Mike's Mailbag

Here's another batch of questions left over from Power Hour last night. Keep those questions coming!

Do you think all of the commits understand that next year we have a young team and might struggle out of the gate? How do you think Charlie handles that to prevent the commits from being shocked and looking around when the team struggles?

Mike: Good question. I'm not sure how you can really handle that. I think if Charlie were to say to some prospects, "we're going to lose some games next year," that might rub them the wrong way. I think every player would want their future coach to think they're going to win every game next year. I do think our good friends at ESPN and other places will probably manage those expectations for us. I think you'll see every publication/ TV analyst predicting the Irish to slip a bit this year, some more than others, which is what most of us expect as well.

I do think you'll start to see ridiculous comments coming though, "the shine has rubbed off Charlie Weis" if the Irish struggle early, which will be unfair. It will be comical to watch this because they'll all predict a season where the Irish struggle, and then they'll starting criticizing Weis if they do. Well, didn't they all expect this when predicting how Notre Dame's season would go? So why the criticism if/when it happens? This will be fun to watch, but hopefully Weis and Co. win a game or two the "experts" don't expect them to win.

I'm curious to know your thoughts about Arthur Brown. Every piece of info out there shows no sign of ND having a chance. However it seems that when you mention his name it sounds like you think the Irish have a shot with him. If that's the case where do your positive feelings come from?

Mike: I think ND has a shot, like a number of schools, because I don't think Arthur has a stone-cold leader at this point, and because of Corwin Brown. I think a lot of people, myself included, believe Oklahoma and USC will be two teams that will be high on his list, but I also don't think he's spoken much with coach Brown yet. As we printed on Irish Eyes today, he will do that soon. I think we'll have a better idea of ND's chances once the two speak and start developing a relationship. All I do know is that Corwin has been very successful lately relating to a lot of these kids. All you have to do is listen to Jeremy Brown's interview on Power Hour last night to understand why I think ND has a shot in this race. He said he loves Corwin Brown, as have many other top defensive players already committed or high on the Irish currently. We should know more soon.

Just wondering what the story is with the Irish cornerbacks? There was a lot of hype over Raeshon McNeil and Darrin Walls. How are they progressing and how does the secondary look as a whole?

Mike: Interesting question. I say interesting because I'm not sure if you're driving at why McNeil and Walls haven't taken over or what your curiosity might be with the position? I think a few probably are wondering why they haven't. But I also think you have to remember that both Ambrose Wooden and Terrail Lambert were high four-star players coming out of high school as well. Both are among the fastest players on the team, and both have a lot more experience as starters than either McNeil or Walls. While neither player is perfect, I do think both do a pretty good job while playing corner. I think both McNeil and Walls will get their chance. One of them will be the nickel this fall most likely. I think both will be in line to start the following season. It's nice to have depth at corner for a change. I do think you'll see the Irish secondary playing quite a bit better next season.

The Negative Nancy routine is getting tiresome. PSU lost their best O-lineman, their best running back, and still have Morelli starting at QB. They graduated their entire front four, their two-time All-American linebacker, and two of their starting secondary. We beat this team 41-17 last year, and we called off the dogs in the third quarter--it could have been much worse. Do you really think a 40 point turnaround is likely? We could lose to State Penn, but I'd be shocked by a blowout, and not really surprised by a win.

Mike: I wonder if you were saying the same thing last year when the Irish got pounded 47-21 by Michigan after beating them the previous year on the road? Was the same 40-point swing likely then? The Michigan game was at home at least, and this one is at Penn State, at night, against Joe Pa. and the old man hates the Irish, and it will likely be his last game coaching against the Irish.

ND returned a ton of talent against Michigan, and ND was ranked very highly, but that same 40-point swing happened. ND doesn't return the same type of talent this year as they had against Michigan, and it will be the first start on the road for ND's new quarterback in a hostile environment. Throw in a green O-line, new back and two new receivers and that's not usually a recipe for success.

The Irish can beat Penn State. I just don't think they will because of all those factors I've stated above. I'd say both teams are pretty evenly matched heading into the game, but I think emotion and experience will be the difference in this game. Momentum is huge, and if Penn State gets it, look out. Ohio State found out two years ago, Nebraska the year before that. No coach wants to play Penn State in Happy Valley at night if they don't have to. I hope I'm wrong. I'll certainly be more than willing to admit it after the fact if I am, but I just think this is going to be a very tough game for the Irish to win. ND's best chance to win this game is to run the football effectively. If they can run early, they should have a chance. If they can't, look out.

Assuming Zack Frazer transfers, how many scholarships does Notre Dame have to give out?

Mike: My best guess is 23. This is based on current numbers and my assumption that 3-4 fifth-year guys will be back the following season.

If you had to love another school, which one would it be?

Mike: Funny you say that, but I really kind of started following Indiana the past two years since I now live here—they're football program anyway. I really liked Hoeppner, and I really think he was going to turn the program around. He had a great presence about him, and his team was actually exciting to watch. I was really quite saddened by his death because I really think he was taking Indiana to new heights in football. Hopefully someone can build on what he started there. It's kind of fun watching someone build something, so I was looking forward to watching him do just that.

Gut feeling on Slaughter or Ethan Johnson? I heard Michigan is making a push. Slaughter would be good for Notre Dame. It's a SC/ND battle for Johnson, right?

Mike: I think the Irish are in great shape for Jamoris Slaughter. I think that Corwin Brown and the Irish staff have done an outstanding job with him thus far, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him decide sometime fairly soon. If Blanton commits today, as many expect, there won't be a lot of slots left at corner. Will he take his visits to LSU and Michigan? Anything can change if he does, but I think ND is in the driver's seat currently for him.

As for Johnson, I don't think we'll really know until he visits ND. I will say that he seems like a ND kid, meaning he should fit in well at ND and with the players, but I can't be sure of that until he visits. I think the Irish will definitely be a player in the end. I do think USC is a real factor here as well. I'm not sure if Michigan will be a factor or not. I certainly wouldn't count them out.

Do you think that Golden Tate will ready in time for fall practice?

Mike: Good question. I don't think many know for certain exactly how bad he was injured. I have the same concerns with Tate as I do with Jimmy Clausen. If they're injured and recovering over the summer, when will they be able to condition and lift weights in order to take the pounding of a full college season? I think they'll both be ready to participate by the time the season starts, but will they be in football shape to start the season? Will they be strong enough to take the pounding for an entire season? I do think Tate has a good shot to at least see some special teams work this fall, but only if he's fully ready to go.

You said "Don't be surprised to see Evan Sharpley as the starter." Considering the injury to Clausen, I would anticipate that Sharpley will be the starter as well.

Any conjecture as to what we will see offensively in the early going of the season? I think the general consensus (from the competition) is that ND is going to try and run -- and be conservative in the passing game. I think Weis has been doing some heavy tinkering in order to catch defenses off guard and get this young team through that tough opening stretch.

Mike: I won't be surprised if Sharpley starts because in the end, he just might be the guy who gives ND the best chance to win. Personally, I thought Jimmy would probably win out in the fall due to his accuracy, and the fact that I'd guess Charlie would go with what he'd consider the future even if he clearly wasn't the best guy at that time. I think you have to build for the future at this point if you can and just take some lumps along the way if you must.

But with this injury, I'm not sure Clausen will be in physical shape to take the pounding he'll get as the starter. It's just my assumption, but we'll see.

Demetrius very well could be the guy as well. I think he has a golden opportunity right now. I agree that Weis will try to establish a strong running game, but if he can't, he'll need someone who can make some plays, and Jones, with his running ability, can be that guy. He's a better passer than many think, and his legs can make up for some mental mistakes.

Here's my wild prediction for the day. If Clausen isn't full go to start the season, I wouldn't be surprised to see a platoon of both Sharpley and Jones. Take the best of both and give them plays to run. It certainly would make teams have a lot to prepare for.

My son met a linebacker from UCLA in the LA airport last week. He said UCLA is treating or game as their bowl game. They want to beat us bad.

Mike: That does not surprise me at all. I can't imagine how UCLA lost last year's game sets very well with them right now. They also beat USC at the end of the year so they likely feel like they can play with anyone. This will not be an easy game. I personally think ND has a better chance of beating Michigan than UCLA, but I always worry about these types of games. We always build teams up as invincible at the start of the season and then realize that some just aren't as good as we thought they'd be. Still, this will likely be a very difficult game for the Irish.

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