Welcome to another edition of the Irish mailbag. I doubt too many people are excited or nervous about the Western Michigan game, but there's always plenty to talk about. Keep sending in your questions here.
Cameron H from Erie, Pa., writes: With Kyle Rudolph's injury, will he return to for a senior year because of scouts questioning his durability?
Brian Bennett: It's an interesting question and one could that could go either way. As you say, Rudolph needs to prove he can stay healthy after also missing time last year with a shoulder injury. And if the recovery timetable holds at six months, that means he won't be able to work out for pro teams until April, or right before the draft.
On the other hand, does Rudolph want to risk coming back for his senior year and getting injured again? There aren't many great tight ends in this draft, either, so he may want to go ahead and go. Throw in the NFL lockout talk and it becomes a very complicated decision. If I had to guess, I say he comes back to school.
Jadon O. from Canandaigua, N.Y., writes: Do you think that Rudolph going down could cause Brian Kelly to ask Dayne Crist to throw the ball vertically more down the field to playmakers like Michael Floyd considering Rudolph was a major underneath option?
Brian Bennett: Well, let's not forget that Rudolph could get vertical, too. Just because he was a tight end doesn't mean he couldn't stretch the field. I think if there's any adjustment, it will be that Kelly will use more five-wide receiver sets and feature the tight end less. I don't know how much he really trusts Tyler Eifert and Mike Ragone just yet.
Michael from Lawrence, Kan., writes: What about Crist's accuracy? I've seen him miss on a lot of throws. Stats are stats, but they don't necessarily tell the whole story. It seems that many of the passes that his misses on, he misses by a lot (it's not as though it's in the receiver's hands and the receiver is dropping it). It doesn't seem like this has gotten a lot of attention, but it would seem to me that if some of those throws were a bit more on target, ND might have won a couple of those close games.
Brian Bennett: First, let's get the stats out there. Crist is completing 58.8 percent of his throws which is good but not great in Kelly's system. (By comparison, Tony Pike completed more than 62 percent last year for Kelly at Cincinnati.) He has been burned by some receiver drops, but he also has missed some open throws. I don't know that it's a major issue with his accuracy as much as him still learning the spread offense. The system demands that he make quick decisions and get rid of the ball fast, and when you're trying to do that and thinking too much, sometimes you can't put the ball where you want it.
Joshua F. from Chicago writes: Can you comment on the emergence of Carlo Calabrese this season? I know he is playing alongside the much heralded Manti Te'o, but it seems to me that he can play just as well as him.
Brian Bennett: Calabrese has been one of the real finds of the season, and I don't know if the coaching staff knew what it had in him. He seems to be a guy who plays better when the lights are on, and he's a real hard-nosed, throwback type of player who I can see becoming a fan favorite. That other inside linebacker spot next to Te'o was a preseason question mark, but Calabrese has answered it emphatically.
Ron from Youngstown, Ohio, writes: With a lighter portion of the schedule coming up, what record will Notre Dame end up with?
Brian Bennett: I said 8-4 before the year and am sticking with it. I think the Irish split the Utah and USC games and win all the others. Speaking of which ...
Mike H. from Cincinnati writes: Do you think Utah or USC will be a bigger game for the Irish this year? Utah will be in the top ten, but USC is a big rival and the Irish haven't won in the past eight years.
Brian Bennett: The Utah game will be more difficult because the Utes are really good. But the USC game is bigger. Notre Dame needs to end that losing streak to the Trojans, and this looks like its best shot in a long time. To do that at the end of the season could give the Irish a lot of momentum to build on for 2011, too.
Kathleen M. from Los Angeles writes: Please explain to me why avid, true devoted fans of Notre Dame can not be patient? Why is Notre Dame always thought to be the one team that can take the spotlight away from another team? Why can't Coach Kelly admit that this IS a transition year and be happy with its report? Think about it. New coach, new assistants, new quarterback, etc. 99% of the other colleges would say that this is a transition year. I truly believe that the current two wins over Pitt and Boston College have started the positive thoughts, vibes that is needed to really start this success. I don't believe that they will make a bowl game, however there has been more shocking moments then that with ND football lately.
Brian Bennett: I learned long ago not to try and explain why fans act or think the way they do. Fans are crazy; that's just part of it. And I mean all fans. You can't mention Don Denkinger's name around me or I become completely illogical and upset.
Anyway, I like that Kelly is saying this is not a transition year for two reasons. One, that's not his personality at all. He wants to win right away, and in his first year at Cincinnati he won 10 games. He also knows that Irish fans aren't too big on rebuilding. Secondly, if you announce it's a transition or rebuilding year, then you automatically lower expectations for the players. He's trying to instill a winning attitude.
And I disagree about the Irish not going to a bowl. I think 7-5 is a worst-case scenario at this point, and I believe they're all but locked into the Champs Sports Bowl. Unless Crist gets hurt or something.