The echoes were asleep this fall at Notre Dame, but the grumblings about Charlie Weis grew louder each week. And once again, South Bend became the center for all relevant events in the realm of the independents.
It began Sept. 1, when Notre Dame began the season with a thud, falling 33-3 to Georgia Tech. The Fighting Irish went on to lose a school-record nine games by an average of 21.2 points and set new lows for losses to open a season (5) and consecutive home losses (6). Among those South Bend stumbles was a 46-44 triple-overtime loss to Navy, which ended the nation's longest winning streak against one team at 43 games.
The historic victory spurred Navy to an 8-4 record, though the Mids lost miracle worker Paul Johnson to Georgia Tech. Army looked promising under new coach Stan Brock but dropped its final six games to finish with its 11th consecutive losing season. Western Kentucky went 7-5 with only one win against a Division I-A foe.
Most Valuable Player
QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, Navy
It's no fun typing this guy's name, but he's a joy to watch on the field. In a season when Navy needed offense to offset a spotty defense, Kaheaku-Enhada led a unit that led the nation in rushing (351.5 ypg) and more impressively ranked eighth in scoring (39.9 ypg). He had four 100-yard rushing performances in the first six weeks and threw only one interception in his final 65 attempts. Notre Dame defensive end Trevor Laws (112 tackles, tops among Division I-A defensive linemen) and Army wide receiver/returner Jeremy Trimble merit mentions.
Coach of the Year
Paul Johnson, Navy
Johnson's stranglehold on this designation has slipped with his departure to Georgia Tech, but he leaves Navy like he arrived, as a winner. The streak-snapping Notre Dame win was the final notch for Johnson, who accomplished about all he could at Navy. He led the Midshipmen to five straight bowl games, five straight Commander-in-Chief's trophies, a record six straight wins against Army and a 43-19 record since his first season, when Navy went 2-10. This season the Mids won eight games despite a defense that ranked 109th nationally in points allowed (36.5 ppg).
Newcomer of the Year
WR Duval Kamara and LB Brian Smith, Notre Dame
In a season with few bright spots for the Irish, both Kumara and Smith provided hope for the future on opposite sides of the ball. Kumara led the team in touchdown receptions (4) and ranked second in catches (32). Smith collected four tackles for loss, intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble. Other notable newcomers include Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen (6 touchdown passes in his last two games), Irish defensive tackle Ian Williams and Western Kentucky quarterback K.J. Black.
It really shouldn't be a surprise by now, but Navy continued to mass-produce yards and points in a season when it had to. Kaheaku-Enhada and stable of backs helped the Mids to another ho-hum 8-4 season. Seven players rushed for more than 450 yards and five touchdowns. Navy scored 30 points or more in all but two games and eclipsed 45 points five times. Other surprises include Notre Dame's pass defense (third nationally) and Irish converted defensive end Trevor Laws.
On media day, Charlie Weis refused to call 2007 a rebuilding year. By early November, he wished it were. Notre Dame's exploits this fall fell under the heading of historical futility. A mismanaged preseason and a faulty game plan for the season opener led to a disastrous start, a return to training camp after Week 3, three quarterback changes and a record nine losses. Notre Dame had the nation's worst rushing offense for most of the season and finished last nationally in sacks allowed (4.7 spg). No one expected another BCS berth from a young team, but 3-9 was unacceptable.
Adam Rittenberg covers college football for the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald.