments, and so on, Weis was able to put together an offensive attack that had his team in national championship contention for two straight years. Chalking that up solely to dumb luck, or even to the undeniable greatness of Brady Quinn & Co., smacks of the sort of myopia that one expects only from a delusional Michigan alum.

In other words: my proposal is that it’s just a fact about Charlie Weis’s talents and coaching style that, given an experienced group of talented veterans, he can put together a dynamic offense with a chance to win a national championship. At the same time, though, its a fact about those very same talents and that very same coaching style that they don’t work well at getting a bunch of scrappy youngsters consistently to piece together any semblance of an offensive attack. It’s a both/and, not an either/or.

What this means, though, is that the biggest challenge facing Charlie Weis isn’t necessarily that of “learning how to be a college coach”: he’s already given ample evidence that he can do a damn good job of that, given the right players. And note once again that by “right players” I don’t mean “superstars all around”: with the exception of the quarterback position, Notre Dame never had the level of talent on offense in 2005 and 2006 that teams like USC and Michigan had. The crucial task, in other words, is that of transforming Jimmy Clausen, James Aldridge, Armando Allen, Robert Hughes, Duval Kamara, Robby Parris, Golden Tate, Will Yeatman, Mike Ragone, Dan Wenger, Sam Young, Matt Romine, Eric Olsen, and the rest into the kinds of players that Quinn, Darius Walker, Jeff Samardzija, Maurice Stovall, Rhema McKnight, John Carlson, Anthony Fasano, Mark LeVoir, Dan Santucci, Ryan Harris, Bob Morton, and John Sullivan were in 2005 and 2006: not just a bunch of players with enough talent to win a lot of games, but a group of hard-working players who showed up ready to go each week, were competent enough to do what he asked them to do, and - by and large, anyway - responded well to Weis’s coaching style. Given that, there’s every reason to think that Weis can once again make the Irish a team to be feared.

The question is, how do we get from here to there? It’s not just about allowing players to mature physically, drilling the playbook into them, or even teaching them the proverbial fundamentals. Rather, I think the key question is whether Weis can get these young players to keep their heads in the game, to continue working hard - on Saturday afternoons as well as on the practice field, in the weight room, in film study, and so on, both through the remainder of this season and through the offseason that will follow it. And the difficulty is that with the way the first eight games of 2007 have gone, the possibility of having players get discouraged and just give up is a real one.

But that’s a topic for tomorrow’s post …

Robert Hughes excused from team

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Per GoshenGipper:

Today during his press conference Charlie Weis mentioned that Robert Hughes has been excused from the team for as long as he needs after the sudden death of his brother. His uncle will be picking him up from campus today. Our prayers go out to him and his family.

More on this as it unfolds. Let’s keep everyone involved in our prayers.

[UPDATE (10:54am): Here's what Weis said, right at the start of his press conference:

Well, before we get going on Navy, earlier today we received some bad news, that the brother of Robert Hughes, Tony Hughes, official name "Earl," he died unexpectedly. We don't have all the details at this point, but Robert, I excused him a little while ago, his uncle came and got him to bring him home, to go be with his family. He's obviously upset, and I just want Robert and his family to know that the whole Notre Dame family has their family in our thoughts and in our prayers. I really don't have any more details, so I really am not at liberty to talk about it, but I know his mom called me, and she was shook up, and obviously when I told the - when I told Robert this morning he was shook up, so you know, he'll be gone for a little while. I told him as much time as he needs, I don't know how long that'll be, but when he gets back he gets back. Obviously there's more important things, and that's right now to be with his family. Not to start on a solemn note, but because I don't talk to you guys again until after practice tomorrow, I felt it was important to address it on the front end right here and then move on to Navy.

The video is here.]

[UPDATE (12:56pm): The Chicago Tribune's ND sports blog is on the story now.]

[UPDATE (6:49pm): The transcript of Weis's presser is up now, with this one exchange that wasn't included in my original post:

Q. And as far as Robert Hughes and when he comes back, do you proceed as if you're not going to have him on Saturday?

COACH WEIS: I told him come back whenever he's ready to come back. I mean, something like that, how can you give him a time frame? He might be back tomorrow, he might be back next week. I told him whenever -- I just made sure we covered ourselves with academics and things like that. But when something -- a tragedy like that happens, I think the most important thing is you have to worry about the kid, not worry about him as a football player.]

[UPDATE (Weds., 5:41am): In case you hadn't heard, it turns out that Hughes's brother was shot and killed on Chicago's West Side (link):

Earl Hughes had worked until about 10 p.m. Monday at EFT Sports Performance in Highland Park, where he was a trainer for teenage athletes.

He returned home about 11 p.m. and left about 12:30 a.m. He was killed soon afterward, said his uncle EJ Jones.

A witness said she heard an argument and shots fired, police spokeswoman Monique Bond said.

"It's horrible," Jones said. "We are 100 percent confident this was not drug- or gang-related. He was never in an altercation. . . . We think this has to do with some kind of triangle relationship."

Earl Hughes' only arrest was for disorderly conduct in 2000, police said.

He was the father of a 1-year-old daughter and one of eight siblings.

Earl Hughes was a role model for his younger brother, Robert. They last saw each other Sunday when Robert came home to visit.

"Robert wanted to be like his brother," said Jones, who was a running back for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1984-85 season.

"His brother was big in sports and probably had more natural talent than Robert, but did not take advantage of his opportunities," Jones said. "His brother worked out with Robert and pushed him. He did not want Robert to make the mistakes he did. He wanted Robert to make the big time."

Still, Earl Hughes was a proud big brother who attended all of Notre Dame's home games.

Robert Hughes has a touchdown and has rushed for 42 yards on 16 carries so far this year. The 5-foot-11, 238-pounder rushed for 5,734 yards in his four-year career at Hubbard High and was considered a top running back recruit.

Earl Hughes had attended Joliet Junior College, where he was an outstanding basketball player, his uncle said.

Recently, Elias Karras hired Earl to work for him at EFT Sports Performance. He knew Earl and Robert Hughes because they both worked out at the facility last year.

Earl Hughes had made the first cut of an Arena Football League tryout last year, but did not wind up playing, Karras said.

"I hired him to do maintenance and entry-level work, but immediately realized he should be helping us train our junior high, freshmen and sophomore kids," Karras said. "He became an assistant trainer in a month. I was going to sign him up to take him for his personal-training certification class."

Karras said he wasn't able to tell Earl Hughes' students about his murder.

"The kids loved him," he said. "We just said he was not here today. I didn't know what to say."

Again, please keep everyone involved in close prayer.]

Taking Stock, Part I: 19 reasons why Notre Dame’s offense has sucked so badly in 2007

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

I don’t know about you, but it feels like the middle of the season to me: Fall Break and the bye week are behind us, the complexion of the schedule has changed dramatically, and we’ve hit what can only be described as rock bottom after the Loss that Shall Not Be Discussed. So it’s in this spirit that the Irish Roundup brings you “Taking Stock,” a three-part series (wow, doesn’t that sound fancy?) evaluating the 2007 season up to this point and looking ahead to its remainder.

Up first, a detailed evaluation of why the Notre Dame offense has been so dreadful this year. We all know the statistics, so I’m not even going to bother listing them again: the question I’m going focus on here is “Why?” rather than “How bad?” Here are what I - with the invaluable help of the rest of the IrishEnvy crew - take to be the nineteen biggest problems, in inverse order of importance:

19) Too much hype: No doubt Charlie Weis did the right thing by refusing to throw his players under the bus by calling 2007 a “rebuilding” year, but did we all have to believe him? Nearly all ND fans had the Irish winning at least three of these first eight games – a clearly unreasonable expectation. The team’s current 1-7 record would be completely satisfactory if they’d played hard, scrappy football and shown improvement from week to week, but the burden of everyone’s high hopes can’t have been a help in making that happen.

18) Scheduling: A calendar front-loaded with top-notch opponents, with all of the easy games at the end of the year. Four of the first six games played on the road. A bye week after USC (though having extra time to prepare for Navy never hurts). No doubt it’s difficult to put together ND’s schedule, but this year’s version was just atrocious.

17) Recruiting: Many are going to wonder why this isn’t higher on the list. The reason for that is that the talent gap between the Irish and their opponents doesn’t even begin to account for the awfulness of their offensive (ha!) game. No doubt the paucity of upperclass talent feeds into many of the more serious problems in a major way, but in itself it’s only the tip of a very large iceberg.

16) Too much shuffling of the depth chart: I’ve already been over this in some detail, and I still stand by the analysis I gave there, namely that while many of these shifts have been due to injuries or other unpredictable things, some – in particular taking so long to settle on James Aldridge as the #1 tailback, and even then giving too many carries to other players – were clearly mistakes.

15) Distractions: The obvious example of this is Demetrius Jones not showing up for the team bus to Michigan, after which the Irish played what was clearly their worst, and least-inspired, game of the season. But there have been other cases as well, such as Derrell Hand’s arrest, the ongoing quarterback controversy, the departures of Konrad Reuland and Matt Carufel, the rumors of dissension among Irish players, and so on. These are not the sorts of things that help a young team get over their struggles.

14) Penalties: Obviously there are some – Mike Turkovich’s touchdown-negating hold against BC, for one – that stick in the forefront of your mind, but the fact is that false starts, holding calls, and other offensive penalties have been a huge problem all year long, regularly putting the offense in a position where it has to pick up huge yardage to move the chains. Thankfully there were far fewer such mistakes against USC, so maybe that’s the beginning of a trend.

13) Injuries: Aldridge, David Grimes, Matt Romine, and Dan Wenger have all missed significant time with injuries, and Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate have been banged up as well. For a team as thin as this one is, having front-line players like these get injured is obviously a big problem, and keeps the squad from developing a consistent rhythm.

12) Play-calling: Once again, this is a factor that a lot of people are going to want to put a lot higher, though see my lengthy post from after the BC game for why I thought that in that case at least, this issue was WAY overblown. There’s no doubt, though, that there have been some huge mistakes made in this department: the obvious examples are the crazy schemes employed at the starts of the games against Georgia Tech and Michigan, though there are others as well. This team has to do more than just develop its “bread and butter” plays in practice; it has to run them on the field as well. Of course, that’s hard to do when players consistently fail to execute the plays you’ve called.

11) Inexperience: You could try to lump this in with recruiting, but it’s really a different issue, since it’s meant to pick out the fact that many of even the more “veteran” players – Turkovich, Paul Duncan, Evan Sharpley – saw very little playing time before this year, and so aren’t able to do as much as one would hope to bring the younger players along. I’ve been told that last year, Bob Morton and the other offensive linemen were telling Sam Young what to do on almost every play – this year, there’s only one lineman with more than one year of experience other his belt.

10) A rift within the team itself: I’m putting this right in the middle of the list only because I obviously don’t know if the various rumors that have swirled around are true. But the fact is that there have been some pretty clear signs – both on the field and off – that this squad hasn’t really come together well. Some of this is natural, as younger players and veterans compete for playing time, but if it’s as bad as some have said it is, then its ramifications may be extensive indeed.

9) Lack of leadership: This isn’t just about the veterans; underclassmen can be leaders as well. Some of this is the result of the “musical chairs” that has been played with the depth chart, whether due to injuries, poor personnel decisions, or surprising performances by players (whether of the good variety or the bad). No matter what the cause, though, not having players who can bring everyone together in the huddle or on the sidelines and focus their energies on the task at hand is going to be a huge problem for any team.

8) Failure to execute the “finesse” plays: What I have in mind here are the dropped passes or missed receivers that we’ve seen so often this year. In countless cases, a player has been open and either the ball has gotten there and he’s failed to catch it, or the ball has been thrown over his head or at his feet. Mistakes like this stall an offense like nothing else, except perhaps for …

7, 6) Poor pass- and run-blocking: I can’t figure out which of these to put first, since each feeds into the other in countless ways. But it’s important to emphasize that the problems here haven’t just been with the offensive line: whether it’s tailbacks whiffing or getting run over on pass protection, fullbacks failing to open up holes in the running game, or wide receivers missing blocks downfield, there’s no getting around the fact that the blocking on this team has been atrocious at every level.

5) Lousy position coaching: When you have a team composed almost solely of either young players recently out of high school and “veterans” who’ve barely played a down, what you need is a group of assistant coaches able to teach them the proverbial fundamentals. So far this year, there’s been little evidence that that’s happened, and the lack of week-to-week progress suggests significant deficiencies in the sort of training these players are receiving.

4) Practice routines: The influence that having had contact-free practices for so much of the season and pre-season has had on this team probably can’t be overstated: once again, many of these players are new to college football, and they just don’t know what real “game speed” looks (and feels) like. But there have been other problems as well: to give just one example, there is no doubt that the decision to develop overly creative plays rather than taking a “building-blocks” approach did a great deal to set this team back and prevent real progress in the early weeks.

3) Tentative play: The USC game was a paradigm of the tendency among offensive players to look like they’re more concerned with avoiding mistakes than with doing something right. Whether it’s the overly-complicated character of the offense they’re running, the shock of game speed, the burden of high expectations and the consequent fear of criticism, or whatever, there’s no doubt that many of this offense’s failures – dropped passes, missed blocks, inability to hit holes in the running game, and so on – can be attributed to an all-around tentativeness.

2) The “snowball” effect: With the exception of the post-halftime spurts against Purdue and BC, one steady tendency for this team has been that when things go bad, they get worse. The offense has shown very little resiliency, whether to their own mistakes or to those of the defense and special teams, and we’ve often seen the proverbial wheels fall off at the first sign of difficulty (the Michigan State game was the paradigm instance of this). Once again, this can be traced to many of the other problems above, but it’s clearly a place where this team’s many defects have often come to a head.

1) Charlie Weis: Sorry coach, but the buck stops with you. I’m going to have more to say about this in a post tomorrow, but for now just let me say that I think Weis has done a simply terrible job coaching this squad, and while I don’t think this one season is sufficient to show that he’s the “worst coach in the universe,” I also don’t think that the old “learning curve” excuse is good enough. In my mind, there’s reason to think that Weis is a good-to-great coach for seasoned veterans, and an outright terrible one for young players. If this is right, then the key question is whether he can transition this group from the latter category to the former without doing irreparable harm to them – I’ll have much more to say about this tomorrow and Thursday in Parts II and III of this series.

Pitch right … and left, and right, and left, and right, and …

Monday, October 29th, 2007

I’ve already noted that Navy’s defense has been nothing short of horrendous this year. The Middies do their best to make up for that, though, with a rushing game that ranks first in the nation - and by a huge margin - at 342.88 yards per game, which puts their total offense at #16 nationally and their scoring offense at #19.

What makes the Midshipmen offense so dynamic, you ask? The answer, of course, is their crazy option offense. This year, though, they seem to have kicked it up a notch from years past, as this footage makes clear:

That’s right, it’s the quindecuple-option, coming soon to a Michiana stadium near you. Fear the Kaheaku-Enhada Explosion, Irish fans … fear it.

(HT: IrishDodger.)

Friday Night Lights roundup: weekend of 10/26

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Here’s the Roundup’s weekly summary of how Notre Dame’s current group of committed players for the 2008 class, which now stands at 21 total, fared in their high school football games this past weekend:

Ripe for the lickin’

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

From the AP wire report on Navy’s 59-52 loss to Div. I-AA Championship Subdivision Who Cares What You Call It Just Know that It’s Really Bad to Lose to a Team from It Delaware on Saturday:

Navy has now allowed 40 points or more to three straight opponents and has surrendered 305 points through eight games.

Delaware scored on nine of its 11 possessions.

The Middies rank 82nd in rushing defense, 109th in pass defense, 105th in total defense, and 114th in scoring defense. Thanks to yesterday’s loss, they ALREADY have TFH. If the Irish offense can’t get things going against this pitiful squad, count me in with this bunch for the time being.

[UPDATE: Via Pitch Right, a thoughtful analysis of why the Navy "D" has been so dreadful. HT: HLS.]

Rage against the (hype) machine

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

I know I’ve already been over this, but after watching tonight’s tOSU-tPSU game I can’t help bringing it up again:

  • Todd Boeckman, @ PSU, 2007: 19/26, 253 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
  • Troy Smith, vs. PSU, 2006: 12/22, 115 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT

And here, for the junkies, are the season-long numbers once again (italicized stats are projected to a 13-game season):

Boeckman is the starting quarterback for the #1 team in the nation. He made some throws tonight that Smith couldn’t have completed in his wildest dreams. But unless I missed something, there was NO discussion of the possibility that he might be a Heisman candidate this year. Which just goes to show you what preseason hype, or the lack thereof, can do to you.

The Trevor Laws Heisman campaign begins … now

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Yeah, we all know it’s not going to happen, at least not if the powers that be have their way, which will ensure that college football’s most prestigious individual award goes to either a quarterback or a tailback from now until eternity. But in this season of upset wins, devastating losses, broken booty fingers, and the like, and with many sportswriters talking about how wide-open the Heisman race is this year, it’s worth at least making the case for one guy whom nobody’s talking about at all.

Let’s start, as we are wont to do here at the Roundup, with the numbers. Here’s a comparison of Trevor Laws’s season-long statistics with those of the players recently named quarterfinalists for the Lott trophy (yes, Tom Zbikowski is one of them, and Big Trevor isn’t … don’t get me started), which “honors the college football Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year” - while it claims to factor in some sort of off-the-field component, the list of nominees is a virtual who’s-who of big-name defensive players, and so it’s instructive to see how Laws stacks up against them:

The two players highlighted in yellow are the defensive players getting (somewhat) serious attention in the Heisman race: LSU defensive end Glenn Dorsey (see here, here, and especially here for writers who’ve promoted him) and Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis (see here and here). By any reasonable measure, Laws looks to have been having a better defensive season than either of them: the only statistical categories he trails them in are sacks and - in the case of Laurinaitis - interceptions, and he’s nearly doubled Dorsey’s season-long tackle count. And yet, for all the talk about the media obsession with Notre Dame (and Zbikowski’s inclusion in the Lott award list is of course a shining example of this), when we look at the various Heisman polls (see here and here for a couple of examples), what we see are Dorsey and Laurinaitis often quite well-established in at least the “Also Receiving Votes” category, with Laws sharing the fate of the rest of his teammates.

Do I know that I’m pissing into the wind here? Of course I do. The Heisman Trophy - like all the rest of the postseason awards for which Laws won’t be in consideration - is determined by preseason hype and wins alone, as evidenced by the following (italicized numbers projected to 13-game season - click to enlarge):

Don’t despair, though. There’s something you can do. In case you’ve missed the commercials, this year YOU can help decide the Heisman winner! So head on over to Nissan’s Heisman Vote and make Big Trevor your write-in candidate. By my reckoning, the Roundup’s regular readership of a mere few hundred a day could easily get Laws onto the leaderboard, where Georgia Tech’s Tashard Choice currently occupies the bottom spot with just 169 ballots cast in his favor, good for less than 1% of the vote but still enough to get his name up there. (Heaven knows what would happen if the heavyweights *cough*BGS*cough* got behind this.) Together we can make a difference, and salvage one of the few bright spots from this wreck of a season.

NEWS BULLETIN: Transitive Football Herpes spreads like wildfire across Big Ten; infects Pac-10 and MAC as well

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

The TFH VirusIndianapolis, Indiana: With disease-ridden UCLA’s victory over California this past Saturday, the Pac-10 conference has now seen its second member infected with a deadly strain of Transitive Football Herpes that has been casting an ominous cloud over the college football landscape since Div. I-AA Appalachian State’s opening-week victory over Michigan and Michigan’s subsequent victory over Notre Dame two weeks later, increasing its prominence from a mere two teams on the eve of the fourth week of the season to a robust fourteen as the schedule heads into week nine. The Bruins were infected in week six by the Fighting Irish, who thankfully have remained otherwise winless through the first two-thirds of their schedule.

The same has not been true for Michigan, as the resurgent Wolverines have been sowing their diseased oats throughout their own conference, with victories over previously-uninfected Penn State in week four, Northwestern in week five, and Purdue in week seven. Along the way, Michigan also managed in week six to pass the virus along to Eastern Michigan of the Mid-American Conference, a team that has thankfully remained winless in conference play since then and so has not yet managed to pass the condition along to any of its interim partners.

The MAC and the Pac-10 stand on the precipice of the sort of outbreak that has brought the Big Ten to its proverbial knees over the past month and a half: with the exception of Purdue, each of the teams infected by Michigan has won at least one game since contracting TFH, and several of the teams they infected have in their turn spread the disease to yet another vanquished foe. At present, ten of the Big Ten’s eleven [sic] members are carriers of the virus, with undefeated Ohio State the lone exception.

The following charts provide a graphical representation of the current scope of the damage (click to enlarge):

The first graphic details the overall spread of the virus, broken down by conference affiliation, while the chart on the right hand side chronicles the total number of teams infected with TFH at the end of each week of the season. As it makes clear, ten of the fourteen currently infected squads came down with the virus since the end of week five, though its spread tapered off a bit from weeks seven to eight once the infection rate in the Big Ten neared saturation.

Speaking to the media at an emergency press conference, NCAA spokeswoman Gail Dent expressed hope that the fact that the remainder of the season consists largely of intra-conference games will contain the TFH outbreak within the three conferences already infected, though she added that “if Notre Dame gets their sh*t together and takes out a few more teams before the end of the year, we could see several more conferences go down.”

“The only solution,” added NCAA president Myles Brand after Dent’s statement, is for the 105 uninfected teams to “STOP FREAKING LOSING TO TEAMS THAT HAVE LOST TO TEAMS THAT HAVE LOST TO TEAMS THAT HAVE LOST TO FREAKING MICHIGAN.” In response to a reporter’s question, Brand said that he too took “comfort” in the fact that most teams were playing primarily within-conference games now, so that perhaps the disease would restrict itself to “those select groups of morons who have already brought this plague upon themselves,” adding: “It’s kind of like back when I was in college, you know, before condoms and all, and we swingers would take care of ourselves by sectioning off into little groups and just hoping that nobody in our circle came down with something. Gotta keep it in the family, you know?”

Reached for comment via telephone, Department of Health and Human Services secretary Michael Leavitt reiterated the Bush Administration’s official position that intervarsity abstinence is the best way to avoid TFH and other athletically-transmitted diseases, but remarked also that “if these idiots are going to keep whoring around on Saturday afternoons, the least they could do is use a bit of common sense and stop f**king losing.”

In the meantime, the non-fatal but still unpleasantly itchy counterpart to the TFH virus, Transitive Football Crabs with Backwards Causation, has been having an utter field day with the NCAA. Unlike TFH, TFCwBC is able to spread not only when a team loses to a team that is already infected, but can “backtrack,” and so infect any team that has suffered a loss to an infected team, even if the victorious squad becomes infected only later on. For example: although Cal did not lose to a TFH-infected team until last Saturday and so has not yet been able to pass that virus on to any other opponents, TFCwBC has already managed to seek out and infect Tennessee, Colorado State, Louisiana Tech, Arizona, and Oregon, all of whom lost to the Bears earlier in the season. While the NCAA does not maintain any official statistics on TFCwBC, information obtained by the Irish Roundup indicates that at present, the only BCS Subdivision teams not to have been infected by this condition are undefeated Boston College, Kansas, Ohio State, Arizona State, and Hawaii. But with the way the college football season has been going so far, each of these teams must be well aware that they are only a slip-up away from a bad case of crabs.

Stay tuned to the Irish Roundup for further TFH/TFCwBC updates.

Big Red Mess: Former Nebraska verbal Jonas Gray commits to Notre Dame

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Rivals.com is reporting that Detroit tailback Jonas Gray, who up until this past weekend was verbally committed to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, gave a verbal commitment to Notre Dame on Monday night. The 5′10″, 213-lb. Gray is a four-star recruit on both Rivals and Scout, and has been clocked under 4.4 seconds in a 40-yard sprint. He is the 21st player overall to commit to Notre Dame’s 2008 recruiting class, and the first running back.

Gray was recruited by several top programs, including Nebraska and Michigan, early in the year, and he made a verbal commitment to Nebraska in early August. There were reports that Notre Dame had planned to extend him an official offer earlier in the year, but it never came to fruition. Then, after Nebraska followed up a strong start to their season with a five-game slide that included blowout losses to USC, Missouri, and Oklahoma State, as well as startlingly narrow wins over Ball State and Iowa State, and rumors began to surface that Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan might be on the hot seat, Gray - together with decommitted offensive lineman Trevor Robinson and linebacker Will Compton, who I believe is still officially committed to Nebraska - was one of three Nebraska recruits to attend Notre Dame’s game last Saturday against USC. The Irish lost that game, of course, but something must have been going well on the sidelines, as superstar wide receiver Michael Floyd committed shortly thereafter, and Gray’s commitment followed quickly upon his. (South Carolina offensive lineman Kenneth Page was reported to have been so excited about his official visit that same weekend that he nearly committed on the spot, but he is currently holding off on his final decision.)

As trouble continues to brew in Lincoln, the Irish appear ready and willing to capitalize on the Huskers’ misfortunes, as they are seem to be strongly in the running for Robinson’s services as well as those of Compton, should he in fact decide to reopen his recruitment. In any case, Gray’s decision is clearly great news, and counts as further evidence that the mood among Irish players is not nearly as negative as some have thought it might be.

Welcome to the ND family, Jonas!

[UPDATE: I should have included this quote from Jonas's IrishEnvy profile, left by his uncle back in September of 2006:

Thanks for the love...Jonas sure appreciates it.....Notre Dame is his first choice, and thats a fact....he's loved that school since the Jerome Bettis days.

But he didn't receive a formal offer yet from the Irish...he did receive an invite to come to some of their home games this season.....hopefully Coach Weis will send a formal offer soon.....he'll be getting a great football player, but a better person in Jonas

Awesome stuff! It's great to have another kid on board who bleeds blue and gold. And let me just add that for this reason, I think CW at Rakes of Mallow is wrong to say that "before we get too excited, please remember signing day is still many a day off. If a player is kind enough to renege on one verbal, he just might pull out on a second." By all appearances, Gray decommitted from Nebraska only because of the turmoil within their program, and - as this quote indicates - Notre Dame looks to have been his first choice all along. His situation, in other words, is much more like Brian Smith's than Chris Little's.]