10 and 10

The only way that fans can live with seasons like the one Notre Dame had last year, is to believe that there are better times to come. But at Notre Dame after a 3-9 season, things better get turned around quickly. The general feeling among the fans seems to be that if the Irish can improve by five or more games in 2008, that will be sufficient proof that the program is on the right track.

IrishEyes offers ten reasons why Notre Dame will do just that followed by ten factors that do cause concern.

Ten Reasons Why Notre Dame Will Win Eight Games or More in 2008

10. History: No matter what any national media types say, Notre Dame is still Notre Dame and the Irish do have some history on their side. Apart from the national titles, Heisman Trophy winners and All-Americans, Notre Dame also has a solid record of improving after tough years. Excluding 2007, in the 107 football seasons that Notre Dame has played since 1900, the Irish have finished with sub-.500 records on 10 occasions. The Irish improved their record in nine of the 10 seasons in the year that followed. Lou Holtz's first year in 1986 was the only time that the team did not have a better record, matching the 5-6 mark that they had in 1985. In five of those seasons, Notre Dame won at least seven games.

9. Recruiting: Charlie Weis took some heat for winning with Tyrone Willingham's players in 2005 and 2006 before struggling with his own recruits last year. In reality, Weis' guys were forced into action earlier than he would have liked because of a dearth of talent among the upperclassmen. Sure, Weis' worst season came with a large number of his players on the field, but most of them were too young to really compete. By virtually every measure, Weis' classes have been graded higher than the ones that Willingham put together. This season Weis will have three full recruiting classes of his own on the roster and they will be better prepared to compete physically. Weis' latest class could be his best yet and while guys like Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph and Ethan Johnson may be called upon to play, they will have to pass veteran players on the depth chart to do so.

8. Last year: Coaches want to put the past behind them and live in the present or very near future, but for Notre Dame there is no denying what happened in 2007. The only thing that the players and the staff can do now is learn from it and be motivated by it. The Irish finished the season with back-to-back wins for the first time since 1992 and it was obvious that the young players on the team don't want to have another season like 2007.

7. A Year Older: The other positive aspect of last year's season was that it gave everyone a year of experience. While most programs would have preferred to redshirt most of the freshmen that Notre Dame pushed into duty in 2007, those players are now sophomores with a year of playing experience. The freshmen weren't the only ones to benefit as the Irish bring back 14 upperclassmen with starting experience. No matter how many reps players get in practice, there is nothing that can recreate the game experience. And an offseason in the gym with Ruben Mendoza, followed by spring practice and some more time with Mendoza will benefit everyone on the roster.

6. Health: As far as we know, Notre Dame will enter preseason camp in relative good health. Offensive tackle Matt Romine was hobbled all spring with an ankle injury and did not play in the Blue-Gold Game while defensive end John Ryan did not participate in any contact drills this spring after shoulder surgery. Wide receiver Richard Jackson left the spring game with an undisclosed injury while receiver Robby Parris (undisclosed), tight end Luke Schmidt (concussion) and defensive end Kallen Wade (undisclosed) were all held out of the spring game. The seriousness of Romine's injury has not been determined yet, but it appears that everyone else will be ready for preseason camp.

5. Jimmy Clausen: The sophomore signal caller could fit in any of the previous four categories. Weis' most high-profile recruit may have benefited more than anybody from the season he had as a freshman. Clausen was hampered by an elbow surgery before the season that limited his ability to work out and left him at less than 100% for most, if not all, of 2007. In some respects, Clausen's development is a microcosm of the team's: a tough start in 2007 was expected, but early struggles were, rightly or wrongly, more than some had hoped. Clausen, like the team, had some of his best moments later in the season. If Notre Dame is going to improve in 2008, the quarterback position will be one area that will be key. Clausen now brings a certainty to the position that was absent last year and after packing on 20 pounds and showcasing more zip on his throws in the spring, he appears ready for a breakout season.

4. Backfield depth: Clausen won't be able to do it alone and fortunately he won't have to since the Irish have as strong a stable of backs as they've had in recent years. Junior James Aldridge is a former five-star recruit whose career has been slowed by knee problems, but says that he is now at 100%. Aldridge was listed as the top back on the depth chart entering the spring, but he will be pushed. Sophomores Robert Hughes and Armando Allen saw extensive playing time as freshmen and will compete with Aldridge for carries in 2008. The sophomore duo combined for 642 yards in 2007 and, although Allen brings game-breaking speed that the other two do not, many believe that Hughes will ultimately be the man. No matter who earns the bulk of the carries, the internal competition alone will make the position better.

3. Corwin Brown/John Tenuta: Brown is the defensive coordinator and Tenuta is the linebackers coach, but it's clear that Tenuta will have more influence than the average position coach. In his first season as coordinator, Brown led the Irish to their best defensive ranking since 2002 and now will have access to one of the game's most innovative defensive minds. Together, Brown and Tenuta should be able to implement an even more aggressive scheme to pressure the passer. Both men have said that there will be no ego problems and both subscribe to the policy that "there's no limit to what a man can accomplish as long as he doesn't care who gets the credit."

2. Charlie Weis: As the losses mounted in 2007, Weis delivered what may be his most well known quote of the season, a less-than-cryptic warning to future opponents. "Let me just say people better enjoy it now, have their fun now." The quote came off more as personal confidence in the direction of the program than a need to deliver a message to his players. Weis refused to acknowledge the word "rebuilding" in 2007, but in hindsight there is really little else that it could have been. He has proven his ability to coach and as evidenced by his decision to hand over play-calling duties to coordinator Mike Haywood, is now becoming a true executive. Weis' fourth year on the Irish sidelines may be his most scrutinized, but he certainly seems up to the task.

1. The Schedule: Probably the best reason to believe that Notre Dame will improve drastically in 2008 is the schedule. The Irish have the chance to get off to a fast start when they host San Diego State, on paper Notre Dame's easiest opener in recent years, and Michigan, who will be in the early phases of installing a completely new offense without the quarterback to do it. The schedule also features dates with Stanford, Navy and Syracuse. While there are few, if any, ‘gimme games', the Irish should go through the season without being a substantial underdog until their final game at Southern Cal.

Ten Reasons Why Notre Dame Won't Win Eight Games in 2008

10. The Schedule: While the schedule is favorable on paper, it could be argued that if the Irish had played this year's schedule in 2007, their record would not have been much, if it all better.

9. USC: Notre Dame has yet to prove that it can truly compete with the Trojans and with this season's game being played in the Coliseum, this doesn't appear to be the year they do it.

8. Other teams are underrated: The Irish also have Michigan St., Purdue, North Carolina, Washington, Pittsburgh and Boston College on the slate and four of those games are on the road. Many assume that the Irish will fare decently against these squads, but after a 3-9 season nothing should be taken for granted.

7. Notre Dame is still Notre Dame: Most teams would be able to sneak up on opponents after a 3-9 season, but not Notre Dame. The Irish can expect to get every team's best effort just as they do every year.

6. Not much has changed: The Irish do bring back a number of players with starting experience, but that won't be a good thing if everyone does not show true improvement.

5. Youth: With much of the team's talent concentrated in the team's freshmen and sophomore classes, the Irish could still be a year away from truly being competitive.

4. Lost leadership: The few players that Notre Dame will have to replace include some of the team's leaders like John Carlson, Tom Zbikowski and Trevor Laws.

3. Offensive line: The Irish had one of the worst offensive lines in the country last year and with three full-time starters back, they will have to make some serious strides in order to protect Clausen and open holes for those backs.

2. Defensive line: It's hard to believe, but the Irish would have been even worse last year had they not had Trevor Laws and this year they will not have Trevor Laws.

1. Injuries: The wildcard for any team. No matter how talented, how experienced or how well coached a team is there is nothing that can compensate for the loss of key players.


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