Friday, October 16, 2009

Fat Charlie's Last Chance?

Much has been made about Saturday's game being Charlie Weis' best chance to beat USC since the Bush Push Classic in 2005. The Irish, mired in a seven-year futility against the Trojans, might not get a better shot anytime soon if they don't somehow pull it off this year.

The game is at home - they can let the grass grow. The Trojans have a freshman quarterback and a sputtering offense. Jimmy Clausen is a true Heisman candidate and can't wait to finally pick apart the USC defense.

It all sounds nice and interesting. But it's all hype.

The Irish ain't gonna beat the Trojans. Not now. Not next year. Not anytime soon.

Notre Dame's 4-1 record was achieved mostly by late-game meltdowns (offensively, defensively or officially) by its mediocre opponents. Michigan State absolutely gagged the game away as it was marching down the field for a game-winning touchdown. Purdue choked with a blown assignment on the game's last meaningful offensive play, a fourth-down pass by Notre Dame. And with its victory over Washington, ND forever loses any future privilege for whining about the Bush Push, for the entire Irish offensive line drivepiled the ball into the end zone while the officials swallowed the whistle during the interminable 2-point conversion.

So there.

The fact remains that Notre Dame simply isn't in USC's class. The Trojans had their annual September slumber against an inferior Pac-10 opponent. That happens every year, and it continues to be the one thing that tarnishes Win Forever. But they usually hit their stride by October. And they don't give away games that they feel like they have something to play for.

Even with freshman quarterback Matt Barkley and a somewhat depleted running back corps, the Trojans still have enough firepower on offense to overwhelm the Irish. Defensively, USC has been its stout self this season, stifling high-powered offenses such as Ohio State, Cal and Washington with both speed and scheme. There is no reason that USC shouldn't be a prohibitive favorite in this game - by 10 points in most betting lines.

For Charlie Weis, building up this game will have consequences. He's in need of a signature win - so far in his four-plus years in South Bend, his most memorable moment was the near-miss Bush Push Game. Under Weis, the Irish have been trounced in each BCS bowl game. They have lost to Michigan whenever Michigan was any good. And they have not come close to beating USC except in 2005, Weis' first year.

The clock is ticking in the Weis Era. Another loss to USC will drop Notre Dame out of the top 25. The Irish do not have another opponent near the Trojans' stature left on their schedule. A 10-2 record, with losses to Michigan and USC (ND's two marquee rivals), will not get ND into a BCS bowl. It might be good enough to save Weis' job for another year. But for some of the true Notre Dame fans, that's just prolonging the agony.

★★★★★ GAME OF THE WEEK: Oklahoma vs. Texas, noon ET. Despite OU's two losses, the Red River Shootout in Dallas still takes the top billing this week. Sam Bradford is back for the Sooners, whose desperation to win this game should be obvious. A victory sends Oklahoma on track for the Big XII South title and a BCS bowl berth. A loss effectively ends its season. Texas has national championship aspirations, but the 'Horns won't win anything if they don't beat OU.

★★★★ FOUR-STAR GAME: USC at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m. ET. The Trojans are still aiming for the BCS title, and the Irish think they have a shot at a BCS bowl. Somebody's plan will be unalterably changed after this game.

★★★ THREE-STAR GAME: Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, 6 p.m. ET. The Hokies are No. 3 in the final Simulated BCS Standings and may stay there with a Texas loss. Their remaining schedule is much more agreeable than all the other major title contenders. And win here will keep VT as a potential frontrunner for the BCS championship game.

★★ TWO-STAR GAME: South Carolina at Alabama, 7:45 p.m. ET. The Tide have a considerably tougher schedule than Florida, as the two teams seem to be on a collision course to play for the SEC title and a spot in the BCS championship game. South Carolina has been steady if unspectacular, but whatever it's got won't be enough to win in Tuscaloosa.

★ ONE-STAR GAME: Iowa at Wisconsin, noon p.m. ET. The Big Ten's lone unbeaten team tries to emerge as a surprise contender not only for the Rose Bowl, but also for the game a week later in Pasadena. The Hawkeyes have danced on a tightrope in their victories against opponents big and small. The question is, how long can they keep up?


LAprGuy said...

Why is USC losing to Washington a "meltdown," while when New England loses to Denver it's a given because "the protege always has the advantage over the mentor"? Why is McDaniel defeating Bilichik an example of a young coach knowing NE's strengths and weaknesses, while Sarkisian-Holt doing the same to Carroll is because Carroll "always" does this?

Brendan Loy said...

"A 10-2 record, with losses to Michigan and USC (ND's two marquee rivals), will not get ND into a BCS bowl."


Look at the history. It would be unprecedented, and downright shocking, if Notre Dame were to become the first high-profile two-loss team in BCS history (well, since at least 2002 -- I didn't go back further than that) to finish with two losses, the most recent of which was in mid-October, and yet not finish in the BCS Top 14. It has never happened. The only two-loss teams that finish outside of the Top 14 are (1) teams with November/December losses, (2) mid-major teams like Boise State or BYU, and (3) Louisville in 2005, in its very first year in the Big East (basically a glorified mid-major in terms of its national profile), which finished 9-2 and #15 in the BCS.

Mark my words. 10-2 Notre Dame, on a six-game winning streak, will absolutely be in the BCS Top 14 at season's end. In which case, they will get invited to a BCS bowl, of course, because they're a huge ratings/ticket draw.

(I still think they'll finish 9-3, though.)

Brendan Loy said...
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Brendan Loy said...
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Brendan Loy said...

Mind you, this is not a defense of Notre Dame or Charlie Weis... just a recognition of the realities of attrition. There won't be a lot of two-loss teams left at season's end, so any two-loss team -- particularly one that hasn't lost in a month and a half -- is inevitably going to climb up the rankings.

That said, it might actually be better for the Irish if they could skip out on a potential BCS mismatch, and head to the Gator Bowl, where they still could face a juicy matchup against Miami or Virginia Tech, with plenty of "signature win" potential. (Georgia Tech would be a bit less juicy.) But I don't see that happening unless they go 9-3 (which, as we all know, is not good enough). Best hope is for a reasonable BCS opponent... i.e., not the Florida/Alabama loser (who ND probably can't beat), but not Boise State or TCU (who ND gets no benefit from beating).