Several weeks ago, I stated that I would cease featuring a ND football article until the program turned it around and gave us something positive to ponder and write about. That day has arrived. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t dominant, but Saturday’s win over rival Southern Cal was HUGE for a struggling program looking to get over the hump and overcome a season that was seriously in the ditch about 4 weeks ago. Notre Dame played stout defense, found a power running game, somehow overcame several serious turnovers, and used a little luck o’ the Irish to beat the Trojans in the LA Coliseum by a 20-16 margin … AND END AN 8 GAME LOSING STREAK to the Trojans. AMEN, brothers and sisters!!
So the Irish finished the regular season on a significant upswing by winning the final 3 games and finishing 7-5. This is particularly noteworthy since good Novembers haven’t been seen in South Bend in about a decade. Willingham and Weis’s teams typically cratered in November, so finishing strong this season is very encouraging. Before the season, I predicted the Irish would indeed finish 7-5 with hope for something better. That forecast was a bit more pessimistic than the average ND follower who was confident the Irish would go 8-4 with hopes for better. 9-3 was also a very popular prediction. The main reason I wasn’t more optimistic is because ND would be breaking in a new quarterback. As it turned out, they ended up breaking in TWO new QBs!!! And along the way, they suffered through key mistakes or growing pains at this position. Glaring QB mistakes were key causes in 3 of the 5 Irish defeats (Michigan, Michigan State and Tulsa). Of course, there were glaring and unmistakable coaching errors to blame for those defeats as well. And the two weaknesses appear to be inter-related, as huge QB errors often occured when Brian Kelly (no longer Smelly) put way tooooooo much faith in his inexperienced QBs which was certainly obvious and quite disturbing in losses to Michigan and Tulsa. Although Freshman QB Tommy Rees almost singlehandedly cost the Irish a chance at winning the SoCal game with several turnovers in Irish territory, the coaching staff’s employment of a power running game at critical junctures is cause for celebration. And so is the late season resurgence of the defense, which quite honestly is bordering on becoming a dominant unit after their last 3 performances.
So in looking back at the regular season, Notre Dame at 7-5 could’ve easily been 9-3 with a little more luck and/or common sense … certainly the Michigan State and Tulsa losses were very winnable game and should’ve been won. To a lesser extent, the Michigan game was winnable if one or two basic mistakes were avoided. Losses to Stanford and Navy were just flat out trainwrecks and well-deserved. On the flip side, of ND’s 7 wins, only one … yesterday’s conquest of USC … was fairly lucky (dropped USC passes at the end). However, ND overcame several key mistakes by Rees in the game, played GREAT defense 90% of the time and ran the ball down USC’s throat when they had to. No apologies for this win.
What’s next for the Irish? Well, there are several bowls wanting to attract ND, especially after yesterday’s win. It appears as though they’ll be headed to the Dec 28 Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando … opponent and final details TBA. But those details aren’t nearly as important as the fact that the Irish have positive momentum, are allowed to practice for a few more weeks, and can stay somewhat in the spotlight for recruiting purposes. IT’S ALL GOOD. And thank goodness we’ve exorcised that USC demon after 8 loooooong seasons!
Other notable happenings in CFB this weekend:
— Boise State’s loss was very disappointing to those of us rooting for the underdog to upset the BCS apple cart(el). It ended a 24 game winning streak and put BSU in possibly the Humanitarian Bowl instead of a likely date in the Rose Bowl … had they beat Nevada. But what the loss points out is that any team can have a bad half of football and some bad luck to lose to a worthy opponent, especially on the road. I’M STILL INSISTING THAT THE LAST SECOND REGULATION FIELD GOAL WAS GOOD. Somebody prove me wrong … got video? Well … it was a fun run … hopefully TCU does a good job carrying the torch for the little guys. Hope they get a crack at the title game … Auburn still looks somewhat vulnerable.
— Michigan lost … AND THEY LOST HUGE!!! (Have I mentioned my disdain for the Skunkbears before 😉 Not only were they road kill … they were steamrolled by their biggest rival, Ohio State. Folks are very unhappy in Ann Arbor … and the more unhappy they are, the more I enjoy college football.
— LSU and the Mad Hatter, Les Miles, turned back into pumpkins Saturday with a second loss … this one to Arkansas, as Wally predicted. Life is gooooooooood.
— Anyone catch the wild end of the Bedlam game … Oklahoma at OK State??? Told ya the Cowboys had a very suspect defense … Sooners capitalized and won a barnburner 47-41. There were like 35 points scored in the final 5 minutes or something like that. It appears as though Oklahoma will represent the Big 12 South in the conference championship game. Looks like Texas A&M is getting screwed a bit as they recently beat the Sooners and are the hottest team in the conference … but tie-breakers are tie-breakers. We’ll see. But great turnaround for A&M and looks like they may get the Cotton Bowl bid.
— Looks like either Stanford or Wisconsin will move into the #4 BCS slot behind TCU. Hard to argue that these two aren’t the best one-loss teams. I’d give a slight edge to Stanford … their body of work slightly more impressive than Bucky’s. Idiot of the Week award goes to Mr Gee from Ohio State who looks like a total buffoon after disparaging remarks against the non-AQ conferences and self-serving to his own interests. MORON!
— Auburn has taken LSU’s place as the “team that somehow gets it done” although they haven’t been doing it almost purely with luck as LSU has. Auburn is very, very good but obviously driven by two players … Cam Newton on offense and Fairley on defense. They fell behind 24-0 at one point in second quarter and were down 24-7 at half at Alabama. Shoulda been about 34-7 if Bama were a bit more competent. Somehow, Auburn prevailed 28-27 after Bama simply and inexplicably collapsed in 2nd half. Will Steve Spurrier and SCarolina pull the rug from under Auburn’s feet in the SEC title game??? We’ll see.
HAVE A GREAT WEEK. Please chime in with your thoughts on Notre Dame or CFB in general.