Is 2012 The Year Notre Dame Returns to Prominence?
If you consider an 8-4 season (at best) re-emerging as a national power, then yes. If you are a realist like me, an 8-4 season is just another ho-hum football campaign in South Bend, Indiana,
It is no secret that the success of any Brian Kelly squad hinges on the level of production from the quarterback position. No pressure, Everett Golson.
The redshirt freshman will shoulder the burden of the Irish offense to start a season that will be defined by how well he protects the ball and how effectively he can lead the offense to touchdowns in the red zone. 2011 starter Tommy Rees struggled with both in 2011, which is a primary reason why Notre Dame faltered to a disappointing 8-5 record.
The one good thing about Golson starting the season at the helm of the Irish offense is that Joe Montana fully endorses Kelly’s decision to roll with the dual-threat quarterback.
Fine, I admit that previous statement was a complete fallacy. In fact, in an ESPN chat, Joe Montana said he believes Everett Golson is “the least talented thrower they have…” – so that’s promising.
Despite senior leadership at both safety positions, this unit has more holes than a doughnut shop. Stepping in to replace starting cornerback Lo Wood is KeiVarae Russell. Did I mention he was a backup running prior to Wood’s season-ending injury?
I don’t care if Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson are starting at safety; no team is going to have a dominant, championship-caliber defense with such inexperience and lack of talent at the cornerback position.
As if several questions at arguably two of the most important positions on the depth chart was not enough to convince you that 2012 will be the season Notre Dame returns to prominence – I present to you their commendable, yet daunting schedule.
Folks, the Irish are not going into Norman and beating a loaded, motivated and supremely-talented Oklahoma Sooner squad out to prove their struggles in 2011 were nothing but a fluke. They also are not coming out of their regular season finale against the USC Trojans with anything but Matt Barkley’s cleat marks on their collective throats.
As if those games weren’t enough incentive for Irish fans to begin making their travel plans to the 2012 Champs Sports Bowl/Russell Athletic Bowl – the Michigan State Spartans (Big Ten runner-up), Michigan Wolverines (Sugar Bowl champion) and Miami Hurricanes also await the Irish in 2012. Additionally, picking up wins against two fundamentally sound and well-coached programs like BYU and Stanford will not be easy.
Fear not, Irish fans. Maybe 2013 will be your year?
Will Quarterbacks Continue to Dominate the Heisman Trophy Balloting?
Since 2000, Mark Ingram is the only non-quarterback to claim the Heisman Trophy. After the 2012 season, Ingram will still be the only non-quarterback to claim the distinguished award since the beginning of the current millennium - my apologies to proponents of the Gregorian calendar.
In a recent poll of 51 actual Heisman voters conducted by stiffarmtrophy.com, 10 of the top 15 preseason Heisman favorites are quarterbacks; led by Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, Michigan’s Denard Robinson and USC’s Matt Barkley.
Not to sound anti-climactic, but it appears to be a foregone conclusion that Matt Barkley at the very least will represent USC as a finalist in New York City. He is certainly one of the favorites coming into the season and it is hard to argue that, especially considering the numbers he put up in 2011 – 3,529 and 39 touchdown passes. With a maturing and talented wide receiver corps led by Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, and Penn State transfer Silas Redd, Barkley will have the necessary weapons to dissect opponents and put up some monster numbers.
It would not come as a huge surprise if he eclipses 4,000 passing yards and surpasses his touchdown total from last year. Combine the staggering nature of those potential numbers with the relative certainty the Trojans will finish no worse than 10-2, Barkley is poised to bring another Heisman Trophy to Los Angeles.
Denard Robinson is a hell of a player who can create something out of nothing more times than not. He has a flare for the big play much like Barry Sanders did in his days at Oklahoma State and later with the Detroit Lions.
In 2011, Robinson established himself as one of the most prolific dual-quarterbacks in the history of college football, throwing for over 2,100 yards and rushing for nearly 1,200 more. He will need to limit his mistakes, especially in the passing game if he wants to claim Michigan’s first Heisman Trophy since Charles Woodson – a cornerback, ahem – took home the hardware in 1997.
Landry Jones, Geno Smith, Aaron Murray… the list of quarterback candidates goes on and on. Simple math and probability will tell you that it is almost a shoo-in that a quarterback will win the Heisman Trophy. Let’s take it one step further and add common sense to the mix.
In 2011, Montee Ball was the best running back and arguably the best football player on the planet. He STILL did not win the Heisman trophy. That honor went to Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. While RG3 certainly deserved the honor, the argument can be made that he wasn’t even the best player at his position.
Despite nearly 2,000 rushing yards and an absurd Madden-like 39 touchdowns, Ball couldn’t claim the Heisman.
Despite more hype and propaganda than any young athlete deserves, Tyrann Mathieu couldn’t claim the Heisman.
In the last decade, Heisman voters have awarded the trophy to quarterbacks and there is no reason to think that they will suddenly buck that trend.
What Team is the Biggest National Champion Dark Horse?
At the risk of losing not just some, but all credibility, allow me to outline my case before you close out this article and begin to rip me on Twitter.
Louisville returns 15 starters from the 2011 team that won five of six to close out Charlie Strong’s second regular season at the helm. Of those five wins, three were on the road, including an impressive 38-35 win at West Virginia.
The defense returns eight starters from the unit that finished the 2011 season ranked 17th in points against per game.
On the offensive side of the ball, returning starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater set a freshman school record for passing last season and brings to the table more experience and the dual-threat capability that gives Louisville a chance to win every time he steps on the field.
Despite losing to North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl, Louisville showed incredible resiliency after trailing by 21 points midway through the third quarter. That resiliency is instilled by Strong, who brings a disciplined, no-nonsense approach to the job every single day. The players have bought in to his system and it is certainly reflected on the field.
Yes, I know there are many teams that can boast a strong defense and an electrifying dual-threat quarterback. How many of those teams can complement those traits with one of the most manageable schedules in all the land?
Louisville sure can.
Perhaps my lack of confidence in the overall strength of the Big East is the primary reason why I think Louisville can run the table. Honestly though, can you blame me?
If the Cardinals can manage tricky non-conference games at home against North Carolina and on the road against Southern Miss they will be poised to run through the Big East conference schedule and will have earned a seat at the BCS title table.
If Louisville can manage an easy schedule with a potentially dominant defense and an electrifying quarterback, year three of the Charlie Strong Era at Louisville could prove to be one of the most surprising in recent memory
Which Teams Will Play For The BCS National Title?
Oklahoma Sooners vs. LSU Tigers
Wait, did you actually think I was going to pick Louisville? I’m so sorry to disappoint.
My chalk-covered feet are firmly planted outside the box with this prediction. I’m OK with it and you should be too.
Considering the way he finished 2011, Heisman Trophy candidate Landry Jones should have a chip on his shoulder coming into 2012.
Jones will be supported by an offensive line with a combined 102 starts, a healthy Dominique Whaley and a very talented Roy Finch in the backfield. Both running backs averaged 5.5 yards per carry last year.
Mike Stoops is back in Norman and he will certainly interject energy into a defensive unit and a program that had become stale in recent years.
The Big 12 is down this year, more so than any other in recent memory and Oklahoma is the most talented team in the conference. If they can sneak out of Morgantown, West Virginia with a win then they should be well on their way to a 12-0 season. Yes, 12-0. Keep in mind, there is no Big 12 Championship game this year.
For obvious reasons I selected LSU not only to represent the SEC for the seventh straight time in the BCS National Championship Game, but to secure the SEC’s seventh consecutive national championship.
Even without Tyrann Mathieu, LSU is the most-talented team in the nation on both sides of the ball. The Tigers have one of the deepest and most physical offensive lines in the country, which should make life easy for first-year starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger and a very talented stable of running backs.
The defense, which surrendered only 11.3 points per game in 2011, is led by all-world safety Eric Reid and a defensive line that boasts three potential first-round draft picks.
Simply put, if Mettenberger can channel his inner Trent Dilfer, Les Miles will be hoisting his second national championship trophy.
This team reminds me so much of the 2011 Alabama team that beat/humbled/humiliated LSU in January. A dominant defense, solid running game and a point to prove is a scary combination.
Photo Credit - watchsecfootballonline.com