Tuesday, July 31, 2007

In the Year 2031... | by Jay

The extension of the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry to 2031 is welcome news.

The University of Notre Dame and University of Michigan athletic departments announced jointly on Monday a 20-year contract extension in the Notre Dame-Michigan football series, extending the series from 2012-31. With the current contract expiring after the 2011 season, the new contract guarantees that the two winningest football programs in NCAA Division I history will meet annually for the next 25 years.
Fricassée of skunkbear is on the menu for the next 25 years. Pass the pepper. But there are some pertinent followup questions spurred by this announcement.

• First of all, what the hell happened? The series with Michigan went from a two-year hiatus to 25 years in stone in under a week. Heck, the SBT's two top stories this morning are still that ND will be breaking from Michigan for two years to play Oklahoma, and Bill Martin saying that Michigan will be looking for a replacement, too. What happened over the past few days to cause this abrupt about-face?

• Will we play two games back to back in Ann Arbor? Will UM play two in South Bend? As we know, Bill Martin wanted the home & away dates staggered so that Michigan had at least one game among ND and Ohio State at home every year. Did Kevin White agree to help Michigan with their scheduling desires, and if so, who gets the two consecutive home games?

(Furthermore: if we flip-flop Michigan, that means Southern Cal and Michigan are on the same home-away cycle. Can we live with Michigan and Southern Cal on the road in the same year, every other year?)

• Are we still going to play Oklahoma in 2012 and 2013? Remember, Kevin White confirmed the series on July 21st.
White said the Fighting Irish will take a short break from their Big 10 rivals in the future, replacing Michigan with Oklahoma for a two-year period, then facing Arizona State instead of Michigan State for two years.
And Heisler confirmed it in an AP story on the ND-OU agreement.
Notre Dame sports information director John Heisler said his school "has reached a deal with OU" to play the two contests.
On the other hand, while ND was calling it a done deal, OU was decidedly less committal.
Kenny Mossman, Oklahoma's sports information director, said the two schools are in discussions but have not signed a contract, while Notre Dame sports information director John Heisler said his school "has reached a deal with OU" to play the two contests.
Oklahoma's athletic director seemed to agree that the agreement was a verbal confirmation only.
OU athletic director Joe Castiglione told the Tulsa World in an e-mail Friday that, "We don't release anything until we have a signed contract." OU senior associate athletic director of communications Kenny Mossman confirmed in an e-mail to the World that "an agreement is in the works." Even though dates are set for the series, the contracts aren't yet finalized, because Notre Dame prefers not to sign contracts until a series draws closer.

"There's no particular reason to do a full-fledged contract until you get closer because by the time you get there, some of the language is going to be outmoded anyway," said Heisler. "We've been doing contracts like 2-3 years out anyway."
So is this happening, or isn't it?

This is the crucial bit. Extending Michigan, while welcome news, isn't exactly a "stop the presses" clarion. (If you think about it, Cancelling Michigan would be a much bigger story). The length of the contract is probably more newsworthy than the team involved.

But if we are indeed playing Oklahoma in 2012 and 2013, along with Michigan and Southern Cal, that gives us three big names at the same time, and it signals a sea change (or least a two-year adjustment) in the mindset of our intrepid schedulers. This puts the highly-touted 7-4-1 model on hold for two years, and makes you wonder why the "no heavyweights" dictum was trotted out in the first place. Oklahoma is definitely a heavyweight. If we sign that contract with the Sooners that is right now sitting on White's desk, then something happened to shake things up. And please, Dr. White, sign...on the line...that is dotted.

Back to Michigan. In the year 2031, I will be 61 years old. Cars will fly on recycled garbage, skirts will be shorter, and Justin Guarini will be entering his second term as "America's President". And Notre Dame will still be playing Michigan.

Monday, July 30, 2007

2007 Opponent Position Preview: Quarterback | by Pat

As Jay mentioned in the previous post, the season is nearly upon us. In fact, practice starts in exactly one week. That means it's time to put aside the off-season topics and start to focus on the season at hand. First up, the 2007 edition of the BGS Opponent Position Previews, starting with the quarterbacks.

The breakdown is pretty self-explanatory, but I'll note that the number on parenthesis after some of the players' names is their position ranking according to pre-season magazine guru Phil Steele. And as always, if you notice a mistake or have additional info, please chime in in the comment section.

GEORGIA TECH - Taylor Bennett. 2006 stats: 35-58, 523 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs. Junior. New Starter.

Taylor Bennett is a new starter, but also technically a returning one as he started in the 2007 Gator Bowl in place of the academically ineligible Reggie Ball. That 328 yard, 3-TD performance and a solid showing during post-Calvin Johnson spring practice sessions have raised expectations for Bennett as he assumes the full-time starter role. He appears to have the making of a very solid college quarterback in time, but the game against the Irish will be his first true road game and there are bound to be a few hiccups. While not a scrambler like Reggie Ball, Bennett certainly is mobile enough to move around in the pocket or even outside of it if the protection breaks down. Unlike Ball though, he's more likely to reset his feet and fire a pass downfield than keep running. It's also of note that he is left handed, which may or may not impact the lineup of Georgia Tech's veteran OL. Depth. Jonathan Garner left for Marshall during spring practice and presumed backup Steven Threet transfered to Michigan after spring practice so now Coach Gailey will likely turn to Auburn transfer Calvin Booker. Redshirt junior Kyle Manley, redshirt freshman Bryon Ingram, and incoming freshman Josh Neesbit round out the deep, but completely inexperienced depth chart. Manley is the only one of the four to attempt a pass -- he's 2 for 2 lifetime -- in college.

PENN STATE - Anthony Morelli. (#14) 2006 stats: 208-386, 2424 yards, 11 TDs, 8 INTs. Senior. Returning Starter.

In his first full year as a starter in 2006, Morelli did about as expected. He made some terrific plays and some bone-headed ones. At times he still relies a bit too much on his excellent arm strength to squeeze passes into tight coverage, so it will be interesting to see if the now experienced Morelli does a better job picking and choosing his spots. His TD/INT ratio at 11/8 was extremely pedestrian and was an even worse 3/5 against bowl eligible teams. Yet, he had a solid showing against Tennessee in the Outback Bowl and could use that as a springboard to a very successful senior season. The likely outcome is that he will put up improved numbers from last year and cut down on the stupid mistakes will still making just enough of them to keep opposing teams in the game. Depth. Daryll Clark provides the mobility that Morelli lacks, scoring three rushing touchdowns last year in a backup role. A former highly touted recruit, redshirt freshman Pat Devlin will battle Clark for the backup role.

MICHIGAN - Chad Henne. (#5) 2006 stats: 203-328, 2508 yards, 22 TDs, 8 INTs. Senior. Returning Starter.

By now the book on Chad Henne is fairly complete. A rare four year starter, Henne is one of the most experienced and talented QBs in the country. He will still make the occasional mistake misreading the defense and will throw a pass or two into the arms of an oncoming defensive lineman, but he makes up for those missteps with an excellent play-action fake and a strong, accurate arm. His stats have been largely consistent over the past three years, but with a revamped defense in 2007, he might be called upon a bit more to keep the Wolverines in front on the scoreboard. Unfortunately for Irish fans, the odds are good that he'll be up to the task. Depth. Uber-recruit Ryan Mallett enrolled early in the spring and has the backup job largely to himself after previous backup Jason Forcier transferred to Stanford. Redshirt freshman David Cone will provide some competition for the job, but Mallett is Henne's heir apparent and should see time this season in order to prepare him for 2008.

MICHIGAN STATE - Brian Hoyer. 2006 stats: 82-144, 4 TDs, 3 INTs. RS Junior. New Starter.

Finally getting a chance to step out from under Drew Stanton's shadow, Brian Hoyer will bring a more traditional style of quarterbacking to the Spartans. He lacks the scrambling ability of Stanton and will attempt to do all of his damage from the pocket. An incredible 111 of his 144 2006 pass attempts came in the final two games when Stanton was out with an injury so throwing the ball a lot clearly isn't a problem for him. He spent the off-season working with his new receivers and taking in 6,000 calories a day in order to bulk up his 6'2" 210 pound frame for the rigors of a starting job. He is an accurate passer and while not the dynamic player Stanton was, he can be an effective QB for the Spartans. Depth. It's pretty thin behind Hoyer as the backup is redshirt freshman Conor Dixon and behind him is a walk-on in Clay Charles and two incoming freshman in Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins.

PURDUE - Curtis Painter. (#13) 2006 stats: 315-530, 3985 yards, 22 TDs, 19 INTs. RS Junior. Returning Starter.

Entering his third year as a starter, Curtis Painter will likely put up incredible yardage totals once again. What remains to be seen is if he can work on improving a 22/19 TD/INT ratio that is perilously close to 50%. Even worse, his TD/INT ratio at home, where he will face the Irish this season, was 9/12. He did improve his yards per pass attempt numbers nearly two whole yards from 2005 to 2006, but if he's still ending drives in turnovers, that stat loses some importance. One area where Painter does pose a threat is on the ground where his mobility led to six rushing touchdowns last year. Still, his primary role on the team is as a passer, not dual-threat, and how he is able to cut down on his mistakes will make the difference between an all-conference type season and a merely average one featuring plenty of yards and interceptions alike. Depth: Joey Ellliot returns as Painter's backup, but has little experience save a few pass attempts in garbage time. He lacks Painter's mobility, but is a solid passer if called upon.

UCLA - Ben Olsen. (#24) 2006 stats: 79-124, 822 yards, 5 TDs, 5 INTs. Junior. Returning Starter.

Ben Olsen, the former #1 high school QB recruit, is back in the starting role for the Bruins after an injury-shortened 2006 season. The big and tall lefty got off to a hot start last year by throwing 5 touchdowns and 1 interception with a blistering 73% completion rate. But over the next two games he threw 0 TDs and 4 picks and only completed 56% of his passes. Then he went down with an injury early in the next game and didn't play the rest of the year, including the ND game. After a strong spring he regained the starting spot, but it will be interesting to see if he develops more consistency or has more hot and cold streaks in 2007. Depth. Backup Pat Cowan was Starter Pat Cowan when ND faced UCLA last and he almost pulled out the upset. A faster, more mobile QB than Olsen, Cowan struggled a bit with passing efficiency (82nd in the country), but was more than an adequate backup. Now with half a season as starter under his belt, Cowan gives the Bruins excellent QB depth.

BOSTON COLLEGE - Matt Ryan. (#8) 2006 stats: 263-462, 2942 yards, 15 TDs, 10 INTs. RS Senior. Returning Starter.

Tall at 6'5" and quick enough to move around in the pocket, Matt Ryan is an extremely dangerous passer who will be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation next year. His 2006 numbers aren't stunning, but some of that can be attributed to the BC offense as a whole. What isn't in question is his toughness; he played the final seven games with a broken foot after playing the first few games with a high ankle sprain. If given enough time to pass, he will be a very tough foe for the Irish as he is excellent as making solid choices and doesn't try to force what isn't available. Depth. Chris Crane is a big 6'4" 234 pound backup who has seen occasional garbage time play. After a solid spring, Crane might see the occasional series since he is the next in line to start for BC with Ryan graduating after this season.

USC - John David Booty. (#2) 2006 stats: 269-436, 3347 yards, 29 TDs, 9 INTs. RS Senior. Returning Starter.

John David Booty needs little introduction as the latest Trojan QB is the Heisman favorite heading into the 2007 season. However, as Irish fans surely know now, being a pre-season Heisman favorite is far from being a lock. Booty is undeniably a very good quarterback, but is not the best QB in the country nor on the ND schedule (I'd say Ryan, although Henne is close). USC is experimenting with the shotgun formation as Booty had a number of passes batted down last year with the most notable being the 3rd and 4 pass that sealed the win for UCLA. It's hard to definitively say that the batted passes are indicative of a slow release or telegraphing his passes, but it is something he will need to work on. Of course, these are minor flaws in an otherwise talented QB that has the arm strength to launch accurate deep balls, the touch to hit close targets in stride, and now the familiarity of leading the SC offense as a returning starter. Depth. Backing up former #1 QB recruit Booty is #1 recruit Mark Sanchez (#29), who is still waiting patiently for his chance to start for the Trojans. Tall and athletic, Sanchez is a starter in waiting who only lacks experience. If Booty goes down, Sanchez will be a more than capable starter. Former walk-on senior Michael McDonald, QB-turned safety-turned QB Garrett Green, and incoming freshman Aaron Corp will round out the deep and talented depth chart. Mitch Mustain has made headlines by transferring from Arkansas, but he isn't going to be eligible to play this season.

NAVY - Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada. 2006 stats: 23-48, 384 yards, 5 TDs. 1 INT. Junior. Returning Starter.

It's no secret that Navy QBs under Paul Johnson are run first, pass second players and Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada certainly fits that stereotype. An extremely quick and athletic player, Kaheaku-Enhada is still a raw and developing QB when it comes to the passing game. His limited passing numbers do hint that he will continue to be an efficient passer when he does drop back to pass though. He is a talented runner, although his 3.8 yards per carry last year wasn't exactly impressive. (Take away the sack totals and that per carry average likely would peak above 4 yards). His other running stats -- 131 carries, 507 yards, 10 TDs -- should go up as he returns with more experience and confidence. Depth: Jarod Bryant had a strong spring and earned praise from Coach Johnson as possibly Navy's best passer and runner. He's not expected to beat out Kaheaku-Enhada for the starting job during the season, but he likely will be worked into the offense somehow during the season. One of the few Navy players recruited by big name schools (he turned down an Auburn offer to play DB) Bryant is an excellent athlete. Troy Gloss is another backup candidate how has shifted between QB and WR during his time at the Naval Academy.

AIR FORCE - Shaun Carney. (#58) 2006 stats: 82-137, 1192 yards, 12 TDs, 3 INTs. Senior. Returning Starter.

Even though he was run first last season, Shaun Carney still completed an impressive 60% of his passes and had a stellar 12/3 TD/INT ratio. And now that the Falcons plan to move to more of a traditional offense, Carney's throwing abilities will be highlighted on a more regular basis. He might find it difficult initially as defenses no longer treat the pass as a type of trick play, but with his experience -- like Chad Henne he's a true four year starter -- he will adapt. And when Air Force does decide to run, Carney is a dangerous athlete who picked up 618 yards and 8 touchdowns last year on 188 carries. Like Kaheaku-Enhada, those average yards per rush numbers like would rise if sack totals weren't included. Depth. Three year backup Jim Ollis was moved to running back in the spring, meaning inexperienced sophomore Eric Herbert is the next in line behind Carney.

DUKE - Thaddeus Lewis. 2006 stats: 180-340, 2134 yards, 11 TDs, 16 INTs. Sophomore. Returning Starter.

Thaddeus Lewis is the only quarterback on this list who has yet to suit up against the Irish. Tossed unexpectedly into the starting lineup last year one game into his freshman year, Lewis had a rough rookie season, but did show signs that he would improve. His TD/INT ratio stayed in the negative, but by the end of the year he was finally throwing more touchdowns than interceptions. He should show continued improvement and will likely be noticeably better by the time the Irish play him in November. Still, he likely won't be near the level of many of the other quarterbacks on the Irish schedule. Depth. Zach Asack was Duke's starter for some of the 2005 season, but was suspended from the program in 2006. Now back, he will provide an experienced backup to Lewis and give Duke two promising, if somewhat raw, quarterbacks.

STANFORD - T.C. Ostrander. (#61) 2006 stats: 72-158, 918 yards, 3 TDs, 5 INTs. RS Senior. New Starter.

Technically, T.C. Ostrander is a returning starter as he was the starting QB for the Cardinal the final five games of 2006. However, it was injury to true starter Trent Edwards that put him in that position. Still, it did afford Ostrander the opportunity to pick up valuable experience that should help him in 2007. He'll need it because his completion percentage was an abysmal 46% last year. Some of that is the fault of the leaky Stanford OL, but Ostrander will need to improve on his accuracy and decision making if he wants to make a significant improvement this season. Depth. Redshirt freshman Alex Loukas had a strong spring and while the mobile backup might not be ready for prime time just yet, he could develop into a solid QB in time. Tavita Pritchard rose to the level of backup last year and even attempted a single pass, but appears to be relegated to third team status with the spring play of Loukas.

2007 Opponent Quarterback Analysis and Ranking

Scan quickly through the list of names and you'll notice a common theme: "Returning Starter". This is a very veteran position group that will put plenty of pressure on the Irish secondary in 2007. Even the players labeled as new starters have all started at least two games in their career. No quarterback will make his first start in 2007. And on top of just experience, there is plenty of talent. Chad Henne, John David Booty, and Matt Ryan are all projected 1st round draft picks in the 2008 NFL Draft. Anthony Morelli, Ben Olsen, and Curtis Painter aren't exactly chopped liver either. The supposed upside of the 3-4 defense is that is helps to disguise which defensive player will be the pass rush. This potential for confusion will certainly help out the Irish early in the season when there is little scouting film on the new ND defense. However, the experience levels of the opposing quarterbacks will help to negate some of the advantage.

One bright spot is the relative disappearance of the dreaded "mobile quarterback" that has given the Irish defense so much trouble in recent years. If you look back at the names of quarterbacks who have passed for more than 300 yards against ND in a game in the past two years, you'll notice a lot more so-called "dual threat" QBs (Drew Stanton, Isiah Stanbeck, Curtis Painter, Brandon Kirsch, John Beck, Troy Smith, JaMarcus Russell) than pocket QB (Chad Henne, Matt Leinart, Trent Edwards).

Sure, Navy will still run the option and Air Force's Shaun Carney can tuck and run with the best of them, but for the non-Academy teams, "drop back passer" is the name of the game. Curtis Painter is really the only one of the bunch with any impressive rushing numbers and those are more a function of Purdue's offense than Painter's skill at running. For the most part in 2007, the Irish defense will be able to get after the quarterback without fear of a broken play 50 yard TD run. At least let's hope so.

Now then, on to the fun part of these previews, the rankings. As in past years, I'm only looking at talent and experience levels of the starter and overall team depth at the position, not to mention when they play the Irish. A new starter who doesn't face ND until late in the season has the advantage over one who faces the Irish early on. Also, while the competency of the head coach and what kind of offense he runs plays a huge part in how each QB will ultimately do, I'm ranking the players here, not the system.

1. USC - Surprise, USC at the top. Booty is very good and Sanchez is a top notch backup.
2. Michigan - Henne will be one of the best the Irish face. Mallett is talented, but inexperienced for now.
3. Boston College - Matt Ryan might just be one of the best QBs in the country. Thin behind him though.
4. UCLA - Having both Olsen and Cowan give them two solid options at QB.
5. Penn State - Was the Outback Bowl a sign of the new, improved Morelli? Clark is a decent backup.
6. Purdue - Painter will get loads of yards, but needs to cut down on those INTs. Backup is inexperienced.
7. Stanford - Ostrander could be very good, but that completion % needs to come up.
8. Air Force - It will be interesting to watch Carney play in a more balanced offense.
9. Navy - Kahaeku-Enhada will need to develop into a better passer to be truly dangerous.
10. Georgia Tech - Two strong showings so far...against a suspect WVU defense and Tech's 2nd string.
11. Duke - Two promising young players with starting experience give Duke a slight edge over MSU
12. Michigan State - Hoyer will be a pretty good QB in time, but for now inexperience and lack of depth keeps MSU here.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

What if We Give it Away? | by Jay

Thanks for letting us noodle around over the last few days. There are so many great "what if" questions, and we could probably go on with the scenarios for years. But football intrudes; practice is nearly upon us, and it's time to get our heads out of the clouds and back to the business at hand.

Anyway, here's a whole bunch of "what ifs" we didn't get to, including a few that you guys suggested. Maybe someday we'll dust off a few of these and look at them in depth.


  • What if Devon McDonald had just fallen on the ball?
  • What if Pete Bercich makes the interception?
  • What if Miami had made the 2-point conversion in '88?
  • What if ND had fallen to #2 after the 10-10 tie with MSU?
  • What if Jim Sanson made the extra point?
  • What if Arnaz Battle slipped against MSU?
  • What if Zbikowski's interception at the end of the '04 Pitt game was not negated by the holding call on Preston Jackson?

What if Charlie had been hired in '02 instead of Willingham? It's tantalizing to think of what Charlie might have done with Julius Jones, Carlyle Holiday, a line including Jeff Faine and other future pros, and a defense full of solid players. Immediate impact: no loss to BC in '02. Long term: right now we'd be going into year six of the Weis era instead of year three. Given Charlie's exemplary recruiting, this probably wouldn't be a rebuilding year for us -- we'd be in the mix for a(nother) title.

What if Rockne's plane didn't crash? He's already the greatest coach in the history of the sport; imagine Rock piling up another twenty years worth of games on the resume (he was only 45 when he died). Elmer Layden and Frank Leahy were nearly as great, so you could probably assign their records to Rockne to get an idea of what his career mark might have been. But would he have stayed at ND his entire career? Would the friction between him and various CSC presidents have finally worn thin? And if he had stayed, whither Frank Leahy?
  • What if George O'Leary hadn't lied on his resume?
  • What if Bob Davie had promoted Urban Meyer to OC rather than hiring Kevin Rogers?
  • What if Ara had turned down the job?
  • What if Jon Gruden had been hired in '02?
  • What if Barry Alvarez succeeded Holtz?

What if Reggie Bush had picked ND? It was reportedly down to the Irish or the Trojans prior to the blowout in the Coliseum. Flipping him to ND probably doesn't put the Irish over the top...but would Southern Cal still have won their championship and a half without number 5?
  • What if Ron Powlus hadn't broken his collarbone?
  • What if Brady Quinn had committed to Michigan?
  • What if Randy Moss (a) completed his application and (b) didn't put a kid in a coma?

What if ND had joined the Big 10 way back when? In 1926 Notre Dame lobbied for membership in the Western Conference (the precursor to the Big 10) and was rebuffed. This one's probably worth the full treatment someday, as the question is fraught with so many possibilities. It's not hard to imagine (as my friend Ken points out) that given the anti-ND bent of so many administrators in the Integer, everything would have been done to suppress our football prominence, and we may have ended up like Northwestern. Our coast-to-coast appeal would have been nipped in the bud, our barnstorming curtailed, and as a result we probably wouldn't be the national program we are today. (On the bright side, our graduate programs probably would have been a little better a little earlier.)
  • What if ND had accepted Bowl bids from 1926 to 1969?
  • What if ND hadn't signed the NBC deal?
  • What if ND had joined the Big East for football, too?
And finally, a few hoops-related:
  • What if ND had decided to hire Rey Meyer as head coaching job and offered a scholarship to George Mikan rather than turn them both down?
  • What if Adrian Dantley had returned for his senior year?
  • What if Danny Ainge had not gone coast-to-coast?
  • What if Laphonso Ellis and Monty Williams had been eligible their entire careers?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

What if the spot had been different against Navy in 1999? | by Mike

Most sports fans have a mental catalog of instances where their favorite team was screwed by horrible officiating. Bulls fans despise Hue Hollins for the phantom foul on Scottie Pippen in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. Cardinal fans revile Don Denkinger for the 1985 World Series. Otherwise rational, calculating Oriole fans become livid at the mention of Rich Garcia in the 1996 ALCS. English soccer hooligans have the “Hand of God” in the 1986 World Cup, Washington State fans have the final two seconds of the 1998 Rose Bowl, and USA Basketball has the extra chances given to the USSR in the 1972 Olympics. When it comes to Notre Dame football, the obvious examples from my lifetime are Michael Harper's uncalled fumble in 1982 at the Coliseum, Joel Williams in 1986, and Rocket and the phantom clip in the Orange Bowl.

Of course, sometimes the Irish were the lucky ones, and I started combing my memory for instances where the Irish were the beneficiaries of a crucial blown call. In the 2006 season, the Irish were the beneficiaries of an extremely generous spot in the UCLA game, but this call was not game-changing. On the first play of Notre Dame’s final drive, Brady Quinn rolled away from Bruce Davis’s rush and hit Jeff Samardzija on the sideline, a yard shy of the 40-yardline. However, the ball was spotted one yard past the 40-yardline. The play went 19 yards, but was spotted as a 21 yard gain. While this was clearly an erroneous call, in light of the down, time remaining, and subsequent plays, one would be hard-pressed to argue this mistake affected the outcome of the game. However, I can think of a spot several years earlier that did affect the outcome of the game.

The situation:

In 1999, a 2-5 Navy squad rolled into South Bend riding a 35-game losing streak against the Fighting Irish. With 5:51 left in the fourth quarter, Navy kicker Tim Shubzda hit a 33-yard field goal to give the Midshipmen a 24-21 lead over Bob Davie’s Irish squad. Jarious Jackson then began to lead the Irish offense back down the field. With 1:39 left in the game and down to their final timeout, the Irish faced 3rd and 1 at the Navy 28. Daryl Hill then sacked Jackson for a nine-yard loss, putting the Irish in 4th and 10 and forcing them to burn their final timeout. On 4th down, Jackson completed a pass to Bobby Brown, but from my vantage point in the stands, the play looked to have covered 9 ½ yards. Yet the spot seemed to favor the Irish, and the subsequent measurement revealed the play had just covered the requisite 10 yards by a hair. Shortly thereafter, Jackson found Jay Johnson in the endzone for the go-ahead score and the longest winning streak against an opponent in Division I-A football was preserved.

What if...the spot had been a nose short?

Had the Irish come up just short of the first down, Navy almost certainly would have won. The Irish were out of timeouts, and Navy would have taken over with just 1:20 left in the game. The Midshipmen could have taken a knee and walked out with the first Navy victory over Notre Dame since Roger Staubach was under center.

Dropping the first game to Navy in decades would be a devastating emotional blow. However, the tailspin produced by such a blow would not have changed the outcome of any of the remaining games that season, for Davie managed to lose every single game in his “November to Remember.” Thus a different spot in the Navy game would only have led to a one-game change in the 1999 record, regardless of how demoralized the team was.

The real question raised by this hypothetical is whether Davie would have been fired. While, as mentioned above, his third-year record could only have dropped from 5-7 to 4-8, a loss to Navy would have touched off a firestorm. Alumni would have been outraged and the media would have descended on South Bend in droves. Would Davie have cracked under the pressure? Would the November games have turned into a month of blowouts? Would Davie’s post-A&M locker room meltdown (I don't have any answers, a shellshocked and bewildered Davie told his team) have occurred two years earlier? Could some combination of such events have made the necessity of a coaching change painfully obvious to the administration?

While things would have gotten incredibly ugly on campus, I don’t think we would have seen a coaching change. Davie still had his supporters in the athletic department (Wadsworth) and administration (Beauchamp), so action by the internal powers-that-be would have been unlikely. The fecklessness of the administration during the Davie era mobilized frustrated alumni and led them to build the networks that would allow them to exert external pressure in subsequent years. Unfortunately such efforts were still in their nascent stages during the 1999 season. Intervention by the Board of Trustees in 1999 seems unlikely, and Davie probably would have still graced the sidelines in 2000, and we still would have been subjected to blunders like the one Pete excoriated in the previous post.

Other potential tipping points:

1999 was not the only time in the Davieham era when a loss to an academy was narrowly avoided.
  • 1997, Navy - On the game's last play, Navy trailed the Irish 21-17. The Midshipmen needed a touchdown, but had more than half the field to cover. Navy quarterback Chris McCoy threw the ball as far as he could, only to have the ball bounce off Deke Cooper's helmet and land in the grasp of Navy receiver Pat McGrew. It looked like McGrew would race into the endzone, giving Navy the win on a 69-yard Hail Mary. Unfortunately for the Middies, the Irish defense had Allen Rossum in the secondary. Rossum had the speed to earn All-America honors in track, to set an NCAA career record with 9 return touchdowns (3 interceptions, 3 punts, 3 kickoffs), and to win the NFL's "Fastest Man" competition in 2005. On the game's final play, Rossum used that speed to fly to McGrew and push him out at the 1 yardline, saving the day. Had Rossum not saved the Irish, Notre Dame would have dropped to 3-5 on the season. It's hard to imagine a team that lost to Navy turning around and pounding LSU like the Irish did in their next game. Instead of winning the next three games against LSU, WVU and Hawaii, it would not be surprising to see a team whose confidence was shaken by a Navy loss drop at least two of those games. Could Davie have survived a 4-8 record in his first season? We never found out, as Rossum's ability bailed out inept coaching.

  • 2000, Air Force – what if Glenn Earl had followed orders? With 3 seconds left in a tie game, Air Force lined up at the Notre Dame 11-yardline for a field goal that would have won the game. Irish safety Glenn Earl had been instructed to stay in position and guard against a fake. Instead, Earl blocked the attempt and Notre Dame went on to win the game in overtime on a Joey Getherall reverse. In addition to winning the game, did Earl’s block buy Davie another year?

  • 2002, Navy – what if Battle drops the 2-point conversion? During Willingham’s first year, Navy led Notre Dame 23-15 late in the fourth quarter. A long Omar Jenkins reception set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Rashon Powers-Neal with 4:28 left. Carlyle Holiday and Arnaz Battle hooked up for the 2-point conversion and the game was tied. Holiday then hit Jenkins for a 67-yard touchdown with 2:08 left to give Notre Dame the lead. If the 2-point conversion attempt had been unsuccessful, would this have given Navy the momentum necessary to hold onto their lead? If so, how different would the narrative of Willingham’s firing been? Of course, it's hard to see Battle dropping that pass, given that a recent article in ESPN's magazine recognized Battle for the "Best Hands" in the NFL and noted that, "Of the 80 passes thrown at him last season, he dropped only one, giving him the lowest dropped-pass % in the league." As in 1997, weak coaching was saved by talent.

  • 2003, Navy – what if Fitzpatrick missed the field goal? In Willingham’s second year, the Irish found themselves tied with Navy heading into the game’s final play. D.J. Fitzpatrick kicked a 40-yard field goal as time expired to give the Irish a 27-24 victory. If Fitzpatrick had missed, could Navy have pulled out the victory in overtime? Again, how would this have affected the narrative of Willingham’s firing?

What if Bob Davie played for the win against Nebraska? | by Pete

The situation:

It's the year 2000, and #1 ranked Nebraska has come into South Bend to face the then-unranked Fighting Irish. ESPN Gameday has set up shop in front of Touchdown Jesus, and the campus is positively electric. Nebraska fans show up in droves and envelop the stadium in a sea of red, to the chagrin of many Notre Dame supporters, but the game proves completely compelling, as a Joey Getherall punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter brought the game to a stalemate. Following a stop of the explosive Nebraska offense lead by impending Heisman winner Eric Crouch, the Notre Dame offense takes the ball back at their own 30 with 1:07 to go – and promptly plays for overtime.

What if Bob Davie had anything resembling male gonads, and had gone for the win against Nebraska?

Only Bob Davie could find a way to create boos in Notre Dame stadium when an unranked Irish team was tied against the #1 team in the country in the fourth quarter with the ball. In a move that showed no faith in the team that experts said had no business against big bad Nebraska, in a move that threw a giant bucket of cold water on a home crowd that was buzzing with electricity, and in a move that showed complete disregard for the Notre Dame magic that dictated before this game that no team came to South Bend ranked #1 and left the same, that son of a bitch Bob Davie ran it up the middle twice to run out the clock and play for overtime.

In the then-new overtime system, Notre Dame was forced to settle for a field goal, and on Nebraska’s first possession, Crouch skittered into the end zone on a 7-yard run for the win. Rather than going with the overwhelming momentum and energy, Bob Davie decided he was better off giving Nebraska another chance to score points in exchange for 55 yards.

Make no mistake: Notre Dame was competitive in that game in spite of Bob Davie. Like the 2005 USC game, you could feel that the energy around the stadium was going to dictate something special. The game went to overtime thanks to the explosive returns of Julius Jones and Getherall, the gritty play of the defense that walked the tight rope all game of containing the violent Cornhusker offense, and the Herculean effort of Arnaz Battle, who broke his wrist on the first play of the game but still rushed for 107 yards. The legacy of Notre Dame football was simply not going to allow a loss, and it was poised to write another proud chapter in our history. And then Bob Davie stuck his big dumb fat head into the picture, spilling ink all over the page and ruining everything.

Naturally, doomed Nebraska coach Frank Solich agreed with the moron.

“I agree with Coach Davie on letting the clock run out,” said Husker coach Solich. “The last thing you want in that situation is a turnover.”
If Bob Davie was anything resembling a bold and courageous human being, he would have recognized the epic moment before him, huddled the offense together before that final possession, and told them that they were meant to win this game. As mentioned before, every time Nebraska’s superior athletes took the lead, the Notre Dame magic lit a spark and brought the game back into grasp. Notre Dame would have needed to drive 50 yards in a minute to get into kicker Nick Setta’s range. While not a gimme, it's certainly not a gargantuan task, and it's certainly a risk worth taking considering the situation.

Again, when Bob Davie decided to play it safe, to play not to lose, to play to put on a good show to appease the detractors after his 5-7 season the year prior, he robbed Notre Dame of what should have been a rightful heir to the moments that make people say, “It’s Notre Dame.”

It’s no guarantee that Notre Dame would have been able to kick the winning field goal, and it’s possible a fumble or interception (despite giving up only one turnover all game on a tipped pass) could have occurred and given Nebraska the win. But being in that stadium, seeing the players make big plays to keep the team in grasp of the win, and feeling that we were in “the moment,” the worst thing that could be done was remove any possibility of victory.

In short, Notre Dame had done everything necessary and was poised to add another legend to the lore, and I’m a firm believer that it would have happened.

In conclusion, this is why Bob Davie is worthy of nothing better than your perpetual scorn. Thank you.

Friday, July 27, 2007

What if Father Sorin had settled in California? | by Jeff

The situation...

As the old joke goes, Father Sorin set out from New York in 1841 to establish the greatest Catholic university in the world -- in California. While passing through northern Indiana, a snowstorm broke out. Sorin consulted with his confreres, and told them "Let's just wait here until the weather clears up."

What if...Father Sorin had actually made it to Southern California?

The result:

  1. "Welcome to the University of Notre Dame De La Mer"

  2. In 1887, students from UC-Santa Barbara travel south to teach ND students how to play a popular, new-fangled sport: beach volleyball.

  3. Residents of Carroll Hall continue to lament their long commute to class, due to its inconvenient location in South Bend, Indiana.

  4. George Gipp never freezes to death spending the night outdoors. Instead, he goes on to an illustrious football career and following retirement, be elected Governor of California, then President, where he develops Gippernomics.

  5. Blazin' Sea Nuggets will be known as FRESH Blazin' Sea Nuggets. Nobody will eat them.

  6. "Rally, dudes...of Notre Dame"

  7. Knute Rockne would develop the forward pass, only to abandon it after the first practice, frustrated with having to fish countless balls out of the Pacific Ocean.

  8. Charlie Weis rejects Notre Dame's head coaching position. Says he's not "swimsuit-friendly."

  9. Pasty Irish, German and Polish kids still flock to the school. Father Nieuwland abandons his research on synthetic rubber to work on a new SPF-200 sun block.

  10. Rival coaches continue to harp on Notre Dame's weather to potential recruits, warning of sun burns, sand rash, and "Aren't you going to miss building snowmen?"

  11. Welcome to the 2007 Blue-Gold game, brought to you by Mr. Zog's Sex Wax and In-N-Out Burger!

  12. Mark May is still loathed by the Notre Dame faithful, but now they cite "East Coast bias." They don't need another excuse.

  13. Girls are admitted in 1972, but ND closes Lyons Beach due to dropping GPAs of male students.

  14. Brady Quinn's and Matt Leinart's proximity to each other heightens the rivalry, which finally explodes into a battle royale when Quinn's posse cuts the line in front of Mood. Nick Lachey tries to play peacemaker, only to be summarily decimated by both groups. No charges are filed.

  15. The twin domes of the JACC, constructed in 1960, would be "augmented" in the late 80s.

  16. The college football world is rubbed the wrong way when Notre Dame signs an exclusive television contract. Through 2025, Notre Dame agrees to broadcast all its home games exclusively on E!

  17. Rather than taking to the broadcast booth following termination, a dejected Bob Davie falls victim to the San Fernando Valley adult film industry. He stars in 8 releases as "Nude Rockme", then is never heard from again.

  18. On November 14, 1992, Notre Dame defeats Penn State 17-16 on a last-minute two-point conversion while a sprinkling of rain falls from the mildly overcast sky. Despite the thrilling conclusion, the game fails to gain notoriety as the "Drizzle Bowl" due to the mass exodus from the stands at the first sign of rain.

  19. Rather than becoming an earnest indie rocker, alum Ted Leo releases several albums of sarcastic skate punk.

  20. On their way to the stadium, Notre Dame players hit a sign that reads "Be Excellent To Each Other Today."

  21. And the biggest way Notre Dame would be different if it were founded in California: "And here they are, your Notre Dame Fightin' Samoans!"

What if ND wanted to claim another National Championship? | by Pat

The Situation:

As college programs seek to one up each other by adding more stadium capacity, a bigger jumbotron, or more opulent locker rooms, some programs have gone so far as to add more national championships. Back in 2004, USC decided to retroactively claim the 1939 National Championship as their own. Washington has followed suit this year by declaring their 1960 team National Champions.

The beauty (or horror depending on your views) of the non-playoff college football setup is that the open-ended nature of the conclusion of the season allows for such possible debate and revisionism. Just check out a random year from this College Football Data Warehouse list of yearly national champions. Each year, three to four programs are labeled the best in the land according to some magazine or computer algorithm. And the fact that many of these polls were finalized before the year end bowl games only serves to confuse the picture more. It's to the point now where many schools could dig through the record books and archives and make their own claims about new national champions. Which brings us to this.

What if....Notre Dame decided to officially declare an additional national championship?

Don't laugh. Notre Dame has done it before. Sorta...

Dickinson System (1924-40); a mathematical point system devised by Frank Dickinson, a professor of economics at the University of Illinois. Dickinson divided teams into two categories, those that had a higher than .500 winning percentage and those below. Dickinson mentioned his method in class one day and the Daily Illini sports editor featured a story which came to the attention of Chicago clothing manufacturer Jack Rissman, who decided he would like to use Dickinson's ratings to select the top team in the Big Ten each year so that he could present a trophy to the winner. When Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne heard about this, he invited both the professor and the clothing manufacturer to lunch at South Bend and said, "Why don't you make it a national trophy that Notre Dame will have a chance to win?" Never one to miss out on a good thing, Rockne also persuaded Dickinson and Rissman to predate the whole thing a couple of years so that the 1924 Irish -- the Four Horsemen team -- could be the first official, system-rated national champion.
Getting back to the topic at hand, if ND does decide to retroactively add another mythical national championship, which year should they take?

The Fighting Irish officially claim eleven "consensus" national championships which includes those eight teams that won the AP national championship since the AP poll started in 1936. However, the Irish were listed by some legitimate organization as national champs in ten other seasons. The full list of championship years and their selectors can be found here. If the Irish were to decide on adding a 12th title to the mix, which of those ten other years is the most likely? 1993? 1964? All of them?

The answer, according to us here at BGS, is 1953. We're not suggesting that ND should add 1953 to the list of Irish-recognized national champions, but of all of the possible choices, Frank Leahy's last team certainly warrants recognition as ND's unofficial "12th" national championship.

And now, doing my best Joe Doyle/Lou Somogyi impersonation, here's a recap of that impressive, largely overlooked season that truly was one of the more interesting and eventful seasons in ND's history. Cue the fog-machines, choppy black and white footage, and booming narrator voice.....

As per usual in the Frank Leahy era, the Fighting Irish team headed into the new season full of promise and talent, despite the best sandbagging efforts of the continually pessimistic Leahy.
"I'll be amazed," he moaned, "if we make a first down all season."
Riding high after securing a commitment from Kentucky high school star Paul Hornung over the in-state Wildcats and their coach Bear Bryant, the Irish headed into the 1953 season as the nation's #1 ranked team. With returning Maxwell Award winner Johnny Lattner and senior Joe Heap at running back, workhorse Neil Worden at fullback, captain and end Don Penza on the line, and quarterback Ralph Gugliemi eager to enter his second year as a starter, the Irish were loaded with star talent. Fans across the nation were eager to watch these latest Irish heroes and would be able to do so, thanks to a new broadcast deal that put every ND home game in movie theaters across the country.

There was one twist though. No one was quite sure just how the season would play out as the NCAA had just outlawed two platoon football and the free substitution rules that allowed for it. Now, a player could only enter the game once every quarter, leading teams to revert to the one-platoon "ironman" style of football for the '53 season.

First up on the docket was a road trip against a juggernaut Oklahoma program that had only lost five games in the previous five seasons and was riding a 25 game home winning streak. The game was a back and forth dogfight and ultimately was highlighted by Gugliemi's two touchdown passes to fullback Joe Heap. A late punt return TD by the Sooners kept fans on the edge of their seats, but ND held on for the 28-21 win. After this game, the Sooners would tie Pittsburgh the next week and then start their still-record 47-game winning streak, ended by the Irish in 1957.

With the mighty Sooners vanquished, ND held on to the #1 ranking and dispatched an unranked Purdue squad 37-7 the following week in West Lafayette.

Heading back to South Bend for the home opener against Pittsburgh, the Irish honored former greats Knute Rockne, Elmer Layden, and George Gipp. Former Four Horsemen member Layden joined family representatives of Rockne and Gipp in a special box located just behind the Irish bench, where they watched ND put away the visiting 15th ranked Pittsburgh 23-14.

Next up was a tough #4 ranked Georgia Tech team. The Yellow Jackets were owners of a 31 game win-streak; the longest current such streak in the nation. ND held tough though for the 27-14 win and you can check out the following game highlights to see the Irish ground game wear down the Tech defense.

Despite the victory, the day was a sad one for Irish fans. The stress of the game, compounded by the grind of an 11 year ND coaching career came to a head when a worn and weary Coach Leahy collapsed in the locker room, likely from the pain of his acute pancreatitis, during halftime of the game

Here's a recount of the events from Herb Juliano, courtesy of Irish Legends.
We were minutes into the second half. [Joe] Boland was busy with play-by-play. Howie Murdock, Joe's color commentator, noticed that Frank Leahy was missing from the sideline. "Where's Leahy," he asked Joe through connecting headphones. "I don't see him," replied Boland. "It looks like McArdle's in charge," continued Howie. "It sure does," agreed Boland. Then, turning to me, "See what you can find out, Herb."

At that time the elevator had not yet been installed to the press box and there were 95 steps to the ground. Making my way toward the locker room I was passing the first aid room and noticed an attendant dressed in white guarding the entrance. "is something going on?", I asked. "There sure is," he replied. "Coach Leahy collapsed after the first half. Doctors are tending to him right now. They do not know yet if it was a heart attack, but he is conscious and talking. The doctors are continuing to check him over."
The story goes that while in the first aid room, a Notre Dame priest administered last rites on the frail coach. Regardless of that particular rumor, Leahy was hospitalized for the next five days. Yet, he kept up with football practices thanks to two-year old TV station WSBT, which filmed each practice and transmitted the feed via a closed circuit to a small TV in Leahy's hospital room.

For the next game against #20 Navy, Leahy decided to use a "3-D" coaching strategy to keep all of his assistants busy while he was absent. The idea worked as follows; the main assistant coaches directed the team from the bench, keeping track of players and substitutions. Former star turned assistant Johnny Lujack was up in the press box, watching the game and phoning instructions down to the assistants on the sideline. New assistant Terry Brennan also manned a phone line, while peering through a hole in the scoreboard at one end of the field to keep an eye on lineman spacing and look for weak spots. Leahy meanwhile was resigned to watching the game on TV from his home, with the sound turned off by doctors orders lest the crowd noise get Leahy too worked up.

Worried that the team might try too hard with their head coach not on the sidelines, Leahy tried to shift the focus prior to the game.
On the eve of the Navy game, Frank Leahy sent a note to his team asking that the game be played "for the seniors and for Notre Dame."

But as Captain Don Penza explained later in the dressing room: "The boys got together and played it for the coach anyway." It was very likely the first time in his ten-year regime at Notre Dame that a team had ever disobeyed Frank Leahy.
This mashup of coaches, phones, vantages points, and "Win One for the Leahy" inspiration worked as ND steamrolled Navy 38-7.

Over the next two games, ND kept its stranglehold on the #1 ranking by knocking off Pennsylvania 28-20 and North Carolina 34-14 during back to back road games. It was after the Pennsylvania game when Irish star Johnny Lattner was the subject of a lengthy article and a prestigious cover spot on Time magazine.
Triple Talents. Lattner is more than a ball carrier. In the two-platoon era of a year ago—when most players were either offensive or defensive specialists, and few ball-carrying halfbacks ever dirtied their hands with a tackle—Johnny Lattner was one of football's rare iron men, a 60-minute player who enjoyed making a crackling tackle almost as much as he enjoyed lugging the ball. On the offensive, Halfback Lattner was and is a throwback to the days of the genuine triple-threat back; his ability to pass from a running play is a constant threat to the opposition, and his booming kicks travel so high and far that even the slowest-footed Notre Dame lineman can get downfield to smother the receiver. This year Notre Dame's opponents. ' returning Lattner's punts, have averaged less than 2 yds. a try.

For these manifold talents, Halfback Johnny Lattner, as a Notre Dame junior, got the Maxwell Trophy as the outstanding football player of 1952. and he was the only player to make everybody's All-America team. This year, when two-way players are at a premium with the end of the two-platoon system, when football is again producing iron men instead of wooden specialists, All-America Lattner is taking up where he left off.
While Lattner was getting the major headlines at the time though, another Irish player was quietly making history. Defensive end Wayne Edmonds had worked his way into the playing rotation and by the end of the year earned a monogram letter in football. In doing so, he became the first minority to letter in football at Notre Dame. He wasn't the first minority to play on ND football teams. In fact, teammate Dick Washington was also African-American. But he was the first to earn a varsity letter. As it turns out, it wasn't so much skin color, but his and others' religion that drew the ire of protesters during the 1953 season.
The followers of [ed. so-to-be excommunicated] Father Leonard Feeney of Boston, who espoused a strict interpretation of the phrase extra ecclesiam nulla salus (“outside the Church, no salvation”), used football games as protest sites. “The first sign of your approaching damnation,” barked one demonstrator who ran onto the field in 1953, “is that Notre Dame has Protestants on its football team.”
Getting back to football, ND faced a tough 20th-ranked Iowa squad for the second to last home game of the season and the result is one of the most famous games in ND history. Trailing by seven and facing fourth down with seven seconds left in the first half and no timeouts, an ND player, Frank Varrichione, dropped to the ground, apparently injured. The refs called a timeout to stop the clock for the dubious injury. Coming out of the timeout, Gugliemi fired a TD pass to tie the game going into the half. Then, with 25 seconds left in the 4th quarter and ND down by 7 on the Iowa 9 yard line, the refs again called a timeout when a few ND players were on the ground again, presumably injured. After the injury timeout, ND threw two incomplete passes before completing a touchdown pass to Dan Shannon with six seconds left in order to salvage a 14-14 tie with the Hawkeyes. You can listen to the radio play by play of the key plays here.

The play angered Iowa's coach to no end, and while faking injuries was a somewhat common practice at the time, it rarely had such a big impact on the outcome of the game. ND was routinely criticized in the press as the "but everyone else does it" excuse didn't fly. As a result of the widely discussed faked injuries, ND earned the mocking title the "Fainting Irish" and after the season, new rules were put in place to reign in the practice of faking injuries to stop the clock.

Another outcome of the Iowa tie and resultant criticism was that for the first time all season, ND lost their #1 ranking to undefeated to the previously ranked #2 Maryland, who impressively dispatched Alabama 21-0.

Now playing from the #2 spot, ND traveled out to L.A. to take on Southern Cal. However, Coach Leahy's doctors forbade him from traveling with the team for health reasons, so he stayed behind in South Bend for the game. Fired up once again to win one for their coach, Johnny Lattner scored four touchdowns and Joe Heap brought back a punt 94 yards for a touchdown as ND routed the Trojans 48-14 in scorching 95 degree heat.

The magnificent performance against the Trojans cemented Lattner's place as college football's player of the year. He was named the winner of the Heisman Trophy and also picked up the Maxwell Trophy for the second straight year. Tackle Arthur Hunter was also named 1st Team All-America while Captain Don Penza was named 2nd Team All-America.

ND still had one game left in the regular season though; a final home game against Southern Methodist. They were no match as Lattner again scored 2 touchdowns and Neil Worden scored 3 rushing touchdowns to give him 11 for the season in the 40-14 rout. Little did anyone know at the time, that would be Coach Leahy's last game on the Notre Dame sideline as he retired the following February.

Now with a record standing at 9-0-1, the Irish season was over as ND was still in the middle of a self-imposed bowl game ban. Meanwhile, #1 Maryland made plans to match up against #4 Oklahoma, winner of the Big Seven conference, in the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day. Before the bowl game however, in fact, four days before the ND-SMU game, the final AP poll and Coaches Poll were taken and Maryland wound up on top in both. Thus, Maryland won the AP National Championship while Notre Dame had to settle for a #2 ranking.

However, in the Orange Bowl the #1 Terrapins faltered and lost to the #4 Sooners 7-0. Meanwhile, in the Rose Bowl, the previously undefeated #3 UCLA Bruins lost to the one-loss #5 Michigan State Spartans 28-20. That left Notre Dame as the only undefeated team in the country, albeit with one tie.

At the time, the only poll that took bowl game results into consideration was the Helms Foundation, which gave the #1 spot to Notre Dame. Possibly as a result, the following year the Football Writers Association of America began their own poll to name a national champion and waited until after the bowl games were over to declare a winner. They have been naming a winner ever since. In fact, Washington's claim of the 1960 championship is based largely on the FWAA poll.

Given all of those outcomes, no one should really complain if the Irish decided to add the 1953 championship. They went undefeated and beat, on the road, an Oklahoma team that beat the Maryland team awarded the AP national championship. Besides, no one complained too much when Southern Cal added the '39 title and the timing of UW's move is drawing more raised eyebrows than the actual decision to award themselves the '60 championship.

Still, it's probably not the right thing to do for the Irish. Despite the hopes and wishes of football fans across the nation, ND football isn't a relic of a bygone era and doesn't need to use historical revisionism to stay atop the national championship arms race. The focus should remain on attaining future championships. And while a relatively minor side issue, the sting of the "Fainting Irish" charge does mar the season somewhat and I'm not so sure that ND would be keen on taking credit for a season that included such a controversial finish. In the end, it's probably for the best to remember the 1953 season not as a national championship year, but as one that included some fantastic finishes, some amazing players, important historical footnotes, and the final season of one of the greatest coaches in college football history.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

What if Tony Rice had been denied admission to Notre Dame? | by Dylan

Well, of course, we wouldn't have won the national championship in 1988, right? That's what my gut told me, and I'm guessing it's the first thought that came into your head as well. But is it a sure thing? Before we get to that question, let's look at what we definitely know wouldn't have happened.

We would never have gotten to see the two magnificent touchdown runs in the 1988 and 1989 Southern Cal games, both of which were pivotal plays in classic rivalry games. We would never have seen what is indisputably the most dangerous backfield in the history of Notre Dame football, with Rice, Anthony Johnson, Rodney Culver, Mark Green, Tony Brooks, Ricky Watters, and a sprinkling of Raghib Ismail. We would never have thought that eighteen pass attempts was "airing it out." We would probably all agree that Jamelle Holieway was the best option quarterback to ever to play the game, and we would have missed the opportunity to watch a proud kid, whose career began in controversy, become a champion and a Notre Dame man in full.

The Situation:

Jay's retrospective on Rice is definitive, so I won't go into the history so much, but it's important to look back to the state of the program before Rice's arrival if you want to gauge his impact on its arc. After the malaise of the first half of the 80s, Lou Holtz arrived in South Bend in 1986 to get ND back on track, and one of his first blue-chip recruits was Tony Rice. Unfortunately for Rice and Notre Dame, 1986 was also the year that the NCAA began enforcing Proposition 48, a collection of academic mandates designed to force NCAA athletes to meet minimum academic benchmarks in order to earn their freshman eligibility. Rice failed to achieve a 700 on his SAT and became ND's first Prop 48 casualty, losing his first year of eligibility and sitting out the 1986 season. Rice's admission by the Dome was pointed to by many in the anti-ND media as yet another sign of Notre Dame's surrender of principle in pursuit of football glory, a timeworn cliche of sports reporting now in its fifth decade.

Rice, his eligibility restored, failed to win the starting job in 1987, and Terry Andrysiak succeeded Steve Beuerlein as the Irish signal-caller. It was anything but clear at the time that Rice would eventually become the starter, and achieve the distinction as Notre Dame's first full-time black starting quarterback. It seems incomprehensible now, after McDougal, Jackson, Battle, and Holiday; but it was a big deal then, when the quarterback at Notre Dame had always been a white guy with the inside track to the Heisman Trophy. Rice was Lou Holtz's first big risk, one that hadn't panned out as of the beginning of the 1988 season. The eventual selection of Rice as the starter set the course of the Notre Dame offense for the next decade.

What if Rice had never qualified?

Had Rice not been admitted, the 1987 season would have started with a depth chart of Andrysiak, Kent Graham, and Pete Graham. When Andrysiak broke his collarbone against Pitt, he'd have been replaced by Kent Graham, who would have had the opportunity to start 7 games that year until Andrysiak's return against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. Graham would almost certainly have been named the starter in spring practice, and Notre Dame would have prepared to open the '88 campaign against Michigan with Graham at the helm.

Here's where it gets tricky. What would have happened in that game with Graham at QB? Is it a given that ND wouldn't have scored the 19 points (on four Reggie Ho field goals and a Watters punt return) it took to beat the Wolverines that day? Is that really a foregone conclusion? Given Graham's steady career at OSU and the fact that he became an NFL starter, I'm not willing to say that without Rice we would have lost that game.

So, let's say we beat UM in the opener. What then? Here's what the next ten wins looked like with Rice at QB:

  • Michigan State (unranked), 20-3
  • Purdue (unranked), 52-7
  • Stanford (unranked), 42-14
  • Pittsburgh (unranked), 30-20
  • Miami (#1), 31-30
  • Air Force (unranked), 41-13
  • Navy (unranked), 22-7
  • Rice (unranked), 54-11
  • Penn State (unranked), 21-3
  • Southern Cal (#2), 27-10
  • West Virginia (#3), 34-21
What jumps out at you? For me, it's the 13.9 points per game given up by the defense. Seven of those games were not competitive. Only three games were decided by less than two touchdowns, and only one by less than ten points. Is it inconceivable that Graham could have run that table? I don't think so.

Of the two signature games in that stretch, Miami and USC, only the USC game strikes me as a "Tony Rice Game." Granted, my memory is not what it used to be, but the Miami game, the best college football game ever played, was an exciting collection of big plays, turnovers, and epic shifts in momentum; although he ran for a touchdown and threw for another, Rice was just one facet of a total team effort in that game. There's no accounting for Rice's leadership, of course, which was cool and easy, and it's possible that Graham may have thrown five interceptions against the Hurricanes. But even in the USC game, a Rice classic, the foundation for the win was the Irish defense and their relentless pounding of Rodney Peete.

Notre Dame dominated the 1988 season on the lines and with a ferocious crew of fullbacks and fleet runners. Might Graham have been able to manage the team, if less spectacularly than Rice, to a win in the Fiesta Bowl? When I set out to write this piece, it never crossed my mind that the answer could be "yes." The whole notion seemed disrespectful of Rice, who may be my favorite Notre Dame player of all time. But the more I think about it, the more I think it would have happened. I'd put the probability at 80%.

The meta-question, and maybe the more important one, is "what would have happened next?" With the slow-footed Graham returning as the quarterback of the defending national champions, would Holtz have ditched the option? Would the interception-prone Graham have been able to navigate a murderous 1989 slate that included 7 of 13 games against top 20 opponents, and five against the top 10? Had Holtz accomodated Graham and Notre Dame switched to a dropback style in 1989, might they have finished 8-4 and played in a lesser bowl? Might Holtz have lost some of the top players who were swayed by the 23 game winning streak? Would Kevin McDougal have ended up at ND?

There are a thousand such questions, and they all seem to me to point in one direction: that Lou Holtz's gamble on Rice is what made his legacy. It's not too hard to imagine Rice's absence pushing up the date of Holtz' eventual departure, especially if you consider that the 1989 season could have been the precursor to the Ron Powlus era, where system and player collided and the coach never recovered. If 1994 were moved up to 1989, might Holtz have been finished at Notre Dame by 1991? It's fanciful, but I don't think it's impossible, or even improbable. In my opinion, it solidifies Rice's position as the keystone of Notre Dame's resurgence, one which lasted for four seasons after he left.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

What if Joel Williams' TD had counted in 1986? | by Jeff

The situation:

It's 1986, and the opening game of the Lou Holtz era, versus Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium. A talented ND team led by quarterback Steve Beuerlein, receiver Tim Brown, defensive tackle Wally Klein, and defensive end Cedric Figaro is trailing the Wolverines 24-20 at the start of the 4th quarter. Beuerlein tosses a pass to the tight end, Joel Williams, at the back of the end zone. From the replays (and to most everyone in the house except the line judge), he is clearly in bounds, but the official rules him out. Michigan goes on to win the game, 24-23.

Holtz and Michigan coach Bo Schembechler traded quips about the call after the game:
"Even the Michigan ballboy said the ball was caught inbounds," Holtz said. "I've always believed Michigan runs an honest school."

"If they make that call in Notre Dame Stadium," Schembechler said, "he was obviously out."

What if...
the officials had made the right call, and awarded ND the touchdown?

First of all, it is very likely that ND would have held on to win the game. Even without the TD, John Carney kicked a field goal to cut the margin to 24-23, but Carney missed a 45 yard FG with 18 seconds left that would have all but guaranteed an Irish victory. The Irish outplayed Michigan during the game but shot themselves in the foot, never punting but coughing up the ball three times inside the Michigan 15 yard line. With one more break, ND would very likely have won the game.

But what about the impact of winning the home opener for the rest of the season? The '86 Irish were a very talented team, but they didn't really learn how to win until their final game of the season at Southern Cal. The Michigan loss was deflating, and set the tone for a season full of disappointment. The team was soundly defeated by Alabama, and dropped five other nip-and-tuck games by a total of 14 points.

1986 Fighting Irish
W/L/T Score Opponent Rank
L 23-24 MICHIGAN 3
L 15-20 @ MSU NR
L 10-28 @ ALABAMA 2
W 33-14 @ NAVY NR
W 61-29 SMU
L 19-24 PENN STATE 3
L 19-21 @ LSU 8
W 38-37 @ USC 17
It is not hard to speculate on the impact a Michigan win would have had on the team. Indeed, Holtz was later quoted as saying, "Instead of looking at it like, 'Hey, we can do something, we proved that against Michigan,' it was like, 'This is going to be our plight in life.' " A win over Michigan could have propelled the Irish to erase two or three of the other losses that season:
  • @ Michigan State, Loss, 15-20
  • vs Pitt, Loss, 9-10
  • vs Penn State, Loss, 19-24
  • @ LSU, Loss, 19-21
So, what if ND had knocked off Michigan? Let's speculate for a moment. After the big opening win, the Irish come out strong in their road opener at Michigan State, and go on to beat Purdue the following week. Up next is undefeated Alabama, ranked #2 in the country, and the Irish fight hard but still lose. Deflated, they also lose to Pitt. Three straight wins over Air Force, Navy, and SMU rally ND to a 6-2 record going into their home matchup with #3 Penn State. A strong effort rallies the Irish past the Nittany Lions, knocking them from the national title hunt. The Irish then struggle the following week at LSU, but defeat the Trojans at the Coliseum to finish the season at 9-3. Instead of being invited to (and declining) a trip to the Liberty Bowl, as the actual 5-6 team did, this Irish squad gets a nice bowl date and possibly extends its record to 10-3.

At the end of the day, this scenario doesn't mean a lot in the history of ND. Holtz went on to an 8-4 season in '87 and a 12-0 National Championship in '88 followed by a 12-1 campaign in '89. Replacing a few wins with losses in his first year would likely have had little impact on Holtz's career or reputation.

The image “http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/football/college/events/1997/collegebowl/onevstwo/images/87.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.However, one alternate scenario above would have had a huge impact on the National Championship picture in '86. The Miami-Penn State Fiesta Bowl matchup for the national championship was not only the first ever matchup of two independents for the national championship, it was highest rated bowl game since network deregulation. The game was the definition of contrast: the flashy, brash, fatigue-wearing Hurricanes cast as the nouveau riche of college football facing off against the ultra-traditional, plain-uniformed, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust Nittany Lions of Penn State. It was this exciting game that turned the Fiesta Bowl into a major bowl.

Knocking off Penn State would have sent the Miami Hurricanes to the Orange Bowl at the end of the season to face off with Oklahoma, erasing one of the more memorable bowl games in NCAA history.

One bad call reversed, maybe, just maybe, would have stolen the crown that year.

What if Urban Meyer had chosen Notre Dame? | by Pete

The image “http://msnbcmedia2.msn.com/j/msnbc/Components/Photos/061201/061201_meyer_hmed_5p.hmedium.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.The Situation:

Tyrone Willingham, embattled coach and golfer extraordinaire, has just been fired by the University of Notre Dame after three grotesque years. The fight song is being blared across campus for the first time in a long time, and excitement is palpable across the Notre Dame Nation. A few states away, a former member of the fold is reinventing the playbook while leading a group of white Mormons to a BCS bowl victory. Urban Meyer forged the glass slipper and then slammed it onto his Utes’ program with the backside of the Pittsburgh Panthers. In South Bend, a jet engine fires awake.

By the end of the 2004 football season, most devoted Notre Dame fans had shaken off the hypnotic spell of synchronized clapping and obtuse metaphors to realize that Willingham’s firing was not a matter of “if,” but “when.” As a junior at Notre Dame, I had been through the entirety of Willingham’s deplorable tenure. We all knew he wouldn’t make it, but the push to remove him from office was exacerbated by the shining beacon one time zone away (sometimes two). Urban Meyer was on the tip of every embattled athletic director’s tongue, and we wanted a piece of the action. We had to fire Willingham now, to get ourselves a raffle ticket to the Urban Meyer sweepstakes. As a former coach under the Golden Dome, everyone thought he was in the bag, including head Notre Dame officials. He was our Excalibur of the Great Salt Lake, and he would allow us to return to our rightful place at the head of the College Football Round Table. A section on the 3rd floor of Dillon Hall decorated for a “Very Urban Christmas.”

One week later, Notre Dame fans found themselves cuckolded, embarassed, and enraged. Urban had spurned the college team everyone thought he was destined to lead for the sleek and sexy, if dyslexic under the Zookster, Florida Gators. Nobody could believe it actually happened, and the college football world thought it was the final nail in Notre Dame’s coffin.

History will record Dec. 3, 2004, as the day that Notre Dame football died. The Fighting Irish will still fight. The gold helmets will still reflect the Golden Dome. But the House That Rockne Built, the monolith that bestrode the sport for eight decades, expired Friday when Urban Meyer turned down Notre Dame to go to Florida.

What if...Urban Meyer had agreed to become Notre Dame’s head coach?

Obviously, Notre Dame football is far from dead, and many would argue that the program, while falling behind early to Meyer’s Gators, is better situated in the long run with Weis at the helm than with the Meyer wunderkind.

But what if Meyer decided it was worth trying to win at Notre Dame? Would the Irish be reigning champs as we speak?

It’s tough for any Notre Dame fans to remember the love affair the nation held with Meyer during his last season at Utah. He led the Utes (the Utes!) to an undefeated record and BCS win, albeit against Big East Chumpion Pitt. And it’s also tough to remember how sure we were Meyer was coming back to ND.

In a move that’s reminiscent of laughing at your parents’ high school yearbook, let’s look at one of the very first posts ever posted here at BGS; a rundown of the “Who’s Next?” candidates. Now, no laughing, we all were in this frame of mind at this point:
CHARLIE WEIS - New England Patriots offensive coordinator

Pros: Notre Dame graduate....NFL experience would be enticing to recruits....has run an efficient, winning offense at the highest level.... wants the job

Cons: No head coaching experience at any level....appearance - not exactly someone you can put on a poster for the football program (unless it's somehow tied to a rib eating contest)....likely not available until February as Pats will probably go deep into the NFL postseason....if he wasn't an ND grad, wouldn't even be considered.

GRADE (if hired): C
For perspective, Joe Tiller was rated a B-minus hire. Joe “I Wear a Purdue Sweatshirt I Got Free with My Sports Illustrated Subscription” Tiller. (The top names bandied about at the time, you'll remember, were guys like Gruden, Stoops, Shanahan, Ferentz, Alvarez, Tedford, Petrino, etc.)

But enough of the shameful trip down Memory Lane, how would Urban have fared if he zipped up for ND instead of jorting down for Florida?

In some sense, perhaps Urban was right, because I think he fared better in Florida than he could have under the same time frame at Notre Dame. Willingham, in his infinitely vague wisdom, didn’t do the whole recruiting thing, especially in the trenches. Ron Zook, despite a complete and utter doofball, did manage to somehow convince 18-year old men to spend four years in 80-degree weather surrounded by beautiful Southern gals in Daisy Dukes and halter tops. His national championship team is populated by Zook players, and I don’t think any coach could have led Willingham’s posse, as much as we love them, to a national championship. The horses just weren’t there, and we can point to Charlie’s losses as examples of that.

In other words, Willingham may have left the cupboard bare, but Zook had a house full of food, but kept trying to eat it all blind-folded and wearing oven mitts.

Notre Dame, under Urban Meyer, would not be national champions right now. And Charlie Weis would be a head coach in the NFL.

Now, it’s unlikely he would have been a complete and utter disaster either, despite what we would all like to think at this point. Notre Dame’s program would have found a nice boost from the Urban hire, had some great momentum going into the season, and it’s obvious the man can coach. I imagine Meyer would have found himself +/- 4 total wins from Charlie’s win total at this point.

The image “http://www.bluegraysky.com/images/tn1_pancake_urban.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. But what would Notre Dame have turned into under his watch? While there is certainly a twinge of scorn in our perspective on Meyer, but there are recorded instances of him handling business not “the Notre Dame Way.” Poaching recruits, not handing down harsh punishments for felonious players, and misrepresenting his school’s graduation rates.

Of course, part of that comes with the SEC culture, and it’s a lot easier to handle Notre Dame athletes than Gators (we don’t have too much of a problem with players firing automatic weapons into the air), so it’s not entirely an Urban problem.

But we must remember what made Urban choose the Gators over the Irish. The legend tells that Urban asked his father what he should do, and he was told, “Where do you stand the best chance of winning?” Urban went with Florida, and I don’t think anybody would be too hard-pressed to argue that point. It’s too cold in South Bend, the academic restrictions are too tight, nobody cares about Notre Dame. Winning was his priority, and winning is what he got.

Amidst all the allegations following the Willingham firing that Notre Dame was now “like everybody else” and “all about winning,” would a successful Meyer hire propogate the “win at all costs” mentality paitned on us?

Urban Meyer may have been a former coach at ND, but he didn’t get “it.” The simple fact that he relied on Bob Davie for insight during the process shows that he doesn’t know “it” from a hole in the ground.

If Urban Meyer had become head coach of Notre Dame, I’d imagine we would have found ourselves in a similar position to where we stand today. Just as we expect Charlie Weis to lead us to a national championship at some point, so too we may have expected it with Urban. But when we looked at the path we had to take to get there, I don’t think we would have enjoyed the ride nearly as much.