Other Side of the Coin

IrishEyes presents its first off-season look at relevant news, notes, and items you need to know regarding Notre Dame's 2010 slate of opponents.

Note: The following column is both expansion and pending-NCAA sanction free. No extra benefits courtesy of a failed sports marketing company were awarded to me, or any members of my family for the completion of this task.

Purdue (September 4)

The Boilermakers reinstated suspended quarterback Justin Siller (academic violation), this week. Siller was expected to compete with the departed Joey Elliot for the starting role last season prior to his suspension. The 6'4" 220-pound redshirt-junior has started three games in his collegiate career, including a 2008 defeat of Michigan in which he was named the Big Ten's Co-player of the week.

He enters a competition with former Miami Hurricanes signal caller Robert Marve and redshirt-junior Caleb TerBush for the starting QB role next fall. TerBrush was named the team's most improved offensive player this spring, starring in the team's annual Black & Gold Game.

The Boilers best offensive player, redshirt-junior Ralph Bolden (17 carries for 67 yards vs. Notre Dame last season) tore his ACL during spring practice and will likely be lost for the season (and undoubtedly for the season-opener vs. the Irish).

Michigan (September 11)

The Wolverines lost three of their top four performers from what was already a porous rush defense (ranked 91st) in 2009. Enter Connecticut with its no-nonsense, between the tackles rushing attack in season opener for both squads.

Half of the Huskies 1-2 punch from last season returns with RB Jordan Todman as one of 8 offensive starters back for the Huskies. Of relevance? the brutish offensive line and bulk of the front seven remains relatively intact, ensuring UConn – less than a decade removed from Division II status – will have the opportunity to control the line of scrimmage in its first visit to The Big House, just as it did in its first visit to Notre Dame Stadium last November.

The Wolverines will reportedly feature a 3-3-5 base defense next season.

Finally, sophomore QB Denard Robinson has a chance to wrest the starting role from classmate an Irish-killer Tate Forcier with a strong August camp. According to ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg, Robinson was the star of Michigan's spring game, guiding the offense to five touchdowns in six possessions.

Michigan State (September 18)

Kirk Cousins won the team's starting quarterback spot after splitting the role with mobile Keith Nichol last season. (Nichol moved to wide receiver in the spring.) Cousins threw for 302 yards, 1 TD, and the game-ending interception inside the red zone in a loss to the Irish in South Bend last season.

The Spartans experimented with the 3-4 defensive front in the spring but will reportedly remain a base 4-3 defense in normal down and distance situations. Regardless, the unit will again be led by All American middle linebacker Greg Jones, who returned for his senior season. Jones enters 2010 ranked second among active FBS players in tackles per game (9.2) and career stops (359).

(The game between the Spartans and the Irish is slated for an 8 PM EST kickoff on ABC.)

Stanford (September 25)

Promising true sophomore linebacker Shayne Skov hyper-extended his knee in the team's Cardinal & White Spring Game (Skov reportedly suffered no ligament damage).

Bruising blocking fullback Owen Marecic will perform double duty next season. Marecic worked primarily at inside linebacker during the spring according the The Stanford Daily. Linebacker is considered the defense's strength, and Stanford will also turn to the 3-4 base defense next fall.

The Cardinal returns 8 starters on offense and will turn to a trio of backs: Jeremy Stewart, Tyler Gaffney, and Stepfan Taylor to replace the indomitable Toby Gerhart in the team's backfield. Taylor averaged 5.4 yards per carry (on 56 attempts) as Gerhart's chief change-of-pace last fall.

Former Irish kicker Nate Whitaker (16-22 FG) returns to handle kicking duties for the Cardinal.

Boston College (October 2)

26-year-old sophomore quarterback Dave Shinskie returns to guide the Eagles, but college football's resident elder received competition from two early enrollees: Chase Rettig and Joshua Bordner. Also in the running is redshirt-sophomore Michael Marscovetra.

Mark Herzlich returns after sitting out last season due to Ewing's sarcoma to join last year's freshman sensation Luke Kuechly at linebacker. The latter was a one-man wrecking crew vs. the Irish last season with 14 solos and

Boston College battles conference rival Virginia Tech one week before Assumption College (in nearby Worcester, MA) alum Brian Kelly's first trip east as head coach of the Irish. The game time between the teams in Chestnut Hill has yet to be announced.

Pittsburgh (October 9)

The Panthers joined Notre Dame (Kyle Rudolph and Michael Floyd) as well as Georgia, Nebraska, and UCLA as one of two programs to feature two pre-season All-America selections by the respected annual Lindy's. Lewis, famous as much for his lack of notoriety coming out of high school as his sublime freshman year exploits, is the nation's leading returning rusher, totaling just under 1,800 yards in 2009.

For the third consecutive season, the Panthers will feature a new starting quarterback Tino Sunseri held off 2008 Irish-conqueror Pat Bostick.

The Panthers should be battle-tested entering the Week Five game at Notre Dame Stadium, traveling to Utah to open the season before entertaining the Miami Hurricanes in mid-September.

Western Michigan (October 16)

Aside from shoring up the 101st ranked defense in the nation, the Broncos chief task this spring was to find a capable replacement for record-setting veteran signal-caller Tim Hiller. It appears sophomore QB Alex Carder won the job (as expected, according to head coach Bill Cubit).

Also lost was running back Brandon West, the NCAA's all-time leader in all-purpose yards (a testament to his success – and opportunity – as a kick returner). West set the FBS mark with 3,118 kick-return yards and 7,774 all-purpose yards. The latter mark was held by Carolina Panthers star DeAngelo Williams with 7,573.

Navy (October 23)

Sophomore backup quarterback Kriss Proctor made a name for himself in the absence of dangerous Ricky Dobbs, running for three touchdowns and 100 yards in Navy's annual Blue Gold Game. Dobbs was withheld from the contest to protect his knee which he injured midway through the '09 season.

Dobbs, who will be a senior in 2010, rushed for 608 yards and 11 touchdowns in five season-ending matchups vs. Notre Dame, Delaware, Hawaii, Army, and Missouri last season despite battling the injury (cracked kneecap).

Slot-back, leading receiver, and third-leading rusher Marcus Curry has been dismissed from the team for failure to comply with team rules according to a report by HometownAnnapolis.com. Curry finished with more than 200 yards from scrimmage in a 35-13 bowl drubbing of Missouri last December.

Also from HometownAnnapolis.com, the Naval Academy had a total of 20 players post 40-yard dash times of 4.6 or better in spring testing - a program record. The number was deemed doubly notable due to the absence of Dobbs as well as three defensive backs and two other contributing receivers from the tests due to injury.

Five Midshipmen ran 4.5-flat or better, including:

  • Kevin Edwards-4.44
  • Caleb Lucas-4.46
  • Aaron Santiago-4.49
  • Gee Gee Greene-4.50
  • Kwesi Mitchell-4.50

Senior fullback Vince Murray (14 carries, 158 yards, TD vs. ND in '09) was not listed among the group of 4.6 sprinters…

Tulsa (October 30)

Tulsa's formerly explosive offense (No. 2 nationally in 2008 at nearly 48 points-per-game) took a hit last season, scoring a shade over 29 points per contest (while yielding just over 27 to rank 74th in the country). Former Texas quarterback G.J. Kinne returns to lead the attack, but he'll need better protection from an offensive front that finished 118th nationally in sacks allowed, yielding 46 in 12 contests for the 5-7 Golden Hurricanes.

And yes, I realize none of this is breaking news, but the section under the Tulsa heading originally read: "?????"

Utah (November 14)

The Utes set a program record with six former players selected in the 2010 NFL Draft. The total was the highest of any non-BCS team (and the same number as Big 10 champion Iowa; SEC powerhouse LSU; and national runner-up Texas).

Utah will again feature sophomore Jordan Wynn at quarterback though experienced backups Terrance Cain (more than 1,600 passing yards last season) and Griff Robles present intriguing alternatives as change-of-pace signal callers due to their quick feet. Wynn started the final five contests of 2009 for head coach Kyle Whittingham's squad, including a Poinsettia Bowl win over California.

The Utes, who have won nine consecutive bowl games since 1999, will do battle with perennial power TCU one week prior to their first-ever trip to South Bend.

Army (November 21 at Yankee Stadium)

Last season, Trent Steelman became the first Army freshman to start an entire season at quarterback. The Cadets will again feature an option attack (referred to as the "Double Eagle Flex") under second-year head coach Rich Ellerson and offensive coordinator Ian Shields. (The pair matriculated from Division II offensive powerhouse Cal Poly prior to last season.)

Though the offense struggled to fit several square pegs into round holes in '09, the Cadets finished 16th overall in total defense and third in the nation vs. the pass. Army's top talent is defensive end and 2010 Lott Trophy candidate Josh McNary who sat out the spring while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.

The offense finished 118th in terms of yards-per-game. More important, the Cadets finished a respectable 5-7 last season (including a win over Vanderbilt and tough battle with a 9-4 Temple squad) after a 3-9 effort in 2008.

USC (November 28)

The Los Angeles Times reported that 2009 starting middle linebacker Chris Galippo worked at strong side linebacker near the tail end of the spring. According to Times reporter Gary Klein, Galippo was told by new Trojans defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin that the defense would put its three best linebackers on the field.

The contending group is currently a quartet, with Galippo, his chief MLB challenger Devon Kennard, and returning outside ‘backers Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith fighting for a spot.

The star of the Trojans spring game was senior fullback Stanley Havili (who's been around college football since the Clinton Administration). The multi-talented Havili caught three touchdown passes covering 28, 33, and 50 yards.

Injury Updates:

  • Oft-injured WR Ronald Johnson missed practice time this spring due to an elbow sprain and speculation remained that the junior from Muskegon, MI would require surgery for a wrist injury.
  • Physical tight end Blake Ayles also missed spring practice time after suffering his second concussion.
  • Starting nose tackle Christian Tupou will likely miss the 2010 season due to a knee injury suffered during a spring scrimmage

As expected, the Irish and Trojans will do battle at 8 PM EST on either ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2.

Finally, if you haven't seen this clip of early enrollee freshman tailback Dillon Baxter, its worth a viewing or three (fast forward to the 0:50 mark for Baxter's dart through the defense).

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