I left for Europe concerned in several areas; Gavins gone, no deep threat,injuries throughout the O-line-these were the main ones. Upon my return, my varied sources confirmed what I'd been suspecting for a long time: to put it colloquially, we done put the depth in depth chart. I can't even go back to "the day"; it is ridiculous to compare our depth now to anything that ever existed in the times I write most about here, those early days. I say this with complete respect to the men on those teams; I knew many, and was aware of all.But it is simply not fair to them, or honorable for us, to make that comparison; it's tedious to even explain why. In fact, the jump in talent is so precipitous that the only coherent way to approach is to arbitrarily pick the Div I years for discussion, and even then it's a challenge, maybe beyond me. I'll give it a try.
There was a time (2004) when I thought we were blessed to have a Gilligan AND a Fanucchi. I look out now and see 5, 6, possibly 7 (the best catches in the scrimmage were made by redshirt Troy Ware IMO) WRs that are interchangeable in their effectiveness, if not precisely in their style. Before we lost Johnson we had 3 stout, bona fide above-average/good Div I RBs in an offense that struggles to find ways to keep 2 satisfied and has a very capable-looking redshirt chomping at the bits. We lose an outstanding DB and replace him, not just seamlessly, but surpassingly. I remember when (2006) I was ecstatic that we had 2 strong, relatively big DTs; now, although we don't go as deep as we once did (T-n-T phone home), we are stocked, and a 275 lb DE with 4.53 speed blurs the increasingly academic distinctions along our front 4. An appraisal of our LB strength I'll candidly confess is beyond my pay grade; we had to go to a redshirt, but he's been fine. In scrimmage I thought he looked liked he'd played here a while. Our O-line has suffered, but when an O-lineman with 2 ACLs, who's missed 2 seasons, can hang in and start for us at center-well, the program is doing something right, as in getting guys with a seriously dialed in attitude. I thought Yiarte had retired; 17 out of 18 other players would have. The safeties and nickels remind me of chain mail armor, each link reacting to any stress on the line, forming a solid, responsive whole despite being comprised of contiguous, distinct parts. Our D-line play is so good the safeties/nickels are rarely challenged, but when they are, they rise to it, comprehensively. At every level I see quality, and even where we are a little "thin", we are thin in the way the old Levi Strauss denim jeans were, where, despite being worn down to the barest white threads, there were still several years of good honest work left in them before the knees finally gave out. Where thin, we are tough, and with a little luck, we'll be o.k. And anyone who says elite programs don't need some luck is lying, and stupidly at that.
Are we complete,perfect, level by level, at every position? No. But it cannot be gainsaid by anyone possessing knowledge of college football that we are not an elite team and, by extension, since we have done this now for several seasons, an elite program. As to the latter point, I suppose an onion-pealer could say that we are a non-elite program that has, for a time, created some elite teams, whereas Notre Dame is an elite program that has, for a somewhat more substantial period, produced non-elite ones. This sentiment, or something very close to it, lies at the heart of the anti-Boise State bias. It fails to account for what I see now, a program that was able to develop promising but limited athletes increasingly recruiting athletes neither limited nor "promising', whose qualities are extant, apparent, immediate and whose development creates not simply Div I players, but excellent ones.
Ancillary Footnote: I'm already hearing the "We Miss Kellen" drumbeats. Yes, playing after Kellen is a bit (I didn't go to Britain; why do I sound like a limey? Our new limey recruits perhaps? woops-there I go again) like having The Beatles as your opening act. But long memories make for quiet stomachs, and I recall a very jittery Ryan Dinwiddie, and excitable Bart Hendricks, even a callow and unprepared Jim McMillan (it's true!). Kellen's poise and accuracy is uncommon, practically supernatural, and it seems like he's been our QB forever. But we've got stock. No guarantees, but don't bet against this program. I've got history to back me up.