The Paul Jacobs Bowl
With Notre Dame having sunk to historic lows (pun intended, I guess, the way most people have described the Navy loss), there is the nagging question of what exactly a 1-8 team would have to play for. Well, remember Paul Jacobs? (A silly question I know - who could forget him?) Paul, though an ND grad, also pledges loyalty to the United States Air Force, loyalty that I'm sure gets thoroughly tested when they ship off to the lovely confines of rural Alabama. The last thing anybody would want is for Paul to have to renounce ND in favor of the Academy should the Falcons trample the Irish. So there you have it - instant motivation. Let's go out there and win one for the Jacobs-ter.
2:30 PM EST
Notre Dame Stadium - Notre Dame, IN
Why Air Force Will Win
The Falcons hold a significant edge in almost every statistical category - they run the ball (fourth-best in the nation at 273 yards per game, trailing only Arkansas, West Virginia, and Navy), mix in the pass better than their service academy counterparts (though they only rank 118th, one spot above Navy for dead last), play excellent defense (41st overall, 51st against the run and 33rd against the pass), they do not beat themselves (+6 in the turnover margin, with just 4 interceptions against them), and they have steady veteran leadership in the person of QB Shaun Carney and RB Chad Hall (pictured right), who is the only player in the country that leads his team in both rushing and receiving.
Former Houston Texans offensive coordinator Troy Calhoun now leads the Falcons, taking over for long-time leader Fisher DeBerry. What he needs to do is avoid leading a team that has its guard down, taking for granted the idea that they can simply walk in to Notre Dame Stadium and walk out with a victory. Block out the fact that Air Force is favored (good grief...) and just remember that the top priority is what Air Force thinks. Quite frankly, there have been a few times when teams came in against a bad Notre Dame team and seemed to assume things were going to go there way - in other words, they believed the hyped about Notre Dame being just that awful and got served with a loss as a result (prominent recent examples: Notre Dame 24, LSU 6 in 1997; Notre Dame 34, Oklahoma 30 in 1999; Notre Dame 28, Michigan 20 in 2004). Of course, when the opponent is 1-8, maybe all the hype is justified.
Why Notre Dame Will Win
It's time to throw out stats, pie charts, practice observations about your kicker making a 41-yarder into the wind, defensive rankings (I mean, really, how valid can they be when Air Force beats the apparent #6 defense of Wyoming, but loses to the 105th-ranked defense of Navy?), and all the other posturing. Only two numbers concern me:
Following up my assertion that Notre Dame must dominate in the running game in order to win, I find it very disconcerting that Jimmy Clausen is back under center and "better at everything" according to Weis. I hope he meant that Jimmy got real productive at handoff left, handoff middle, handoff right. The Irish aren't polished enough in the passing game to think that they can win with 25 throws per game. A year from now, when Robby Parris & David Grimes are the veterans and Duval Kamara and Golden Tate are every-down capable, then let's be concerned about getting 200 apiece running and passing. For tomorrow? Run to win. Taking a chance on the underdog here, because as potent as Air Force is, it's a two-man offense.
Notre Dame 28, Air Force 21.
As alluded earlier, sharks may or may not be circling around Notre Dame's highly-coveted stable of recruits. One who doesn't appear to be going anywhere: Chicago (Mt. Carmel) linebacker Steve Filer. Intereviewed in the Chicago Sun-Times after receiving the Lawless Award as the Catholic League Player of the Year, he got the proverbial "About that College Choice" question...
More encouraging words from quarterback commit Dayne Crist, earlier this week in the LA Times:
Why did you choose Notre Dame? Education. Every school that was recruiting me has a pretty good football program. But education set Notre Dame apart. The degree means so much. I want to major in mechanical engineering.
What is your reaction to Notre Dame's current season? It doesn't impact me at all. I see they have a lot of young players who haven't played, a lot of inexperience. I can come in from a winning program with a winning attitude and try to pick the program up.
This weekend on the Irish recruiting trail: DT Omar Hunter, recently the object of Pete Carroll's affection, is in town for his official visit after committing over the summer. Jonas Gray, Notre Dame's most recent addition, looks to take his high school one-step closer to the state championship that has eluded them since the days when former Irish receiver Javin Hunter was catching passes for them. And committed tight end Joseph Fauria leads his Crespi team against Crist, fellow Notre Dame commit Anthony McDonald (LB) and the rest of the Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks, CA) Knights.
Once a week, Crist speaks with Weis on the phone. The conversations usually last 15 to 30 minutes. They also communicate by e-mail. Crist has sensed Weis' emotional ups and downs this season as Notre Dame struggles with a 1-8 record, but he enjoys learning from his future coach.
"It's a real comfortable relationship," he said. "We talk about what's going on with their week and game plan and he's interested in knowing what we're doing. He's a very emotional person. It's tough to talk to him on the phone because you can't get facial reactions. I love his personality."
Crist loves competition, and that's why he didn't shy away from choosing a college that signed Jimmy Clausen, the most highly recruited quarterback in the nation last year. Interestingly, they both attended the same middle school for one year in Chatsworth.
"That was one of the things that excited me most about Notre Dame," Crist said. "I think I play my best football when the most pressure is put on me. I love competing. I need someone to push me."