2009 CFN Notre Dame Preview
Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen
Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen
Posted May 14, 2009

After two down years and a near-firing of head coach Charlie Weis, it's now-or-never time for Notre Dame. Fortunately for Irish fans, and for Weis, the team is loaded. This is the year the program has been building for, but can all the great talents live up to their potential? Check out the CFN 2009 Notre Dame Preview.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Preview 2009

By Pete Fiutak

- 2009 CFN Notre Dame Preview | 2009 Notre Dame Offense
- 2009 Notre Dame Defense
2009 Notre Dame Depth Chart
2008 ND Preview | 2007 ND Preview | 2006 ND Preview

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But you knew this had to happen.

The biggest mistake of Notre Dame football, as a program and a national entity, over the last two substandard seasons was that no one seemed willing to admit that the success from the two BCS appearances under Charlie Weis was a mirage. By getting to the two big games, and by coming within a few inches of beating an all-timer of a USC team, it was easy to think that Notre Dame was a national superpower again just because of Weis, when in fact the players weren't in place to keep the success rolling. But no one wanted to believe that, least of all Weis.

The program had to be redone, it had to undergo a total overhaul of talent, and it had to take its lumps for a few years, taking the proverbial step back to leap two steps forward. But Notre Dame football wasn't sold that way under Weis. His biggest mistake from the start was not being able to recognize that the program was going to need to change at some point, and that it was going to be a several-year task to make the storied franchise good enough to be in the national-title hunt year in and year out. He didn't prepare the fan base for it, he set the expectations unreasonably high, and even when his teams got obliterated in the BCS games, he still claimed it was national-title-or-bust in South Bend.

Head coach: Charlie Weis
5th year: 29-21
Returning Lettermen:
Off 21, Def 20, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best Irish Players
1. WR Golden Tate, Jr.
2. DT Ian Williams, Jr.
3. SS Kyle McCarthy, Sr.
4. QB Jimmy Clausen, Jr.
5. WR Michael Floyd, So.
6. TE Kyle Rudolph, So.
7. DE Ethan Johnson, So.
8. FS Harrison Smith, Jr.
9. OT Sam Young, Sr.
10. LB Brian Smith, Jr

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2009 Record: 0-0

9/5 Nevada
9/12 at Michigan
9/19 Michigan State
9/26 at Purdue
10/3 Washington
10/17 USC
10/24 Boston College
10/31 Wash St (San Ant.)
11/7 Navy
11/14 at Pitt
11/21 Connecticut
11.28 at Stanford

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record:7-6

9/6 San Diego St W 21-13
9/13 Michigan W 35-17
9/20 at Michigan St L 23-7
9/27 Purdue W 38-21
10/4 Stanford W 28-21
10/11 at N Carolina L 29-24
10/25 at Wash. W 33-7
11/1 Pitt L 36-33 4 OT
11/8 at Boston Coll L 17-0
11/15 Navy (Balt) W 27-21
11/22 Syracuse L 24-23
11/29 at USC L 38-3
Hawaii Bowl
12/24 Hawaii W 49-21

Instead of being cocky and arrogant early on with his claim of having a "schematic advantage," Weis needed to convince Irish Nation, and himself, that coaching ability sometimes only goes as far as the players on the roster. It's okay to accept that players, even talented ones, need time to develop. Tom Brady wasn't Tom Brady when he first became a New England Patriot.

If Weis had been able to sell everyone on the idea of patience, that the Irish needed to get faster and more talented, especially on defense, and that the problems couldn't be solved overnight, then the 2007 disaster would've not only been forgiven, at least somewhat, it would've been accepted as necessary, while last year would've been seen as the stepping-stone to this season.

Of course the offense was going to have problems two years ago with so many underclassmen playing so many key roles, especially with true freshman Jimmy Clausen at quarterback, and of course things weren't going to be night-and-day better the year after when the young talent was still trying to figure out what it was doing. But now, after using many of Ty Willingham's matured players and recruits, this is Weis's hill and these are his beans. There are no excuses this year.

Without question, this is the best team in the five years under Weis with experience across the board and plenty of good options to create strong battles for most of the jobs. Unlike the past 15 years, there's a whole bunch of athleticism and the insurgence of potential NFL talent needed to compete at the highest level. Will that mean a BCS bid? Not necessarily, but this season could show that the foundation has been set to put Notre Dame among the best programs in America again.

For example, the receiving corps, including emerging star tight end Kyle Rudolph, might be the most talented and productive in the history of the program. The addition of linebackers Manti Te'o and Zeke Motta from this year's recruiting class has instantly raised the defensive talent level up a few notches, while the expected emergence of sophomores Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore on the defensive line, to go along with tackle Ian Williams, could make the Irish front four a brick wall for the first time in years. Throw in a veteran quarterback who really is that good, a kicking game that gets everyone back, and add a few key players missing from last year's mix to fill in some gaps, and every area of the team should be better than last year.

Lost in the mediocrity of 2008 was how Notre Dame was a couple of missed kicks against Pitt and Syracuse from finishing the regular season at 8-4; that would've set the expectations sky high coming into this year and Weis's job status wouldn't be up in the air. No, this might not be a BCS team quite yet, but it's awfully close. If the Irish do end up playing in one of the big five January games, it's not going to be like it was a few years back. This time, they'll be the real deal that Irish fans have been waiting so long for.

What to watch for on offense: The attempt to get a power running game going. Notre Dame has been pushed around too often, and it appears to be tired of it. The running game has been non-existent over the past two seasons, but now there are four decent veteran backs ready to roll behind an experienced line. Compared to the other units, the line might be the team's weak link, but four starters are back, not including Paul Duncan, who missed last year but started 11 times in 2007. The call has gone out for everyone to be more physical and to start pounding away with the running game. At the very least, the veterans are in place to give it a shot.

What to watch for on defense: A far faster defense that doesn't quite resemble anything yet seen in the Weis era. Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta loves to be aggressive and he wants to blitz from several different angles, but last year he didn't necessarily have the athletes in place and he didn't have the experienced players to do exactly what he wanted to. This year, with the defense going to a 4-3 from last year's 3-4, there's an abundance of really good, really talented linebackers for Tenuta to send after quarterbacks, and he has the secondary in place to handle the pressure of being left out to dry.

The team will be far better if … Jimmy Clausen stops throwing interceptions. He threw 17 last season giving away two or more in seven games. He threw eight picks and one touchdown pass in the three disaster games (Michigan State, Boston College, and USC), and the Irish struggled against an awful San Diego State and an overmatched Navy when he threw two interceptions in each game. There will be two extra wins this year if Clausen can cut his interceptions down to ten or fewer.

The Schedule: All the excitement and all the high expectations could go out the window in the season-opener against Colin Kaepernick and a strong Nevada team, and then comes the Big Ten portion of the slate at Michigan, at home against Michigan State, and at Purdue, before dealing with Washington. If Notre Dame is the real deal it's 5-0 or at worst 4-1. And then comes USC, which could make or break the Weis era. The back half of the schedule is more than manageable with the biggest concerns a road trip to Pitt and a home game against a Boston College team that won't be as good as last year. Basically, the schedule can't be used as an excuse if the Irish don't have a big season.

Best Offensive Player: Junior WR Golden Tate. Jimmy Clausen is the star of the show, at least he needs to be, but Tate is the gamebreaker. The leader of a great receiving corps, and a talented kick returner, Tate averaged 18.6 yards per catch and came up with ten touchdown grabs. While he's not all that big, he's fast, athletic, and acrobatic. Best of all, he appears to be just scratching the surface of his immense talent.

Best Defensive Player: Senior SS Kyle McCarthy. No, it's not Manti Te'o. At least not yet. The NFL types are going to love DT Ian Williams, and they're going to quickly become enamored with end/tackle Ethan Johnson and end Kapron Lewis-Moore, but McCarthy is the steady key to the defense. He's a tackling machine in the secondary who cleans everything up. He set a program-record for defensive backs with 110 stops last year, but this season the plan is to have him do more against the pass.

Key player to a successful season: Senior OT Paul Duncan. The offensive line will be better than it's been so far under Weis, but the one potential problem could be at left tackle unless Duncan is over the hip problem that kept him out last year. If he's not great and the pass protection breaks down, then Clausen will have to be that much sharper and that much quicker with his decision-making. If Clausen gets time, he'll be terrific.

The season will be a success if … the Irish goes to a BCS game. The USC game is the one acceptable loss, and Michigan State might turn out to be the best team in the Big Ten. Notre Dame needs to win the other ten games. This year's team is too experienced and too good to not be 10-2 and playing in a big money spotlight bowl, even if 9-3 or 8-4 is more realistic.

Key game: Oct. 17 vs. USC. Notre Dame has lost seven straight to USC, with most of the games ugly blowouts including last year's rock-bottom performance when the offense couldn't get a first down until the outcome was decided. Everyone sees the nationally televised game, and Irish fans get up in arms when their team gets pantsed by the Trojans. But USC is great against everyone, not just Notre Dame. However, this year, the Irish really do have a shot against the rebuilding Trojans. 

2008 Fun Stats: 
- First quarter score: Notre Dame 69 - Opponents 36
- Penalties: Opponents 95 for 834 yards - Notre Dame 70 for 649 yards
- Tackles for loss: Opponents 81 for 343 yards - Notre Dame 60 for 295 yards

- 2009 CFN Notre Dame Preview | 2009 Notre Dame Offense
- 2009 Notre Dame Defense
2009 Notre Dame Depth Chart
2008 ND Preview | 2007 ND Preview | 2006 ND Preview