Say no to Notre Dame, like Riley did to UW

A BOWL GAME should be different. It shouldn't be what the regular season has become, with unappealing, non-competitive matchups peppering the college football landscape. That's why many eyes in the Beaver Nation will be trained on Pitt vs. UConn and on Thursday Rutgers vs. Louisville. Meanwhile, what's this about UW going after Mike Riley for their head coaching vacancy?

The Seattle Times reported Monday night that the Huskies attempted to speak with Oregon State coach Mike Riley about their head coaching job.

Washington, the newspaper reports, was told that Riley was not interested.

BLACK & ORANGE COMMENTARY

Many fans in the Beaver Nation feel the same about Notre Dame and the possibility of OSU playing the Irish in the Sun Bowl, Oregon State's most likely bowl destination.

It's not a jab at Notre Dame. It's a football school with a storied tradition. But their 2008 season doesn't measure up, not against a team ranked in both the AP and Coaches' polls.

Indeed, many Beaver fans want a better test than a 6-6 team in freefall would pose. It's about wanting a more competitive matchup -- something that's become increasingly lost in a college football world that values cash and coin above all else.

IT USED TO be that schools would schedule top notch opponents in the regular season. That's what fans wanted to see. But they like winning seasons and higher season ending rankings more. So do coaches, who gain increased job security by increasing their chances for as good a regular season record, and better bowl game, as possible.

Look at LSU the last few years, who scheduled weaker teams in their non-conference slate AND insist on playing them all at home. Imagine how this season would have gone for LSU, currently at 7-5, if they hadn't played Appalachian State, North Texas and Troy -- three of their seven wins.

If LSU schedules a couple non-conference games against Utah and Texas Tech instead, they might not be going bowling at all. Florida scheduled The Citadel this year. Alabama, they took on Arkansas State. Good thing they too were able to play those games at home.

BUT A BOWL GAME should be different. It should match each opponent with the highest caliber competition as it can. Notre Dame is 6-6. They've lost five of their last seven games. In the regular season's penultimate game, they lost to a 3-9 Syracuse squad that had already fired their coach.

Oregon State is ranked in the Top 25. They deserve a high caliber opponent. Notre Dame should not get the nod over a more worthy opponent because of their history or tradition. It should be more about merit -- merit that should be solely based on this year, this 2008 season. That's what should count most.

There are plenty of fan bases who will travel more than well enough to put smiles on the faces of the Sun Bowl committee. And besides, the Sun Bowl is not as beholden to ticket sales as are many other bowls -- demand from local ticket buyers is strong for the Sun.

And a Pitt-OSU bowl that goes down to the wire, one could argue, would bring in higher ratings. Last year, the TV ratings on Irish games fell 40 percent from 2006 and were at half their 2005 levels according to Business Week. The Irish averaged a 1.5 rating in 2007.

Through the first five home games of this season, Notre Dame on NBC had earned a 2.3 rating. But that was before the Irish lost three of their final four. And it was before the cries for the head coach's firing had climbed to their current levels, (perhaps most accurately described as a uniform, high pitched wail.)

Haven't we already done this before?
OSU has already faced Notre Dame in a bowl game and there was controversy surrounding that one, too.

Following the 2000 season, many in the media decried Notre Dame's selection to the Fiesta Bowl, claiming their inclusion in the BCS was more about past tradition and ratings and at the expense of more worthy teams.

Oregon State ended up crushing the Irish in the Fiesta, 41-9.

THE SUN HAS ANNOUNCED they cannot select a 6-6 Notre Dame team over a 7-5 Big East team -- if one is available. If Rutgers defeats Louisville, that would make six Big East teams with at least seven wins -- Cincy, Pitt, West Virginia, UConn, South Florida and Rutgers.

Even if Rutgers loses on Thursday, the Sun Bowl should be hard pressed to justify passing on Pitt, another Top 25 team, if Pitt beats UConn. But what if there's a perfect storm, and Pitt loses to UConn and Rutgers goes down to Louisville. There is a potential darkhorse lifeline -- West Virginia, provided WVU beats South Florida and Pitt loses.

THERE ONCE WAS a time when Notre Dame would refuse a bowl invite. In 1996, the Irish were ranked No. 18 in the land but felt snubbed by what was then known as the Bowl Alliance. Two bowls, the Copper and Independence, offered the Fighting Irish an at-large bid after the Bowl Alliance passed, but Notre Dame declined the invites because they considered the opponent to be of lesser caliber. Times have changed.

"On bowl selection day, when the dust all settles, I'm sure we'll be going somewhere," said ND head coach Charlie Weis in the wake of a 38-3 loss to USC that shuttered Notre Dame's regular season at 6-6.

'Somewhere' shouldn't be in the Sun Bowl against the No. 24 team in the nation. And this Beaver just became the world's biggest Pitt fan for the upcoming weekend. And I'll be wearing scarlet socks on Thursday.


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