Plight of the Irish
Notre Dame may have to join the Big Ten if it hopes to retain
After Notre Dame's 10-0 loss to USC last Saturday, a defeat that
left the Fighting Irish with a 9-2 record and no hope of earning
a spot in any of the four Bowl Championship Series games, Notre
Dame athletic director Mike Wadsworth leaned against a concrete
wall outside the Irish locker room in the Los Angeles Coliseum
and spoke wistfully of the past. "There have been seasons when a
9-2 Notre Dame team was good enough for a major bowl," he said.
Wadsworth was right: 9-2 Irish teams in 1990 and '95 went on to
the Orange Bowl, but those days are fading. Notre Dame has long
benefited from brand-name recognition unlike any other in
college sports. Gold helmets often engendered high rankings for
any Irish team with a hint of ability; even when mediocre, Notre
Dame produced the best TV ratings in college football. Give the
current Irish their props: Despite modest talent, they won nine
of their first 10 games, including four by five or fewer points.
Had it not been for the absence of senior quarterback Jarious
Jackson, who was out with a sprained right knee, Notre Dame
probably would have beaten Southern Cal and might have snagged
one of the two Series at-large invitations, which are likely to
go to Arizona and Florida. Instead, Irish freshman Arnaz Battle
and junior Eric Chappell completed only seven of 22 passes for
94 yards and allowed the Trojans to gang up on the Notre Dame
running game. It was the first time in 11 years that the Irish
were shut out.
The near miss at an elite bowl bid, however, masked larger
truths. First, Notre Dame this season wasn't a powerful team,
just a courageous one. "I've been around some real talented
teams," says second-year Irish coach Bob Davie. "I'm proud of
what these guys have accomplished, but we weren't that kind of
team." Notre Dame also benefited from a schedule that once seemed
strong but was weakened when Michigan, Stanford, Arizona State
and LSU all performed below expectations. The Irish beat just two
teams with winning records, Michigan and Purdue.
Second, pollsters and television viewers no longer cut Notre
Dame any slack. Despite a 9-1 record, the Irish were ranked only
No. 9 before facing USC. Their home games on NBC had averaged a
meager 2.9 rating and been consistently beaten by regional ABC
It gets worse. Given Notre Dame's admissions policies--more
demanding than those of many other football powers--and tough
scheduling, the Irish will be hard-pressed to duplicate this
year's 9-2 record in the near future. Next season's schedule
includes Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Arizona
State, Tennessee and Stanford. In 2000, Notre Dame plays Texas
A&M, Nebraska, Purdue, Michigan State and West Virginia. One
Irish football insider calls the schedule "a coach-killer."
Wadsworth says, "It's the way we've always scheduled, and we
will continue to do so."
NBC, of course, loves the brutal schedules. Big-name opponents
bring in good audiences. Yet will the network be thrilled when
Notre Dame is 7-4?
The Irish are at a football crossroads. They must either soften
their scheduling or lower their admissions standards to retain
hopes of winning national titles. Or Notre Dame could follow a
third course by joining the Big Ten. The opportunity to play
Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Northwestern on a regular basis in
the conference, while retaining the likes of Boston College, USC
and a rotation of others in nonleague games, would give the Irish
a fighting chance. They're competitive with Michigan and Penn
State, though not, of late, with Ohio State (neither is the rest
of the Big Ten).
Notre Dame is expected to consider shifting to the Big Ten
during a trustees meeting in February. One source close to the
situation does not expect the Irish to join. "You're talking
about 100 years as an independent," he says. "That's a lot for
the people here to let go of." Not if they want Notre Dame to
keep playing football for national championships, it isn't.
A No-brainer For Tuberville
Tommy Tuberville dropped Ole Miss for Auburn for the two reasons
behind most of what happens in college football: money and
recruiting. The Tigers signed Tuberville, 44, to a five-year
contract worth more than $4 million. That doubles his income
with the Rebels. "There are one-and-a-half million people within
150 miles of Oxford," Tuberville says. "There are six million
people within 150 miles of Auburn." In other words, more
players. Tuberville shared the state of Mississippi with
Mississippi State and Southern Mississippi. At Auburn he will
fight only Alabama for the in-state blue-chippers, and he will
be just 20 miles from the border of talent-rich Georgia.
Tuberville went 25-20 in four seasons at Ole Miss. He went 0-4
against both Auburn and Alabama.
Thank You, Trojans
Big Bowls Get A Big Break
The Bowl Championship Series ought to issue a commendation to
USC for preventing Notre Dame from finishing 10-1. The Trojans
saved three Series bowls the embarrassment of having to explain,
after the bids go out, why none of them invited one of their
partners, the Irish, to play. When the bowls competed against
each other, the measure of success was television ratings.
That's Notre Dame's best asset, even though its ratings are down
this year. But the chief mission of the Series, after matching
up the top two teams in its standings, is to keep the other
three major bowls healthy, even if their television audiences
are diminished by the focus on the championship game. The best
way of doing that, as former Orange Bowl president Art Hertz so
delicately puts it, is to "get asses in seats. With the
guarantees [about $12 million per team for the Fiesta, Orange,
Rose and Sugar bowls] that we have to put up, we can't afford to
have empty seats." Some bowl executives questioned how many
tickets Notre Dame fans would buy.
Syracuse's victory over Miami last Saturday means the Orange
Bowl needs either Florida or Florida State, both of whose fans
travel better than Notre Dame's (especially when the destination
is Miami), to sell tickets. The likely matchups, as long as
Tennessee, UCLA and Kansas State remain unbeaten: Volunteers and
Bruins in the Fiesta Bowl, Florida and Syracuse in the Orange
Bowl, Arizona and Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, and Florida State
and Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl.
Hokies Blow Another One
Virginia Tech had such trouble putting its opponents away this
season that the Hokies made Newt Gingrich look like a young Mike
Tyson. Virginia Tech lost the Big East title after allowing
Temple and Syracuse to erase deficits of 17 and 18 points,
respectively. So maybe it should have been obvious that Virginia
had its cross-state rival in perfect position when Virginia Tech
built a 29-7 halftime lead at home last Saturday.
Cavaliers senior quarterback Aaron Brooks atoned for coming up
short in a 41-38 loss to Georgia Tech by throwing for 345 yards
and three second-half touchdowns against the Hokies, the last of
which came with 2:01 remaining and gave Virginia a 36-32 victory.
"Everything's possible," Cavaliers coach George Welsh said after
the game. "It seems hopeless, but it never is." It's unlikely
that sentiment is shared by Virginia Tech, which proved it's
possible to go 8-3 and have an emotionally devastating season.
Syracuse Loves McNabb
Donovan McNabb won't win the Heisman and may not finish in the
top three in voting for the Davey O'Brien Award, given to the
nation's top quarterback. But in college football there can be
bigger rewards, especially for the rare player who combines
talent with star quality and taps into the emotion that can make
a grown man cry at the sound of his alma mater's fight song. That
bond between player and fans explains why Peyton Manning could be
elected governor of Tennessee. It's also why a kid from the
Chicago suburbs has become the toast of central New York.
While no one could have predicted Syracuse's 66-13 annihilation
of Miami in a game with the Big East title and a Bowl
Championship Series berth at stake, anyone who witnessed the
ovation McNabb received as he took the field at the Carrier Dome
for the final time might have sensed that the Hurricanes were in
trouble. After the Orangemen's 13 other seniors were introduced
and ran to midfield, the public-address announcer went silent
for 15 seconds and let the roar of the 49,521 fans take over
before he called McNabb's name. Syracuse rode that tide of
adrenaline into the game, scoring 17 points in the first 6:14.
The Orange led 45-7 at the half, thanks to McNabb's three
second-quarter rushing touchdowns, the middle one a 51-yard draw.
By also throwing for two scores, McNabb had a hand in a
personal-best five touchdowns, despite sitting out the last
11:11 of the game. When coach Paul Pasqualoni called a timeout
to take McNabb out of the game, the crowd went wild again. After
hugging his teammates, McNabb gave his heart a Sosa-style tap
and began swinging his fist in circles above his head as he
walked off the field. He received more hugs at the sideline and
later stood on a bench and held his helmet aloft as he turned to
face each of the four sides of the Dome. Then he pointed toward
his parents, Sam and Wilma, and toward offensive coordinator
Kevin Rogers, who was seated in the coaches' box.
"The city of Syracuse opened its arms to him," said Sam, an
electrical testing engineer in Dolton, Ill., after Donovan's
Syracuse sayonara. "It was a very touching moment. When you send
your kid away from home, you don't know what is going to happen.
I'm so happy."
The gray eminences of the Syracuse athletic department couldn't
recall any other athlete who had so captivated the region.
"No--well, Pearl," athletic director Jake Crouthamel said after
the game, referring to former basketball star Dwayne Washington.
"Pearl captured the people's imagination. I think Don has been
more a part of the community. Pearl was here three years. Don's
been here five years. The guy is charismatic. He's jovial. Every
day is Christmas for him. He exudes confidence. He exudes
Saturday's start was McNabb's 48th for the Orangemen. He won 35
of those games, along with three Big East championships, the
last two outright. He has set seven school or conference
records. His career is a major bowl away from its end. Yet in
central New York, the legend of Donovan McNabb has just begun.
Miami Reaping UCLA Dividends
The postponement of the UCLA-Miami game from Sept. 26 to this
Saturday because of Hurricane Georges has padded Miami's bottom
line. "The advance sale of tickets for that game was very
slight," Hurricanes director of ticket operations Pam Young
says. "As soon as we rescheduled, that's all we've been selling.
We're right around 50,000." The Hurricanes may have blown any
chance of a sellout at the 72,000-seat Orange Bowl by
embarrassing themselves at Syracuse....
Ohio State may end up ranked fifth and stuck in the Citrus Bowl,
probably against 9-2 Arkansas. Blame the Big Ten's antiquated
Rose Bowl tiebreaker which doesn't take into consideration the
quality of the two teams. Wisconsin is going to Pasadena simply
because the Buckeyes have been there more recently. That's why
the Big Ten needs a 12th member. Then it could have two
divisions and a title game....
Connecticut, a Division I-AA team without an All-Atlantic 10
Conference player on either side of the ball, last Saturday
earned the first playoff victory in its 100-year football
history by defeating Hampton 42-34. A year ago the Huskies lost
three games in the final two minutes and finished 7-4. Coach
Skip Holtz--Lou's son--stressed conditioning and commitment in
the off-season, and it paid off. UConn (10-2) has made
fourth-quarter comebacks in four games. "This team finally
understands how to win," says Holtz, whose Huskies travel to
top-ranked Georgia Southern on Saturday.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Jay Johnson (11) and the Irish dropped their chance at a major bowl by losing to the Trojans. [Jay Johnson and USC player]
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [Ricky Williams rushing]
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER [Charles Woodson running with football]
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [Champ Bailey]
COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON In his final home game, the elusive McNabb ran for three TDs and passed for two others. [Rod Mack holding Donovan McNabb's jersey during game]
TOP 10 Record Breakers
JERRY AZUMAH, NEW HAMPSHIRE This season, the 5'10", 195-pound
senior, rushed for 2,195 yards to become the first Division I-AA
player to have four 1,000-yard seasons. He finished his career
with 6,193 yards.
DREW BREES, PURDUE Nicknamed the Hurricane, Brees, a 6'1",
204-pound sophomore quarterback, set an all-divisions record for
attempts (83) and tied the NCAA record for completions (55) in a
game while throwing for 494 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-24
loss to Wisconsin.
TROY EDWARDS, LOUISIANA TECH The 5'10", 195-pound Edwards, a
senior, torched Nebraska for an all-divisions record 405 yards in
receptions in a 56-27 loss. He finished with an all-divisions
mark of 1,996 receiving yards and tied Jerry Rice's
all-divisions, single-season record of 27 touchdown catches.
MARTIN GRAMATICA, KANSAS STATE Known as Automatica, Gramatica, a
5'9", 170-pound senior kicker, booted a 65-yard field goal, the
longest in college history without a tee, in K-State's 73-7 win
over Northern Illinois.
LINFIELD COLLEGE The Division III school in McMinnville, Ore.,
finished 7-2 for its 43rd consecutive winning season, a record on
any college level.
TEE MARTIN, TENNESSEE The 6'3", 215-pound junior quarterback did
three things Peyton Manning never did with the Volunteers: He
beat Florida, went undefeated in the regular season and completed
an NCAA-record 23 straight passes in a game, in Tennessee's 49-14
victory over South Carolina.
AUTRY DENSON, NOTRE DAME With his third straight 1,000-yard
season, Denson, a 5'10", 202-pound senior, overtook Allen
Pinkett to become the Irish's leading career rusher, with 4,318
yards. He has run for 1,176 yards this season and scored at
least one touchdown in 10 of 11 games.
BRIAN SHAY, EMPORIA STATE News flash: The leading rusher in
college football history isn't Ricky Williams. That distinction
goes to the 5'9", 218-pound Shay, who finished his career with
6,958 yards, 88 touchdowns and 9,301 all-purpose yards, which are
marks for all divisions.
BRIAN WESTBROOK, VILLANOVA A sophomore tailback, the 5'9",
185-pound Westbrook became the first NCAA player to amass more
than 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season.
RICKY WILLIAMS, TEXAS (above) By breaking Tony Dorsett's
22-year-old Division I-A record for career rushing yardage
(6,279), Williams, a 6-foot, 225-pound senior running back
wrapped up the Heisman Trophy and solidified his place in
history. He owns or shares 16 Division I-A marks, including
those for career touchdowns (75) and all-purpose yards (7,206).
Champ Bailey (above right), Georgia's best wide receiver,
cornerback, kick returner, free safety and blitzer, is doing
more--and doing most of it better--than Michigan's Charles
Woodson (above left) did last year en route to winning the
Heisman Trophy. Through 11 games of 1998, and with a bowl game
to go, Bailey has surpassed most of Woodson's 12-game totals
from the '97 regular season and '98 Rose Bowl.
Plays 844 957
Receptions/yards 12/238 47/744
Rushes/yards 5/21 16/84
Touchdowns 4 5
Tackles 44 51
Passes broken up 9 9
Interceptions 8 3
Punt return average 8.4 12.3
Longest punt return 78 21
Kickoff return average -- 21.8
Kansas State (11-0) vs. Texas A&M (10-2)
When the Aggies met on Sunday, two days after their 26-24 loss
at Texas, coach R.C. Slocum stressed the big picture. "If we had
lost to Florida State in the opener, lost a game in the middle
of the year and finished 10-2, we would have thought, Man, what
a deal," Slocum says. Give him that point, then think about this
one: Slocum believes Texas A&M matches up better on defense with
Kansas State than it did with the Longhorns. "Texas had a huge
offensive line on a wet day with a big, strong running back,"
Slocum says. At the Trans World Dome in St. Louis, "we'll be
able to put our speed on the field." Though Slocum may be right,
the Wildcats will win a close game because of the indomitable
spirit of quarterback Michael Bishop.
BYU (9-3) vs. Air Force (10-1)
If the upcoming defection of half its members isn't proof enough
that the WAC is losing its identity, consider that the Cougars
and the Falcons each have won seven straight games thanks to
their defense. Who's going to tell BYU passing master LaVell
Edwards? Best matchup: Cougars sophomore tailback Ronney Jenkins
(1,216 yards, 13 touchdowns) against Air Force's rushing defense
(111.6 yards allowed per game). If Falcons quarterback Blane
Morgan recovers from a sprained left ankle, we'll go with Air
Force, otherwise we'll take BYU.
Tennessee (11-0) vs. Mississippi State (8-3)
Bulldogs tailback James Johnson (1,345 yards, 12 touchdowns) has
a pulled groin muscle and a separated left shoulder. Without him,
Mississippi State is ordinary. Can Tennessee get any more breaks?
UCLA (10-0) at Miami (7-3)
With lips stretched so tight you could hear his face creak,
Miami coach Butch Davis said last Saturday that his Hurricanes
would scrape themselves together after their 66-13 loss to
Syracuse and hold their own against the equally explosive
Bruins. "I'll be surprised if we don't bounce back," Davis said.
Three, two, one: Surprise!
Army (2-8) vs. Navy (3-7)
The Cadets and the Middies are dead set on proving that records
don't mean anything when it comes to this rivalry. So ignore the
records. Army hung tough with Notre Dame, Tulane and Louisville,
bowl teams all, down the stretch. The Cadets will bear the fruit
of that labor in Philadelphia.
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