South Bend isn’t buzzing with the same kind of anticipation that had been felt in Indiana’s football Mecca the past two years.
Even the most die hard Fighting Irish fans aren’t clinking glasses to the prospect of another national championship for the trophy case. Not this year, anyway.
Without the services of Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija and Darius Walker, the offensive beast that lifted the Irish to 19 wins over the past two seasons isn’t going to keep too many defensive coordinators awake at night.
Oddsmakers aren’t exactly sold on the Irish either, offering up a +3500 payout in the unlikely event this young team wins the BCS championship. Team win totals are not yet available for college football teams at most sportsbooks, but looking at this year’s schedule, the chances of Notre Dame getting another 10-win season as they rebuild the offense from the ground up isn’t good.
And even if the Irish are underdogs in a few of their games this year, it’s hard to imagine them putting up enough points to even hang around with the better teams in the country.
Defense hasn’t been Notre Dame’s strong suit since head coach Charlie Weis initiated the Notre Dame renaissance when he arrived in 2005. The offensive architect managed to get his team into the end zone with more frequency, but the defense has been mediocre at best.
That’s why the current situation on offense could be catastrophic for Notre Dame this year, even though Weis doesn’t think the growing pains will cost his team many wins this season.
"My goal this year, and next year, and the year after that, will be to win every game," he said. "And that's my goal this year. And I'll never have it go any different than that."
The first thing that will have to be sorted out is who will take Quinn’s place behind center. The competition was recently reduced to three players and not even Weis knows if it will be junior Evan Sharpley, sophomore Demetrius Jones or true freshman Jimmy Clausen.
Whichever player wins the job, he will go into the season with little or no experience at the college level. That fact alone has to make Weis a little nervous because his pro-style offense isn’t exactly Pop Warner stuff. Even a highly-skilled and experienced QB like Brady Quinn struggled to pick up the intricacies of the offense and, as good a teacher as Weis is, there’s going to be a learning curve for his starting quarterback.
Clausen came out of high school about as highly touted as a player could be. He would be the most likely candidate to start if he hadn’t suffered a setback when he had surgery to repair the elbow of his throwing arm. Whether its Clausen, Sharpley or Jones calling the signals, the job won’t be made any easier by a corps of undersized and inexperienced receivers lining up to take the vacant wideout spots.
There’s still some talent in the backfield with speedy tailbacks like senior Travis Thomas and exciting freshman Armando Allen, but in this offense the pass sets up the run, so it could be tough to get anything going on offense until the quarterbacks get comfortable and find some viable targets.
Essentially, this is going to be a good year to fade the Irish, because their offense is decimated and they have depended so heavily on that side of the ball to win games.
Watch out for those early-season games when Notre Dame will be trying to sort out its personnel and assignments against a trio of teams that specialize in destroying scoring drives and blowing up offenses.
And if the Irish start the season with a string of losses, it won’t be good for the morale of a young, rebuilding team. Charlie Weis, the man football pundits like to call a genius, will have his work cut out for him in his third year at the helm of the Notre Dame football program.