News and Notes: 11/22/2005

*One game, one win, $14 million. That's what is on the line for the Notre Dame football team as they travel to the west coast to face the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday night. A loss would mean a familiar trip to the Gator Bowl and a lesser payout. A victory, though, would mean an almost certain spot in a BCS bowl game, quite an impressive feat for first-year head coach Charlie Weis.

"To be chosen as one of the eight best programs in the country, that's something special," Weis said if the Irish were picked by a BCS bowl as an at-large team. "I'm sure as it currently stands, I'm sure that USC and Texas are proud to be right now looked at in the limelight as one and two and get to play it off. I think when you put yourself in that select group, one of the eight best, you're making a major statement for your program."

To reach this elite status, Notre Dame will first have to take care of a little business. Stanford is fighting for a chance to be bowl eligible. The Cardinal are 5-5 in Walt Harris's first-year as head coach and need one more win to qualify for a postseason appearance. Irish fans remember Harris most vividly from last season when his visiting Pittsburgh Panther team kicked a last-second field goal to beat Notre Dame 41-38.

A lot has changed since that game. Notre Dame is on the rise back to national prominence while Harris has seen his fair share of ups and downs at Stanford. A 20-17 home loss to U.C. Davis was the lowpoint of the season but the Cardinal now have the chance to knock the Irish out of a major bowl. Weis has seen one glaring factor in the difference from Stanford winning and losing.

"Turnovers," Weis said. "Just like I said, if you go back and research their whole year from the first game right through the last game, when they win a turnover battle they've won four out of five games. In the five games they've won, they've only turned it over four times. In the five games they've lost, they turned it over 13 times. That really has a lot to do with why you win and why you lose. In any game that you play, you look at most of those games, most of the games that we're talking about, if they've won the turnover ratio, most of those games would have been wins."

The Cardinal are playing their final home in Stanford Stadium before construction begins on improvements to the venue. To mark the occasion, they will honor nine decades of Stanford football at halftime. A video salute will be used to highlight players and coaches that have stood out for Stanford football since 1921, the year the stadium was opened.

*A lot was made before the season of how tough Notre Dame's schedule would be this year. Contests against three top-5 teams in the pre-season poll and multiple other ranked opponents did not look good for Weis and the Irish. Luckily for Notre Dame, Tennessee, ranked third in the first poll, is not even going to a bowl. Michigan State and Purdue have fell flat on their face and Michigan has four losses. The combined records of all the teams Notre Dame has faced in 2005 is 36-48.

The schedule gods weren't as kind to Stanford. The Cardinal have the nation's second toughest schedule, according to the NCAA. This is based on the won-loss record of a team's opponents. Stanford's foes are a combined 59-32 (.648) and only Oklahoma have seen a tougher slate of opponents. The Cardinal have lost to #1 USC, #8 Oregon and #11 UCLA. Those three teams have a cumulative record of 30-2.

*Kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick was dinged up late in Notre Dame's 34-10 win over Syracuse. An Orange defender ran into the senior during a field goal attempt. Fitzpatrick limped off the field and backup Carl Gioia later kicked an extra point after an Irish touchdown.

"He's a little banged up," Weis said. "If we would have had to play Monday or Sunday, I don't know what his status would be. But he's a day better than he was yesterday. I'll wait and evaluate him when we get out there at practice today. I know talking to DJ on Sunday, he has every intention of being out there kicking. We'll just have to see how it goes."

Weis also said defensive end Ronald Talley is in the same boat with a slight hobble. A final decision on his playing status will be made Saturday before the game.

*The trip out west is the second for the Notre Dame football team. Earlier in the year, the Irish traveled to Seattle to face Washington and old coach Tyrone Willingham. The trip was successful as Notre Dame beat the Huskies 36-17. The team usually leaves for road games on Friday but left on Thursday for that contest because of the long distance and time differences. Weis is sticking to that plan for the Stanford game.

"It's going to be similar to like when we went out to Washington," Weis said. "It'll be similar to that but the only difference is so I can give them some time to lay around on the couch and watch those football games that are on Thanksgiving Day. I'm moving the practice until the morning. I'm moving everything up because they don't have school. I'm not under the requirements of not bringing them in until 2:30.

"So we'll bring them in on Thursday morning at 8:00 o'clock, we'll go through our normal four hour day from 8:00 o'clock to 12:00 o'clock with our meetings and practice and then I'll turn them loose from 12:00 until 5:00. I'll bring them back and stuff them up with turkey and stuffing and give them a nice dinner and then we'll get on the bus and head to the plane."

*Darius Walker is closing in on some select company. The sophomore running back is 80 yards away from becoming the ninth player in Notre Dame history to rush for 1,000 yards. Walker has two consecutive games of over 100 yards and will be facing a Stanford team that gives up 148 rushing yards per game, which is 62nd in the country.

Walker is not the only Irish player approaching the 1000-yard mark. Jeff Samardzija has 999 yards receiving this season and one more catch will put him over the barrier. Tom Gatewood and Jack Snow are the only two wide receivers in Irish history to achieve this feat. Fellow wide out Maurice Stovall it just 113 yards away from possibly giving Notre Dame a 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers.

*The accolades keep piling up for Brady Quinn. The junior quarterback was named one of the three finalists for the Davey O'Brien Award along with USC's Matt Leinart and Texas's Vince Young. The award is given to the nation's top quarterback and the winner will be announced on ESPN's Home Depot College Football Awards Show Thursday, December 8th at 7 p.m. The three finalists were picked by the O'Brien Selection Committee made up of a nationwide panel of sports writers and commentators as well as past winners.

Quinn has smashed numerous school records this season. For the year, the junior has passed for over 3,000 yards and has 29 touchdown tosses to only five interceptions. Quinn's completion rate is 64.9 percent, a 15-point jump from his career average heading into the season and is one of the biggest reasons for the success of the Notre Dame team. Top Stories