Head coach Charlie Weis has a difficult decision this week. He needs a win more than anything, but he also has to look at what's best for the Irish football team.
A win would go a long way in reassuring the 19 commitments he currently has in this 2008 recruiting class—the future—but at what price does that come?
He can stand pat and keep playing the same players he has all season as they're probably the best he currently he has. He can hope they find some luck in Los Angeles, or can play the spoiler role against Boston College or USC at home the following weeks. It is possible the Irish can find a win in one of those three games, but not likely, and is that what's best for this football team?
Charlie Weis believes he owes some older players for their sacrifices for the program, but when your team is 0-5, has the debt been paid? Are a handful of guys more important than the rest of the team? Something has to give because what's happening isn't working.
I fully agreed with Weis' comments at the beginning of the season when he said that he owed it to the fifth-year seniors and current seniors to play to win now, but that hasn't happened, and maybe it's time to play for the future.
Should Weis play for the future at this point? Should we start to see a youth movement on the field this coming Saturday against UCLA? At this point, I think you have to look at the future.
Yes, some current starters on the Irish team might be more physically ready to play, and they might know the offense or defense better than those running second or third team, but their physical talent and knowledge hasn't equated to wins at this point. If you're going to lose games anyway, wouldn't it be smart to build for the future?
A player like Ian Williams is the perfect example. He's probably not strong enough to hold up for 60 snaps in any given game, but what he'll learn by playing them will pay huge dividends down the road. He'll learn how strong he needs to be, and he'll learn valuable lessons in the trenches that will help him next season when he is physically capable of holding his own. It will motivate him during the off season to get to that point. He won't get that motivation on the sidelines because he won't have that experience.
More importantly, the Irish are going to need Ian Williams ready to play next year more than any other player on this team. With the departure of Trevor Laws and Dwight Stephenson (and possibly Justin Brown if he doesn't want to come back), Notre Dame will find themselves in a world of hurt along the defensive line with very few experienced players returning for 2008. Why not play Ian now? Why not a starting three of Laws and Kuntz at end and Williams at the nose?
The team isn't winning games. It doesn't look likely many wins are coming in the next few weeks. Maybe it's time to look at the future.
Why Play For the Future Now?
Notre Dame will play some very talented teams over the next three games. The level of athletes they'll be playing against will give these young players a realistic view of how fast the game of college football can be. The experience will give this youth movement a genuine view of how far they have to go to compete against some of the very best athletes they'll be facing in the future. It will also give them insight into the mental mindset and emotional level they'll have to reach to compete with college football's best.
This is not something they're going to learn on the sideline. This experience, like Williams, will motivate all of them throughout the off season as they'll know how far they have to go after this stretch of three games. They won't learn this valuable lesson against Duke, Air Force and Navy.
I'm not suggesting Weis bench every older player for a younger player, but why not take a hard look at some positions that continue to remain unproductive and maybe look at other possible solutions?
The goal is to win games. This current group hasn't been able to do that, and doesn't appear they'll be able to do that in the very near future, so maybe it's best to build a team that can win games in the future.
A lot will be made over the next few days about a quarterback controversy at Notre Dame in the national media. Evan Sharpley did a great job of leading the team while under center as did Jimmy Clausen when given time. Did the team respond better to one over the other or was it the fact that Weis decided to throw the ball down field that opened up the offense? I'll watch the tape and give you my thoughts later. However, should there be a quarterback controversy?
The debate will probably be a moot point as I'm not sure we'll see Clausen next week. His injury didn't look like something that can easily be overcome, and I'm still not sold his arm is 100 percent healthy, either.
However, if Clausen is healthy, if I'm Weis, I'm going with the guy I believe is the future of your program. Only Weis knows who that is, but there should be no controversy about it.