Monday, August 31, 2009

Virginia Tech Season Preview: Part 2

Ok so here's my game by game look at the Hokies schedule. Brian's will be posted in the coming days, there are only a few left before next Saturday hits!

Alabama @ Virginia Tech (Georgia Dome in Atlanta)

The last time the Hokies took on an SEC team in 2007 national champions LSU, it was an embarrassing misstep for the Hokies. The defense looked slow, the offensive line could stop no one and the only bright spot was Tyrod Taylor running all over the Tigers and scoring Tech’s only score. This o-line is much improved and Tyrod has far more experience, not to mention the Tide is breaking in a new quarterback. Bud Foster eats untested QBs for breakfast (he also serves them at his restaurant in Blacksburg).

Alabama 21
Virginia Tech 28

Marshall @ Virginia Tech

Marshall is still in a rebuilding process, but they’re a solid early season opponent. The Herd returns a 1,000-yard rusher in Darius Marshall and linebacker Mario Harvey had 107 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season. Tough match up for the Thundering Herd though.

Marshall 17
Virginia Tech 35

Nebraska @ Virginia Tech

The Hokies pulled the upset last season on the road in Lincoln over a good team. Bo Pellini’s first season leading the Huskers ended with a 10-4 record and a Gator Bowl victory over Clemson. The defense improved then and looks to continue the trend this year. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh returns after 76 tackles and 7.5 sacks last year. He may be the best lineman in the nation. It will be a tough match up won in the trenches.

Nebraska 14
Virginia Tech 17

Miami @ Virginia Tech

Miami got the best of Tech last season 16-14 in Miami in what was a very ugly game. Randy Shannon has got the ‘Canes moving in the right direction and this year could be big for them. Jacory Harris is now the uncontested starter at quarterback with the messy transfer of Robert Marve. Harris should take a step or two forward this season and be able to improve on their 7-6 record last year.

Miami 24
Virginia Tech 28

Virginia Tech @ Duke

Don’t laugh when I say this, Duke is a good football team. Defensive tackle Vince Oghobasse is a potential first round pick in next year’s NFL draft and linebacker Vincent Rey is coming off 107 tackles last year. The offense is led by Thaddeus Lewis who threw for 2,171 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. The receivers need to step up and so does the offensive line, but they may just be able to climb out of the ACC Coastal division cellar.

Virginia Tech 35
Duke 14

Boston College @ Virginia Tech

This has been a closely contested series throughout its history, but this year the balance of power falls decidedly in the Hokies’ favor. Montel Harris is a fine young running back for the Eagles, but the offensive cupboard is pretty bare apart from his 900 rushing yards from 2008. BC is also without Mark Herzlich, the best defensive player in the ACC and arguably the best linebacker in the country who is out for the season as he battles cancer. Frank Spaziani may have a tough go of things in his first season in charge.

Boston College 10
Virginia Tech 31

Virginia Tech @ Georgia Tech

The Hokies have had a surprising amount of luck against the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta since joining the ACC. This year will be the toughest test yet though. Quarterback Josh Nesbitt returns to lead Paul Johnson’s dynamic offense and the running back combination of Jonathan Dwyer and Roddy Jones will look to continue running all over ACC defenses. Defensively the Jackets must replace defensive end Michael Johnson and tackles Daryl Richard and Vance Walker. That leaves some big holes to fill up front. The game came down to the final moments last season in Blacksburg and this year will be no different.

Virginia Tech 31
Georgia Tech 35

North Carolina @ Virginia Tech

There are two gigantic factors in this one. First the game is in Blacksburg on a Thursday night. The Hokies are dominant on Thursday nights, only ever losing to Boston College a handful of times. Second, Frank Beamer owns Butch Davis. Both at Miami and North Carolina, Davis is just 1-6 against the Hokies. Carolina has a talented group and it all starts on defense. Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter lead the linebackers and defensive tackle Marvin Austin is a stud. It’ll be tough, but Tech prevails in this one.

North Carolina 17
Virginia Tech 24

Virginia Tech @ East Carolina

The Hokies look to avenge a tough opening loss last season in this one. Quarterback Patrick Pinkney will once again have to shoulder the load offensively. The big key for the Pirates is to avoid a collapse. Last year after knocking of Tech and West Virginia, ECU lost three games in a row. Consistency will take time.

Virginia Tech 42
East Carolina 21

Virginia Tech @ Maryland

Maryland was wildly inconsistent last season ending up with an 8-5 record. This year won’t be much different. The defense lost 7 starters off a mediocre unit and the offense lost its biggest playmaker in Derrius Heyward-Bey. Chris Turner is back at quarterback however and Da’Rel Scott returns after rushing for 1,133 yards last year. Maryland will make a bowl game, but probably not a great one.

Virginia Tech 38
Maryland 24

North Carolina State @ Virginia Tech

NC State is doing well under Tom O’Brien and looks to make their second consecutive bowl game. Sophomore quarterback Russell Wilson’s performance may be the key to making that a reality. With no proven running backs, Wilson will look to build on his nearly 2,000 yards passing and 17 touchdowns to just 1 interception. He also ran for 388 yards. State will go about as far as Wilson’s arm can take them, which could be pretty far.

NC State 24
Virginia Tech 35

Virginia Tech @ Virginia

The Wahoos lose their entire starting linebacker group and the defense will not be in good shape aside from corner Vic Hall who had 59 tackles and was also the team’s best quarterback at the end of the year rushing for over 100 yards against the Hokies. QB Jameel Sewell returns from his academic suspension, which should help matters offensively. Head coach Al Groh remains a favorite in Blacksburg, and one of the best things to happen to Virginia Tech in their football history.

Virginia Tech 42
Virginia 10

Florida State @ Virginia Tech (ACC Championship Game in Tampa, FL)

Last season in Tallahassee the Hokies were down to their emergency third-string quarterback and they still made things interesting despite ultimately falling short. This FSU club is improved and should win the ACC’s Atlantic division without much trouble. Quarterback Christian Ponder has the potential to be terrific, but poor decisions plagued him at times last season. If he plays every game like he did against the Hokies, he’ll have an excellent year. Almost all of the ‘Noles receivers were suspended and now reinstated after a fight in the middle of campus in broad daylight, so it appears FSU is back to the way they used to do things. A Good sign for folks in the Florida capital.

Florida State 24
Virginia Tech 31

A record of 12-1 is what I’m predicting for the 2009 Hokies. This is the toughest schedule in school history, so I felt like the odds just scream at least one loss somewhere. If they really do navigate the tough first 4 games however, it’s more than possible they’ll go undefeated. The national championship talk is justified, but that’s a long way off. If Tech loses the opener to Alabama and then runs the table though, they still have a good shot.

This season marks the ten-year anniversary of Tech’s only national championship appearance when a 19-year-old Michael Vick ran circles around Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. He brought the Hokies to a 29-28 lead at the end of the third quarter. Then Chris Weinke, a full ten years older than Vick made some plays and Peter Warrick did the rest giving them the hardware.

Oddly enough, FSU head-man Bobby Bowden had encouraging words for Frank Beamer this preseason.

"[Frank Beamer] hangs around so close," Bowden said. "I equate it to putting. He's lipped out so many times. One of them is going to fall here before long."

Maybe this year, Frank will finally sink a putt.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

2009 Virginia Tech Season Preview

I don’t really like trying to predict an entire season before a single snap has happened. I’m a far more accurate prognosticator week to week. The little things like injuries or who has the flu or weather all come into play and usually my gut tells me one of those odd factors is important.

None the less, I shall attempt to predict the future of Virginia Tech football.

One thing is certain; this Hokie team is extremely talented. Top to bottom this is one of the better groups head coach Frank Beamer has fielded in his 22 seasons in Blacksburg so it’s no surprise many are whispering (even shouting) about a possible national championship run.

I was at a bar in Blacksburg the night a friend walked up and said, “Darren Evans tore his ACL today, he’s out for the season.”

I wasn’t immediately sure if he was joking but I wasn’t overly concerned. I feel for Darren who was poised to become a household name this year coming off his MVP performance in the Orange Bowl and a 1,265 yard, 11 touchdown redshirt-freshman season.

Most teams would be in big trouble losing that kind of production from a starter unexpectedly, but these Hokies are as deep at tailback as any program in the country.

Freshman Ryan Williams will lead the charge. He was already going to get playing time as Tech backs always split the carries. Now he looks to shoulder the load and live up to the hype generated by his high school credentials and his electrifying performance in spring ball.

Freshman David Wilson who already was looking to return kickoffs will now be thrust into the mix and he may be the fastest of the backs.

I should note that redshirt sophomore Josh Oglesby is currently listed as number one on the depth chart. Honestly though, unless he’s improved a great deal and can hold onto the football a bit better, he’ll be hard pressed to earn the bulk of the caries in this group, but his experience, albeit limited, is comforting.

Oh, there’s also Tyrod Taylor. Taylor ran for 738 yards last season and as a quarterback, is the 6th leading returning rusher on the ACC.

The Techmen always run the ball, control the clock, and then pounce on defense and special teams. It’s not as sexy as the way USC and Texas put people away, but it’s extremely effective.

This year will be no different, but look for the Hokies to throw more as well. Taylor is finally the man at quarterback with the departure of trusted backup and sometimes starter Sean Glennon.
Taytlor’s 13-2 record as a starter and 4 career 100-yard rushing games at QB (tying him with you-know-who) prove he has what it takes to lead the Hokie offense and his receivers will help.

The trio of sophomore wide outs Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale and Dyrell Roberts all made huge strides towards the end of last season and look to keep that going in ’09.

Greg Boone, Andre Smith and Blacksburg native Sam Wheeler provide depth and talent at tight end and of course Boone will return to his role in the phenomenally named “Wild Turkey” formation.

The 6’3”, 283-pound Boone will continue to bruise defenders for tough yardage running and the former quarterback may even find himself throwing a bit more. Dynamic running back Ryan Williams is also expected to get some looks in this formation.

Defensively the Hokies have to replace some key players in corner Macho Harris and defensive end Orion Martin.

Senior free safety Kam Chancellor looks to anchor the secondary after tallying 52 tackles and two interceptions last season. He’s started 28 consecutive games since the start of the 2007 season.

Up front, redshirt-junior Jason Worilds looks to have a break out season. After recording 62 tackles and 8 sacks last season, he looks to realize his full potential and become a leader along the defensive line.

Tomorrow, I'll most my brief look at each game. In the mean time check out this amazing fan made trailer for the upcoming season:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Concert Review: Progressive Nation at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis, 8/21/09

On Friday night, August 21 I was taken through a musical journey featuring arguably two of the nation’s best ensembles of musicians: Dream Theater and Zappa plays Zappa.

Countless times throughout the night I caught myself staring in awe at solos, rhythms, harmonies, dissonance, and energy that echoed against the walls of the Orpheum Theater in downtown Minneapolis.

My main reason for attending was to see my favorite band Dream Theater, for the first time, as part of the Progressive Nation 2009 North American Tour.

Their lead guitarist, John Petrucci, has long been a hero of mine as the velocity of his playing and melodic chord progressions rival those of other renowned shredders. Throw in John Myung, arguably the world’s best-kept secret on bass, Jordan Rudess on keyboards, and the unforgettable Mike Portnoy (whose multi-piece set is even more impressive from my nose-bleed balcony seats than in person) and I can honestly say I was part of one of the greatest concerts ever.

I don’t mean to discredit Woodstock or Lollapalooza, though, because those are different breeds of concerts. As far as single day shows go the August 21, 2009 Progressive Nation Tour performance at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis was truly a masterpiece.

Scale the Summit
One phrase sums up my recollection of this opening act's performance: synchronized head banging (notice 2:04 in to the clip).

This quartet, with a current average age of 22, recorded their first album in 2006 in guitarist Chris Letchford’s home in Houston, TX after they met while at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, CA.

They are a very talented group of young musicians, as evidenced by the invitation to play on tour with Dream Theater, and have a world of opportunity in front of them. Look for them to hit mainstream success within the next 3-5 years.

One interesting tidbit about these guys – guitarist Chris Letchford plays an 8-string guitar.

Frontman Damon Fox (Lead Vocals, Keyboards) is quite possibly Alice in Wonderland’s real life incarnate of the Mad Hatter.

Seriously – Fox wears a top hat that covers just a small portion of his long locks and appears to sport make-up as well. To top it off, Bigelf’s website references the Mad Hatter AND they have an eponymously tagged song in their repertoire.

With an onstage setup that features dueling keyboards, played simultaneously by Fox, and a host of other vintage instruments, this eclectically psychedelic group has the ability to harness the sounds and harmonies of Black Sabbath, The Mars Volta, and touches of Pink Floyd all wrapped into one extravagant, cohesive ensemble.

Quite the earful (in a good way) from these guys - their showmanship filled the Orpheum with energy abound. There were several moments throughout their performance I thought I was falling down the rabbit hole to soon be greeted by a giant Cheshire cat.

Check out a video of them in live action at a small club in Kansas City, MO.

These LA rockers formed nearly 20 years ago but never quite hit the big time. That may all change with the recent exposure on the Progressive Nation Tour. Bigelf rocks.

Zappa plays Zappa
On to part of the main event. Some concertgoers have stated (on various fan sites, blogs, etc.) that Zappa plays Zappa is the main draw to the tour.

In case you don’t know much about them, Zappa plays Zappa is a tribute band playing the music of legendary composer, electric guitarist, and record producer Frank Zappa. After he passed away in 1993 several years elapsed before his son Dweezil Zappa (lead guitarist) joined forces with former artists who played with Frank throughout their careers.

In 2006, Zappa plays Zappa embarked on a world tour (Europe, Canada, USA) entitled Zappa plays Zappa – Tour de Frank. From the onset, their tours have featured acclaimed guest artists such as Terry Bozzio (check out his enormous drum set), Napoleon Murphy Brock, and the legendary Steve Vai.

Throughout their 3+ years together they have played tours across the globe. In February 2009, they won Best Rock Instrumental Performance at the51st Grammy Awards for their performance of “Peaches en Regalia.”

All night long I kept thinking to myself that most of the music I was listening to was originally played 30-40 years ago – incredible. At the same time, I was thinking how timelessly classic Zappa’s music is.

I had never paid much attention to Frank Zappa but after ZPZ’s performance last Friday I do not see how I can leave that music out of my collection.

Below is a compilation of footage from their August 18, 2009 performance in Calgary on the Progressive Nation Tour.

If you’re a fan of classic rock and haven’t yet heard of these guys (or Frank Zappa for that matter) do yourself a favor and play some catch up. They received a well earned standing ovation following their performance and clearly reveled at the opportunity to play before such a responsive and appreciative crowd.

It is no easy task to create music that transcends and defies the decade it was written in, but Zappa’s music does just that.

Dream Theater
And now for the main course. By the time Dream Theater came on the concert was already more than two and a half hours long.

While the crowd was not annoyed with the appetizers it was obvious that fans were eager to see the headlining band.

The lights on stage were dimmed very low as Dream Theater started playing the intro to the first song off of Black Clouds & Silver Linings (the album being promoted on tour) called 'A Nightmare to Remember'.

A Nightmare to Remember is an epic opener both for an album and a setlist. The intro slowly opens with a crack of thunder followed by raindrops and more thunder rumblings in the background. Keyboardist Jordan Rudess then inserts a dark yet melodic piano riff before the sound of a chorus organ mirrored by an enormous power chord shred from John Petrucci.

Layer upon layer is added - from Portnoy's drums to guitar fills to keyboard fills - until singer James Labrie enters with a stuttering "Nightmare to Remember" line.

I honestly felt like I was living in a dream throughout the progression of the song and slowly awoke from it as it was transitioned into the second song of the set and, accordingly, second song off of the new album: 'A Rite of Passage'.

A Rite of Passage

I'm not sure what prompted the background comments made in the video from 2:36 to 3:06 (though they fit well with the song). Kudos to the whomever took this video as well as the others posted below because the quality is outstanding.

Back to the concert...the solo section from 4:23 to 6:33 in the video above is one of my favorite parts of the studio album. Hearing and seeing it performed live was unbelievable (as was the entire concert, come to think of it).

Jordan Rudess followed that song with a solo of his own. From there, they mixed in songs from several of their prior albums. 'Prophets of War' (Systematic Chaos) and 'The Dance of Eternity' (Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory) were next up on the docket and continued the outrageously fast pace to the concert.

By this time they decided it was time to cool things off for a little bit so they played a rather sedated song off of Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory called 'One Last Time'.

Immediately proceeding the "breather" song they cranked the dial ever so slightly with one of my favorite songs off of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence called 'Solitary Shell'. With the mix of acoustic guitar, sweet harmonies, and piano solos I could see this song being enjoyed by even non-Dream Theater fans. It is a truly a beautiful piece. Check out this cool live version from a concert in Budapest earlier this year.

One last song was played before their encore and it was off of the Train of Thought album. 'In the Name of God' is the last song off of the album and would be fine closer to any concert.

One thing I haven't mentioned yet is that drummer Mike Portnoy maps out each setlist so that no two setlists are the same. Very cool. No show will ever be the same... all the more reason to continue seeing them live in concert!

The video below shows a portion of the song as Petrucci and Rudess trade solos back and forth.

In the Name of God

As ridiculous as it sounds I would have been happy hearing just the opening song. Listening to the refined product on the album and the live performance was completely synchronous, yet obviously more impressive live due to an inability to edit out and cut out mistakes.

Though I'm sure this probably is an incorrect statement I detected zero mistakes during their performance (and I've listened to each of these songs probably 30+ times).

Wait a second. What happened to the encore I alluded to earlier? The best is always saved for last and that is certainly true with this song's selection.

The Count of Tuscany is without a doubt my favorite Dream Theater song and it happens to be the final track off of Black Clouds & Silver Linings. According to numerous sources online the lyrics, which were written by John Petrucci, recount a true experience he had while he was in Italy.

While all the heavy and hard hitting, fast-paced action of the song occur at the beginning my favorite part is from 3:30 to the end of the second video clip below. I don't think I've ever heard a more beautiful ending to a song.

Count of Tuscany pt. 1

Count of Tuscany pt. 2

So there you have it! It was easily the best concert I've ever been to and it is likely to hold that title for the foreseeable future...until the next time I see them live.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More Notre Dame...I Know, I Know

Here's my take on the 2009 edition of the Fighting Irish football team. No one can accuse this reporter of being biased in favor of the Irish, but I do follow them fairly closely. I mean, it's impossible not to follow them seeing as every game is on television and ESPN has yet to put Lou Holtz out to pasture.

But without further ado, here we go.

Nevada @ Notre Dame

This one should be interesting. Nevada has a far superior running game returning two 1,000-yard rushers, one of whom is quarterback Colin Kaepernick. I think the passing games are pretty even but the Irish defense will be a blitz-happy unit under Jon Tenuta and should slow the Nevada attack. Home field helps too.

Nevada 21
Notre Dame 24

Notre Dame @ Michigan

Yes the spread will work in the Big Ten, but not this year. Rich Rodriguez needs another year to implement his scheme and get his personnel in place. It’s still a rivalry though, so anything can happen.

Notre Dame 35
Michigan 21

Michigan State @ Notre Dame

History only means so much. The string of Michigan State wins in South Bend is impressive but it doesn’t really mean anything. MSU doesn’t even know who their quarterback is yet. Despite that, I really like Mark Dantonio as a head coach and I think the Spartans are a team to watch this year in the Big Ten.

Michigan State 31
Notre Dame 28

Notre Dame @ Purdue

No more Joe Tiller as coach. No more Curtis Painter at quarterback; heck, Purdue wasn’t even good with both of them last season. This one could get ugly. On the bright side the Purdue faithful know how to party so no worries for the Boilermakers.

Notre Dame 42
Purdue 7

Washington @ Notre Dame

It was a bad year for the Huskies in 2008. The only real bright spot is Jake Locker who is the best quarterback you’ve never heard of. His injury last season derailed what promised to be an excellent season for the dual threat QB. I don’t think they have enough tools for him to win this one, but again…anything can happen.

Washington 24
Notre Dame 30

USC @ Notre Dame

It doesn’t matter who their quarterback is, USC is superior at every position and has talent to burn despite all the players they’ve sent to the NFL in recent years. The 2005 game Brain referenced was lightning in a bottle and even that didn’t quite work out. All the tradition, pomp and circumstance in the world can’t make your players better. If they wear the green jerseys they’ll probably lose by more.

USC 35
Notre Dame 17

Boston College @ Notre Dame

Boston College is in a real mess. Their only returning QB with any experience is gone and Mark Herzlich, the best defensive player in the ACC and arguably the best linebacker in the country is out for the season as he battles cancer. The only bright spot for the Eagles is that new head coach Frank Spaziani is one of the three best defensive coordinators in the country (The other two being Bud Foster of Virginia Tech and Tenuta). We’ll see how he does as a head coach.

Boston College 7
Notre Dame 35

Washington State @ Notre Dame (in San Antonio)

Boy, it’s tough times for football in the state of Washington. The Seahawks are the best bet for a winner this year as the Cougars join their chief rival Huskies in rebuilding a once proud program. I’m not very optimistic about their chances of improving on their two wins from last season either. This one should be another laugher.

Washington State 3
Notre Dame 42

Navy @ Notre Dame

Contrary to what Brian said, I don’t think Navy’s offense is gimmicky at all. It’s a highly complex system that requires extreme precision from all 11 players and timing is the most crucial component. No team possesses those skills like the Midshipmen. Losing Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (I only missed one letter the first time without looking!) certainly hurts, but there is no shortage of disciplined athletes in Navy’s system that can pick up where he left off. Look for Ricky Dobbs to take the snaps and run the offense. ND wins this one, but don’t be shocked if Navy pulls an upset.

Navy 21
Notre Dame 28

Notre Dame @ Pittsburgh

Pitt is an interesting team. I think they’ll probably win the Big East this year (which isn’t saying much) after losing to league champion Cincinnati by only seven points and losing just one other conference match against Rutgers last year. Bill Stull is a capable quarterback, and even without LeSean McCoy, Pitt could cause plenty of trouble in 2009.

Notre Dame 31
Pittsburgh 28

Connecticut @ Notre Dame

Unfortunately for the Huskies, they no longer have Donald Brown in the backfield. Brown is a terrific back who ran for over 2,000 yards last season and scored 18 touchdowns to boot. I just don’t see them being able to replace that kind of production, plus they’re on the road in this one.

Connecticut 17
Notre Dame 31

Notre Dame @ Stanford

Brian’s right, this is a very dangerous game for the Irish. Tavika Pritchard is a solid quarterback so if Andrew Luck is really good enough to keep him on the bench, Stanford should be in good shape. I also really like Toby Gerhart who had 1,136 yards rushing last season. Jim Harbaugh has done a nice job improving Stanford and I look for them to make a bowl game this season. It’ll be interesting however to see how the team that lost it’s last three games in 2008 when it needed one win for a bowl fares at the end in ’09.

Notre Dame 24
Stanford 28

So my overall prediction is Notre Dame finishing the regular season at 9-3. They may lose another one somewhere and pick up a win I don’t expect, but I think 9 wins is a fairly reasonable expectation for this bunch. All the national championship talk (Lou Holtz I’m looking in your direction) is pretty ambitious for a team that finally figured out how to win a bowl game just last year after a much-publicized postseason victory drought.

This season will be critical for the future of head coach Charlie Weis. He’s a terrific coordinator and a very smart offensive mind. I’m starting to think he’s in over his head as a head coach however. His 29-21 record (with 19 of those wins coming in his first two seasons) leaves a lot to be desired, a sort of one step forward two steps back kind of thing. I’ve also questioned some of his administrative moves, most importantly making the aforementioned Tenuta a co-defensive coordinator. The guy wasn’t even calling plays last season. That’s just mind boggling to me.

I of course being a Hokie am a big proponent of giving a coach plenty of time to get his system implemented and find the right blend of coaches. This is a talented team and a talented coaching staff but this season, right or wrong, will probably decide Weis’ immediate future as the head man in South Bend.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Brian's 2009 Notre Dame Football Predictions

When I first looked at Notre Dame's 2009 football schedule I honestly felt pretty good about it. Not great, but I thought we would be a lock for 8 wins. Then I took a closer look... and my thoughts scared me.

Seemingly every team on the schedule is breaking in a quarterback with inexperience. By the time the Irish play most of those teams each QB will have had a few games under his belt, but the first year for new college QB's is always tumultuous.

Notre Dame returns Jr. Jimmy Clausen in his third year of meaningful snaps. Last season he showed signs of brilliance at times and signs of incompetence at others. The stage is set for a breakout season, a-la Brady Quinn's Junior campaign in 2005.

WR's Golden Tate and Michael Floyd are also back to add to their already impressive collegiate resumes. They comprise arguably the best 1-2 WR punch in college football.

So. Kyle Rudolph is the next Pro-bound TE, following in the footsteps of predecessors Anthony Fasano and John Carlson.

The off-season addition of Running Backs coach Tony Alford and Offensive Line coach Frank Verducci will hopefully provide fill the void in the Irish offense: QB protection and a strong running game to setup play-action bombs to Tate and Floyd.

Oh, and it doesn't hurt that Weis is back to calling offensive plays without the distraction of also coaching special teams and helping out on defense. That burden falls on newly appointed Defensive Coordinator Jon Tenuta.

Corwin Brown, previously the Defensive Coordinator, moves into a new role as Associate Head Coach, Co-Defensive Coordinator, and Defensive Backs Coach.

So what do all of these moves mean for the Irish in 2009? Let's have a look into Brian's crystal ball...

1. Nevada at Notre Dame - 2:30p CST on NBC, September 5
The first game of the season will set the tone for what to expect moving forward. A strong performance and expectations will be even higher. Conversely, a weak performance could be the prelude to a disappointing year.

The Wolfpack are an interesting matchup for any team with their Pistol offense. While they are one of the few teams the Irish will face all year with experience at the QB position (Colin Kaepernick) the Irish aerial attack will be much more potent.

Irish Linebacker Brian Smith records the first of many sacks for the Irish defense as Kaepernick is pressured all afternoon into making poor decisions.

Jimmy Clausen throws for 320 yards and 3 TDs with 0 INTs and Armando Allen tacks on a rushing TD. Nick Tausch attempts his first collegiate FG and shows confidence by nailing a 38-yd FG straight through the uprights.

Final Score: Notre Dame 31, Nevada 17

2. Notre Dame at Michigan, 2:30p CST on ABC, September 12

Rich Rodriguez's Wolverines squad experienced a 2008 season that almost mirrored the 2007 Irish. A disappointing 3-9 season left a sour taste in Ann Arbor. Does the spread really have a chance to succeed in the Big Ten?

Round 1 for the Irish defense against a Fr. QB (Tate Forcier) has the makings of an ugly afternoon for the winged-helmets. Forcier will have a roller-coaster game with several highlights, most of which to the delight of Notre Dame fans and expense of the home crowd.

Whoever plays return man for ND (Armando Allen, Golden Tate or true Fr. Cierre Wood) will shimmy through the Wolverines special teams for the first Irish kickoff return for a TD since Armando Allen's in the Hawaii Bowl last year.

Michigan manages to score two TDs with an additional FG tacked on for good measure. Notre Dame proves to be too much to handle, though, as Clausen throws for 268 yards and 3 TDs while James Aldridge and Armando Allen each add 1 rushing TD.

Final Score: Notre Dame 42, Michigan 17

3. Michigan State at Notre Dame, 2:30p CST on NBC, September 19

Notre Dame has not beaten MSU at home since more than a decade ago. Yet, despite this fact I feel fairly confident in their ability to end that streak this year.

MSU has a bit of a QB circus going on as a decision has not yet been made on who will take the first snap of the season: RS So. Kirk Cousins or RS So. Keith Nichol. There's no saying the starter of the Spartans' first game will still be the start by the time the roll into Notre Dame Stadium, either.

Even with the questions on offense the Spartan defense will keep things interesting throughout the game.

The Irish will pound the ball early and often, eclipsing the 100 yard mark by the first series of the 2nd half. Allen gets into it not only on the ground but through the air as well, catching a ball out of the backfield for a 30-yard Irish score in the 2nd quarter.

Cousins and Nichol are rotated throughout the game causing inconsistencies in the Spartan offense and numerous miscommunicated routes.

Nick Tausch connects on 2 of 3 FGs for the Irish on top of 4 passing TDs from Clausen to Tate (2), Floyd (1), and Kamara (1).

Final Score: Notre Dame 34, Michigan State 28

4. Notre Dame at Purdue, 7p CST on ABC/ESPN, September 26

The opposing QB carousel continues with another new starter in Joey Elliot for the Boilermakers. Elliot was supposed to engage in a battle last spring but expected starter Justin Siller was dismissed from the team, earning Elliot a default victory.

A career backup to the departed Curtis Painter, Elliot is a RS Sr. who has played several games over the past three seasons. Even his limited game experience, though, will not be enough to overcome the hurdle of learning a new system under first-year Head Coach Danny Hope.

Want to know how this turns out? Take a look at this video...

ND pounces all over the Boilermakers in this contest. It's not even close. Clausen throws for 5 TDs in a breakout game of more than 400 yards passing. Aldridge adds 1 rushing TD and Brian Smith recovers a fumble for another score.

Final Score: Notre Dame 49, Purdue 14

5. Washington at Notre Dame, 2:30p CST on NBC, October 3

Former USC Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian is in his first year on the job as Head Coach of the Huskies.

There should be no doubt that Sarkisian can improve upon his predecessor's shortcomings. A winless 2008 campaign will hopefully represent rock bottom for a tradition-rich program.

QB Jake Locker is probably better than advertised and with the help of Sarkisian could have a standout year. His development will be marked this season as the Huskies put a more competitive product on the field than the previous few years under Tyrone Willingham.

Will Sarkisian provide enough spark to defeat the Irish? No. But it should be a slightly more competitive game than last year.

Allen will rush for 140 yards, supplementing another solid performance from Clausen who throws for 280 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT.

Robert Blanton picks off an errant Jake Locker pass for a TD, too, though Locker throws for 2 TDs and rushes for another.

Final Score: Notre Dame 31, Washington 21

6. Southern California at Notre Dame, 2:30p CST on NBC, October 17

Quick: who was the last Notre Dame coach to beat USC? If you guessed Bob Davie, you are correct. His 2001 Irish squad beat Pete Carroll's Trojans 27-16 in South Bend.

The stage will be set for a matchup of two top ten teams when the Irish and Trojans resume one of college football's most exciting rivalries. Notre Dame will pull out all the stop for this game - green jerseys, stadium pep rally, Joe Montana, Jerome Bettis, and a host of other Irish greats.

Believe it or not, the Irish have a tremendous opportunity to take down the Trojans. Yes, I know this is essentially the same Notre Dame squad that failed to get a first down against the Trojans until last play of the third quarter, finished with 9 yards in the first half, and managed only 3 points.

But ND's defense will face a a green Trojan offense, led by RS So. Aaron Corp who will have only 5 games under his belt at this point in the season.

Brian Smith, Robert Blanton, Ethan Johnson, and the rest of the Irish defense are eager to avenge last year's defeat at the Coliseum. Couple that with the confidence from 5 straight wins and the advantage of 80,000 Irish faithful willing their team on defeat the evil empire... smells like a recipe for success to me.

Can the Irish pull off the upset? Yes. Do I honestly believe that? Yes. Will they?

Yes. No Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush = a repeat of 2005 except without the soul crushing defeat. Notre Dame asserts itself as a legitimate national title contender by squeaking out a victory and ending the 8-year drought.

Final Score: Notre Dame 21, Southern Cal 17

7. Notre Dame vs. Boston College, 2:30p CST on NBC, October 24

Fresh off of a defeat over the Trojans this is the very definition of a trap game. Given the Eagles' recent success against the Irish I am tempted to pick the upset here, but there are few key factors at stake that will enable the Irish to walk away with this one.

BC will be breaking in a new quarterback this season after the expected frontrunner, Dominique Davis, was dismissed from the team for academic reasons and has since transferred.

Justin Tuggle, a RS Fr., or Codi Beck, a transfer from American River Junior College, will earn the starting nod in this one. Both have yet to log actual game time for the Eagles.

On top of the QB position, the Eagles will be without star LB Mark Herzlich, who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer earlier this year.

Moreover, the Eagles will be breaking in their 3rd coach in 4 years.

The potent Irish offense will not repeat last season's embarrassing shutout in Chestnut Hill, en route to a comfortable victory.

Final Score: Notre Dame 34, Boston College 10

8. Notre Dame vs. Washington State @ San Antonio, TX, 6:30p CST on NBC, October 31

This game will mark the first of several offsite home games for the Irish, playing in hot recruiting beds around the country to add more exposure to the University.

Let's keep this one simple, though - Wazzou won 2 games last year and not much has changed to suggest they can eclipse that mark.

Armando Allen has a monster game with 150 yards on the ground, 2 rushing TDs, and 1 receiving TD. Clausen has a great game as well, throwing for 325 yards and 3 TDs.

Final Score: Notre Dame 38, Washington State 6

9. Notre Dame vs. Navy, 1:30p CST on NBC, November 7

All is back to normal in the world as the Irish started another winning streak vs. the Midshipmen last season.

Gone is former QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada among a host of other key cogs (namely FB Eric Kettani) to the well-oiled Midshipmen option attack.

While its team is not chock full of blue chip future NFL stars the Midshipmen are always a tough out due to their gimmicky offense and overall discipline. Any man offering up his life for his country is certainly disciplined enough to run like a banshee on the football field for 60 minutes at full speed.

Navy did manage to snap Notre Dame's 43-game winning streak in 2007 in a rousing 3 OT thriller. Will they do it again? No.

The Midshipmen secondary is too porous to combat ND's aerial attack. Jimmy and co. will have a field day.

Final Score: Notre Dame 38, Navy 13

10. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, time TBA, likely ESPN, ABC, or ESPN2, November 14

As unlikely as it may seem the Irish will come into this game with the opportunity to tack on 10 wins in the regular season for the first time since 2006 you better believe it can happen.

In Weis' first game as ND head coach the Irish throttled Dave Wannstedt's Pittsburgh team in his first game as the Panthers' head coach by a final score of 41-21.

I don't expect as wide of a spread in this year's game, especially given the epic collapse last year in South Bend, but I do expect the Irish to finish strong and not blow an early lead in this one.

If Pitt still had "Shady" McCoy I would be inclined to pick them in this bash. But Shady bolted Pitt after just two years in collegiate action (he was drafted in the 2nd round by the Philadelphia Eagles.)

This won't be a high scoring game but it will certainly be close.

Without a legitimate threat in the backfield the Panthers will face an afternoon of white uniforms on their side of the ball. Tenuta will unleash his blitz-happy defense upon the Panthers all afternoon, evening, whatever time of day it is.

Darrin Walls, the hometown boy, will return an INT for a touchdown in this one as the Irish defense sets the pace early.

Final Score: Notre Dame 28, Pittsburgh 14

11. Notre Dame vs. Connecticut, 1:30p CST on NBC, November 21

Senior day for the fighting Irish should have a much different ring to it in 2009 than it did last year. If you recall, the Irish blew a lead against the lowly Syracuse Orange (3-9) in 2008.

This time around, though, ND will have learned to close out the games it could not shut the door on one year ago. Led by seasoned veterans on both sides of the ball the Irish will take command early in this one.

Former Irish QB Zach Frazer will be the likely starter for the Huskies in this clash. Last time he was in ND stadium he was in a competition to earn the starting nod for the 2007 Irish squad. After losing the battle to Demetrius Jones (now a converted LB at Cincinnati), Evan Sharpley, and Jimmy Clausen he was granted permission to transfer to UCONN in July of '07.

Frazer has improved since his days in South Bend but I don't expect him to be a miracle-worker.

Irish win this one and to move to 11-0 on the year before heading to Stanford and an inevitable BCS bowl game.

Final Score: Notre Dame 34, UCONN 17

12. Notre Dame at Stanford, 7p CST on ABC, November 28

By now you're probably thinking I'm crazy. What are the odds ND comes into the final regular season game of the season undefeated (let alone a win against USC)? Total it up throughout the year and you're looking at .049% chance of winning all eleven games to this point.

Here's where things get wild. By this point the bandwagon will be full of the usual array of lovers and haters. One more win and ND can possibly enter the national title game (depending on how other teams fare throughout the season and how much the Irish are penalized by their weak strength of schedule).

Will it happen? No. I find it rather discomforting that I feel this way but I don't have a good feeling about this matchup.

Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh has silently been working miracles out west in Palo Alto, CA. The Cardinal have pulled recruits away from USC and even beat the Trojans two years ago at the Coliseum.

RS Fr. Andrew Luck beat out RS Sr. Tavita Pritchard in spring ball to win the starting QB position and is poised to follow in the lines of Stanford's rich tradition of talent signal-callers. He clearly has the brains, as he was valedictorian of his high school, and talent (rated as high as the #4 QB in his recruiting class) to lead the Cardinal offense.

Even if he doesn't pan out in his first year at the helm Pritchard is capable of running the show.

It is with great regret I provide my final prediction for the 2009 Irish - an upset loss to the Cardinal over Thanksgiving weekend.

With so much riding on this game the Irish will definitely be focused but I fear they will be to stiff. The fighting Harbaugh's will take advantage of that tension ending any talk of pitting the Irish in the national championship game.

Final Score: Stanford 20, Notre Dame 14

Disagree? Feel free to leave a comment with your set of predictions. We encourage debate here at Stars and Slights.

Stay tuned for my outlook on the 2009 Virginia Tech Hokies as well as Justin's predictions for VT and ND.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Song Of The Day- Arctic Monkeys

These guys are a really solid alternative rock outfit getting ready to release their third album Humbug which will drop in the U.S. August 25.

Their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not is where I first heard them and it's also worth a look.

Their sound appears to have changed a bit for the mellow based on the first single "Crying Lightning", but I like the direction and their live rendition packs a bit bigger punch.

The video for this track is pretty simple, but I find it visually appealing. Plus these guys are from England, so you know it's good.

In other news, football season is rapidly approaching so keep an eye out for Brian and I's college football previews. Also, Our newest writer Chris Jones has something in the works. Seriously. I promise.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Decemberists: A Concert Review

Last Thursday I attended a concert at the Center For The Arts on the campus of The University at Buffalo in Buffalo, NY.

On stage were The Decemberists, a Seattle based folk-rock quintet currently on their “A Short Fazed Hovel Tour”.

The group is playing in support of their fifth studio album, The Hazards of Love which was released in March of this year.

The group has been playing the album in its entirety for the first half of their shows. They are accompanied by Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond who both play parts on the album.

Worden belts our powerfully soulful notes in her part of “The Queen” and Stark adds beautifully haunting parts as “Margaret” in the concept album’s performance.

The most impressive aspect is the smooth transitions between songs as the band members switch instruments.

Bassist Nate Query alternates between an electric bass and string bass throughout the show.

Guitarist Chris Funk is a jack of all trades. He plays everything from electric and pedal steel guitar to auxiliary percussion and bouzouki.

Jenny Conlee is much the same, alternating between accordion and often simultaneously playing her Hammond B-3 organ and synthesizer or Wurlitzer organ.

While seeing The Hazards of Love in full was a great experience, after an intermission the band came back out to play a normal set which I was really looking forward to.

Front man Colin Meloy (who is now battling Rivers Cuomo for my favorite rock star…and I think Rivers might be losing) had some truly hilarious things to say to the crowd.

At one point he said, “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” which I later found out is actually a grammatically correct sentence first used by William J. Rapaport, an associate professor at UB, in 1972.

Before playing what Meloy claimed was, “…the worst song I ever wrote” he mused about how when he wrote it the quill pen he uses for all his writing fell and snuffed out his candle, consequently knocking over his glass of absinthe.

It was a truly enjoyable story he told, in which God cried a single tear because of how terrible the song was. They then played a short ditty called “Dracula’s Daughter” before launching into fan-favorite “O Valencia”.

The set itself was filled with plenty of gems spanning the group’s career.

Opener “The Sporting Life” off 2005’s Picaresque set an upbeat tone for the second set. The group meandered through material off all but one of their releases and played two new songs, “Down By The Water” and “Summer Comes To Springville” which Meloy debuted solo acoustic to lead off the encore.

Esteemed pundit Stephen Colbert once referred to The Decemberists as, “hyper-literate prog rock”.

It’s a fitting description. The band’s penchant for grandiloquence, unusual combinations of instruments and often whimsical subject matter make for a very unique catalog.

If you have the chance to see them live I’d encourage you to do so, you won’t be disappointed. Of course if they aren’t coming to a city near you, check out some of their albums starting with The Hazards of Love.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cry Me A River, Vick

Michael Vick signed with the Philadelphia Eagles late last week in a move that shocked many fans. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the deal was that Vick signed with the Eagles - a team in no need of QB help as Donovan McNabb has been at the helm for quite sometime.

But, the biggest news from the Vick case is not that he was reinstated into the NFL and quickly latched on to a team.

The big bad wolf (perhaps a poor choice of words, eh?) said that he cried while in prison... and I'm supposed to feel sorry for him?

I find it shameful and equally offensive that Vick thinks the world should feel empathetic toward his 23-month stay while incarcerated in Leavenworth, KS. Rather than fulfilling his full sentence in the federal penitentiary in Kansas he was released after 19 months, forced to endure 4 torturous months of home confinement in his mansion in Hampton, VA.

Give me a break and cry me a friggen river, Vick. Any pain or suffering he endured is nothing compared to the torture, cruelty, and outright inhumanity of his malicious behavior.

I would take a league full of Pete Rose's (who I believe did no harm to his sport, but that's another story) in lieu of a league with one slime-ball like Vick. Go back to prison, jerk.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Brian vs. Justin 2009 College Football Pick'em Competition

As part of a new season-long feature on Stars and Slights, Justin and I are going to embark in a friendly competition.

College Football season is already entertaining enough but I thought it would be fun for Justin and I to make predictions before the season about Notre Dame and Virginia Tech and keep track of who picked the most number of games correctly.

Aside from choosing the winner of each ND and VT game we will also provide scores of said games... just in case there is a need to break a tie at the end of the year.

Each week we will provide an update on the standings of this competition.

Moreover, look for a secret project to be unveiled in the coming weeks.

With 28 days left until the start of the 2009 campaign for both teams it is time everyone start preparing for a long, arduous, and exciting season.

May the best team(s) win!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Let's Go Crazy!

Inspiration from today's song of the day is brought to you by Notre Dame's 14th commitment from the class of 2010, Prince Shembo.

Prince, a 6-foot-2 232 defensive end from Charlotte, N.C., pledged his verbal intent to sign at Notre Dame next February. Notre Dame was not always high in his eyes but a late June visit to campus changed his perceptions about the school and ultimately tipped the Irish over the edge.

He chose ND over the likes of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Virginia Tech (sorry Justin).

So how exactly, you ask, does a college football pledge relate to today's song of the day? One word: Prince.

"Let's Go Crazy" is a 1984 song by Prince and the Revolution from the album (and film, which was filmed entirely in Prince's hometown of Minneapolis, MN) Purple Rain.

Incubus performed a cover of the song in the video below from a KROQ (106.7 Los Angeles) concert on June 16, 2009. The band also recorded a studio version of the cover which is available on Monuments and Melodies, a 2-disc album featuring 2 new songs and 13 previously released tracks on disc 1 and 11 B-sides, soundtrack cuts, and alternate version on disc 2.

Love him or hate him, the artist formerly known as "The artist formerly known as Prince" wrote one heck of a lick that is masterfully executed by Incubus in the video below.

"Fair Use" Dissension:
In 2007, the song became part of a controversy and legal debate when Stephanie Lenz, a writer and editor from Gallitzin, PA, posted a 29-second video clip of her 13-month old son dancing to "Let's Go Crazy" on YouTube.

Universal Music Group, which owned the copyrights to the song, instructed YouTube to remove the video four months after its original posting in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Lenz was not about to go down without a fight, though. She notified YouTube that her video was legal under the premise of the same DMCA law and ordered it restored, which YouTube complied to two weeks later.

Furthermore, she sued Universal for her incurred legal costs, claiming that the company acted in bad faith by ordering removal of a video that was a "fair use" song with no commercial value.

U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel of San Jose, CA said he would allow the case to continue. He
agreed with Lenz :
...the owner of the rights to a creative work (should) consider whether or not an online copy was a "fair use" - a small or insignificant replication that couldn't have affected the market for the original - before ordering the Web host to take it down.
After a half-hour of searching to see if the case has been resolved yet I surrendered. If you can find an update or conclusion to the case please let me know about it.


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