Last night was a special night. NCAA football got underway for the 2011 campaign, and I got to watch my brother play his first game with Division III Manchester in a tough loss against 21st ranked Trine. Manchester went 2-8 last year, but only lost 13-24 to a Trine team that is on the preseason watch list.
That game reminded me why no game can ever be taken for granted in college football. Trine, heavy favorites coming into the game, did not score a legitimate touchdown against the Manchester Spartans defense. Two defensive touchdowns, and one ten yard drive accounted for the three TD's for the Thunder, while a long drive after an interception led to their lone fieldgoal.
Once Manchester put in their second string quarterback, they outscored Trine 6-0 over the final 40 minutes of the game, and did not turn the ball over. The defense was solid all game, not allowing one of Div. III's best teams any momentum, even after the game was nearly out of hand just 4 minutes in, when the Thunder held a 14-0 lead following two interceptions.
The same formula that allowed Manchester to stay close and have a chance at the end against a really good team could give South Florida the potential for an upset in South Bend Saturday.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish open their season with a 3:30 pm kickoff Saturday at home against a South Florida team coached by Skip Holtz, the son of Irish legendary coach Lou Holtz. Skip led his team to a 8-5 mark last season, including impressive victories at Louisville and Miami (FL) and a bowl victory. Holtz's teams have always had a tendency to pull off huge upsets, and this could be another.
The Irish are also coming off a very solid defensive campaign, and have a lot of upside with a great offense and brilliant coach. Dayne Crist will start at quarterback once again, but Tommy Rees could get in if the offense struggles under Crist's leadership. Theo Riddick and Michael Floyd will lead the receiving corps, while junior Cierre Wood will look to lead the ground game after averaging over 6 yards per carry and 86 yards per game over the final 3 contests last season.
With all of his key weapons back on both sides of the ball, coach Brian Kelly has his team in a great position to win this game. Yet he must be guard to ensure his team does not come in arrogant and overlooking the Bulls, or the Irish risk a close game, or worse. Need the Irish be reminded of losses to Michigan, Navy and Tulsa last year? Or the 2009 disappointing losses to Michigan, Navy and UCONN?
No game can ever be overlooked, especially when the goal is a national title. If the Irish do not overlook South Floriday, they should win. I predict 35-17.