One More Opportunity

Following games this season, receivers Rhema McKnight and Jeff Samardzija would duck questions regarding their individual accolades. They'd say whatever helps the team win, I don't keep track of stuff like that, that is for the media to track. Quarterback Brady Quinn, owner of 35 school records, same thing.

Go right on down the line, running back Darius Walker and his back-to-back seasons rushing for over 1,000 yards, or Victor Abiamiri's 21 career sacks that moved him into third place all-time in school history. They'll say those numbers are benefiting the team, so great.

There has been a lot of individual achievement with this team the last two seasons under head coach Charlie Weis, but what legacy is this talented group of record-breaking seniors leaving behind. Unfortunately, with the arguably the best quarterback in school history, these past two years are just as likely to be remembered for not getting over the nationally-elite hump, as they are for its individual prowess.

That's not fair. These seniors don't deserve to be remembered equally as much for the blow-out losses against the nation's best, as it should for bringing Notre Dame nearly back to the forefront with consecutive BCS appearances.

But they have a chance to change that.

These guys, team guys, have one last chance to beat an elite opponent, one last opportunity to be remembered for something very positive as a team, because as individuals, reluctantly to these guys, that is really the only way they will be remembered in a positive light.

The 11th-ranked Irish (10-2) will show up for the Sugar Bowl as heavy underdogs against No. 4 LSU (10-2). They'll be expected to lose big, because basically that's what this team has done in big games against the upper-echelon teams.

Beat the Tigers on Jan. 3, and Notre Dame football will be validated. This year's Irish team will be remembered for the team that finally got over the hump against a team that has a lot of speed on offense and a great defense. More importantly, this team could walk out of the Superdome as the team that finally snapped an eight-game bowl losing streak.

Sounds like a great legacy.

It won't be easy, but beating LSU is not as far fetched as one would think.

This game is very similar to last season's Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. The Buckeyes came in with the athletes, they were rolling as a team, and the Irish didn't match-up well. The game wasn't even close, except for one place, the place that matters most, the scoreboard. The Irish lost 34-20, but they were in the game all afternoon. If Troy Smith doesn't elude the rush and scramble for 15 yards on third-and-nine in the fourth quarter, setting up the insurance score, Quinn and the potent offense would've gotten the ball back with a chance to tie the game. Something tells me they would have.

Same situation, LSU has speedy receivers that will give the Irish secondary nightmares for the next month. They have a playmaking quarterback in JaMarcus Russell. They're defense is fast, great against both the pass and the rush, and sets up shop in the opponents backfield for four quarters. They're rolling into the game winners of their last six.

So where are the positives?

Again, Weis gets a month to prepare for this game. Just like he did against the Buckeyes, he'll find a strategy to keep the game close. Quinn will be under fire all night by the LSU pass rush, but he'll play poised and make plays. The offense will look good, bad and ugly all in one game, but they'll still score on at least four possessions. Expect the Irish to dink and dunk the football and controlling the time of possession.

LSU can burn you many ways. They have eight guys that have rushed for over 100 yards this season. Their big-play receiver, Early Doucet has 95 receptions, for 1,303 yards and 15 touchdowns. Russell is as good as anybody in running the show. The Irish will have to find a way to bend but not break, and force a turnover or two. LSU lost both of its games because of failing to take care of the ball, so that's not out of the question.

The Irish have shown that they can win close games this season, so if they keep it close, they'll have a chance in the fourth quarter.

This game could end up being similar to the 1992 Sugar Bowl, where the 18th-ranked Irish stunned, No. 3 Florida, 39-28. It could also resemble the last eight bowl games the Irish have played, in losing by an average of 16.5 points per game.

If this game was played in one week, Notre Dame's chances would be slim. But with a month to prepare, the Irish individuals have a chance to change their team's legacy. Top Stories