Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hindsight and Optimism

Lots of hindsight can be thrown at this weekend's ND-USC game. The first that comes to mind is starting Evan Sharpley, a guy who holds onto the ball too long, against SC's tenacious pass rush. But there's no use crying over that now. This is a program that has been wandering in the desert for the past 10-15 years, but there is reason for hope. For the first time in a while, we at least have a head coach that actually wants to go undefeated, and is willing to do anything within the rules and within his power to do so. Maybe it's a sad comment on the state of the program when simply having a coach who wants to win is a good thing. But so be it. It remains to be seen whether Coach Weis will be the next Gerry Faust, who loved Our Lady's University with all his heart but was severely overmatched making the jump from high school to I-A, or the next Dan Devine, who brought home a championship but never gained universal acceptance due to his ups and downs. The key barometer - besides wins and losses, obviously - is recruiting. How good will Coach Weis' recruiting class be after this losing season, or - Our Lady forbid - two losing seasons in a row?

Also in hindsight, Indians fans should have realized that Curt Schilling's first start of the ALCS was a fluke, and that he was coming ready to play in game six. Still, that doesn't mean the Indians are out of it yet. Momentum is a fickle thing. The Tribe took two of three in Cleveland. But if, instead of winning games three and four like they did, what if they had gone two for three by taking games 3 and 5, or 4 and 5 instead? They still could have lost game six and not felt out of it. What's my point? I believe it's that this series isn't over yet. (Yes, I am writing this before tonight's Game 7.)

But there's also reason for optimism among Indians fans. Despite what the national media and east coast fans may think, luck had nothing to do with Cleveland winning six of their first nine playoff games. This is a team that tied for the best record in baseball despite playing in a competitive division. They did so with two legitimate Cy Young contenders, and a center fielder, catcher, shortstop, and two setup men who are all among the league's best. Cleveland's insane numbers with two outs in the New York series may seem fluky, but not when you have a balanced lineup that's produced all year. And I'm sure Boston will tell you how much of a knock-down, drag-out fight this series has been.

But I have another reason for optimism. This Indians team is going to be around for a while. Even with the ageless Kenny Lofton on the roster, the average age of the team is 29. Of the Indians core group of stars, Rafael Betancourt is the old man at 32, and Travis Hafner is the only other one over the age of 30 (and he's been 30 for all of four and a half months now.)

So Go Irish, and Go Tribe.