Every year I ask. And every year Jay and the gang from the "retired" Blue-Gray Sky reunite for a BC roundtable Q & A. I appreciate their willingness to educate BC fans and still have great respect for the path they paved at their ground breaking blog. Below are my questions and their answers (on some multiple people weighed in).
1. We've seen this before: Notre Dame starts the season undefeated and wins a bunch of close games. How is this "return to glory" different?
Blue-Gray Sky: We had a little consternation at the phrasing of this one, since there's really only one prior season that qualifies under the description. That'd be 2002, where a lucky-as-balls Irish squad started 8-0, upset a top 10 Florida State, and then came crashing to earth against Boston College. That Irish team was able to mask its deficiencies (for a while) by racking up a lot of turnovers and an ungodly number of defensive and special teams touchdowns. It was the very definition of "smoke and mirrors."
To us, this team seems a lot different. We're actually screwing up on special teams this year and have turned the ball over at inopportune times, but the core strengths of the team -- running the ball, stopping the run -- have allowed us to prevail.
Furthermore, as my blog-mate Pat points out, this isn't a new coach bounce, as it was in 2002 with Willingham (or 2005 with Weis). ND is winning games by doing things that the coaching staff has been stressing and working on for three years now (with a few hiccups along the way). Being physically stronger late in the season. Solid veteran leadership. Mental toughness. Benefits of solid recruiting. While the scores have been close at times and multiple games have come down to the last drive, this season doesn't seem fluky. Overachieving? Yes. But not a result of just some fortunate bounces and whistle blows.
Lastly, '02 and '05 were undercut in short order by failure in subsequent seasons. This year, we don't see a big recruiting air bubble on the horizon, so there's some hope here for sustainability. At the very least, Notre Dame isn't going to be forced to play freshmen before they're ready going forward.
2. Golson looked good against Oklahoma and Pitt in Overtime. Is the QB controversy over? Should BC fans expect to see two different QBs?
Blue-Gray Sky: Kelly will probably still yank Golson if he feels the team needs a jump start on offense. However, Golson's play in the end of the Pitt game may have helped the decision to keep him in versus Tommy Rees in a 2-minute drill. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if Rees plays a few more series this season.
But there isn't really a controversy. Golson is the starter. Rees is a guy that comes off the bench when needed. (And the only game Rees started was BYU, when Golson was out with a concussion.)
3. With Spaz surely gone, BC fans are already looking at potential replacements. Bob Diaco is a popular name. How do you think he would do at a place like BC? Do you see him having any issues transitioning from Coordinator to Head Coach? Do you think Notre Dame will break the bank to keep him away from BC (or Purdue or Iowa, etc.)?
Blue-Gray Sky: We had some interesting discussion on this, with the main consensus being that we're not sure Diaco is "ready for prime time" as a head coach at this point in his career. Some quotes from our guys: "If Spaz's firing is inevitable then I don't think that Diaco is the Eagles' man. Not because I don't think that Otter [referencing Diaco's resemblance to Eric Stratton] isn't worthy. He is. And he's got a great defensive mind. But for similar issues that BC fans had with O'Brien and Jagodzinski, I just don't think he'd be the personable public relations fit that BC fans crave."
"He has a special and unique relationship with his players, but his communication style just doesn't translate as well with the media and alums. He can come off as a little awkward and unpolished (see Navy interviews c.a. 2010), so much so that Brian Kelly quit having his assistant coaches talk with the media on a regular basis after that episode.
But Diaco would recruit better and he'd restore the BC defense. But I just don't think he'd be the ideal savior Eagles fans are looking for. And I think ND would pony up to keep him, or at least I think he stays at ND for another year."
"Diaco has not only shown that he is recruiter, but he learns from his mistakes (i.e., option teams post-2010), a key component for anyone trying to build a program. The question is whether he can overcome them in time for BC to create a better program and not be tossed aside because of early struggles. That being said, I want him to stay in South Bend, and I can't say that for a decade's worth of defensive coordinators. That is probably evidence enough that he could find success elsewhere.
Diaco's challenge will be doing all the media facing stuff. I think he'll be a very good head coach since he's a high quality defensive coordinator, an excellent recruiter, and has worked and played for some very good coaches. But he still gives some bizarre press conference quotes and Kelly has largely cut back on his media Q & A duties this year. Like Spaz I imagine, he's clearly at his best running a defense and getting the best out of his players, not handling the press and doing the dog and pony show stuff required of head coaches."
4. What is your prediction for the game?
Blue-Gray Sky: Probably not going out on a limb to predict a two-score victory for Notre Dame in this one, although as we've seen from this Irish team, we might not eclipse 20 points. I'll say 17-6 ND, preserving the undefeated streak but probably inspiring more hits on ND's worthiness as a title contender.