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Football Predictions: A Second Slice
August 27, 2008
Clint Dempsey Interview
August 1, 2008
NFL Draft Review
April 30, 2008, 2008

Football Predictions: A Second Slice
August 27, 2008            by Richard Gale


Tier 1.5: Notre Dame

Okay, I'm cheating with the whole 'Four Tiers' idea, but Notre Dame always is a law unto itself. They're still not a good team, but after several years of painful contender–packed schedules, they've got it easy. Sure, Michigan, BC and USC are still on the ticket, but USC is the only one likely to mutilate the golden domers. With a little Irish luck, they could win enough games to start collecting votes again. Still, a little reality check: Last season, the Fighting Irish went 3–9. The line allowed almost 60 sacks. The running game barely averaged two yards a carry. This was a terrible team, and it's time for Charlie Weis to show what he's recruiting before his win–loss record (22–15) levels out. So let's just boil it down to three factors: (1) if the line — half of which returns — can learn to run block in any meaningful way, some stunning potential in the backfield such as runners Robert Hughes and James Aldridge will be unleashed; (2) if the line can learn to pass block in any meaningful way, Jimmy Clausen will have a chance to find his receivers instead of getting a worms–eye view of the turf; and (3) if the line allows the offense to function, a decent defense won't spend the season tired and demoralized. Meanwhile, Weis is giving his personal attention to special teams in the hope of finding a quick turn around in the third phase. It isn't unreasonable for 3–9 to become 9–3, but there's work to be done. Just being Notre Dame isn't enough any more. Not remotely.

Tier 3: Navy; Army

Commentators covering Navy games treated pronouncing QB Kaipo–Noa Kaheaku–Enhada's name like some kind of party trick last year. Now they can enjoy coach Ken Niumatalolo as well. Those not so impressed with novelty will have recognized that KNKE is turning into one of the most outstanding QBs in Navy's long history — the Middies were the NCAA's rushing leader for the third straight year. And of course, military discipline once again contributed, with penalties almost unheard of. Now the question becomes whether RB Eric Kettani and Kaheaku–Enhada's senior season can repeat last year's 8–5 record, this time without Paul Johnson in charge. Our call: bad defense may not win championships, but the best running game in the country will cover a multitude of sins, and probably land the Commander in Chief's Trophy. 7–6 might be the final tally, but Kaipo–Noa Kaheaku–Enhada will still be a big enough name to get a bowl invite.

Army rushed for six touchdowns last season. That isn't a pleasant statistic when sitting this close to a Navy preview, and Army will be relying on their defensive line when they play the Midshipmen, if only because almost nobody else from last year's defense is back. Mind you, after a 3–9 record, that's not necessarily a negative. The schedule is certainly a positive: Temple, New Hampshire, Akron, Tulane, Eastern Michigan, Buffalo... it's like a Who's Who of who's not. Until they prove otherwise, the Black Knights will be considered a 'who's not' as well, but going into the Army–Navy game, coach Stan Brock's second campaign may have Army fighting for a 6–6 record.

Tier 4: Western Kentucky

Who? Oh right, them. Western Kentucky's only legitimate hope this season is to transition to the top level and make some people start noticing their existence. Ten FBS opponents await them, and even some of the lesser of those — Ball State, FAU and Troy have progressed to the point that Western Kentucky could end up looking like roadkill. With a decent running game to help keep games close, the likes of North Texas, Florida International or Middle Tennessee could fall to them towards the end of the season. And that, of course, is the goal for a team with one foot in the Sun Belt Conference. Anything more than four wins would constitute a major success.

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