Prediction #1 – Wood will reach double digit touchdownsEasily attained? It's a rarity at the program over the last 12 seasons and considering the dearth of running back scores since Darius Walker's sophomore season of 2005, the chances that senior running back Cierre Wood hits pay dirt 10-plus times seems a sub-par proposition at best.
In other words: the ideal prediction to kick-off my summer-long series.
I've made 50 official summer predictions over the last two seasons and three of the least popular related to Notre Dame's running backs/ground game.
The prediction met with the most scorn was that Notre Dame's running backs wouldn't reach 15 total touchdowns in 2009. One private message noted that Armando Allen "might score 15 alone!" (Allen ran for eight touchdowns in his Irish career, scoring 12 total over four seasons).
While a handful of recent Irish wide receivers have put up cartoon-ish numbers (amid myriad losses) in recent seasons, it's been awhile since Notre Dame boasted a legitimate threat at running back aside from the solid yet comparatively plodding Walker.
In fact, since Allen Pinkett notched double digit touchdowns in three straight seasons to conclude his college career, only nine different running backs have turned the trick at the University in the 25 seasons since – three of the nine repeated the feat during their Irish careers, with program rushing leader Autry Denson matching Pinkett's three-season attack of the record books from 1996-98.
(Denson's 43 official touchdowns – plus three bowl game scores – rank second behind Pinkett's 53 in program history. Pinkett added three bowl game touchdowns as well).
If you're inclined to doubt that Wood can join the elite company listed above, well – recent history is on your side. Notre Dame running backs, as a unit, haven't scored more than 10 rushing TD collectively since the 2005 season, when former head coach Charlie Weis' first team rambled for 21 rushing TD with the RB unit scoring 22 overall.
Since, the Irish backfield has been decidedly sub par:
- 2010 Irish Running Backs TD – 9: 7 rushing scores from the backfield quartet of Wood (3); Armando Allen (2); Robert Hughes (2) and Jonas Gray (0). Wood added 2 touchdown receptions.
- 2009 Irish Running Backs TD – 10: 10 rushing scores from the backfield trio of Hughes (5), Allen (3), and Golden Tate (2 rushing TD as the Wildcat QB/RB)
- 2008 Irish Running Backs TD – 13: 10 rushing from the trio: Hughes (4), Allen (3), and James Aldridge (3). Allen added 2 TD receptions and a kick return score.
- 2007 Irish Running Backs TD – 10: The RB duo of Travis Thomas (5) and Robert Hughes (4) combined for 9 rushing scores. Armando Allen added 1 on a swing pass from Jimmy Clausen.
- 2006 Irish Running Backs TD – 11: Darius Walker rushed for 7 TD while Travis Thomas added 2. Walker chipped in 1 more through the air and fullback Ashley McConnell added another.
Why Wood?It takes more than talent, and in Wood's case, the deciding factor for my prediction was his obvious standing as the team's featured back.
In good health, Wood should receive the bulk of the rushing attempts next fall with senior backup Jonas Gray often approaching a 10-carry Saturday in relief.
While Wood might not be a classic goal line back, neither is Gray, at least not yet (I figure no touchdowns in three seasons and 75 carries is a good barometer).
What's to stop Wood from reaching the double-digit TD total?
- Any significant injury – even two missed games would greatly damage his chances
- An offense that's much worse than I expect (unlikely)
- A goal line attack that features the pass, with targets such as tight end Tyler Eifert and star receiver Michael Floyd as tempting targets for Irish QBs
- The greatness of Floyd – he's one of three Irish players that could consistently score when presented with open field/broken field opportunities (Wood is another). And…
- The emergence of Theo Riddick as a weapon: A healthy Floyd is going to score double digit touchdowns this fall. So could Wood – but Riddick could take away goal line touches from both with his open field ability and likely development as a Wildcat/short-yardage quarterback for Brian Kelly's offense.
Regardless, I'll take my chances that a healthy Cierre Wood hits pay dirt at least 10 times in 2011. (I'll guess 11 as the official total, including two through the air.)