Predictions: Round Three

Our next installment in the Irish 101 Series brings predictions No. 11 through No. 14 for 2009.

Click below for previous sets of predictions focused on the upcoming Irish season:

Predictions 1-5

Predictions 6-10

Prediction #11

Michael Floyd Will Lead the Irish in Touchdowns Scored

Process of elimination didn't play a role in this prediction but it does help explain my thought process. There are likely just five options to pace the Irish in this category: Floyd and fellow wide receiver Golden Tate (last year's team leader with 11, including a rushing score); running backs Armando Allen and Robert Hughes; and tight end Kyle Rudolph.

Rudolph should (at least) double his touchdown total (2) from last season, but for those of you in Rudolph's corner for this category, remember: the highest touchdown total for a Weis tight end is just four (John Carlson in 2006). If Rudolph doubled that mark he'd still likely finish third on this year's team.

Allen has seven touchdowns in two seasons (3 as a receiver out of the backfield; 3 rushing, and of course a kick return TD in last year's Bowl win). Hughes, my choice for this honor entering last season, has eight career scores – all rushing: 4 as a freshman in 2007 (one each vs. Michigan State Navy, Duke, and Stanford); and 4 last season (two vs. Michigan and one vs. both Navy and Hawaii).

I expect both Allen and Hughes to set personal single-season highs this season, but don't believe either will approach the team lead. In fact, Weis' offense has consistently catered to the wide receiver position in his first four seasons:

  • 2005 – The most balanced production of the Weis era (both in terms of yardage and touchdown distribution). ND Receivers caught 27 TD passes (Shark 15, Stovall 11, McKnight 1). Irish running backs accounted for 22 total touchdowns: Darius Walker scored 11 (9 rushing); Rashon Powers-Neal 6; and Travis Thomas 5.
  • 2006 – Balance was thrown out the window in favor of an aerial assault, with Irish receivers accounting for 29 TD (McKnight 15; Shark 12; Grimes 2) while the total number of RB scores was cut in half: Walker 8 (7 rushing); Thomas 2; and Ashley McConnell 1 (reception).
  • 2007 – The entire season was a statistical anomaly, but three Irish RBs accounted for 10 scores (Thomas 5; Hughes 4; and Allen, who caught a touchdown pass) while four Irish wide receivers gathered a total of eight touchdown receptions (Kamara 4; Grimes 2; Parris and Tate one each). If the number appears low, remember that tight end John Carlson added three more.
  • 2008 – Tate (11) Floyd (7) Grimes (3) and Kamara (1) accounted for 22 total touchdowns while the trio of Allen, Hughes, and James Aldridge managed 13, total including Allen's two receiving scores and KR TD.

Which leaves us with Floyd and Tate for 2009's probable leader. I came close to predicting that the tandem would break the Irish single-season mark by a duo (28), which was set in 2006 by McKnight and Samardzija (Shark ran for a score on a fake field goal vs. Purdue), but I think that milestone might have to wait until 2010.

Floyd essentially played 19 halves of football last season (he was used sparingly in the first half vs. SD State and was injured early vs. Navy). In two of those 19, he was less than 100 percent (Hawaii). Once Floyd was acclimated to the college game, he produced a six-game assault on the end zone (beginning at Michigan State and ending with Pittsburgh) that yielded 38 receptions for 601 yards and six of his seven touchdowns on the season.

Like Tate, Floyd is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. And while Tate may add a touchdown (or two) this season with an end-around run, "Wildcat" formation direct snap, or return score, it will be Floyd, through a variety of fades, short slants, skinny posts, and general domination inside the hash marks, that will be the more frequent target of red zone passes from Jimmy Clausen…just as he was during that six-game stretch last season. Unlike last year, the budding star is no longer learning on the job.

Prediction #12

Notre Dame Will Not Escape September Unscathed

This of course, ranks as the first prediction I hope proves false.

In 11 season's at the helm, Lou Holtz fielded just three teams that began a season 4-0 (or better): 1988, 1989, and 1993. Bob Davie's teams never turned the trick in five seasons (hard to begin 4-0 when you finish winless vs. Michigan State); while Tyrone Willingham famously accomplished the feat in his first season (2002).

Charlie Weis' teams have lost the season's third game in each of his first four years. (For the record, Gerry Faust reached 4-0 once in five seasons, 1982).

That's five seasons since Dan Devine's final year, 1980, in which the Irish football team began a season at 4-0.

Holtz's three 4-0 squads of '88, '89, and ‘93 actually began an incredible 33-0; finished with a combined 35-2 record, a National Title, and one (yes, just one, you can't have it both ways) maddening case of highway robbery in the final national polls to boot. Willingham began 8-0 abut limped to a 10-3 finish while Faust one-upped the decade's chief program-killer with a 6-4-1 final record after his 4-0 start in 1982.

Picked individually, I believe the Irish will beat Nevada, Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue. That's a 4-0 start. But as illustrated in the column When September Ends the early-season Irish are usually felled by an unforeseen occurrence. Since I have to make an official prediction every week, I'm going to withhold speculation as to which September contest the Irish might drop. There's a (very good) chance I'll pick the Irish to win each of these four games. However, I'm certain of three truths relevant to this prediction:

  • If you don't see both sides of a wager/prediction, you're generally on the wrong side.
  • Beginning with the Faust era in 1981 – at least two Irish teams (1990 and 1992), and as many as nine others (1987, '91, '95, '96, '98, '00, '05, '06…and you can also argue for the 1986 squad in terms of level of play) that did not begin 4-0 were as good or better than the '09 Irish. An opinion, yes, but a reasonable assessment nonetheless. Losing one of its first four games need not spell doom for this football team.
  • And finally "Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it."

I'd be happy if my season-end prediction accuracy takes a hit due to #12, but be ready for a maddening September slip...

Prediction #13

James Aldridge Will Score a Touchdown at Notre Dame Stadium

Its hard to believe, but the senior has appeared in 14 home games, carried the rock 134 times for 520 yards and never scored a touchdown at Notre Dame Stadium. Aldridge scored his first three career touchdowns in a two-game span (at North Carolina and at Washington) last year.

He had a close call at home in Week Two last season vs. Michigan - pounding the Wolverines from the UM 16-yard line for consecutive gains of seven and eight yards - but (after the requisite pass attempt from the UM one-yard line) Robert Hughes replaced Aldridge in the lineup to punch in the one-yard score.

As the team's fullback, Aldridge should see more snaps, both inside the opponent's 10-yard line and near the goal line this season, and those increased opportunities, coupled with a strong fall camp effort to replace the previously inconsistent Hughes (two career fumbles inside the 5) as the team's goal line ‘back should yield not only touchdown No. 1 in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus, but No.'s 2, 3, and possibly beyond.

Aldridge wasn't singled out for this prediction as a subject of ridicule, rather, to point out the lack of production from the fullback position over the last decade-(plus).

Since Bob Davie took the helm in 1997, Irish fullbacks have rushed for 13 touchdowns. That's 13 rushing touchdowns from the fullback position in 12 seasons (Ashley McConnell added a receiving TD in '06). Rashon Powers-Neal accounted for nine of those scores from 2002-2005; Jamie Spencer scored three in 1997-98, and Tom Lopienski added one in 2002.

By contrast, during the final season of the Lou Holtz era (1996), the fullback tandem of senior Marc Edwards and sophomore Jamie Spencer combined to match the total of the next 12 seasons, scoring 13 touchdowns in 11 games (Edwards scored another 12 in 1995 as well).

Nearly four full seasons have passed (October 1, 2005 – the 49-28 bloodletting of the Boilermakers) since an Irish fullback has rushed for a score. James Aldridge will break that drought early in ‘09.

Prediction #14

ND Will Remain Behind Michigan for

College Football's All-Time Best Winning Percentage at Season's End

But pass the Wolverines in 2010…

Michigan returned a recent Notre Dame favor in this ongoing competition, finishing 3-9 last season, a mark that allowed the Irish to creep back into contention after their own three-win disaster in 2007. The current standings:

  • Michigan: 871 wins 294 losses 36 ties for a winning percentage of 74.0 percent (I was an English major, so be patient).
  • Notre Dame: 830 wins 284 losses 42 ties for a winning percentage of 73.6 percent.

Likely Michigan Records for 2009 and the Resulting Winning Percentage:

  • 5-7 = 0.737015664
  • 6-6 = 0.737840066
  • 6-7 = 0.73723229
  • 7-6 = 0.738056013
  • 8-5 = 0.738879736
  • 9-4 = 0.73970346

Likely (or unlikely) Notre Dame Records for 2009 and the Resulting Winning Percentage:

  • 8-5 = 0.734816082
  • 9-4 = 0.735671514
  • 10-3 = 0.736526946
  • 11-2 = 0.737382378
  • 12-1 = 0.73823781

Without arguing every permutation, Notre Dame's best hope of emerging from 2009 with college football's highest all-time winning percentage is to finish 11-2 and hope Michigan finishes with a losing record…or at .500 followed by a bowl defeat.

My money is on a late September 2010 overthrow by the Irish, but who'd have thought that either Eastern or Western Michigan, two early September heavyweights facing the Wolverines, could help to determine college football's highest winning percentage entering 2010?


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