So it comes down to this…
On Monday afternoon, out in the desert, the gloves come off and our beloved Buckeyes take on the hated Irish for truth, justice and the American way. We all have opinions, of course, and mine are heavily laced with bias, bile and a unique insensitivity. So, any of you obnoxious Irish fans that plan to e-mail me – keep that in mind this time!
But this game – this event in the course of history – begs for some analysis. And when it comes to begging, I am your man. Let's take a look at the impending Fiesta Bowl in a Bucknut shell.
The Hunch Gut of Notre Dame…Since new head coach Charlie Weis has already been beatified, why even try to point out the reality of his situation? Anyone seeing him blowing spittle bubbles on the sideline in their close call at Stanford knows that this is not GQ material we are dealing with. But do saints need to be attractive people? I dunno.
Here are some of the more pertinent issues that spring to mind:
1. What exactly has Charlie accomplished in his tenure at Notre Dame?
2. What big games has he won?
3. How has he exorcised the demons of the past, oh, 15 years or so?
4. Can he coach a quarterback not named "Brady"?
5. Is he at all fallible?
And to those questions, I answer:
1. Not much.
3. Not yet.
4. Don't know.
5. Think so.
And another thing…Charlie Weis is something of a legend in breaking down films from past games. Or so we are told. (Hey – maybe our coaches should learn to do that, too!) Here's my suggestion: If Charlie is that thorough, look back at the Stanford game and note that you need a handkerchief to keep your running nose off the TV screens of millions. Have Rudy follow you up and down the sideline like they used to follow Lou Holtz with his headset cable. This time, the kid needs to carry a green and gold doo-rag…
Assuming the positions…Steve Helwagen and I set up a little "fantasy football" discussion wherein I took the Notre Dame top 24 (starters plus kickers) and he took the Ohio State top 24. I then asked him whom he would trade. And try as he might, there weren't discussions on more than six positions. Maybe – in the final analysis, that's all you need to know about this game!
Dome and Domer…Notre Dame fans are known for being a lot of things. Being realistic has never been one of them.
Despite my obvious enmity and distaste of the Irish, I am the first to say that a resurgence in Notre Dame football is good for college-football-obsessed America. I mean, what fun is it to hate the Yankees if they lose more than they win? If Notre Dame is not a worthy adversary, much of the adrenaline dissipates from our hate-hate relationship.
That said, Notre Dame fans are like most cult fans in their ability to banish recent bad memories of inglorious seasons and their ability to buy into a limitless glorious future. They just do it more quickly than most and they are more obnoxious than any. Wake up Domers, this is not the combined Knute Rockne and Ara Parsegian eras re-created. This is not the combined media hype of the Gipper and Rudy. This is a first-year coach with a good quarterback and some solid wins to build on.
This is also an arrogant and selfish program that continually snubbed the Big Ten while relying upon it to provide them with opponents. This year, one-third of all the Irish games were against B-10 foes, yet Notre Dame is "independent"? Why? Because they don't want to share the TV money. They have their own television contract (the Notredame Broadcasting Company) that brings America such tasty fare as Notre Dame-BYU and the classic Notre-Dame-Syracuse match-ups. One or two more Willingham-esque seasons and Notre Dame will be lucky to have their highlights carried by ESPN2.
Finally, as previously noted, the whole canonization of coaches in South Bend is an enigma wrapped inside of an absurdity. Before this latest revolving door of coaching (three of them in the last five years), we were treated to the high school level quality of Gerry Faust. The boosters in South Bend were so sure of the aura of their program, they thought they could simply elevate a high school coach to that position and the rest would take care of itself. They also hired that prevaricator George O'Leary without much due diligence, then hired and fired Ty Willingham prematurely before settling on their real choice as a head coach: Urban Meyer. Urban wasn't interested, so the ND brass went a completely different direction by going to the NFL for a guy. Where is the continuity? Where is the heritage here? What generates the smugness and the all-knowing glance, the confidence and the dismissive nature of this once-haughty program?
A sad song on an old record…If past is prologue, then the Irish are in some deep stew. The Domer fans are quick to point out the undeniable heritage of Notre Dame but are loathe to look at the past years of bowl game outcomes. Hey – this is a record that makes Cooper versus Michigan look positively glittering! Since we can hardly tear our eyes away from this slow-motion accident of a performance, let's sneak a look at the Notre Dame, uh, accomplishments in the last eleven years or so:
1994: Notre Dame starts its skein by losing in the (1995) Fiesta Bowl to Colorado 41-24
1995: In the closest game in this study, the Irish are beaten in the (1996) Orange Bowl 31-26 by a pretty good Florida State squad.
1996: Uhhh, they didn't make a bowl trip this year. Probably still upset from the previous year…
1997: Notre Dame got beat up by LSU in the Independence Bowl 27-9. You will begin to note the trend of lesser bowls and larger margin of losses…
1998: Georgia Tech out-engineered the Irish 35-28 in the Gator Bowl.
1999: Following another trend, Notre Dame was left out of the bowl picture to reflect upon their previous losses.
2000: Notre Dame got crushed in the (2001) Fiesta Bowl by traditional power Oregon State, 41-9.
2001: Same trend – they skipped this year.
2002: Yet another perennial power (North Carolina State) took up the challenge, smothering Notre Dame 28-6 in the (2003) Gator Bowl.
2003: See '96, '99 and '01. The bowl game people gave the Irish another year off.
2004: Oregon State was back for more Irish stew as they took out Notre Dame 38-21 in that Step-Child of All Bowls, the Insight Bowl.
So let's add it up. Eleven bowl years, eligible for bowl games in only seven of them, lost all seven, by a total score of 241-123 or an average beat-down of 34-17. If Notre Dame slips up in their first-ever meeting with Ohio State in a BCS Bowl game, that would mean two things:
1. They would tie the NCAA record for consecutive bowl losses at eight.
2. They will take the next bowl year off.
That pesky scheduling thing…In the beginning of the 2005 season, Notre Dame fans had low expectations and the team was able to meet them – which caused great joy throughout the land and some dialogue that this team was really really good. After the effects of the partying wore off, some naïf always brought up the irritating "scheduling thing". Well, since irritating is one of those items we do best (just ask Irish Mike…), let's take a more objective look at the Irish schedule in 2005:
At Pittsburgh: Notre Dame was a three point underdog at the time (which shows you how little the pre-season pundits knew…) and they throttled the beleaguered Panthers 42-21 to get the "Leprechauns are back!" talk started with a vengeance. Pitt finished 5-6 and the new round of pundits are questioning if Dave Wannstead will last even as long as, well…Ty Willingham, for example.
At Michigan: This is always a tough game to root for. I just go with the sportsman model of hoping for a scoreless tie and season-ending injuries on both sides. Back to the topic…Michigan was a 7-point fave here and delighted Irish fans everywhere by spitting the bit and losing 17-10. Michigan lost four more times after that, of course, and fell from being #3 in the nation (!) in pre-season polls to a solid Top 40 kind of team.
Michigan State: So Notre Dame comes home to play for the first time in front of a frenzied crowd. And loses. Must be a great MSU team, you say? Well, they finished 5-6 and skipped that whole bowl craze at the end of the year.
At Washington: Here was the game to "Get even with Ty". For what – for leaving the Irish with a talented squad? Which is more than you can say for Ty's predecessor at Washington. A pretty good Notre Dame effort beat a really bad Washington team 36-17. Washington finished the year 2-9.
At Purdue: Staying on the road, Purdue was a 3-point favorite in this game (look at previous comments about pre-season polls). Notre Dame prevailed 49-28 and Charlie was ready for a new decade-long contract extension. Lost in all the fervor was the fact that Purdue finished 5-6, and ninth in the Big Ten.
Southern Cal: The big one. As we have said before, Notre Dame's biggest win of the season was this loss to the Trojans. They did cover the 12-point spread, however…
Brigham Young: Basking in their recent home loss to SoCal, the Domers were 18-point favorites against BYU and beat the spread by eight. Brigham Young finished 6-5.
Tennessee: At the beginning of the year (see redundant pre-season polling comments), this looked like a big butt-whipping for the Irish. At this point in the season, though, the Vols were in free-fall with player scandals, coaching dissension and mounting losses. Notre Dame was a nine-point favorite and won by 20, establishing just how bad the Tennesseans were and how far they had fallen. The Volunteers finished 5-6 for the season after being ranked in the Top Five in those infamous pre-season polls.
Navy: Riding the crest of a five-decade win streak, Notre Dame was a 24-point favorite at home and didn't cover. Navy finished the year 7-4 by beating Army and Temple.
Syracuse: Playing their fifth straight home game against probably the worst team in Orange history (the spread was 34), Notre Dame won by 24, contributing to an ultimate 1-10 record for Syracuse.
At Stanford: So now the whole nation could watch the suddenly-nationally-ranked Irish eviscerate a modest Stanford squad. Well, with some last-gasp heroics, Notre Dame did come back to win 38-31, not covering the 15-point spread and making Stanford 5-6 for the year.
The Mr. Bucknuts Fiesta Bowl prediction…It's fun making fun of Charlie but you have to be wary of the Weis Guy, as well. He will have some new wrinkles in an offense that is already diverse. It reminds me a bit of the old Bill Walsh attack and Weis probably already has his opening series scripted. When you combine that with the fact that the OSU defense sometimes takes a series to get in synch (see: Texas, San Diego State, Northwestern, Michigan, etc.), that almost dictates an early score for the Irish.
After that, the sledding gets tougher as the Buckeyes close down the running game and give Quinn yardage but not many points. On offense, they will run and they will pass and they will score. So, the balance hangs on special teams and turnovers. And that really means just turnovers, because the Buckeyes have great special teams and they don't. If OSU makes egregious errors and turns the ball over (see: Texas, Penn State and Michigan), they can keep Charlie in the game and make him look good. Not an easy task, by the way.
I say they make some small errors and one turnover. The special teams click. The early emotion that ND exhibits wears down in the face of the bigger, quicker, deeper and more athletic Buckeyes.
I say OSU 31-16.
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The Recruiting Buzz
Each year, ‘ol Mr. Bucknuts turns to his encyclopedic knowledge of recruiting, matches it with his crystal ball, tosses in some salacious gossip and random speculation, and passes the whole mess off as recruiting analysis. I used to do that on a regular weekly/monthly basis until we supplanted that effort with a professional look by staffers (Steve Helwagen, Duane Long and Gary Housteau), guys that really knew what they were talking about.
But one annual tradition at this time of year is to take in the Bucknuts' buzz. Looking forward to next year, the current recruiting crop and the 2007 possibilities – at least in Ohio. Over the next few weeks, I will take on 1-3 positions in each column and give you both the fast facts and glib opinions. Today, we look at the defensive backs:
Who They Lose: Nate Salley, a leader of the back four and a physical presence, particularly in run support. We hope not to lose Donte Whitner, about whom the same things can be said. Rob Harley has also finished a brilliant Rudy-esque career.
Who's Back: Whitner (hopefully) will be a senior along with sometimes-starter Brandon Mitchell. Fast on their heels are budding superstar Jamario O'Neal (soph), Nick Patterson (soph), Sirjo Welch (junior), Curt Lukens (junior), Donald Washington (red-shirt freshman). And here's one to ponder: multi-Scout player of the week Anderson Russell. Remember the red-shirted freshman's name. Perhaps the most interesting ponderable is the sudden – and exciting - switch of Devon "The Hope" Lyons to this position. He was a sensational safety in high school and has many of the natural attributes that Nate Salley brought to the dance.
Who's Coming: Grant Schwartz is a large fast safety from California (unless he is a small fast linebacker whereas Tyler Moeller is in the same mold although expected to be an LB. Recruits still in the mix include Elijah Fields, Mister Alexander and a home-state favorite, sensational athlete Derrell Johnson.
In 2007: It's the mother lode. Every year. There is a surplus at one or two positions. This year it's safety and cornerback in Ohio. Some think that the best talent in Ohio is Devon Torrence, a natural safety and a natural major league baseball player (unfortunately, perhaps, for the Buckeyes). He has already eloquently espoused his love for OSU. Eugene Clifford (Colerain) might be as good. The two best linebacker prospects (Andrew Dailey and Jermale Hines) could also be safeties. And the two running backs (Brian Gamble and Morgan Williams) could play there. Lots of choices at safety in 2007!
The Bucknuts Buzz: If Whitner is back, he will be the second coming of Michael Doss, both in physicality and spirituality. Whitner, Mitchell and O'Neal make for a fierce brace of safeties. Coaches are looking forward to Lukens asserting himself and hold out high hopes for both Russell and the converted Lyons. With the likes of Torrence, Clifford, Dailey and Hines on the horizon, you can gaze upon the future of the safety position and smile.
Tressel Ball dictates tallish cornerbacks who love run support. Ashton Youboty is a classic of the form and Malcolm Jenkins looks to be even better given time.
Who They Lose: Tyler Everett did an outstanding job converting from his natural safety position. Ashton Youboty has another year of eligibility and some camps (this one included) thinks it would be best for him and the team to finish up strong next year in Columbus.
Who's Back: Budding super-corner Malcolm Jenkins is only a sophomore and the coaches are equally high on red-shirt freshman Andre Amos. Brandon Underwood (a sophomore) might be back. Tough family to handicap. Also returning is Mike Roberts (senior), and special teams sensation Antonio Smith (senior). Depth is a potential problem here but safeties (O'Neal) or receivers (Teddy G) could potentially fill in.
Who's Coming: The coaches rave about incoming Kurt Coleman and hope to land ultra-athlete Ray Small (either a corner or WR) as well as AJ Wallace. Chimdi Chekwa just checked in and he seems to be in the Youboty mold. A newish name on the list is fast-closing Florida CB, Marcus Udell.
In 2007: See "safeties" and you get the general drift since many of those hot talents could play both/either. Devon Torrence is probably the biggest name. The other "pure" CB might be Donnie Evege from Huber Heights Wayne, who allegedly has already been offered (can you say, "Will Allen"?).
The Bucknuts Buzz: This is a position that is already sensational and will stay that way with or without The Return of the Youboty. If pressed, they could run Jenkins and Amos there next year. Andre shut down Mario Manningham last summer in an All Star game and is a real comer. Kurt Coleman might be better. When you add in the talents of a Ray Small and new recruits like Devon Torrence and Donnie Evege, we will be strong at corner for years to come.
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News flash from South Bend…Should Ohio State even show up for this game? Karma, being what it is, do they stand a chance?
I hearken back to The Day – December 2002 – when we were properly warned not to even go to the Fiesta Bowl. Or at least shield our eyes as the southern speed and physical superiority would both blind us and cripple us. Remember all that blarney? The invincible Miami Hurricanes against the rag-tag Ohio State bunch. Just in case you don't remember the college football ambiance back then, how's this for some deja voodoo:
"Because they are not going to beat Miami. If Miami loses, it will be
because Miami beat itself. I don't see that happening. Until you beat the best
team in your conference, don't tell me you can beat Miami. You have four weeks
to come up with a passing game!"
Trev Alberts, 12/11/02
"Miami 42 Ohio State 10"
Mark May 1/2/03
"Nobody has our talent. We're way too fast for Ohio State. What
conference are they in? The Big Ten? Ohio State and Nebraska are both power
teams. It'll be like Nebraska was last year (a 37-14 Miami victory at the Rose
Bowl). Nobody can hang with our speed."
Miami tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. New York Daily News 12/28/02
"Nobody outside of Columbus thinks the Buckeyes are the second best team in the country."
Jim Rome, 12/16/02
"I can't tell you how many comments I've heard about Ohio State playing
down to the level of its competition. Folks, that's not what's happening. The
Buckeyes aren't a very good 12-0 team. And they won't be a very good 12-1 team
after they lose at home to Michigan on Saturday. Here's where I stand on a
mythical Ohio State-Iowa matchup: The Hawkeyes would win big." "My
predicted final score? Try 48-10, 'Canes -- a mismatched score for a game
involving mismatched teams,"
Tim Brando, Sporting News "expert" 11/20/02
"Ohio State is a 14-point underdog if it plays Miami for the national championship. Ohio State's band has a better case for (being) number one in its field."
Danny Sheridan, USA Today 11/21/02
"Iowa would beat OSU by two touchdowns."
Trev Alberts, 11/28/02
"I can't bring myself to pick Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. To win? No, no, no, not even close. I called my priest this week to confess I was considering the Yuckeyes would come within two touchdowns of Miami. But this is Miami. Its equipment manager can outrun your defensive backs. Its quarterback never needs drycleaning. What's the point when his uniform never gets dirty? Right now, Larry Coker is agonizing over a superior game plan that reads, "Punt on fourth down. Sometimes. Sorry, Bucks, it stops here. This will be a Fiesta Bowl awakening that will put you back in your proper place -- back in the Big Ten struggling to beat Northwestern.
Forecast for Columbus? A high in the teens. Call it Miami 26, Ohio State 13. "
Dennis Dodd 1/3/03
Miami is going to beat OSU. Kansas State is going to beat OSU. Hey, even Oklahoma State is going to beat OSU! If you believed all that, then you believe that Notre Dame will beat OSU, too. Right Trev and Tim and Mark?
If you have a drum you want to beat, or are just tired of logic and common sense, call on Mr. Bucknuts at MrBucknuts@yahoo.com