2007 Notre Dame Preview

Posted Jul 11, 2007

Notre Dame ended a good season with a thud, and now it loses all its star power on offense, and six starters on defense. Is this the year the program takes a step back before getting better, or will Tom Zbikowski and the Irish reload and be in the BCS hunt again?

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Preview 2007

By Pete Fiutak

- 2007 Notre Dame Offense Preview | 2007 Notre Dame Defense Preview
- 2007 Notre Dame Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Notre Dame Preview

By almost any standard you want to set, Charlie Weis has worked out extremely well over his first two years in South Bend.

Yeah, Notre Dame has the cozy deal with the BCS, but to get to two straight big money games is still a noteworthy achievement. Considering the concern among many Irish fans that the program had sunk during the Ty Willingham era, what Weis has done has been remarkable. Now the Irish must start to actually win the big games to go along with all the attention and adulation.

Head coach: Charlie Weis
3rd year: 19-6
Returning Lettermen:
Off 10, Def 18, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 28
Ten Best Irish Players
1. SS Tom Zbikowski, Sr.
2. DE Trevor Laws, Sr.
3. LB Maurice Crum, Jr.
4. TE John Carlson, Sr.
5. OT Sam Young, Soph.
6. C John Sullivan, Sr.
7. CB Terrail Lambert, Jr.
8. QB Jimmy Clausen, Fr.
9. RB James Aldridge, Soph.
10. LB Toryan Smith, Soph.

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:

Sept. 1

Georgia Tech

Sept. 8

at Penn State

Sept. 15

at Michigan

Sept. 22

Michigan State

Sept. 29

at Purdue

Oct. 6


Oct. 13

Boston College

Oct. 20


Nov. 3


Nov. 10

Air Force

Nov. 17


Nov. 24

at Stanford

2006 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 8-4
2006 Record:
Preview 2006 predicted wins

9/2 at Ga Tech W 14-10
9/9 Penn State W 41-17
9/16 Michigan L 47-21
9/23 at Michigan St W 40-37
9/30 Purdue W 35-21
10/7 Stanford W 31-10
10/21 UCLA W 20-17
10/28 at Navy W 34-14
11/4 North Carolina W 45-26
11/11 at Air Force W 39-17
11/18 Army W 41-9
11/25 at USC L 44-24
1/3 Sugar Bowl
LSU L 41-14

Everyone who jumped on the Notre Dame bandwagon early last year quickly abandoned ship at the end after blowout losses to USC and LSU. Most ignored the horrible secondary and the potential for a bad year from the offensive line when setting the national title expectations; it was almost like many were trying to will Notre Dame to greatness. Now the hype and focus has swung the other way. Now it’s become fashionable to rip on the Irish.

Yes, Notre Dame was overrated, however, it just couldn’t beat the best of the best of the best teams in America. Of the six losses in the two years under Weis, one came in an overtime stunner to Michigan State in 2005, while the other five (USC, Ohio State, Michigan, and LSU) came against national title-level squads that would’ve beaten roughly 110 other teams like a drum.

Now Notre Dame wants to be one of those national title-level good teams. It’s not going to have one this year.

Patience hasn’t been a virtue for Irish fans, but that’s what they’ll need after losing Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, Rhema McKnight, Darius Walker, most of the defensive front seven, and most of the benefits of the doubt from the voters. Now the Irish will have to prove it belongs in the BCS talk rather than just be handed the spot after a few decent wins.

Weis has recruited like gangbusters with some of the top classes in the country over the last two years. The talent level is quickly improving, the coaching is still going to be peerless, and the money will keep flowing in to make sure all the periphery things are in place. While the team will be good this year, it’ll take at least one more season before it actually deserves to be a BCS team.

What to watch for on offense: Will the new starting quarterback get any time to work? Whether it’s Jimmy Clausen, Demetrius Jones, Evan Sharpley, or someone else under center, he’ll need room to breathe and to figure out what he’s doing. The line allowed 31 sacks last season, and it would’ve been a whole bunch more had Quinn not been great, at times, at getting the ball out of his hands. With new starting receivers and a new starting tailback, the last thing the new starting quarterback needs is to be on his back every other play.

What to watch for on defense: The front seven will have to invent ways to get into the backfield with all the big losses at end. The D will switch to a 3-4 under new coordinator Corwin Brown, so that means more pressure will likely have to come from the outside linebackers. The secondary, still a concern after two lousy years, needs all the help it can get, meaning the linebackers have to be able to hang back as much as possible to deal with the short to mid-range passes. That’s why …

The team will be far better if … the defensive front can throw a passer off his game. Everyone remembers the Notre Dame secondary getting ripped apart by Michigan’s Mario Manningham, USC’s Dwayne Jarrett, and any receiver wearing an LSU jersey, but the real issue throughout the season was the back seven’s inability to stop accurate passers. Part of the problem was an inconsistent pass rush, part of the problem was a mediocre group of defensive backs, and part of the problem was the defense’s design that occasionally tried to bend but not break. With an improved Anthony Morelli at Penn State, along with Chad Henne at Michigan, Curtis Painter at Purdue, Ben Olson at UCLA, Matt Ryan at Boston College, and John David Booty at USC to face before November, the coaching staff has to come up with a new wrinkle to keep its defense from being picked apart by all the veteran quarterbacks.

The Schedule: As bad as it gets early, it’s a breeze late. The first two months are a nightmare for a team looking to rebuild in a hurry with four road games against Penn State, Michigan, Purdue and UCLA to go along with home games against Georgia Tech (one of the favorites to win the ACC), Michigan State (always tough for the Irish), Boston College (another ACC contender) and USC. Fortunately, the games against the Eagles and Trojans kick off a five-game home stretch before finishing up with Stanford.

Best Offensive Player: Senior TE John Carlson. Was Carlson a Mackey Award finalist because he had Quinn throwing to him, or was he really that good? It was a little of both. At 6-6 and around 260 pounds, he has tremendous size and surprising quickness for a player of his size averaging 13.4 yards per catch last season on 47 grabs with four touchdowns despite missing time late with a knee injury. Now he’ll be a vital safety valve for the new starting quarterback.

Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Maurice Crum. Actually, the best defensive player is safety Tom Zbikowski, and underappreciated lineman Trevor Laws is second, but Crum is the defense’s most productive player and a rising superstar. Able to play inside or out, he found a home in the middle using his speed to make plays all over the field while also growing into a strong pass rusher.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore OT Sam Young. The one-time superstar recruit had a decent season being thrown to the wolves, but he made several freshman mistakes and struggled in pass protection. Now he’s one of the few returning offensive regulars and joins center John Sullivan as the only starters back up front. Likely to move from right tackle to left tackle, he’ll have to be the one the rest of the line revolves around and a key to keeping the new quarterback upright.

The season will be a success if … the Irish win eight games. A double-digit win season would be just as impressive as anything Weis has pulled off over the last two years, but the team is too green and the schedule is too tough. Eight wins in the regular season is a more manageable goal. Anything more would be amazing.

Key game: Sept. 1 vs. Georgia Tech. It took everything in the bag, and the Yellow Jackets forgetting to throw to Calvin Johnson enough, for the Irish to get out of Atlanta with a win last year. A win in the season opener is a must to not just show how good the team is, but to also possibly avoid an 0-3 start with trips to Penn State and Michigan to follow.

2006 Fun Stats: 
- Average yards per pass: Opponents 7.8 – Notre Dame 7.3
- Fourth down conversions: Notre Dame 19 of 33 (58%) – Opponents 7 of 19 (37%)
- Red zone touchdowns: Notre Dame 37 of 49 (76%) – Opponents 23 of 43 (53%)


Related Stories
2007 Notre Dame Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 11, 2007
2007 Notre Dame Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 11, 2007
2007 Notre Dame Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 11, 2007

Add Topics to My HotList
Get free email alerts with news about your favorite topics. Click link to add to My HotList.
Football > Notre Dame
[View My HotList]