By SAMANTHA DESMOND
Somebody pinch me, because both of my football teams are rolling. October is still fresh, and there’s plenty of football to be played. Although it pains me to admit, only one of these teams can be considered the real deal at this juncture in their respective seasons.
I have had the blessed misfortune of dedicating my football fandom to two of the most painful teams in the history of the game. Sure, the Giants have two Super Bowls in the past decade, and Notre Dame inked a perfect season in 2012 before Alabama and Manti Te’o’s fictional girlfriend swooped in to steal my proverbial thunder. But, the fact remains that both teams in recent seasons have remained all talk and no punch, despite a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball. Only now has one team emerged into the spotlight, displaying some serious swagger as they head into the cutthroat portion of their season.
SPOILER ALERT: IT’S CERTAINLY NOT THE NEW YORK GIANTS.
With an 0-6 start to 2013 still leaving a horrid taste in the mouths of Big Blue’s fans everywhere, an abysmal preseason and 0-1 to start 2014 was enough for anyone to slam that panic button. Fast forward to Week 5 – the Giants are 3-2 and rolling into divisional play. Faith has been restored. You can wear your Manning jersey to the grocery without fear of being pelted with produce. Well done.
Yes, Eli is looking more sharp than 2013. Please note that isn’t saying much, since I could have suited up in Giants Blue and thrown a better season than this Manning in 2013. He’s certainly finding his footing after a lackluster preseason, which saw nearly zero productivity out of a rebuilt offensive unit. However, the fact remains that Eli’s offensive weapons are too inconsistent to depend on week in and week out.
Case point one: Victor Cruz got a massive paycheck and forgot how to catch the football. I love to salsa on Sundays, and it wasn’t long ago that I could give the pros on Dancing With The Stars a run for their money because Cruz was THE man in Blue. But a lackluster 2013 and painful start to 2014 have led Giants fans to question whether Victor Cruz’s hips, in fact, did lie? He says he wants the ball, but even Eli is beginning to recognize that Cruz has lost his clutch factor. Hopefully, this too shall pass.
Case point two: Larry Donnell is the classic Giants tight end – nobody knew his name before he and Eli Manning became the hottest NFL couple outside of Brady and Gronk. I love Donnell and the size he brings to an incredibly undersized receiving corps. But he can’t carry the entire workload in the West Coast offense that McAdoo is selling. Teams have already made it a point to shut him down, moving forward will look for ways to shut him down because the remaining receiving options don’t require double coverage to miss an opportunity to catch the ball. Randle has had his share of drops and miscues, and Odell Beckham, Jr. is a Victor Cruz clone – built for speed and agility, not for soaring over defenses.
Case point three: The Giants defense is painfully awful. Give the defensive line some credit, because they have held up remarkably well, but the cringe worthy play by the linebackers and secondary can no longer go unnoticed. Between snail’s paced pursuits and 10 to 15 yard cushions off of the line of scrimmage, receivers have all the room in the world to make a play. And while Prince Amukamara’s marital status has debatably upped his playmaking swagger (thanks for the update Antrel Rolle), it’s not quite enough. Good for you Prince, but we need you to lock someone up at the line once and a while.
Transition to the Fighting Irish – thank God for Brian Kelly.
Here come the Irish! These guys are no strangers to finishing a season. They flirted with perfection in 2012 before Nick Saban and the Bama powerhouse crushed our collective hopes and dreams, dismantling the Irish in only the most embarrassing of fashions. Fast forward two seasons, after enduring a mediocre Tommy Rees during Everett Golson’s academic suspension, and the Irish are rolling, 5-0 and facing a less-than-stellar UNC Tar Heels squad before a battle with Florida State’s bad boy, Jameis Winston.
Case point one: The Irish schedule is tough, but winnable. Florida State is, in my mind, overrated. Although Winston was sidelined vs. Clemson, the rest of the FSU unit started to unravel at the seams. The Florida State schedule has been less than competitive to date. However, it will be the ultimate challenge for the Irish, but after facing the No. 1 defensive unit in the country with Stanford, Everett Golson and the Irish offense have a boost of confidence.
Case point two: Although I never drank the Golson Kool-Aid in 2012, I am a firm believer in his talent now. Although he suffered some minor hiccups against Stanford, his academic suspension was clearly spent working on his legs and his arm, as he is showing increased composure in the pocket. Sure, it helps that the Irish offensive line is damn near impenetrable, but Golson’s ability to extend the play with his legs has been an Irish saving grace in tight games.
Case point three: The stalwart Irish defense. Battered by injury and entrenched in academic controversy, the Irish entered the 2014 season missing several defensive weapons. All-American KeiVarae Russell is still suspended, pending the outcome of an academic investigation and defensive Captain Austin Collinsworth is recovering from a pre-season injury. Yet, the Irish defensive unit has triumphed under Defensive Coordinator Brian VanGorder. Add superstar Jaylon Smith, versatile strong safety Max Redfield and a focused Elijah Shumate, and you have a recipe for a playoff contending defense.
Both teams have plenty of football left to play. The Giants are notorious for defying all odds and expectations, as they have done in both Super Bowl winning seasons. Notre Dame is a storied program, with a history and tradition unlike any other in the country. One thing anyone can be sure of – I will be closely watching every game from my 60 inch, away from any and all breakables.
At least the 2014 football season is interesting. It could be worse – I could be a Jets fan.