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(Sports) Mike Beas: Are the Colts' yesterday's darlings?

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To hear the so-called experts talk, 2009 is going to be the year of the Indianapolis Colts. The year the franchise begins its descent back toward mediocrity, that is.

Beloved head coach Tony Dungy has retired to NBC's broadcasting booth and once-great receiver Marvin Harrison, 36, is off fishing for a fatter paycheck from some other gullible team owner even though he's not nearly the offensive weapon he was three or four years ago.

Indy is now being led by a man in Jim Caldwell that most of us wouldn't recognize if he asked us directions to the frozen foods aisle inside our favorite grocery store — if Peyton Manning or Dwight Freeney were accompanying him . . . maybe — and the offense is in desperate need of a quality third receiver to go along with Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez.

Concerns don't stop there. Will the offensive line mold back into something special? Is tailback Joseph Addai going to return to form or eventually grab some pine in favor of lightning-fast first-round draft selection Donald Brown out of UConn? So many questions and not a single answer. Not now. It's June.

In case you haven't heard, Tom Brady is back, which means everyone has New England on track for a 14-2 — at worst — stroll through the upcoming regular season. Baltimore will be there, they say. San Diego and Pittsburgh, too. Indianapolis, meanwhile, isn't stockpiling the same preseason love. The Colts are yesterday's darlings, the once-sleek Ferrari soon to be passed by newer models.

As in life, cycles are part of athletics. Where there is an up, a down is waiting in the wings, and vise versa. Indianapolis has rattled off seven consecutive winning seasons, averaged 12 victories per year over that stretch and picked up a Super Bowl trophy along the way. The fall is coming, and I'm not referring to September 21.

But the 2009 season? I don't think so. Manning is 33, not an arthritic 43 or wide-eyed 23. He's got two, perhaps three great seasons left in the tank, so I wouldn't be throwing out those 8-8 predictions so effortlessly. When Manning is on his game, he can carry a team.. Besides, he's at his best when people are counting him and his teammates out, which means the 10th 4,000-yard season of his fabulous career is likely on the near horizon.

Prediction: 11-5. If Bob Sanders can stay healthy — a huge 'if' indeed — we'll say 12-4.

PARTING SHOT: Attempting to make sense of last season's mid-season slump, Notre Dame men's basketball coach Mike Brey was recently quoted as saying, "If we could play in the Big Ten, maybe that would help us a little bit."

Huh?

Just when we were led to believe underachieving Charlie Weis, the modern-day H.R. Frumpenstuff, was the biggest bonehead on the South Bend campus, the Vitalis-slicked Brey steps to the forefront hauling this bag of verbal manure.

No word as to whether Brey was implying the Big Ten provides easier competition or if his program would benefit geographically due to lessened travel time compared to current Big East road destinations such as Syracuse and Connecticut.

In the meantime, Brey needs to keep doing what he does best, which is strive for mediocrity while remaining third fiddle in this state. You know, the way Digger Phelps used to.

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