Tag Archives: Charlie Weis

Shamrock Smackdown

Before I begin to shred the Shamrocks, I want to make it clear that I think Notre Dame will win this game.  As I mentioned to the other Smackdown Friday writers earlier this week, you don’t have to pick against the team you’re smacking.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the Michigan State Spartans have what it takes to win this game.  That doesn’t mean I won’t be rooting for them.

It damn sure doesn’t mean I’ll be pulling for Notre Dame in any way.  I could never.

There are so many ways to do this.  Where should I begin?  I’ll start with a couple easy ones.

Charlie Weis.  That’s it.  That’s the joke.

Or, better yet his predecessor.  No, Kent Baer doesn’t count.  You ready for a name you never thought you’d hear again?  Remember Tyrone Willingham?

If it weren’t for Bob Davie’s leftovers winning 10 games in 2002, Willingham would’ve been a total failure at Notre Dame, instead of just a failure.

On second thought, Kent Baer does count.  This way I can bring up George O’Leary, the man who resigned five days after being hired because it turned out he had falsified his resume years ago and just never made the corrections.

I’m actually not even hating, here.  First of all, shoutout to ol’ Georgy boy for pulling a savage move in a cutthroat business and getting away with it for so many years.

Secondly, if you’re Notre Dame, you can’t be expected to look into all that stuff.  At that point, O’Leary’s resume had been read over and approved by so many people that it would never have occurred to you that he’d fabricated a part of it.

How about a happier time?

I will forever cherish the vivid memory of watching the Irish get Denarded in the first ever game under the lights at the Big House.

Denard Robinson was nothing short of magical that night, confounding the Irish defense with his unparalleled athleticism.

This performance transformed Robinson’s career.  As we found out, though, Robinson wasn’t really even that good.  Notre Dame’s defense was simply atrocious that night.

Let me put it to you overzealous golden domers like this:

The last time you played for a championship, you got steamrolled by the Tide while your star player became the poster boy for an awful online hidden identity show on MTV.

One of your best receivers in recent memory was so fed up after playing for your program that he switched to baseball.  Can anyone spell Samardzjia without looking, by the way?

From 1994 to the 2006-07 season, you played in nine bowl games.  All of them were loses.

Go ahead and win this one for the Gipper because if you don’t, your season might as well be over.

So, yeah I’m picking Notre Dame to win the game and hoping I’m wrong.

Go Green.  Go White.  Kick that Irish ass this weekend.

Oh, and Rudy sucks.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

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Ohio Bobcats will help Kansas Start Another Losing Streak

The Kansas Jayhawks won a game!  Never mind the fact that they needed to bring in the Rhode Island Rams, who compete in the FCS and have won just once each of the last two seasons.  They actually won a game, ending what was the longest active losing streak in the FBS at 15.

Is Charlie Weis still the coach out there in Kansas?  No?  Ahh well, it was fun while it lasted.  Fun, that is, for those of us who weren’t subjected to watching his garbage teams get smacked around the field.  Weis always looked so confused.  Apparently, he was just ahead of the curve.

Need a laugh?  Check out the modest gathering of Jayhawk fans that “rushed” the field to celebrate their team’s first win in over a year.

Please, pardon the shoddy video quality and listen to what the public address announcer says as the initial ankle-wrapping wave of fans comes leaking out onto the field.

This is quite the contradictory choice of celebration for a basketball school that clearly does not support court storming.

It is a problem.  It should be curtailed, if not eliminated altogether.  Still, I find the hypocrisy interesting.

This week, one of my adopted schools will help KU start another losing streak.  The Ohio Bobcats come to Lawrence, Kansas to force-feed the Jayhawks a sour dose of #MACtion.

After twice having the time of my life in Athens, Ohio (#11Fest, #13Fest), Theee Ohio University will always have a special place in my heart.

So yeah, this one’s personal.  I won’t just be pulling for Kansas to lose, as usual.  I’ll also be cheering on my Bobcats.

As the public address announcer so professionally said without laughing in that video, “This is a new era in Kansas football, an era in which you should expect to win.”

Seriously, is this what they’re preaching out there in Lawrence nowadays?  Who got to decide this?  I would love to have been at that meeting.

“Alright guys, we all know the team won’t be any good this year.  What are we going to do to drum up some excitement?”

“Oh, oh, I know.  Let’s tell everyone this is a new era for the program.  Maybe that’ll distract the fans.  Maybe they’ll think we’re all of a sudden better than we’ve been and not yet as good as we can be.”

“That’s perfect!  Nobody ever actually watches the games.  They’ll never realize we’re still losing games same as ever.”

A few words of advice for those who consider themselves a part of this “new era in Kansas football”:

Don’t get it twisted.  This isn’t 2007.  You’re still Kansas.  Expecting victories from your football team does nothing but set you up for disappointment.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke

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Draft Success is Proof that Irish are Officially Back

Since Brian Kelly took over the program before the 2010 season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have taken more than a couple steps forward. The three head coaches before Kelly, Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, and Charlie Weis combined for a 91-68 record and one bowl victory. This was far from the excellence many had come to expect from a program that ranks first all-time in college football win percentage and third all-time in total wins.

Under Davie, Willingham, and Weis, there were glimpses of a Notre Dame return to glory, but those moments were fleeting. Davie lead the Irish to nine wins twice. Willingham had great success in his first season, going 10-3, but subsequent 5-7 and 6-5 seasons lead to his termination. With Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija leading the way, Charlie Weis was able to help the Irish to back-to-back BCS bowls (both of which were losses), but a 3-9 season that saw the Irish lose to Navy for the first time in nearly half a century and then back-to-back .500 seasons were Weis’ undoing.

But Brian Kelly has contributed something those coaches lacked: the ability to recruit and keep star power in South Bend.

Both Willingham and Weis were soft-spoken, matter-of-fact guys. When they walked into the living room of a recruit, it’s hard to imagine that there was a lot of buzz that followed them. Weis, at least, could get out his multiple Super Bowl rings he won as an offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, but his personality was undoubtedly less-than-exciting for the 18-year-old mind.

Notre Dame has always had plenty of tools in the toolbox when it comes to hitting the recruiting trail. First of all, the campus has a certain mystique that can’t be duplicated anywhere in college football. It’s a feeling that some know and understand, while others don’t. Other recruiting pitches include a top-notch education, a game in California every season, a program that features one of the most famous legacies in college football, a national television contract that guarantees exposure, and much more.

But to many recruits, Notre Dame was a boring program. The songs played before games were boring, the field was boring, and the uniforms were boring. There wasn’t enough flash to the program.

Kelly brought change.

Before games, modern music plays. Prior to the 2014 season, Notre Dame installed a synthetic turf playing field, which also meant there would be a monogram “ND” at the 50 yard line. Every year, the Irish play a game on a neutral field while wearing an alternate jersey. The changes allowed Notre Dame to compete with flashier programs while keeping much of the tradition. Many of the changes were Kelly’s doing.

Perhaps the biggest change during Kelly’s time at the helm of the Irish, however, has nothing to do with the optics of a football game.

Under Brian Kelly, Notre Dame football teams have had more talent and more speed than they have during the times of Kelly’s predecessors. This increase in talent is evident by Notre Dame’s success at this past weekend’s NFL draft.

Notre Dame had two first-round selections: tackle Ronnie Stanley was selected sixth overall by the Ravens, while Will Fuller went twenty first overall to the Texans. Jaylon Smith, who was an easy top-five selection before being injured in the Fiesta Bowl, went early in the second round to the Cowboys at thirty fourth overall. CJ Prosise became the first Notre Dame running back taken in the draft since 2004 when the Seahawks selected him with the ninetieth overall selection. In all, the Irish had seven players drafted, while five more signed with teams as undrafted free agents.

Under Kelly, six Notre Dame players have been selected in the first round. Davie, Willingham, and Weis combined for just one first-round selection.

Kelly has yet to have a losing season as coach of the Irish, nor does a losing season appear to be on the horizon. The success on the field and in the draft is a clear indication that, under Kelly, the Irish have once again arrived to the party and are here to stay.

The College Quickie: The Mouth, They Said WHAT?, Land of Make Believe

If you watched college football this past weekend, and you know you did, there was plenty to keep your attention as well as surprise you. Texas A&M won an overtime thriller in Dallas, UCLA gave its best impression of Sherman through Atlanta and Florida St won a shootout in Raleigh, NC. Plenty has been written and will continue to be written about those games throughout the next week. What I’m here to discuss are three topics that presented themselves off the field.

THE MOUTH

“We pride ourselves on emptying stadiums.” – Jeff Driskel

First let’s review who Jeff Driskel is. Jeff is the junior starting quarterback for the Florida Gators. His parents are Mary and Jerry. Not quite Mary and Joseph, but Jeff seems to think he is God’s gift to football. On the year, Driskel has completed 56% of passes and has thrown five touchdowns to go along with three interceptions. Over the past three seasons the Gators have gone 17-11 and coach Muschamp is firmly on the hot seat.
Now revisit Jeff’s comment. Had enough time? OK. At the rate the Gators are going, perhaps Driskel is talking about emptying the Swamp. But no, he is talking specifically about emptying Neyland stadium this coming weekend. Driskel now has to backup his bravado up against a Tennessee team that gave Georgia all it could handle. While I am not overly impressed with Georgia, I do believe they are more of an offensive threat than the Gators.
As the season progresses, which empties faster? Driskel’s mouth or the Swamp?

THEY SAID WHAT?

After watching the Missouri Tigers escape Columbia, SC with a win, I listened to the remainder of the Nebraska game on the radio. If you have never heard Matt Davison and Greg Sharpe call a football game, well you’ve been missing out on a biased treat.
As the Huskers were wrapping up their game against Illinois, Davison and Sharpe offered a quick rundown of other scores from the day. When discussing the South Carolina/Mizzou game, two things stuck out like a biased thumb:
1. They could not bring themselves to utter the word MISSOURI.
2. They are convinced the Big 10 is on par with the SEC.
Their inability to utter the word MISSOURI goes back to conference realignment. Missouri had some moderate flirtation from the Big 10. When nothing came of that flirtation, the Tigers were offered and accepted an invitation to join the SEC. The Huskers soon found an offer from the Big 10 and left the Big 12. Enter Nebraska Athletic Director Harvey Perlman.
Mr. Perlman held a press conference and graciously (?) explained the path and reasons for the Huskers’ move to the Big 10. Guess what? Nebraska’s move to the Big 10 was all MISSOURI’S fault. Perlman’s logic suggested that if MISSOURI left the Big 12, Nebraska was at risk of being left out of realignment. Hey Huskers? Can you say insecurity?
Now let’s progress to the Big 10 versus SEC. Davison and Sharpe were clueless as to how anyone could believe the SEC was a better football conference than the mighty Big 10. Allow me to preface the statistics that I am about to offer with one comment: I DO NOT CARE THAT MISSOURI LOST TO INDIANA. Now onto the statistics:
The Big 10 is 5-11 against the Power 5 schools. The SEC is 5-2 against the Power 5 schools.
The AP Poll has eight SEC teams (three in the top 10) while the Big 10 has four ranked teams (one in the top 10). The Coaches Poll has seven SEC teams (three in the top 10) while the Big 10 has three ranked teams (one in the top 10).
Mr. Davison and Mr. Sharpe came off as grumpy old men with opinions that towed the company line. If Statler and Waldorf were in a press box, they would sound like these guys.

LAND OF MAKE BELIEVE

Charlie Weis? You may have had nine lives, but you did not benefit from a tenth. This past Saturday, Weis was put out of his misery when his Jayhawks lost to the Texas Longhorns. Weis was fired before the Longhorn bus was warmed up.
Where do the Jayhawks go from here? Not very far in my opinion. They will now be paying two head coaches and an Athletic Director in addition to a new head coach. That seems like a pretty good deal for three of those guys. They get paid to never set foot in Lawrence again!
But seriously, where do the Jayhawks go from here? There have been numerous names flimsily thrown around. Ed Orgeron, Jim Leavitt and Ed Warriner to name three. Personally, if I had a horse in this race, i’d be happy with someone like Craig Bohl.
Bohl is 56, has geographic ties to the area and now has some top tier experience with Wyoming. Bohl went 104-32 in eleven seasons at North Dakota St. Those 104 wins included victories over Kansas St (in Manhattan), at Colorado St and at Minnesota. As for that win against K-State? With that victory, Bohl matched the number of Big 12 wins that KU had while Weis was their coach.
At 56, Bohl may not be the long term fix at KU, but I would be confident that Bohl would leave KU in better shape than he found it. I would also be willing the guarantee that Bohl, unlike Weis, would not fall asleep in a team meeting.

BCS In Review: The Bush Push And I

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Every sports fan has a small, exclusive aisle of “those games” in the mental library; comprised of the short-listed contests we hold near and dear to our heart regardless of outcome.
Some bring memories of joy and happiness, while others we dare not speak of (unless beer and pub-talk have given us no other choice) invoke feelings of anger and frustration that force sounds out of our mouths only Lou Holtz could effortlessly imitate.
By now you should know when I refer to “those games” I’m speaking of the ‘I remember the exact time, date, and location of where I watched” games. From there we can expound even further by detailing sounds of other spectators, the smell of the bar, and even where the grass stains on a player’s pants were located. And, if you’re an arrogant, annoying, and biased Chicago fan like me– you spare no expense in telling your friends no less than twelve times about how much you loved, hated, and in some cases both hated AND loved anything related to your teams, and “those games”.
Here, I’m going to talk about one of my games, if not THE game for me; and what it would mean for my life as a sports fan forever.
The date was October 15, 2005. I was 14 and working as a busser at Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery in a southern suburb of Chicago called, wait for it… the Village of Flossmoor.
It was a busy night, especially in the bar, so lucky for me I got to spend most of my time bussing pub tables and refreshing water glasses with TV’s all around me. It was a packed house because all of Cook County it seemed was out to watch the annual Notre Dame-USC rivalry game.
The match-up was pegged by ESPN as the “Game of the Century”. USC would come into the game as defending national champions riding a 27 game win streak. Notre Dame, conversely, despite a national ranking of 9th having won four straight road games, was on a three game home losing streak and had lost three straight contests to USC by at least 31 points. The pre-game pep rally in Notre Dame Stadium featured speeches by Joe Montana, Tim Brown, and Master of Ceremonies—Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger.
Needless to say, one of the clearest things I remember of that night is the noise. Everyone was waiting in angst to see The Irish take back the Jeweled Shillelagh.
Touchdown Jesus was watching.
The other is that everyone was so busy they didn’t notice the spectating schedule I had set for myself which was; for every ten minutes I worked– I watched for one, uninterrupted. It seemed as though all the employees were doing the same thing on a slightly different schedule, as for the customers their fixated eyes were taking care of their generally impatient nature.
However, despite my efforts to miss nothing, at times I would have to turn my back only to hear a loud unified “OHHH”, “AWE”, “WHAT?!” or some variation of exclamation (I was at work after all). And, just to give this oral history an accurate justice, go ahead and add a four letter word of your choice before and/or after any of those examples.
And so as I remember it:
A back and forth first quarter gave Irish fans hope this would actually be a rivalry game rather than a rout, the Trojans led 14-7.
In the second Brady Quinn capped off a 72 yard drive with a touchdown pass to Jeff Samardzija to tie the game at 14. The place blew up.
Forcing USC to punt on their next possession, Irish safety Tom Zbikowsi took that punt 59 yards to the house to put Notre Dame ahead 21-14. “Bartender, get us another round! The Irish are here to stay and so are we.”
Matt Leinart seemed to have had enough and was trying his damnedest to reverse momentum, leading USC 69 yards down the field on the following possession. That drive was capped off by a pick in the end-zone. Drive over. Game over? An overly optimistic Irish fan would certainly say so, and plenty were. As for me, I had been wiping the same table for about 6 minutes. Score, 21-14 Irish at half.
The Irish still had the momentum to start the second half, intercepting Leinart for a second time. The place was electric. Employees and patrons alike were all smiles and cheers. Highfives and Rudy references for everybody! However, the Trojan-D stepped up and forced a punt. This is when Bush finally decided to show up, with a 20-yard return and a subsequent 45-yard touchdown run. But, neither team would score for the rest of the quarter. Here comes the fourth, tie game.
The fourth quarter came just as advertised with all the hoopla and hype that came before the game. There were fumbles, missed field goals, another Reggie touchdown run, and after a clutch 5-yard touchdown run by Brady Quinn the Irish were leading 31-28 with just over two minutes remaining. All we had to do now was hold on and stop the herculean tandem of Leinart and Bush, simple task right? I’m sure the boys in green and gold could feel the pressure of one million tensed up white knuckles. Everyone could tell they wanted this one BAD.
Montana, was watching.
Tim Brown, was watching.
For the love of all things Irish, RUDY WAS WATCHING! Seated under Touchdown Jesus, who was also, you know…
You wanted to be silent but it was too late. What starts loud in Chicago, ends loud in Chicago. It is our nature. We are never quiet, and rarely humble.
What came next was one of those rare moments in sports that defines you, never leaves you, and forces one (despite their nature) to be silenced.
Matt Leinart fumbled the ball out of bounds with seven seconds remaining. The clock continued to run down to zero and the students rushed the field. The referees righted the wrong hurried the students back to their seats and gave Leinart the ball with the correct seven seconds remaining. We thought we had it, and it was at this moment I got that tickle, standing in front of a TV in the bar with seven seconds left on the clock with nothing in my hands and no intention of moving, I knew something was about to happen.
Everyone knows what happened next, so I’ll go ahead and spare you the regurgitation (myself the pain) and just type the call as it was heard when all of ND Nation fell silent.
“USC will get one more play. Leinart gonna try to sneak it ahead. Did he get it?…..TOUCHDOWN SC!”
Actually, I don’t mind anymore. Here it is. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62P8_Ik7NlE
I walked away from my 10:1 schedule spot immediately after the push, with no words. I turned around to a collective mosaic of faces in palms and calm before chaos. The rare silence was awkward and infuriating. This was supposed to be a night of celebration. And so brief as it was, there was silence before the bashing.
Despite the outcome, this was the moment I became a true Notre Dame fan. Sure, I had always been a “fan”. But my investment was never really my own, so to speak. I was a fan by geographical osmosis.
I had three logical choices. There was Northwestern, University of Illinois, or Notre Dame. I grew up with family and friends loving the Irish, reliving the glory days of the “horsemen” and growing up during Lou Holtz’s successful reign. But, I was young and knew nothing more. I lived through years of mediocrity in the late nineties and 2000’s rooting and cheering with little excitement or expectation. So when I was coming into my own as a man and growing in literally every way humanly possible it was only fitting that I witnessed this game as a newly minted high school freshman.
At the time I didn’t quite know what was happening to me but still somehow appreciated the mysterious enormity of the moment. High school if nothing else is a very curious and adventurous time of self-discovery. And at that moment, disappointed as I was, I fell in love with the way the Irish battled and thrust themselves back into the national spotlight right before my eyes.
In Charlie Weis’ first season Notre Dame would remain at #9 despite the loss to USC, and win the rest of their games. They earned a spot in the Fiesta Bowl where they would eventually lose to a damn good Ohio State team, a disappointing end to a promising year.
But, what if Notre Dame won that game? What if, they stopped the Bush Push, it was ruled illegal, or if they just made a 34 yard missed field goal that would have put it out of reach? Now, considering USC entered the season heavy favorites to repeat as national champions, the hype surrounding that game, and assuming they still swept their remaining schedule; is it reasonable to assume Notre Dame would have been chosen to play Texas for the National Championship?
And, if that happened (even though Weis experienced all of his success with Tyrone Willingham’s recruits) would Charlie have been given the benefit of the doubt when it came to firing time? If they went to the Rose Bowl that year, win or lose, would he have been able to get some 5-star recruits that otherwise passed on him, allowing him build a program of his own?
Okay, probably not.
After all, having been given all the opportunity in the world Big Chuck has time and again proven himself to be a pretty average head coach at best. But, I think the big boys at Notre Dame may have given a little more thought before throwing him $19 million to just go away and die.
In sports don’t we all love a good “what-if”?
And of course all of those wins, Reggie’s Heisman, the National Championship from the previous year; everything would be vacated.
That push kept my team from an opportunity to play for the crystal ball. That push from the kid that (according to NCAA rules) shouldn’t have been playing, cost my team a win against the team we have circled on the schedule every year. And, for years crushed us.
That push silenced Chicagoland.
But, that push made me a fan.
Am I bitter? Hell no. Poetic justice was served and now we have a nice little win streak of our own going against the University of Spoiled Children as my Dad likes to call them.
History is cyclical and therefore success comes in waves. Brian Kelly has a nice thing going and I expect Notre Dame to make me proud for years to come. Sanctions brought the Trojans back down to Earth to mingle with the mortals and the Jeweled Shillelagh back to us. But, I can’t help but feel that success is just as tainted as Pete Carroll’s Trojans. I want to see Notre Dame beat USC at full strength with no strings attached. I want a real rivalry between powerhouse teams that beat the hell out of each other.
I want battered, bruised and broken with pride win or lose. We are arguably the two most successful and storied college football programs in the land. And the Bush Push game was the only time I really got to see it as it should be. It was the day I was convinced I would be a fan for the long haul.
Despite all the failures and controversy that will be forever linked to the BCS era, I am still thankful it brought me that game.
My game.

Who Still Hates Notre Dame?

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“I hate them more than any team in all of sports.”
So, we’re going to start with the answer and work our way back to the question; it’s sort of like Jeopardy in that way. There’s a few ways to ask the question, but they all boil down to, “What do you think of this team?”
There are a few usual suspects you could use to fill in the blank. The Yankees, Red Wings, and a certain NFL team in Western Pennsylvania come to mind, but if you ask the first ten people you see, who it is that they detest, Notre Dame is going to be said.
I know some die-hard fans, those who love their own so much that they barely acknowledge any other teams exist, and those people live to hate Notre Dame. Three paragraphs in, and I’ve used that word twice. I don’t like throwing the concept of hatred around like it’s something casual, but there’s nothing like the irrational levels of discontent you’ll see from College Football fans that have no dog in the fight when it comes to the Irish.
To be honest, I don’t really have a dog in the fight either. I was a victim of their overexposure as a kid; everyone was. I liked them, but they were easy to watch in a time that a lot of College Football was not easy to watch, just speaking from an accessibility standpoint. They were also easy to watch because Lou Holtz had them winning football games, and it was a change from the monotony of Big Ten football.

There was the Catholic thing too, except I never really thought of it as a “thing”. We were mostly Catholic throughout the neighborhood, and Notre Dame’s affiliation was more what I’d call convenient, rather than some sort of tie that binds. I’ve been told that using the Catholic thing is weak, and have never really had the energy to argue that it wasn’t. If anything, the big draw for people my age is simple, those Fighting Irish teams were good and it was compelling football. In Northeast Ohio 30 years ago, it was just a nice alternative to whatever Earle Bruce had going on in Columbus.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the Buckeyes, one might make a valid argument for how Urban’s program should be tangled into this context, but it was just an alternative. It’s an alternative that I needed, given what sports had to offer the children of the Cleveland-area in the early 80s. I was grateful to have the superstations, to give me the Mets, Cubs, and Braves, as a supplement to the limited coverage I had with the abysmal Indians. With the Mets, WOR actually gave me a glimpse at a World Champion; with the Cubs and Braves–not so much. Notre Dame was the same way, almost as if they’d been magically beamed to my living room week to say, “You want to see quality football? Well, here you go.”
They were constantly front-page news, and deservedly so. Off the top of my head, I recall a meeting with Miami and a Jimmy Johnson team sporting one of those ridiculous winning streaks in South Bend; it was a game Notre Dame won when the Canes went for 2 and the win, back when you had to make that choice. That was the beginning of the new guard, ghosts of Gerry Faust had been exorcised. I ask Midwest people a few years older than I am how they feel about Notre Dame, and if they aren’t among the sworn enemies of any school with an option between blue and green jerseys, they basically remind me how irrelevant Notre Dame was with that High School clown from Cincinnati running the show during their formative years.

And that’s funny, because relevance plays such a big factor in this conversation. They stayed relevant so long that I don’t remember exactly when things became unglued in South Bend. There was no question, the Irish were at the peak of their popularity for that wild 1993 season, the one with a November matchup with Florida State drawing hype in August. I can remember, it was a game that lived up to the hype, one where Notre Dame needed to beat Charlie Ward and a defense stacked with NFL talent, and it got that win. After winning a game that meant everything in the world, they tripped in a game that few gave a second thought, in their very next game.
It was some time after Boston College and Tom Coughlin had shocked them in front of Touchdown Jesus and anyone else watching, probably not too long after Beano Cook had promised Ron Paulus two Heisman trophies, that winning bowl games, Lou Holtz, and any Heisman conversation quickly became a past tense thing in their pocket of Indiana. I’m not even sure they have any regional ground to claim, though there’s never been any denying the reach of their fan base, whether it’s Southern California, Palo Alto, or even Phoenix. Maybe that brings the denomination card back into play; they wouldn’t be the first nation to have a people without land.
No sooner than completing that thought in my own head did I realize how disasterous the idea of “Domer Nation” might be, but the fans are out there. I’ve seen them fill up Sun Devil Stadium and I’ve seen them pack Jerry Jones’ monstrosity in Dallas. By the way, you could replace Notre Dame with Dallas Cowboys throughout this piece and remain fairly accurate, acknowledging that the praise due these one-time dynasties expired after 1996, but the fans that have never been to South Bend or Northern Texas still root for these teams as if they’re faithful alumni of either organization.
Do you call it a bandwagon? Can you really call these fans front-runners? Tony Romo has exactly one post-season victory, and that’s all Cowboys fans have had since Aikman last won a Super Bowl, but forget the Cowboys. The Irish, who co-authored their own clause into the Bowl Championship Series bylaws, haven’t exactly fared well in this new age of College Football. They drew Dennis Erickson and Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl; that didn’t go well. A few coaching changes later, Charlie Weis had them back there; that was a game that made Ohio State look really good.
A year later, new venue, same result, with LSU sticking it to them in the Sugar Bowl. I suppose you could say Weis had them back at the grown folks table, but not for every holiday. Brady Quinn seemed to be the driving force behind their return to prominence, but he took his talents to Cleveland and Weis couldn’t do it with the highly touted Jimmy Claussen, but he couldn’t do it with Quinn a second time around in Kansas City either.

To get things back on track and bring us to the present, I’ll say Brian Kelly has done a hell of a job. I don’t care what anyone says about how lopsided some of those BCS Championship games were, most of the opponents belonged in that place that ultimately equaled a good ole fashioned whoopin’, the 2012 Notre Dame Fighting Irish among that group. Bizzare things have to happen to get teams to those title games; I mean, Auburn’s last two regular season games in 2013 have to balance out the chances Notre Dame had against Pittsburgh and Stanford in 2012, right?
That was a cameo appearance if there ever was one. Notre Dame just wasn’t the same animal without the defenisive players they lost, compounded with the unexpected loss of Everett Goldson, but those fans who are disinterested with any season that won’t end with a national title are gone. Every fan base has those “fans”. They’re disliked, both in and out of their own ranks, and they’re the outliers that aren’t relevant to this discussion about relevance.
Is Notre Dame relevant? Of course they are, they always are, and for the simple fact that there’s dialouge to be had about them. Is their sweetheart deal with NBC and all of their opponents’ broadcast partners a little too sweet for your liking? I happen to think so, and I’m not as fatigued with Notre Dame on an overall basis as the next guy. Do you have to accept that they are? Absolutely not.

Of course, everyone would concede that in a vacuum, they don’t belong in the football conversation very often, but we don’t block out The Gipper, Rudy, or those Golden Domes very well, so Notre Dame maintains its own chapter in the annual story of College Football. They probably don’t “deserve” it, but they’re going to get it every year.
This year will be no different.

Big XII Year In Review

There are actually ten teams in the Big XII, and we’re just going to have to get over it.

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To think this conference almost died three years ago would have been a crying shame.  They’ve given us some pretty good football since Larry Scott almost gutted the meat and potatoes of this league to go the Cali-forny Way in a potential 16-team Pacific Coast super-conference, and it’s had very little to do with that school in Austin.  Well, they didn’t need the University of Texas to hold their own on the field, but it took the ridiculousness that is ESPN’s partnership with the school to keep 19 year-old conference glued together for this long.

That’s all in the past, though it doesn’t mean that they’ve been unaffected by conference expansion in Big XII country.  Four of its charter members have sought greener pastures, while only two have been replaced.  Only Colorado, one of Scott’s six targets (the others were Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State) made the jump to the old Pac-10, but Texas A&M and Missouri joined the Southeastern Conference, while Nebraska found a new home in the Big 10…which now has 12 teams.  Again, get over it.

In 2011, Oklahoma State had a clear path to a national championship appearance until a missed field goal on a Friday night in Ames, Iowa knocked them off course.  The next year, with A&M and Mizzu off to the SEC, West Virginia and Texas Christian (TCU) were the new kids on the block.  The new guys found that they actually would have to be in Kansas every now and again, and found themselves towards the basement of their new digs.  Speaking of Kansas, Kansas State to be specific, the school in Manhattan, Kansas had their sights set on a National Championship berth, but a night in Waco, Texas suggested that it was not to be for the Wildcats.

That brings us to 2013, and a new dawn in the Big XII.  Were we really thinking Baylor, two years removed from Robert Griffin III and a year removed from Nick Florence, could win this conference?  Hell, when the chips began to fall, we were actually thinking the final BCS National Championship might actually pit the Baylor Bears in the 16-year series final game, while a traditional favorite like Ohio State would be left out.  That was all in theory and on paper, after all the games were played, the guess-work was easy, if not non-existent.

However, the 2013 story of this conference runs much deeper than getting a team to Pasadena.  You could throw away the chalk.  This particular season could have served as a thesis for, “that’s why they play the games.”

Any Given Saturday

Iowa State, Kansas, West Virginia, and TCU were all denied the opportunity to go bowling, unless they were renting shoes at the local Brunswick house.  None of them won more than two conference games on a nine-game schedule, and even with the benefit of an FCS opponent on each of their schedules, these four schools couldn’t eclipse the four-win mark on the year.  In Iowa State’s case, the FCS opponent wasn’t a given; the Panthers of Northern Iowa defeated the Cyclones in Ames by a count of 28-20.  Even West Virginia trailed William & Mary by 10 at the half, before a second-half comeback.  But, you didn’t want to commit yourself to yard-work when these teams were in action; they had some fight in them, and yes, that even includes the hapless Kansas Jayhawks.

Charlie Weis, the place you start most arguments against hiring off the Bill Belichick Coaching Tree, had only one win in his first season in Lawrence, against South Dakota from the FCS ranks, so naturally Kansas invited another team from South Dakota in 2013, South Dakota State this time.  Weis was able to double his win total from 2012 with a 13-10 win over Louisiana Tech, a team that finished 4-8 in the mighty Conference USA.

Weis had his Any Given Saturday on November 16th, while playing host to West Virginia and NFL running back prospect Charles Sims.  It was a day for Sims to dominate, just not for Charles, who was held to 99 yards, while James Sims ran for 211 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 31-19 win to snap a 27-game Big XII losing streak for Kansas.  The fans stormed the field and tore down goal posts in the lone bright spot for the Jayhawks in Big XII play.  In their other eight conference games, all losses, they were outscored by an average of 39-12.

Iowa State did not start well; there was the aforementioned loss to Northern Iowa, followed by a rivalry loss to another in-state rival, Iowa, before finally getting in the win column at Tulsa in Week 3.   One might make an argument for the Cyclones showing in a 31-30 loss, a game Texas won with a Case McCoy touchdown run and Anthony Fera’s subsequent extra point with 51 seconds left, on October 3rd as Iowa State’s big surprise of the year.  However, a lot of people might have expected Texas to go down on this Thursday night at Jack Trice Stadium, given how low everyone’s opinion of them was at that point; not to mention, I’m not getting into Any Given Thursday in this space.

If you want to polish a turd, go ahead, but that loss was the beginning of an 0-7 conference record; even Kansas had a win with a victory over West Virginia the week before these titans would clash in Ames on November 23rd.  For Kansas, a 34-0 was essentially par for the course; for Iowa State, this was a big win, but not quite their “Any Given Saturday” moment.

With neither team going bowling, with balls weighing less than 14 pounds anyway, Iowa State’s finale in Morgantown was a game played purely for pride.  In what is surely a far cry from the old Backyard Brawl they used to play with Pittsburgh in the Big East, as far as finales go, West Virginia gave the home crowd plenty to be proud about early, and looked to be finishing the season on a good note after a 76-yard Charles Sims touchdown run put them up 31-7 early in the 2nd quarter.

Obviously, we’re still talking about the Cyclones, so you probably know where this is going.  It’s going towards great moments in hook-up history, featuring Grant Rohach and Quenton Bundrage.  On the ensuing drive, Rohach, whose 54-yard 1st quarter touchdown run represented Iowa State’s only points of the day to that point, found Bundrage for a 10-yard scoring strike that narrowed the gap to 31-14 before the half.  After a scoreless third quarter, the teams traded touchdowns early in the game’s final frame.  The Cyclones found themselves down 17 once again when Rohach and Bundrage connected again, this time for 62 yards and the score, making it 38-28 in favor of the Mountaineers.  Then, it was time for Rohach to move on from Bundrage, who finished with 7 grabs for 93 yards to go along with his touchdown receptions.

With a minute left in regulation, Rohach, who finished the day with 331 yards with his arm, hit Justin Coleman to tie the game at 38, prolonging the 2013 season for both of these teams for at least one more possession apiece.  They did nothing but trade field goals for two consecutive overtime periods, but Iowa State wasted no time the third time around.

On the first play of Triple Overtime, Rohach hit Coleman, who had five catches for 91 yards, for the touchdown, then made the required two-point conversion attempt to go up 52-44.  West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett nearly equaled what his Iowa State counterpart did, but Charles Sims was pushed out of bounds at 3 in the “home half” of the third OT.  Despite having four tries, nor Trickett or Sims could find the end zone, and the game ended when Daikiel Shorts was pushed out of bounds at the 3 after a reception.  That was the end of the season for both squads; one elated, the other devastated.

Hold on, if West Virginia stunk so much, and they did finish 4-8, what’s so signature about those wins for Weis and Rhodes?  I guess goes back to late September, when the Mountaineers hosted a man with a gaggle of players well under the age of 40 from Stillwater, Oklahoma.  A win over Mississippi State, UT-San Antonio, and Lamar had earned the Cowboys the #11 spot in the polls, but no poll wanted any part of Dana Holgorsen’s team that was thumped 37-0 by Maryland in Baltimore a week earlier.

Clint Trickett would be West Virginia’s third quarterback in five games, but Trickett was no stranger to the clipboard after transferring from Florida State, where he was EJ Manuel’s understudy.  So, he hadn’t played since mop-up duty in October 2011.  He completed less than 50% of his passes and was intercepted twice versus one touchdown, but it was all about the West Virginia defense slowing down JW Walsh, Oklahoma State’s dynamic quarterback.

Walsh did have three touchdowns in the game, but the visiting team trailed 24-14 at the half, and his scoring strike to Josh Seaton closed the gap to 24-21, but that would conclude the scoring for the Cowboys in their first Big XII contest of the season.  A pair of Josh Lambert field goals, the second coming inside of the two-minute mark made it a two possession game, giving Holgorsen his only signature victory of the season.

Finding a signature win of any sort for TCU, a team that has struggled in their three years away from The Little Sisters of the Poor (the Mountain West Conference), was difficult, if not impossible, in 2013.   Their four victories came against Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Methodist, and the aforementioned dregs of the Big XII; at least West Virginia knocked off a big boy on the national scene, adding value to anyone who took them down.

TCU took the Titans of Appalachia to OT at home, but West Virginia pulled out a 30-27 win on the road.  I think they deserve more credit for giving Baylor all they could handle in a game Baylor had to have to keep themselves alive for a conference championship.  They still lost 41-38.  However, this was not a season without some mitigating circumstances for Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs.  After missing the 2012 season to personal problems, quarterback Casey Pachall was sidelined for five games with a broken arm in 2013, forcing Patterson to play some depth chart musical chairs with athlete Trevone Boykin assuming the duties.

If it’s Brown…

As I’ve mentioned, time starts and stop with what’s going on in Austin, Texas.  I don’t want to take anything away from the heroics of Vince Young, financial statements notwithstanding, or even Colt McCoy, but I don’t know when the expectations for the Longhorns reached the level of some mythical place where Mack Brown isn’t allowed to lose any games, like ever.  So, 5-7 isn’t where you’re supposed to be if you’re Texas; when that happened in 2010, it was the Longhorns’ first losing season since 1997, but they’ve lived in that 8-9 win range ever since.

This season, after poor showings against Ole Miss and BYU, angry mobs carried torches through the streets of Austin demanding Brown’s head on a platter—okay, not really, but they wanted him out.  I suppose that’s fair, but I’m not sure what part of that entitled them to the services of Nick Saban.  I know that all it would take for some people is a two or three Brinks trucks backing up to their front door, but Saban has money.  And right now, he has the University of Alabama football program under his charge; somehow, I believe that’s more priceless than all of the brisket in Texas.

The way things were made out to be after a 3-2 start, it was as if Mack Brown were somehow sabotaging the program.  Nobody gave him a chance in the Red River Shootout at the Cotton Bowl against Big Game Bob and his Sooners, but I guess this is why they play the games.  It was, in fact, Oklahoma that stood no chance at the Texas State Fair’s Main Event.  Aided by a good start that got them out to a 20-3 lead in the second quarter, Texas simply looked like the better team than #12 Oklahoma on this day.

Case McCoy was efficient, despite throwing a 4th quarter pick-six, which brought the Sooners back to within two possessions at 36-20, a score that held up until the final gun.  He did need to do anything special with the way his backs were running the ball; Jonathan Gray and Malcolm Brown each eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards.  While Brown was starting to find answers, questions were being raised up in Norman.  Blake Bell struggled mightily, and the Sooners offense converted just 2-of-13 third downs.

They’d go on to win six straight Big XII games in all, the sixth being 47-40 overtime thriller at West Virginia, before dropping three of their last four games, in what turned out to be Brown’s final season in Austin.  They did this, despite getting a new athletic director in-season and having to avoid the writing on the wall about their head coach’s fate.  Sure, there’s nothing good about a 1-3 finish, but do consider the 3 came at the hands of #10 Oklahoma State, #9 Baylor, and #12 Oregon.  In the end, it was Charlie Strong from Louisville, and not Saban, who was brought in to prove that Texas is indeed too good for 4 and 5 loss seasons.

By the way, Texas finished the regular season in Waco, with a chance to win a conference title.  Art Briles and the Baylor Bears weren’t about to let that happen in the swan song for Floyd Casey Stadium, but after all of the scrutiny, Brown brought home a 7-2 conference record, and had his team in a “win and you’re in” (the Fiesta Bowl) scenario.

Snyder of Manhattan

Every time I’m out in Goodyear, Arizona, the spring home of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds, I’m teased by the Synder of Hanover building.  And, it’s not that I so much that I have a problem with pretzels as I’m reminded that I’m time zones away from Snyder of Berlin and those delicious barbeque chips that answered many a snack cravings as a child.  Okay, where was I going?  That’s right; it’s Bill Snyder and the 2013 Kansas State Wildcats.

While they’re talking about doing better than Mack Brown at Texas, someday Kansas State is going to have to do something other than Bill Snyder with their football program.  Snyder is 74, and has served as the Wildcats head coach for 22 years, albeit non-consecutive years.  If the next guy doesn’t work out for them, I’m not sure another un-retirement is in the cards, but who’s talking about retirement?

A year removed from a Fiesta Bowl appearance, an occurrence that’s become more regular than it ought to be for the school in the Little Apple, the Wildcats had a rough start out of the gate, losing to an FCS school.  Never you mind the small fact that North Dakota State won the Division I Playoff, the FCS stigma still remains.  After that, they did drop four games, only to the league’s Top 4 teams, but they returned to Arizona and finished on a good note, shellacking Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (can I still just say BW3?) by a score of 31-14.

Off the Kliff

We knew something would have to give in the Big XII, especially if Texas wasn’t as bad as we believed them to be in September.  There just wasn’t enough room at the table for everyone, even with A&M long gone, if Baylor was really going to insist on a spot at the adult table.

In a decision that may very well have been based on the availability of grilled cheese on glazed donuts on Tom + Chee, Tommy Tuberville left Lubbock for the potentially greener pastures of Cincinnati, Ohio.  That left Kliff Kingsbury, who played quarterback at Texas Tech only a few years ago, but was more recently credited with the fast development of Johnny Manziel at A&M, to take over a Red Raiders program that’s fallen a long way since they dismissed Mike Leach.

They got out to a 7-0 start, which earned them a #10 ranking, but a non-conference slate of SMU, Stephen F Austin, and Texas State probably never instilled fear into the hearts of men.  Now, I never like to say a team got “exposed” because they hit a gauntlet in their schedule; Tech had to play the Top 5 teams in the final Big XII standings in consecutive weeks, and they lost them all.

They went to Oklahoma, hosted Oklahoma State and Kansas State, played a neutral site game with Baylor, and then lost 41-16 in Austin.  There’s only score to be read there, but it tells the tale of the entire losing streak; the offense scored no more than 34 points in any game of the losing streak, while the defense allowed no fewer than 38 in any of those games.

They drew Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl, which was an underwhelming draw for the Sun Devils if you ask people who support the Pac-12 runners up, but Texas Tech dismissed all perceptions with a relatively dominating performance.  Davis Webb threw for 403 yards and 4 touchdowns, as the Red Raiders took the Sun Devils behind the woodshed for a good ole fashioned beat down.

What’s a Little Bedlam between Two Thursdays?

We know that Oklahoma State didn’t play much of a non-conference slate.  Hell, that goes ditto for Oklahoma, though the latter went to South Bend and avenged their 2012 loss to the Irish on the God-forsaken Plains.  It was going to come down to conference play, and both took an early loss.  Somehow, some way, West Virginia took down Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State Cowboys, and we know the story of what happened to Stoops at the Red River Shootout.  That said, each took down a giant, which gave shape to the Big XII title chase, and then un-did that very shape.

Somehow, some way, it was Baylor that became the giant that needed slaying.  On a Thursday night in Waco, Oklahoma showed that they were far from ready for the task.  It was a 41-12 loss that everyone not glued to every snap in the Oregon-Stanford game saw.  I’m not sure that game really set us up for what would go down in Stillwater, when those giants, I mean Bears, would claw their way into T. Boone Pickens Stadium for the Saturday Night Main Event.  What Baylor did, was take all of the goodwill given to them after beating up the team from Norman, and torch it over a couple of hours during a 49-17 loss at Oklahoma State.

When the two met in Stillwater on December 7th, Oklahoma State was playing for the conference title and a bid in the BCS.  A BCS bid was a long shot for the Sooners, but the opportunity to spoil the Cowboys title hopes sat right in front of them.  This was Bedlam, and absent a post-season conference championship game, this would serve as a de facto championship of sorts, and would turn out to be a BCS clinching game for the winner.

The game was tied after the first, second, and third quarter.  It had five lead changes, a punt return, a kicker scoring a touchdown, and it ended with a scoop and score as time ran out, and the Sooners upset the Cowboys in their own house.  They spoiled everything for Oklahoma State, and opened the door for Texas to play Baylor for a Fiesta Bowl berth.  The Cowboys were sent to Arlington to play Big XII expat Missouri in the Cotton Bowl, while the Sooners earned a date with the might Crimson Tide of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

A Friday night loss in the House of Jerry rendered Oklahoma State’s season forgettable to an extent, which isn’t to take anything away from them or Missouri, but it left me to believe they were just a team that upset Baylor, rather than being sold on them actually being the best team in the Big XII.  Oklahoma lost to Texas and Baylor, which left them mathematically ineligible for the conference title in the season finale, but they did enough to be noticed.

It was them, and not 2-loss Oregon from the Pac-12, that filled the final at-large spot in the BCS.  When it comes to believing a team without a conference title as the best, this Alabama team came to mind, weighing the reality of how they lost at Auburn to end their regular season.  No one gave Oklahoma a chance, except for maybe Bob Stoops and his young men.

However, when they took the field in New Orleans on that Thursday night, they showed that they were not only capable, but that Trevor Knight and company might have even been a downright better team that AJ McCarron and the Tide.  The nail in the coffin was similar to the finish at Bedlam, a scoop and score.  Final score: Oklahoma 45 Alabama 31.

Ida Gone To Baylor

So, the story goes like this, as my friend Miko would tell it.  Now, I haven’t seen Miko in a number of years, but this will stay with me forever.  He was an Oklahoma guy, an alumni, and he recalls a cowboy telling the Baylor mascot how it is, with a big ole chew in his mouth, in the thickest of thick cowboy accents, he says, “I’d have gone to Baylor, (spits tobacco juices) if they had a football team.”  Of course, it comes out like this, “Ida gawnta Bay-Ler, they had a Foot Bawl team!”

It was a good time for the Oklahoma program; in the same breath, it was a good time for Ohio State, the early 2000s.  Shortly after that, I’m pretty sure he moved back to Oklahoma shortly after that.  I’ve only heard from him once in the years since.  It was the night of October 22, 2005.  The first text read, “Oh shoot, maybe they do have a football team.”

I looked at the TV, a side TV because Baylor-Oklahoma was supposed to be a throw-away game.  Baylor quarterback Shawn Bell had thrown a 55-yard touchdown pass to bring the Bears within two.  Bell converted on the 2-point conversion with his legs, which tied the game at 27, and we had overtime in Norman.  Baylor kicked a field goal on their first possession of the bonus period, and it took a 39-yard boot from Garret Hartley to keep the game alive.  The Sooner held on in the second OT, and I got a second text from Miko, the last thing he ever said to me.

“Phew”

That was eight years ago.  Guy Moriss is out, Art Briles is in, and thanks to a 45-38 win over the Sooners in 2011, the Bears are no longer 0-for-forever against Oklahoma.  Art Briles has changed the program; Robert Griffin III obviously deserves some credit for changing the culture there.  They won’t accept 2nd-rate facilities or a 2nd-rate program in Waco.  They were contending for the national championship before their trip to Stillwater.

Though they stumbled in Glendale, Arizona on the big stage against an underrated Central Florida team, and it isn’t like they stumbled hard or even to a bad team.  They just lost a game they were favored to win, but I wouldn’t let the Vegas standard affect how I feel about Baylor.  Their biggest win came in retaining Briles, who easily could have and probably should have been the new man in Austin.  I see nothing but more of the same from this program, one that was left out of the fold when the entire conference was being poached, in favor of Colorado.  I know that it was more about the Denver TV market than anything else, but still, Baylor does more for their conference in 2014 and beyond than I ever see happening for the Pac-12 in Boulder.