Notre Dame mailbag

Heavy inbox this week. I suppose that happens when your team goes 5-0.

Alden from Columbus, Neb., writes: Do you think that the Irish can come out with a win against #17 Stanford, if they can't find their rhythm between the passing and ground game? Obviously our defense has proven themselves as one of the best in the nation, and has led them to a 5-0 start, do you think that they will continue to play at that level or will they have to start relying on the offense? And what are your thoughts about the rest of the season and how it plays out for Notre Dame in regards of a possible BCS bowl game or EVEN maybe the BCS National Championship? Go Irish! Play Like A Champion Today!

Matt Fortuna: I'm not sure that the defense will ever "rely" on the offense in that sense, but the offense does need to pick it up a bit. If the Irish can't run or throw against Stanford, then it will be extremely difficult to win. The Cardinal threw me (and everyone else) off with that 54-48 win against Arizona last week, but I still think that defense is going to make things very difficult for the Irish offense. Likewise, I expect the Stanford offense to look a lot more like the product it put out through the season's first four games and not last week's. If the Irish win Saturday, I will be very surprised if they don't go on to win at least 10 games and make a BCS-bowl game. National title? Too many flaws right now for me to take that leap with them, though crazier things have happened.

Lars from Bound Brook, N.J., writes: How much does ND owe its victory over Miami to Miami's mistakes? Believe me, I'm as happy as anyone for my Irish to be 5-0, but what if Dorsett had caught either of those passes on the first drive, Rees got intercepted on his second pass, and/or Miami hadn't committed that roughing penalty? Consider Cierre Woods' comments after the game that Miami's defense was playing beaten down during the entire second half; ND hadn't been able to run much of the first half. It's not that I'm a skeptic, but in the last 20 years we ND fans have come to expect being exposed in the last few games of the season.

Matt Fortuna: Lars, I don't think Notre Dame owes the victory to the mistakes, but certainly the margin of victory. Yes, a deep Dorsett touchdown on the opening drive completely changes the complexion of the game, and we will never know for sure how much. But watching that second half you couldn't help but think the Irish were just too much physically for the Hurricanes, and would have pulled out the win regardless. I certainly get the hesitation that Notre Dame fans might be feeling, but -- and this has only been through five games -- the breaks that normally go against the Irish have seemed to be falling their way so far this season.

Kevin J. from Thousand Oaks, Calif., writes: This years success can be attributed to not only the turnover ratio but also the fewer number of penalties. ND is playing smart football and not making the dumb mistakes that can kill drives.

Matt Fortuna: Elimination of negative plays, Kevin. Brian Kelly has harped on this all year, as it ruined his team's BCS-bowl hopes last season. That will be big this week against a Stanford team that ranks fourth nationally in tackles for loss and averages nearly three sacks per game.

Josh Dempsey from Bluefield, W. Va., writes: Matt I know Irish fans like me are dreaming of an undefeated season. However, I know there's a long way to go. If the Irish did go undefeated, is it conceivable that they could get shut out of the National Title game? It seems to me that West Virginia, Oregon, and Alabama all have shots of running the table along with the Irish. Who do you think of that group would get in? Thanks GO IRISH!

Matt Fortuna: This question will never stop getting asked, and I understand the fun in it. But as Florida State and LSU showed us last week, things change rather quickly. Bottom line: I think Alabama gets in no matter what if it's undefeated. The SEC slate, the nonconference trouncing of Michigan in the opener, the fact the Tide have won two of the past three titles and have a 13th game all give that program the benefit of the doubt, and no one can really argue that. Oregon? The Ducks haven't played anyone too great yet, but they will be hard to keep out as well, assuming they beat Stanford and USC and then, possibly, USC again in the Pac-12 title game. I wouldn't put West Virginia in the same tier as Alabama and Oregon right now. As for the Irish, it would be interesting. Running the table with that schedule would seem to make them a shoe-in, but if two higher-ranked preseason teams don't falter, and if those teams look good in all of their wins, it will be tough for the Irish to leap either of them. Again, Notre Dame (and most of the country) is not even halfway through its season yet, so everything any of us say now could be a moot point by Sunday. But the debates are part of what make this sport so fun.

Mike from Boulder, Colo., writes: Matt, I know that you use the term "redshirt freshman" to describe Golston and other ND players in a way that fans identify with, but I would like to request that you stop using that term. Notre Dame does not "redshirt" players in the same sense that other schools do. An ND football player is required by the school (barring extenuating circumstances) to graduate in four years. Calling Everett or any other 1st-year playing sophomore a "redshirt freshman" is inaccurate. Players at ND can be "redshirted" -- i.e. save a year of eligibility for a 5th year -- but during that 5th year those players must be enrolled in graduate school. Therefore they are freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and grad students. Not "true freshmen", "redshirt freshmen", sophomores, juniors, and 5th-year seniors. It might not seem like a big difference, but to an ND student or alum, it is huge. Call him a first year starter, a sophomore, or just plain old Everett. But don't call him a "redshirt freshman." He'll never be a "redshirt senior" using your terminology, and quite frankly, its just not an accurate term. Thanks, Mike

Matt Fortuna: "A rose by any other name …" … is still more accurate than "Golston."