Tuesday, December 15, 2009

NKU: Transfer's Attraction

The Northern Kentucky University men’s basketball team has eight new players on the roster this year, and five of those players started their college careers elsewhere.

The five transfer athletes that hope to make an impact will be lead by three that have come to NKU from Division I programs. Senior center David Palmer is one player that journeyed through several programs before landing at NKU.

“I originally attended Seton Hall University in the Big East,” said Palmer. “Then I transferred to the University of Iowa.”

Palmer is one of the three Division I transfers along with junior forward Yan Moukoury from the University of Houston and junior forward Chris Knight from Bowling Green State University. The other two transfers are junior guard Mike Hester from Union College and junior center Brandon Callahan from Marion.

The five transfers athletes have a chance to contribute this season, with hopes to repeat the recent success of the NKU men’s basketball program within the Great Lakes Valley Conference. The team won the GLVC Championship last season, and hope to repeat the accomplishment. Palmer is hopeful for more than just a conference championship, however.

“I hope we are in strong contention for a national championship,” he said.

Palmer’s hope actually helped to lure another of the Division I transfers to NKU. Knight attributes his transferring to Palmer telling him that the team would be a contender at the national Division II level.

“I decided at the end of summer,” he said. “David Palmer told me we had a good chance to win a DII title.”

Palmer attended the University of Iowa, a Division I school in the Big Ten conference. The enrollment at Iowa for this academic year is around 30,000, significantly larger than NKU’s enrollment of around 14,000. Average attendance for an Iowa basketball home game last season was 12,000, again larger than the crowds that NKU teams draw to the Bank of Kentucky Center. Before Iowa, he attended Seton Hall University of the Big East Conference, where he says the school size is much more comparable to NKU than Iowa.

“NKU compares almost exactly to Seton Hall,” he said, “but is a lot smaller than Iowa was.”

Palmer attended a much larger school, while Knight attended a school slightly larger in Bowling Green State University. With an enrollment of over 20,000, the school still has a significant edge in size on NKU.

“Bowling Green was a college town,” he said. “NKU is in its own small area.”

Despite the recent success and the opportunity to sustain it, the appeal of NKU to transfer athletes does not lie solely with the idea of basketball championships. For example, despite the size differences between the players’ former schools and current school, the athletic facilities are no comparison.

“The appeal of NKU was the brand new facility,” said Palmer, attributing his transferring to the new arena on campus, the Bank of Kentucky Center. “It is state of the art.”

Other things the players mentioned that make NKU appealing were the tradition of the program, a great coaching staff and very intense effort despite the smaller level of competition. All of these things come together and make NKU a very reasonable destination for a student athlete.

Knight’s explanation was simple when it came to describing NKU in general, leaving little to be said of the total package.

“It’s a great place,” he said.

All of the transfer athletes agreed on that.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Expectations/Predictions for 2010 Under BK

Bowl games have not yet been played and national signing day for recruits is far off in February (okay not that far, but it will feel like forever once the season is over), but here are some VERY early expectations/predictions/thoughts about the upcoming season for Notre Dame under new Head Coach Brian Kelly:

· Wins are most important to Irish nation, and winning right away is a must for a new head coach in South Bend’s spotlight, but what is realistic to expect next season? Realistically, 8 wins would be a very respectable accomplishment with a new quarterback and head coach, with 7 wins being acceptable and expected. But what does my biased and yet not-so-delusional mind think? I think Notre Dame has 7 winnable games (Purdue, Michigan State, Boston College, Western Michigan, Tulsa, Utah, Army), 2 borderline games (Michigan and Navy), and 3 games that would be upset specials (Stanford, Pittsburgh, USC). Without knowing who is returning for which teams and which young players may step up, I believe Notre Dame will win 8 games. They will lose a game to a team they should not, but they will find victory against Michigan or Navy. My heart tells me that Brian Kelly may even find a way to best Pete Carrol in his first year with the Irish to make a statement, but I must keep from becoming delusional as well.

· I firmly believe that Notre Dame has a much better level of talent amongst young players than UC, and Brian Kelly will find success with them that makes this team competitive in every game.

· Dayne Crist will flourish under Brian Kelly… once he returns from his torn ACL. He has the potential to be a better passer than Tony Pike at Cincinnati, but he must overcome a mental hurdle when he returns to the field in August to get started in the right direction. He has a better arm than Pike and will have a deeper set of targets as well, but missing spring practice will not help the cause. If he can put the mental block that is the Torn ACL out of his mind early on and find a rhythm with his receivers, expect 2500+ yards and 32+ touchdowns.

· If you saw flashes of brilliance from Isaiah Pead playing for Cincinnati, then you can expect similar results from Armando Allen and Theo Riddick. Kelly was able to use Pead very effectively both in the run game and the pass game, and he is a similar athlete to Allen and Riddick in that he is shifty and quick. Expect Allen and Riddick to both be used effectively in the offense, giving defenses more than just one explosive back to worry about.

· Aside from explosive backs, look for Robert Hughes to give Brian Kelly play calling options near the goal line that he did not have in Cincinnati. If Kelly wants to line up in 5-wide sets at the one-yard line, that’s fine, because it worked in Cincinnati. But he will have an established power runner in Hughes to use however he sees fit when a tough yard or two is needed.

· With the depth and talent at wide receiver at Notre Dame, the ball will be successfully thrown around the field no matter who the quarterback may be. With Michael Floyd returning and Duval Kamara working back into the mix this past season, two targets are already expected to find success. John Goodman showed an ability to contribute this past season and there is no reason that talent like Dion Walker and Shaq Evans cannot catch a few passes. Even Roby Toma got on the field, showing that he obviously has something that Brian Kelly will see and probably utilize. And lets not forget Kyle Rudolph, a future NFL talent at tight end. Kelly will find mismatches for the big man who has surprising speed and moves after the catch. If Crist can get healthy and find a rhythm at quarterback a few games into the season, expect Floyd to go over 1,000 yards with 12+ touchdowns and expect two other receivers to go over 600 yards.

· Brian Kelly has shown that he can have a defense just good enough to get the job done even after replacing ten starters. He knows how to leave a defensive unit in capable hands, and look for that to be the case next season. They will be more experienced and should be improved from this past season (probably because it couldn’t have been much worse). They will do enough to keep the offense in striking distance at all times, just like the Bearcat defense did for Kelly.

· Expect a lot of true freshman and younger players on the roster get their shots on the field for the Irish, as Kelly will look to grow alongside them. He will feel comfortable coaching up the young guys that he will see for three or four years as opposed to older players who will be gone sooner into his tenure at ND.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A String of Random Thoughts Amidst A Coaching Change

· UC fans really have no right to criticize Brian Kelly for “leaving for the money” or “taking off before the biggest game of the year.” They would do good to remember that Brian Kelly actually left his job at Central Michigan before their bowl game to bolt for Cincinnati, a bigger school in a bigger conference. Be careful of hypocrisy even when you are sour over losing a great coach.

· UC fans also cannot justify the sudden distaste for Brian Kelly. He came to a program and used another coach’s players to run his own offense. He was a mastermind for the Bearcats who left them in a better position than they were in when he found them. He has put UC on the Big East map, and put the program in the minds of every recruit from Ohio. Even if the recruits choose that school in Columbus, at least now they have a thought it the back of their mind about UC not being so bad. You should respect what he has done for your team, and realize that all may not be lost.

· Notre Dame fans would do good to remember that Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate are gone, and that National Championships are hard to get… Brian Kelly has proven that he is a successful coach no matter who plays for him, but Notre Dame is a whole new animal. Even I, the one warning of a let down, expect success right away, but I think 8 wins are much less than some delusional fans are hoping for. There will be a rebuilding period. Dayne Crist still must return from his ACL injury and even then must learn Brian Kelly’s offense. Michael Floyd must adjust to not getting as many targets, even with Tate gone, because the field will be crowded with receivers in South Bend from now on.

· College football fans in general remember this: the media builds the expectations with the help of a small percentage of overzealous fans, not the reasonable ND fans. I myself was excited by Charlie Weis, but only because he swept me off my feet with his high level of confidence and swagger (that’s a nice way of saying he was a cocky bastard). He was not my first choice, and I did not see him as a savior to Notre Dame. I am not delusional or insanely biased, therefore my expectations are realistic. I am fiercely loyal to the Irish, but I know that Brian Kelly will not win a National Championship right away.

· Final Random Thought: What will become of Jeff Quinn? Will he be a man in line for the UC job, or will he follow Kelly to Notre Dame and continue what has been a very successful coaching relationship? As a Notre Dame fan I can say that since we have Kelly we might as well keep that coaching chemistry intact. But as a UC fan I think he would be a good choice to lead the program. It would be good to test his mettle as a head coach, although it goes against my beliefs of hiring a head coach with no previous experience in that position. If he were to find success as a UC head coach, it would be wonderful for the Bearcats to remain on top of the Big East.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Tale of a Good Coach Leaving UC... Again (Jumping Ship to a Sinking Boat)

Bearcats fans hold onto your hats. This could get bumpy.

Your team has just claimed its second consecutive outright Big East Championship after a thrilling comeback against a very solid Pittsburgh team.

You are headed to the BCS for the second year in a row.

And you are once again on the verge of losing a good coach.

Lets look at the past few seasons.

Mark Dantonio had moderate success in Cincinnati, which is thought of by most as a stepping-stone, and then bolted for a “bigger” program at Michigan State.

Enter Brian Kelly. In just his third season as head coach, he has accumulated a record of 34-6. He has lead the team to its first perfect season, a 12-0 start, the aforementioned two Big East Championships, and what will be two BCS appearances. Again, let me stress that this is all in THREE seasons.

Dantonio left for a bigger job, and what was his team’s record this year? Oh, I think they were 6-6. Have they won the Big Ten? Nope. Which is the destination program now?

All bashing of former coaches aside, I’ll throw it out there for the Bearcat faithful: it just isn’t fair.

You lost a good coach in the guy sporting Sparty green, and got someone with no big league success. As fate would have it, this guy turned out to be quite legit, delivering success at speeds that the Vikings can’t even drive at. And he is about to be ripped from your program.

I’ll say it again for the people in red and black, because it really is not fair.

Brian Kelly came and finished what Dantonio stated. He took Dantonio’s recruits and used them in a completely new offense. He took a solid foundation and improved it, adding flash to a program with the raw athletes that did not know how good they could be. He has brought in his own athletes and plugged them into his system perfectly, showing that he knows what he’s doing. He has shown that success can be found at the University of Cincinnati on playing surfaces other than hardwood.

He has turned the town into a place where college football is a big deal. A practice facility is on the way, courtesy of his demands. The stadium will be expanded eventually, because he found out how to sell seats through success.

And yet here comes Big Bad Notre Dame. They bring tradition, but no recent success. They look flashy with all the gold on campus (see: football helmets, Golden Dome) and they look like good Catholic people of upstanding morals. They bring an open checkbook. They are greedy in the eyes of UC fans.

UC fans appreciate what Brian Kelly has done. ND fans will forever scrutinize. UC fans support Brian Kelly and wish for him to stay and coach a contender every year. ND fans will support Brian Kelly, but only if he delivers National Championships every three years.

UC is loving, ND is demanding.

I can see how UC fans could question it if BK decides to jump ship to a program already underwater. It would seem like jumping onto the sinking Titanic from a lifeboat, rather than vice versa. But tradition and money carry leverage, and UC is not quite there yet.

Besides, with the way his success rate is looking, Brian Kelly could have salvaged the Titanic himself.

Maybe Notre Dame fans should prepare and find a way to appreciate him, since Cincinnati fans will have to find a way to forget him.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

To Bowl, Or Not to Bowl?

We’re going to go ahead and just ignore all of the speculation about the Notre Dame coaching situation. We’re going to let Rob Ianello enjoy being the head of football operations for this piece of writing.

To bowl, or not to bowl? That is the question.

We’re going to say that Notre Dame fans need a bowl game. And we’re going to go ahead and say that the Notre Dame players do not need a bowl game.

Wait, what? No bowl game?

You heard right. If it were up to the fans of Notre Dame, the team would be playing in a bowl game, no doubt. Hell, if it were up to the fans, the Irish would play in more than one bowl game. Every fan wants to see one more game.

Every fan wants to see Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate wearing gold helmets… for one last time.

What am I insinuating? I am insinuating that Clausen and Tate are gone now. With Weis gone, the only coach they have known in their college days, these players will choose to move on as well. It is probably more certain with Clausen, but after the phenomenal year Tate had, it’s probably a done deal with him, too.

The team has experienced such a vast range of emotions this year that it would drain on even the greatest of players. I would be worn down, ready for the next step if I had the skill and opportunity. Clausen and Tate have both, and it would not surprise me if they choose to end the disappointment they have found in South Bend and move on to bigger things. And this brings me back to the original point.

I’m sure every player would love to suit up for a final game, a shot at one final victory. But then they must consider what is best for themselves and their teammates. Why take a few more weeks preparing for a game that essentially does not matter when that time could be used to prepare for more important things? Like next season?

And why waste three or four weeks to play in a pointless bowl when juniors and seniors with NFL aspirations could use the early jump on preparing for the combine and pro days?

The season is basically lost. A 9-3 record would have been a minor disappointment, with any more than 4 losses being a total disappointment. Well here we are, the Irish are 6-6. This season was “BCS or Bust” and it was just that, a Bust. Why risk injury to potential starters of the future in a game that will not change the way the season is viewed? Why risk injury to those select few players who are NFL-ready in a game that will not impress anyone?

The bowl game would basically be the “Nobody Bowl”… as in no team of significance is playing this game. Notre Dame can no longer be considered significant because it has no true head coach, it has stars that are seemingly ready to depart, and it will suffer rebuilding under the new head coach whether Domers like to think about it or not. The opponent would be similar: a middle-of-the-pack team that wasn’t significant enough to make noise at the top of its conference

Notre Dame still does have bright spots in its future: Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph, and Manti Te’o, just to rattle off the big ones. But these bright spots should look to next season and recognize the task of rebuilding. They must prepare to lead a team that will struggle if Clausen and/or Tate leave. A bowl game does not speed up the process of “moving on,” which will be difficult enough as it is.

I would consider myself a relentless follower of the Irish, the most loyal of Golden Domers, defending my team against any individual who speaks ill of it. But I am also a realist. There is much more for Notre Dame and its athletes to lose from playing in a bowl game than there is to gain. A loss would add further insult, while a win would do nothing to save the image of the team. Injuries could happen, and time is wasted that could be spent preparing for the future.

It hurts to say, because I would feel lost without ND in a bowl game, but I believe “Not to Bowl” is the answer. Putting myself in the shoes of a player ready to move on, I would look towards the fresh start that will come with whoever the new head coach turns out to be.

I would rather be in the weight room preparing to shock the nation in the new coach’s first year than to be in the Insignificant Bowl.