Like all social systems, college football has its nonconformists -- freelance bachelors that refuse to settle into the conference family tree. But unlike the silver-cuffed forty-something year old playboys of Lower Manhattan, the modern era has seen these bullish franchises become more sweaters, talcom powder, and Salina, Kansas.
Can the proud but prude class of independents restore its rebel roots?
NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
Esquire Rating: 3/5
Humble pie eating contest in South Bend.
Charlie Weis' pre-season secrecy surrounding the competition for starting quarterback in 2007 had all the right stuff: A dormant legend coming off a 10 win season for the first time in a decade, back-to-back BCS bowl appearances, and a veil over its new weaponry.
As Weis quipped, "I'm not trying to sandbag anyone, but I think that going into your first game, its important that any additional ammo that you could have to help you win that one game you should use."
Unless the General thought that a field goal would be enough to take Georgia Tech, he was firing blanks. Over the next three months the Irish shuffled quarterbacks twice more, manning the worse offensive in Division 1, averaging a limp 242 yards and 16.4 points per game. The 3-9 season was perhaps the worst in the program's history.
The good news, Charlie seems to have gotten the message: less stratagem and deception, more strength and fundamentals. Nine returning players on offense, including the prematurely acclaimed Jimmy Clausen return healthy, experienced, and determined. Clausen has bulked up in the weightroom, better ensuring that blind side hits won't force him to the sidelines. Standout safety David Bruton has done the exact opposite: trading excess pounds for speed, in hopes of keeping the backfield off-limits for opposing pass-attacks.
Most importantly Weis himself has relinquished play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Hike Haywood to better see the forest for the trees -- an effort as much about player identification as management. The Rivalry, Esq. applauds this break from the Belichick school of coaching, and is confident Charlie will benefit from a slice of humble pie.
A difficult menagerie of a schedule with away matchups against Washington, Boston College, and USC will ensure the Irish have enough frequent flyer miles to cover tickets to a post-season destination, if they can earn a bid.
Must Win: MICHIGAN (Sept. 13th).
Rivalry Comment: NBC Sports: What you watch on Saturdays during ABC commercial breaks.
Predicted Finish: 8-4