Irish Need Not Apply?

Irish Need Not Apply?
by Bob Epling
August 29, 2009
The Campus Game

First it was Lou Holtz.

Then Beano Cook.

Who will be next to jump on the 2009 Notre Dame bandwagon? The former Irish head coach (Holtz) and the quotable curmudgeon (Cook) both recently picked Notre Dame to play Florida in the BCS championship game.

Before you laugh too dismissively and click to another website, consider a few points.

Neither Lou nor Beano expects Notre Dame to be one of the two best college football teams in America. Instead, they point to … the maturing of a roster with a reasonable talent level and plenty of experience … the return of starters at sixteen or seventeen positions (depending on who you count as a starter) which is among the highest total in FBS … the return of virtually all the team’s offensive firepower … the lingering confidence and good feelings from a Hawaii Bowl wipeout win … the moderately soft schedule that brings the two toughest opponents (USC and Michigan State) to South Bend.

Add all those factors up and even Irish-hater Mark May might project Notre Dame as having a legitimate opportunity to post a double-digit victory total and maybe slip into the title game.

Still.

When it comes to the Irish over the past fifteen years, consider me a skeptic (and if you read this site you know I am a long-time Notre Dame fan).

Here’s a test … can you name a signature win in the Charlie Weis era?

It is a trick question because he does not own one. The comeback against Michigan State in 2006 was exciting, but that Spartan team lost seven games and got its head coach fired. The Hawaii Bowl win last season provided a boost, but beating Hawaii is not like knocking off USC. The Trojans actually are part of the most positive game in the Weis tenure – a loss to USC in the infamous “Bush Push” game of Charlie’s first season.

Another test … name a signature win for former coach Tyrone Willingham (other than his public relations triumph for getting fired after only three seasons). You cannot because he did not produce one. How about Bob Davie? Same answer … no great victories.

In my opinion, you need to dust off the record books and go back to 1993 to find the last great moment in Irish football history … the huge win over Florida State. Boston College would upset the Irish the following week and cost them a national title (which they probably should have won anyway) and since then … nothing. Big wins for the Irish vanished like morning mist after a summer sunrise.

Fifteen seasons of football without a significant victory is a long time in the wilderness.

For those picking Notre Dame to reach a BCS bowl this season, and especially prognosticators trying to argue they will reach the title game, these are factors that give me pause:

Charlie Weis … every year it seems Charlie comes up with a new tack. First his teams would be “nasty” and have a “decided schematic advantage.” Then, “tradition never graduates” and other catchy (but meaningless) axioms. Last season, the team was going to establish a physical running game behind a veteran offensive line (did not happen). This season, preseason practices have been more physical as compared to a previous emphasis on NFL-like walk throughs and film studies.

Why did it take a supposedly smart man five years to learn that you must hit in practice to build toughness in college football?

Another fault I find with Weis is his failure to get reserves meaningful minutes in games or (according to statements and reports) during practice sessions. After four years, he has not mastered the art of game substitutions (see last year’s Navy game as an example), so the Irish only infrequently seem to develop players ready to move right into starting and starring roles.

For all his bluster, Charlie Weis comes across as a nice and good person. Drop the genius act. Notre Dame fans do not need a savant as coach. They would settle for somebody who does not put his team at a disadvantage. Charlie will step up or step out this season.

Running Back Play … the roster is loaded with highly-touted talent, but the results have been mediocre for this group. Armando Allen leads the pack and is a versatile back (albeit no homerun threat to this point in his career). James Aldridge moves to fullback after doing little for three years. Robert Hughes shows flashes but runs too upright and is prone to fumbling. Jonas Gray looks like the most complete guy of the bunch to me, but a fumble in the Navy game last season almost led to disaster. True freshmen Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick bring prep credentials. To reach a January 1st bowl, somebody from this group must produce … of course they could use help from …

The Offensive Line … Either this group was excessively overrated simply because they signed with Notre Dame, or they have suffered because of poor schemes and coaching. Whatever the circumstance, the results have been putrid for the past two seasons. All five projected starters have played plenty of football, former coach John Latina was jettisoned after last season and Frank Verducci hired, there is some depth to provide rest. The excuses ran out for this unit two seasons ago.

Mental Toughness … Notre Dame has not been a mentally tough team for the past two seasons (and arguably during the Weis era). Not that they are a dumb football team, but the Irish do take some hurtful penalties at inopportune times. The late hit by Harrison Smith during last season’s Pitt loss turned out to be one of the most significant and demoralizing penalties you’ll see, but Notre Dame too easily folded when it happened. Nor do the Irish handle pressure well. In back-to-back BCS appearances to start the Weis era, Ohio State and LSU outclassed Notre Dame. The tightening up against Syracuse in a terrible loss last season, crumbling in the second half in losses to Pitt and North Carolina, and nearly blowing the Navy game were other examples of a team lacking the mental toughness to hang in and win big games.

Perhaps it was having less talent than the big boys in those BCS bowls. Perhaps it was youth and inexperience last season.

Perhaps.

Those are the points of concern.

So, where do I see the Irish finishing?

I think Notre Dame overcomes most (not all) of those issues and reaches a BCS game (not the BCS game). Let’s say 10-2 with losses at Michigan and at home against Southern Cal. The Michigan State and Stanford games are also dangerous.

How about the Sugar Bowl against Alabama in a sequel to the legendary 1973 game?

Most Irish fans would apply for that scenario.

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Football Furloughs

Football Furloughs

Now this economic mess is getting serious.

Our retirement portfolios shrunk more than new blue jeans washed in hot water.

The housing market tanked like the 1919 Chicago White Sox.

Jobs disappeared faster than Botox from Nancy Pelosi’s cosmetics cabinet.

We took all that and came back for more. Go ahead and socialize our health care, take over our industries, cut our salaries … we’re Americans, tough as a two-dollar t-bone, we can handle most anything.

But … when you start furloughing football coaches you might just cause us to channel our inner Merle Haggard.

That’s right. One state government down in Dixie almost got on the fighting side of me.

Here’s the story.

Due to the lagging economy, the state of Georgia mandated furlough days for state employees. No work. No pay. In the case of University of Georgia personnel, no permission to be on campus. UGA president Michael Adams announced the six “do not pass go … do not come to work … do not get a paycheck” dates this week.

One of them is the day before the Florida-Georgia game.

Another is three days before the Dogs visit rival Georgia Tech.

My first thought … “that policy must have been in effect last year too.” (if you saw those games you know what I mean). My second thought was … “are you kidding me?”

A football coach cannot come to campus before a game with an arch-rival … sure.

Georgia fans excited in the hopes of replacing the Dog defensive coaches for at least one day were disappointed to learn that the Adams edict allows “essential employees” to work on those designated furlough days and substitute the non-paid holidays at a less-essential time … like the day before the Tennessee Tech game.

Still, the concept of furloughs for football coaches got me thinking. I’ll bet there are coaches and fans who would love to selectively employ this idea.

At Miami … head coach Randy Shannon takes furlough days on the first four Saturdays of the season, thus avoiding an 0-4 start (FSU, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma) and maybe saving his job.

At Southern Cal … Pete Carroll furloughs the days NCAA investigators show up asking about Reggie Bush payments, whispering about Trojans using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs, or challenging him on his questionable use of a former NFL tactician as a coaching consultant last year … meaning Pete hasn’t been seen around old SC much the past three years.

At Tennessee … the Big Orange administration places Lane Kiffin on furlough each time he commits a minor NCAA infraction or says something stupid. He’s worked about twelve days since being hired last winter.

At Alabama … Tide fans demand that Nick Saban take a furlough day (albeit with pay) on Sundays because on the seventh day he (and He) rested.

At Florida … rival fans rejoice in the notion that Tim Tebow takes a permanent college football furlough come January.

At Florida State … Bobby Bowden believes a furlough is in order for Joe Paterno.

At Auburn … Tiger fans still sting because the entire team took a furlough last November 29.

At Clemson … children of the Korn (Willie) expect newly-named QB Kyle Parker’s furlough to begin about midway through the second game against Georgia Tech.

At Michigan … the spread offense pioneered (at least in some aspects) by coach Rich Rodriquez may be furloughed (along with its inventor) if Big Blue falters again this season.

At Ohio State … Buckeye-bashers want to furlough those Jim Tressel sweater vests, but along the banks of the Olentangy the garments are still most fashionable.

At Notre Dame … a new motto at the Grotto … “Charlie – ten wins or the furlough begins.”

Until next time … enjoy your furlough!

SEC East 2009 Best Worst

Best Case – Worst Case Scenarios

Predicting in August how a season will finish in December … well, futile is the word.

Still, with preseason camps for the 2009 season getting underway, let’s examine best case-worst case scenarios for the various conferences. We’ll start with the SEC … the SEC West was posted earlier; here is the SEC East.

SEC East

1. Florida

Prediction: 12-0 (8-0)
Best Case: 12-0
Worst Case: 10-2
Comment: Gators are an overwhelming choice to win the division and compete for a third national title in four years. The division should not be a problem, but meeting those national expectations will be a challenge. Potential stumbling blocks are at LSU, Arkansas the next week, Georgia, and FSU.

2. Tennessee

Prediction: 9-3 (5-3)
Best Case: 10-2
Worst Case: 6-6
Comment: Should Lane Kiffin’s first squad get much offensive production, the Vols could jump out to a nice start (although Florida will probably beat them up pretty good). If the Vols handle UCLA, Auburn, and Georgia at home (possible), they could go to Alabama at 5-1. Probable losses at Florida, Alabama, and Ole Miss.

3. Georgia

Prediction 8-4 (5-3)
Best Case: 10-2
Worst Case: 6-6
Comment: The Bulldogs are one of the more intriguing teams in the conference, and almost earn a 9-win prediction. However, as a Dog of the Vince Dooley era, I’ll err on the side of pessimism. New QB Joe Cox will be thrown into the cauldron early with a game at Oklahoma State. The Dogs get past the Pokes and follow up with a home win over South Carolina, but fall at Arkansas in week 3. Other losses are to Florida, and two from among LSU, at Tennessee, and at Georgia Tech.

4-6 (Tie). Kentucky

Prediction: 6-6 (2-6)
Best Case: 8-4
Worst Case: 4-8
Comment: Most preseason prognosticators send the Wildcats to the East cellar, but I think they’ll be sharing that space with South Carolina and Vandy. To get to six wins, the Cats must beat Miami-Ohio, Louisville, LA-Monroe, Miss State, Eastern Kentucky, and one team from a group of at South Carolina, at Auburn, at Vandy, at Georgia, and Tennessee.

4-6 (Tie). South Carolina

Prediction: 5-7 (2-6)
Best Case: 8-4
Worst Case: 2-10
Comment: Could this be Steve Spurrier’s swan song? I hope not because the visored one brings so much to college football … but, in reviewing the Gamecock schedule I have trouble getting them to five wins (my initial picks had them at only four). Let’s give them a road win at NC State (iffy), and home triumphs against Florida Atlantic, SC State, Vandy, and Kentucky. Tough to find any more … maybe beating Tennessee on the road or Clemson at home gets them to six wins.

4-6 (Tie). Vanderbilt

Prediction: 5-7 (2-6)
Best Case: 6-6
Worst Case: 2-8
Comment: Perhaps I’m being overly harsh at the bottom of the SEC East, but Vanderbilt will have a challenge in duplicating last year’s bowl season. The Commodores have three probable wins against Western Carolina, Miss State, and Army. Rice (road) and Georgia Tech (home) are tough non-conferences opponents and I believe Vandy splits … getting the Dores to four wins. That leaves LSU (road), Ole Miss (road), Georgia (home), South Carolina (road), Florida (road), Kentucky (home), and Tennessee (road) … tough to see more than one win from that group.

SEC West 2009 Best Worst

Best Case – Worst Case Scenarios

Predicting in August how a season will finish in December … well, futile is the word.

Still, with preseason camps for the 2009 season getting underway, let’s examine best case-worst case scenarios for the various conferences. We’ll start with the SEC … specifically, the SEC West which most expect to be a three-team race. The SEC East will be posted within a couple of days, and subsequent conferences will follow.

Teams are listed in predicted order of finish, with overall and conference records projected.

SEC West

1. Alabama

Prediction: 11-1 (7-1)
Best Case: 12-0
Worst Case: 9-3
Comment: Tide schedule sets up nicely for a run at another undefeated regular season. The most likely loss would come at Oxford against Ole Miss, but the Tide rolls to the SEC title game.

2. LSU

Prediction: 10-2 (6-2)
Best Case: 11-1
Worst Case: 8-4
Comment: Tigers look to carryover momentum of Chick-fil-A Bowl win, but need solid quarterback play and fewer defensive breakdowns. Let’s say Jordan Jefferson provides the former, and new coordinator John Chavis influences the latter. Most likely losses … Florida and at Alabama.

3. Ole Miss

Prediction: 9-3 (5-3)
Best Case: 11-1
Worst Case: 7-5
Comment: The Rebels are on everybody’s radar this season after a strong finish, and they have the most favorable schedule in the division. Still, not sure the talent pool is as deep as that in Baton Rouge or Tuscaloosa. The Rebs pull off the big win over Bama, but fall to LSU and lose two from among South Carolina, at Vandy, Arkansas, at Auburn, and Tennessee.

4. Arkansas

Prediction: 8-4 (4-4)
Best Case: 9-3

Worst Case: 5-7
Comment: Like many, I’m picking the Hogs to be this year’s version of Ole Miss. They have the talented QB transfer, some playmakers on offense, and are hungry. They also have a brutal road schedule (including a game at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington vs. Texas A&M), so eight wins may be optimistic. Probable losses are road games at Bama, Florida, Ole Miss, and LSU, but let’s say Petrino’s Pigs win all the rest and go to a nice bowl.

5. Auburn

Prediction: 6-6 (2-6)
Best Case: 7-5
Worst Case: 4-8
Comment: Before we write off the Tigers as some 3-9 squad, keep in mind there is always talent and effort on the Plains. Still, calling for a 6-6 record (with all six losses in conference) means Auburn would need to beat Louisiana Tech and West Virginia … neither is a gimme.

6. Mississippi State

Prediction: 2-10 (0-8)
Best Case: 4-8
Worst Case: 1-11
Comment: New head coach Dan Mullen walks into the toughest position in the division. After opening with a win over Jackson State, the Bullies could feasibly lose the rest (with tough non-conference games against Georgia Tech, Houston, and Middle Tennessee). Let’s give them the MTSU win, but that’s about it.

2009 College Football TV Schedule Week 1

Tailgating Plans?

Want to get a month’s jump on your Week 1 tailgating plans?


Below is the television lineup for the first weekend of the 2009 college football season, courtesy of the National Football Foundation.

FBS Week One Television Schedule

*All Times Eastern

Thursday, September 3

  • 7:00 PM South Carolina at NC State (ESPN)
  • 7:30 PM North Texas at Ball State (ESPNU)
  • 8:00 PM E. Kentucky at Indiana (Big Ten)
  • 9:00 PM Utah State at Utah (The Mtn)
  • 10:15 PM Oregon at Boise State (ESPN)

Friday, September 4

  • 8:00 PM Tulsa at Tulane (ESPN)

Saturday, September 5

  • 12:00 PM Towson at Northwestern (Big Ten)
  • 12:00 PM Montana St. at Michigan State (Big Ten)
  • 12:00 PM Appalachian State at East Carolina (MASN)
  • 12:00 PM Minnesota at Syracuse (ESPN2)
  • 12:00 PM Kentucky at Miami (OH) (ESPNU)
  • 12:00 PM Navy at Ohio State (ESPN)
  • 12:00 PM Akron at Penn State (Big Ten)
  • 12:00 PM Liberty at West Virginia (Big East)
  • 12:00 PM Toledo at Purdue (Big Ten)
  • 12:05 PM Northern Iowa at Iowa (Big Ten)
  • 12:21 PM Western Kentucky at Tennessee (SEC Net)
  • 1:00 PM Jacksonville State at Georgia Tech (ESPN 360)
  • 2:00 PM Northeastern at Boston College (ESPN 360)
  • 3:30 PM San Jose State at USC (FSN)
  • 3:30 PM Nevada at Notre Dame (NBC)
  • 3:30 PM Western Michigan at Michigan (ABC or ESPN2)
  • 3:30 PM Baylor at Wake Forest (ABC)
  • 3:30 PM Georgia at Oklahoma State (ABC)
  • 3:30 PM Jackson State at Mississippi State (ESPNU)
  • 3:40 PM Missouri vs. Illinois (ESPN)
  • 6:00 PM Citadel at North Carolina (ESPN 360)
  • 6:00 PM Middle Tennessee at Clemson (ESPN 360)
  • 6:00 PM William & Mary at Virginia (ESPN 360)
  • 7:00 PM Louisiana Tech at Auburn (ESPNU)
  • 7:00 PM Charleston Southern at Florida (FSN)
  • 7:00 PM Connecticut at Ohio (ESPN 360)
  • 7:00 PM Florida Atlantic at Nebraska (FSN PPV)
  • 7:00 PM Louisiana-Monore at Texas (FSN PPV)
  • 7:00 PM Wofford at South Florida (Bright House)
  • 7:00 PM BYU vs. Oklahoma (ESPN)
  • 7:00 PM N. Illinois at Wisconsin (Big Ten)
  • 7:00 PM N. Colorado at Kansas (Fox College Sports)
  • 7:30 PM W. Carolina at Vanderbilt (CSS)
  • 8:00 PM Alabama vs. Virginia Tech (ABC)
  • 8:00 PM Idaho at New Mexico State (Altitude)
  • 9:00 PM Central Michigan at Arizona (AWSN)
  • 9:00 PM Buffalo at UTEP (CBS College Sports)
  • 10:00 PM Maryland at Cal (ESPN2)
  • 10:30 PM LSU at Washington (ESPN)

Sunday, September 6

  • 3:30 PM Ole Miss at Memphis (ESPN)
  • 7:00 PM Colorado State at Colorado (FSN)

Monday, September 7

  • 4:00 PM Cincinnati at Rutgers (ESPN)
  • 8:00 PM Miami (FL) at Florida State (ESPN)

College Football Notes

Ruminations on the Passing Scene …

With college football preseason practices kicking off next week, here are a few notes to clear my notebook (and mind) …

Bowden is 32 Wins Behind Paterno …

The career wins list in college football shows Florida State coach Bobby Bowden trailing Penn State’s Joe Paterno by one victory (383-382).

Now, I like Coach Bowden, but his win total is more inflated than Keith Olbermann’s ego.

Knowledgeable college football fans should realize that the chief Seminole earned 31 of those victories as head coach at Howard College (now Samford) from 1959-1962. The total includes wins over Maryville, Millsaps, Delta State, Furman, and one against something called the National University of Mexico. Oh yeah, do not forget the big 34-zip triumph over Tennessee Tech’s B Team on October 3, 1959 (as if you could).

Not one of the wins came against a big-time program.

So, even if FSU successfully appeals the recent NCAA decision stripping the program of fourteen wins (doubtful), Bowden should still trail Paterno by a significant margin (383-351) with those Howard wins discounted. If you toss out the fourteen vacated victories as mandated by the NCAA, the true total heading into 2009 would read 383-337.

About as close as Secretariat vs. the field at the 1973 Belmont.

Oh, for those who believe Coach Bowden should keep the wins from Howard, then shouldn’t the career marks of John Gagliardi (461 wins at St. John’s College and Carroll College) and Eddie Robinson (408 wins at Grambling) be factored in as well?

The Real All-Americans …

Dan Jenkins has long been one of America’s foremost college football writers; his daughter is terrific too. If you have not read The Real All-Americans by Sally Jenkins, put it on your list.

The book recounts the story of the Carlisle Indian School.

Founded in 1879 by famed U.S. Cavalryman Richard Henry Pratt (leader of the Buffalo Soldiers and a veteran of the Indian Wars of the 1860s and 1870s), Carlisle was a social experiment with a goal of assimilating (forcibly and forcefully if necessary) American Indians into United States culture. The most visible result of the effort ended up being the football squad.

The book provides gripping accounts of the Indian Wars, and illustrates the incongruity of tribal chiefs and leaders (many of them having battled the U.S. government for much of their lives) sending their children and grandchildren off to a government-run boarding school.

The football squad, led by coach Glenn “Pop” Warner and eventually featuring the legendary Jim Thorpe, gained national attention by playing an annual schedule against many of the era’s great powers. The book culminates with the famous Carlisle vs. Army game of 1912 … a “battle” that featured the great Thorpe of Carlisle and the future U.S. President Dwight David Eisenhower of Army among many others.

A fine book.

Beano and the Pods …

Curmudgeonly Beano Cook on the cutting edge? You bet.

College football fans who have not had the opportunity to listen to Beano Cook and Ivan Maisel podcasts (available at the college football pages of espn.com) are missing a treat.

The two chew more fat than your local offensive line at the training table.

Next time you find yourself with thirty or forty minutes, click and listen. Count how long it takes Beano to mention “Notra Dame” … the over/under is around the two minute mark.

The podcasts are currently posted every two weeks, but should be on more frequently as we near the season.

Swith to Further Action …

My introduction to college football came from the old Notre Dame football replays featuring Lindsey Nelson and Paul Hornung.

Readers of a certain age can surely recall the … “we now switch to further action with Notre Dame leading 34-10” highlights that kept the action within a one hour TV limit. The ND football replay was a forerunner of the dozens of similar shows college football fans can access today.

Although a southerner, a Protestant, and an SEC man, that replay program kicked off a lifelong affection for Notre Dame football that remains with me today.

How did college football become important to you?

Until next time … see you at kickoff!