I promise I can do some original content this week. As usual, things are busy as I had to go to Kokomo yesterday and help a friend move. it does allow me the chance to fire off some questions to some rival bloggers, however. Today Keith Arnold of NBCSports.com's Inside the Irish blog stops by with some answers to my questions. My answers to his will be posted sometime today at Inside the Irish.
T-Mill: How damaging would a loss in Kelly's debut be to the fans?
Keith: I'd guess just short of devastating. Kelly has been flawless in the months since he was hired, turning many of the people that were lukewarm to such an obvious coaching choice into true believers. Even the perpetually pessimistic Irish fans are trying to fight their feelings of confidence going into the season. Many have forgotten the inconsistency issues that plagued the team, and a loss right out of the gate would be a reality check nobody wants to deal with Labor Day weekend. A lot of goodwill would be thrown away if Purdue walks out of Notre Dame Stadium 1-0.
T-Mill: Given Purdue's history in South Bend, do they have much of a chance with all the questions facing them?
Keith: That sounds like a trick question if I've ever heard one. Any team that plays the Irish down to the final seconds the season before should feel like they have a chance at winning. Even more logically, Purdue beat Ohio State last year and returns a ton of talent. I think if anybody thinks the other team has no chance they're delusional.
T-Mill: Many fans are saying that the Irish have an easy schedule, but I wrote recently about how that wasn't necessarily true. What are your thoughts?
Keith: I'm with you. It's one of my bigger pet peeves of the last two years. Phil Steele ranks the Irish schedule as the 17th toughest. Mark May probably won't agree, but it's legit. Irish fans are many times to blame, not understanding that games against teams like Utah and Tulsa, two teams that don't play in BCS conferences (not for long in Utah's case) are dangerous. Thanks to the NBC television contract and a tradition that turns just as many people off as on, opponents get geeked up to play the Irish. This year, you can make a valid case that almost every team on the Irish schedule can beat Notre Dame.
T-Mill: Both quarterbacks are coming off of ACL injuries. Who has the edge?
Keith: I'd probably give Marve the advantage, just because he's done it before at Miami. Granted, that was two seasons ago, but he's run out of the tunnel as the starting quarterback for a prestige program, and that's going to definitely help on Saturday. That said, I think when it's all said and done, Crist will have a better college career, just because of his skillset, and Brian Kelly's history of developing quarterbacks in a very QB-friendly offense.
T-Mill: Is Crist an upgrade or a downgrade from Clausen?
Keith: He's a pretty obvious downgrade, only because Clausen had one of the top seasons of any quarterback in the country last year. What was lost in the demise of the Irish season was the year that Jimmy had. Love him or hate him, he played elite quarterback last year, doing it on a seriously injured foot that made it next to impossible for him to play under center or practice consistently. Dayne might end up going higher in the draft, but Clausen played the best statistical season of any quarterback in Notre Dame history.
T-Mill: Do you think the Irish offense will struggle with the transiition to a new system?
Keith: There will be struggles I'm sure, but I don't think the offense will take that large of a step back. For one, the running game will be vastly improved, even after replacing three starters on the line. Offensive line coach Ed Warinner has done some pretty impressive things at Kansas, and turned a Juice Williams run Illini offense into the best rushing team in the Big Ten. Secondly, this coaching staff is installing a system that's more player friendly, and while they may not run everything in the playbook, they'll do enough to be successful, and do it at a frenetic pace that'll challenge defenses.
T-Mill: What changes and improvements can we expect from the defense?
Keith: I expect wholesale changes on defense and a night-and-day improvement from a unit largely returning the same players. The failure of Jon Tenuta was one of the more shocking things I've ever seen around college football. Charlie Weis wagered his career on the experience and track record of Tenuta, and it backfired. The Irish were too committed to shoving square pegs into round holes. Just about every player in the front seven was playing out of position and in a spot they weren't recruited to play. The switch to the 3-4 puts all seven of those guys back in the right spots, positions they were recruited to play, and more importantly, have the skillset to play. Having spent some time around Bob Diaco and the rest of the coaching staff, I'm certain this defensive unit will play much better football.
T-Mill:Finally, what is your gut feeling for the game?
Keith: I just don't like the way things stack up for Purdue in this one. New coach, new era, it'll be the closest thing to an electric environment at Notre Dame Stadium since the 2005 USC game. I think the Irish defense will fluster Marve, a guy who will certainly have a little rust on him. I think Kelly and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar will try and ease Dayne Crist into the offense, and attack a Purdue defense that might be softer against the run than many people realize. I've been wrong plenty of times before, but I see the Irish walking away with a ten point victory.