NEW YORK -- So much for Waking up the Echoes. So much for that "easy" schedule. So much for Lou Holtz's 11-win prediction.
As much as I enjoyed hanging out with my new Cincinnati friends (we did find a better viewing spot, the East Side Blondie's), there came a time in the third quarter when Oklahoma began pulling away that I had no choice but to slosh through the rain to return home and turn my attention to the potential train wreck playing out on NBC.
All summer long, I questioned the ultra-optimistic predictions regarding Notre Dame's improvement in 2008 -- but I certainly expected better than this. In their first game since completing the worst season in school history, the Irish spent three quarters playing like ... the same, horrendous nine-loss team.
In the end, Charlie Weis' team erased a 13-7 fourth-quarter deficit to survive mighty San Diego State, 21-13. A close loss to a respectable, BCS-conference foe would have been a big leap from last year. Even a close win over a decent mid-major would have been more encouraging. But to eek out a home win over San Diego State? Are you kidding me? The Aztecs could not have improved that much from last week's hard-fought defeat to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Facing a defense that got trampled by a I-AA foe last week, QB Jimmy Clausen spent most of the first three quarters throwing to non-existent receivers and/or Aztecs defenders. And unlike a year ago, he was not under heavy duress. It's hard to say whether ND's offensive line is all that improved, however -- because Notre Dame couldn't run the ball, either.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, Clausen sprung to life. Fortunate to be down only 13-7 after San Diego State fumbled away a touchdown into the Irish end zone, the sophomore led the Notre Dame 80 yards in six plays, capped by a 38-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate, then tacked on another TD to put it away.
But let's not kid ourselves: The Irish were barely good enough to beat what may be one of the worst teams in Division I-A. Does that mean Notre Dame is going to go 3-9 again? Not necessarily. It took 10 games last year for the Irish to show any semblance of life on offense; perhaps Clausen's fourth-quarter "heroics" will serve as a confidence builder.
But to all the delusionists who envisioned the Irish leaping from 3-9 to 9-3 based on a blind belief that Weis' ballyhooed recruits would improve exponentially with a year's experience -- sorry to burst your bubble. Barring rapid, dramatic improvement, ND is going to have a hard time beating most of the decent foes on its schedule.
· As for Oklahoma, the Sooners also looked very much like their 2007 edition in a 52-26 blowout -- and that's both a good and bad thing.
The good: Sam Bradford (29-of-38, 392 yards, five TDs) had no problem tearing apart a respectable Cincinnati defense. OU's offense is once again locked and loaded, with freshman WR Ryan Broyles (seven catches, 181 yards) the latest weapon in their arsenal.
Defensively, my one concern is that I saw several instances of a problem that marked last season's losses to Texas Tech and West Virginia: blown tackles. Cincinnati produced most of its offense on a handful of big plays (including a 97-yard kick return touchdown) where a ball-carrier simply broke into the open field. OU's secondary remains its one area of suspicion.