S.W.O.T.

Each game week, Irish Eyes will be putting together a S.W.O.T. report on each opponent. We will analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats the opposition brings to the table, and how Notre Dame can exploit or counter on each Saturday.

This being the week before the Sept. 2, opener against Georgia Tech, we will do our first S.W.O.T. report on the second-ranked Irish. The analysis will be done a little different than a typical game week, because Irish Eyes is a team without football players.

Strengths: Where do you begin on offense? Highly regarded as an offensive innovator on the professional level, second-year head coach Charlie Weis turned a very boring and predictable Notre Dame attack into one of the best offenses in the country. Under Weis, Notre Dame went from the No. 81 in total offense (345.5 ypg) to 10th (477.3 ypg) in one season. Even with that much improvement, take into account that quarterback Brady Quinn and company were learning Weis' system on the fly.

With seven starters and 15 monogram winners back, including Heisman candidate Quinn and All-American receiver Jeff Samardzija on this side of the ball, Weis will make this the best offense in the country. Trying to stop them will be easier said than done. Defenses need to really avoid the big play and hope for turnovers, even though Quinn was picked off just seven times last season and tailback Darius Walker doesn't put it on the ground often. Just hope that this is the day the Irish turn the ball over a couple times. I'd like to just keep this unit off the field in general by owning time of possession. Though possible, it's tough to score without the ball (Tom Zbikowski is a very dangerous punt returner and opportunistic defender). Teams should snap the ball with less than five seconds on the play clock almost every time, run the football and hope to keep the chains moving. Notre Dame and its talented defensive line was tough against the run last year, allowing only 134.2 ypg (34th in the nation). They should be better this year, so no easy task running the ball effectively.

Weaknesses: Inexperienced linebackers, mobile quarterbacks, and until they prove it in a game, the secondary. The Irish lost their two leading tacklers from last season in linebackers Corey Mays and Brandon Hoyte. Notre Dame ranked 103rd against the pass last season, giving up 264.58 yards per game. Quarterbacks that are elusive made it tough on a defense that wasn't that fast at linebacker (see Ohio State's Troy Smith and Michigan State's Drew Stanton).

Though the defense improved dramatically last season, they still only ranked 75th in the country at 396.92 yards per game. There is reason to believe this unit is better, but teams should be optimistic they can move the football. Other than Zbikowski, the Irish were very mediocre on offensive special teams. They might not have an accountable place kicker, and they failed to hit a homerun on kickoff return last year. Notre Dame could also end up starting a freshman at right tackle, so teams will put a lot of pressure on Sam Young.

Opportunities: Obviously the National Championship. The Irish have a pretty favorable schedule with seven home games, including two of their three toughest opponents. Notre Dame catches Penn State at the right time. The Nittany Lions will be a top-20 team when they come to Notre Dame Stadium for the second game of the season for both teams, but they will be very young and inexperienced at key positions. A seasoned Irish team should handle them. This would be a tougher contest if played in November instead of September.

The Irish will try to continue its recent ownership of the Michigan Wolverines the following week. At home again, ND should defeat another top-20 team. Games against all three academies are the type of contests a team needs when going after a National Championship. Those should be three easy wins. Purdue, Stanford, UCLA and North Carolina will all be decent teams, but all will probably leave South Bend with a loss.

Threats: Georgia Tech, Michigan State and of course USC. Notre Dame will be the better team when they open up against the Yellow Jackets, but in openers you never know what can happen. There is no preseason to work the kinks out, and a couple early mistakes could put a team down two quick touchdowns. That works both ways but it's a concern. Also, having the game on Georgia Tech's campus instead of the Superdome will really add to the environment.

The Spartans are always a needle in the side, and Stanton, a dark-horse Heisman candidate, will make things tough on the Irish. It would be nice if Notre Dame could play USC sooner rather than later. Unfortunately it's the last game of the year, and it's at the Coliseum. The Trojans will be young, but by the time Notre Dame comes to town, head coach Pete Carroll will have his guys peaking. Then there is the hype. Though the coaches and players alike are saying they are only focusing on Georgia Tech, it's hard not to think about the possible fruits of the future. When you see Notre Dame (or basically Quinn) on several magazine covers and all the preseason top-five rankings, Irish players will have to stay grounded and poised for four months.

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