Might of the Irish
Notre Dame sacked USC and muscled its way into the BCS picture
Yes, Matt Lovecchio conceded, the subject had crossed his mind
in the week leading up to last Saturday's game at Southern Cal.
As soon as the thought popped up, he sought to squelch it. "If I
thought too long about what was at stake [more than $12 million]
and the position I'm in [starting at quarterback for Notre Dame
as a true freshman], I might have started feeling I was in over
my head," said LoVecchio after the game.
By keeping his head against the Trojans, LoVecchio, an
18-year-old from Franklin Lakes, N.J., won his seventh game in
seven starts for the Irish, completing 9 of 14 passes (no
touchdowns, no interceptions) and rushing for a pair of
touchdowns in a 38-21 win. Notre Dame is now 9-2 and all but
assured of an invitation to a BCS game--probably the Fiesta
Bowl--and a check for at least $13.5 million. A loss would
likely have sent the Irish to the Gator Bowl, which pays $1.4
While Notre Dame stood to lose a fortune, Southern Cal coach
Paul Hackett stood to lose his job in the 72nd meeting of these
venerable rivals. (As expected, Trojans athletic director Mike
Garrett fired Hackett on Monday.) A highly regarded offensive
strategist--his previous post was as offensive coordinator of
the Kansas City Chiefs--Hackett struggled when put in charge of
all facets of the game. He went 19-18 in his first three years
at a school where a hair over .500 is unacceptable.
After playing his guts out, amassing 14 tackles and a sack, USC
linebacker Zeke Moreno defended his coach. "It's not all his
fault," said Moreno. "It's a team effort. You can't finger-point."
Sure you can. In his postgame remarks, Hackett pointed out that
his quarterback, Carson Palmer, "turned it over three times" with
two interceptions and a fumble. As for Moreno's unit? "For the
second week in a row," said Hackett, "our defense did not get one
Conspicuously absent from Hackett's analysis was any sense of
personal accountability. When a team gets two punts blocked, as
USC did against the Irish, that's bad coaching. Hackett is a
smart and decent man, but the more he palmed off this defeat on
his players, the less sympathetic a figure he became.
The Irish, who have steadily improved since their last-second
loss to Michigan State on Sept. 23, will be a dangerous bowl
opponent. Yet the question remains: Why should Notre Dame, with
two losses, leapfrog at least four higher-ranked teams to gain
one of the two at-large BCS bowl bids?
The answer, basically, is that it's a Golden Domer world, and
the rest of us just live in it. The BCS isn't set up to take the
highest-ranked team; it's set up to give ABC the highest
possible ratings. While fairness might dictate that
higher-ranked Virginia Tech, Oregon State, Nebraska and Oregon
are more deserving of an at-large, fairness doesn't enter the
process. "It's market-driven," says Notre Dame athletic director
Kevin White. "The BCS was created to satisfy the needs and
interests of the market."
That market--or the network suits who decide what the market will
get--craves the Irish because they figure to draw higher ratings
than any of those four higher-ranked teams. "That speaks to the
tradition of this program," says White. "It speaks to 11 national
championships, seven Heisman Trophy winners and a lot of blood,
sweat and tears."
Not only does Notre Dame not apologize for its prosperity, some
of the Irish feel that the rest of us ought to be grateful for
its good fortune. "When we're doing well," says senior guard Jim
Jones, "it's good for college football."
A rising Irish tide, in other words, lifts all boats. Left high
and dry after Saturday's game was Hackett, who cut a sad figure,
voicing his determination to get Palmer and the kicking game
straightened out for next season when he had to know the ax would
fall soon. In one locker room was a team in clover. In the other,
a coach in denial. --Austin Murphy
Tech's Overlooked Assistant
Friedgen Should Be Moving Up
In his 30 years as an offensive coach, the last 18 as a
coordinator, Ralph Friedgen has been associated with a team that
won a national title (Georgia Tech, 1990) and one that went to
the Super Bowl (San Diego Chargers, '95). Since returning to the
Yellow Jackets from the Chargers in '97, Friedgen has tutored
quarterback Joe Hamilton, the '99 Davey O'Brien Award winner, and
this season George Godsey, the sixth-most-efficient passer in the
nation. Yet when Maryland, Friedgen's alma mater, and Memphis
asked Georgia Tech for permission to interview him for their
coaching vacancies, those requests equaled the number of head-job
interviews Friedgen has had in his career.
Friedgen, 53, has had to overcome an image problem. His tongue is
as sharp as his mind--even one of his best friends, Yellow Jackets
coach George O'Leary, calls him "very gruff"--and he doesn't back
off from much, including, by the looks of him, the buffet table.
He's a hulk of a man. Fact is, you don't see a lot of Herman
Hickmans and Abe Gibrons as head coaches these days. "If that's
the case," former Maryland quarterback Boomer Esaiason once said
about Friedgen, "Utah ought to fire [its rotund basketball coach]
Rick Majerus. Ralph coached the offensive line at Maryland when I
was there. [The linemen] were telling me what to do."
Georgia Tech thinks enough of Friedgen to have given him a
five-year rollover contract, almost unheard of for an assistant.
The annual $210,000 investment has been money well spent.
Friedgen devised a version of the pro passing attack that gave
Hamilton, a 5'9" option quarterback, the freedom to run and pass.
Hamilton responded by leading the Yellow Jackets to a 10-2 record
in '98 and an 8-4 in '99. This season Friedgen reemphasized the
passing aspects of the pro attack to the benefit of the lumbering
Godsey, who threw for 2,906 yards and 23 touchdowns with only six
interceptions as Tech went 9-2. Godsey even made use of his
limited running ability. On the first option play on which he
kept the ball this season, Godsey rushed 33 yards for the opening
touchdown last Saturday in Tech's 27-15 defeat of Georgia. After
the touchdown Godsey asked Friedgen, "Coach, were they gaining on
Friedgen said, "They didn't even know you had the ball."
Says Godsey of Friedgen, "When you can go from the style of Joe
to me and have the same success, that says a lot."
San Jose State's Tight End
Petty Officer Rogers Reporting
San Jose State senior Jesse Rogers may not be the Spartans' most
talented player, and he rarely shows up on the stat sheet, but
he's seen plenty of action lately. In addition to being a backup
tight end, the 26-year-old Rogers is a husband, father and petty
officer, third class, in the Naval Reserve.
Rogers enlisted in the Navy in 1992 after graduating from Central
Valley High in Shasta Lake, Calif. After finishing his tour, he
began a three-year hitch in the Army Reserve in 1996. He played
for Shasta College in Redding, Calif., in 1997 and then
transferred to San Jose State. Last year Rogers enlisted in the
Naval Reserve because its base was close to State's campus. For
the next three years, he must serve one weekend a month and
attend a two-week summer session. In July, Rogers spent three
weeks in Thailand securing beachheads during a joint operation
with marine and naval forces from the U.S. and Thailand.
Rogers entered this season with no receptions for the Spartans.
Used primarily as a blocker, he had run more routes between his
classes, the naval office 10 minutes away and his five-year-old
daughter Savannah's day-care center than he had for the Spartans'
offense. But in San Jose State's second game this fall, against
Stanford, Rogers caught a one-yard touchdown pass in the fourth
quarter of a 40-27 win. "Waiting for that first catch, I felt
like my daughter waiting for Santa Claus to come on Christmas,"
says Rogers, who ended the year with just two receptions.
In May, Jesse and his wife, Tonya, will graduate with degrees in
social science and liberal studies, respectively, hoping to
become teachers. "It's been a tough road," Jesse says. "but I
have lived my life to the fullest, and I think my kids will one
day respect that." --Elizabeth Newman
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER While the Irish offense had no turnovers, Anthony Weaver and the Notre Dame defense forced Palmer into three.
Army (1-9) vs. Navy (0-10)
Dick Cheney is right. The armed forces do need rebuilding. In
1948, the 0-8 Midshipmen tied the Cadets 21-21. In 1991, 0-10
Navy defeated Army 24-3. Alas, these Midshipmen are about to
Florida (9-2) vs. Auburn (9-2)
The Tigers have wrung an SEC West championship out of a
one-dimensional offense (tailback Rudi Johnson) and a knack for
not beating themselves. One exception came on Oct. 14 at Florida,
where Auburn had three turnovers and 12 penalties in a 38-7 loss.
Mistake-free football in the rematch won't be enough against the
Oklahoma (11-0) vs. Kansas State (10-2)
No. 1 teams find a way to win--see Tennessee, 1998--but the Sooners
look vulnerable. Josh Heupel has thrown six interceptions in the
last three games, two of which Oklahoma won by making late goal
line stands. Wildcats' quarterback Jonathan Beasley must play the
game of his career to avoid a repeat of K-State's 41-31 loss to
the Sooners on Oct. 14. Look for him to do just that.