Let's try to find some bright spots, however. First, most of the significant performers on offense are in their first or second year of eligibility. Brady Quinn and Ryan Harris are starting as true freshmen. Anthony Fasano is a sophomore playing in his first year. Josh Schmidt, Rashon Powers-Neal, Rhema McKnight, Bob Morton, Maurice Stovall, Jamie Ryan, Chinedem Ndukwe, Jeff Samardzija and others have all made significant contributions to an improving offense in their first or second year of eligibility.
An entirely new offensive line and a freshman quarterback is usually a recipe for offensive struggles early in the year. An offensive line that returns 4 starters and a tight end and a quarterback who started the year before (presumably the situation in 2004) sounds a lot more promising.
The defense has plenty of talent and will for the foreseeable future. Defense, however, is much about attitude and desire and, ahem, fight! Frankly, the Irish didn't show a lot of that against either USC or B.C. There is no reason, however, that N.D. cannot return to playing the suffocating defense that carried the Irish to an 8-0 start in 2002.
I wrote earlier this year that many talented coaches have had magical second years. Oklahoma's Stoops and Ohio State's Tressel won national championships their second year. USC's Carroll and Georgia's Richt had excellent sophomore campaigns.
There are counterexamples however. Iowa's Ferentz was 3-9 in his second year, but then had good years thereafter. Colorado's Barnett was 3-8 his second year but has had good teams thereafter and was only fractions of B.C.S. points from playing in the national title game his third year. Legendary N.D. coach Ara Parseghian was 0-9 his second year at Northwestern, but then went 32-21 at Northwestern for the rest of his career before moving on to coach the Irish.
And some guy named Willingham started 2-5 his second year at Stanford but then ran the table and blew out M.S.U. 38-0 in a bowl game to finish 7-5.
What last year's team had in team chemistry, particularly on defense, this one is missing. It's easy to point the finger at the coaching staff, and some of the blame should go there.
But the players have to want it. And the players who don't want it should sit, even if it means playing freshmen who haven't seen the field this year. There are a few who seem to have lost the sense of magic in playing in those gold helmets. And to those who have, I'd say that you need to show that you want to play or sit in favor of someone who does. Remember: It's Fighting Irish. Let's fight.