The Blitz: Irish looking SEC-like in title bid
DEC 03, 2012 10:40a ET
Now, it’s Brian Kelly that’s trying to raise Notre Dame back to a place in the college football universe that it inhabited for generations.
The third-year coach has the top-ranked Fighting Irish playing for its first BCS championship on Jan. 7 against No. 2 Alabama (and at a school that’s built on legends and superstitions it’s worth pointing out that Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all won their first titles in Year 3).
But if there’s one place the Irish have failed in their latest attempts at completing the comeback, it’s been on the biggest stages.
I was in the Superdome in 2007 watching JaMarcus Russell and LSU embarrass the Irish in a 41-14 blowout and the year before in the Fiesta Bowl the Irish were stopped 34-21 by Ohio State.
Why are these Irish different? Why could this team and this coach finally bring Notre Dame all the way back and prompt writers across the country to proclaim the echoes awoken?
Because these Irish are built exactly like the defending champions they’re trying to dethrone.
These Irish are built like an SEC team.
The SEC has been defined by defenses during its run of six national titles and the Crimson Tide are no exception. They rank eighth or higher in five major defensive statistical categories, including first in total D (246.0 yards per game) and rush defense (79.7 ypg).
Kelly, who arrived at South Bend as a noted quarterback whisperer, and Broyles Award finalist Bob Diaco have put together a comparable group using the same scheme, a 3-4, and players across the front seven who would look very comfortable lining up south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
In 2010, they brought in four-star nose tackle Louis Nix (5 ½ tackles for loss and five pass breakups) and linebackers Prince Shembo (10 ½ tackles for loss and 7 ½ sacks) and Danny Spond (38 tackles). Then last season added a future All-America in five-star end Stephon Tuitt (13 tackles for loss and 12 sacks) to go along with the likes of Heisman Trophy candidate Manti Te’o.
Like the Tide, Notre Dame’s offense is predicated by the run, averaging 202.5 yards to Alabama’s 224.6. And like Alabama with AJ McCarron, the Irish have a quarterback in Everett Golson that’s matured in his first season as a starter, going from a game-manager to a leader.
The same Golson who completed 43.8 percent of his passes against Michigan State, and who was benched against Michigan for throwing two picks on his first eight attempts, has come into his own.
He’s helped the 49th-ranked offense become something more than a liability, leading it to 403 yards against Oklahoma and an average of 28 points over the last five games. Notre Dame hit that figure just twice over the first seven games.
After Saturday’s SEC Championship Game win over Georgia, I asked Barrett Jones his perception of the Irish. He was born on May 25, 1990, two years after Notre Dame won its last national title, it has won five bowl games in his lifetime.
“It’s kind of a similar place to here; there’s a lot of tradition and history. There’s a lot of people nationwide who love Notre Dame,” he said.
Unlike the Tide, who have regained their place among the game’s elite, the Irish faithful are still waiting.
Davie couldn’t deliver and neither could Willingham or Weis. But Brian Kelly could and if he does, this year, next year of the year after that, he’ll have done it with a team that looks very similar to the teams and the conference that has dominated the landscape for the better part of his century.
His Irish were built for this.
MACtion hits the BCS
Northern Illinois is in a BCS bowl. But does it deserve to be?
The rules are the rules and Northern Illinois finished in the top 16 of the final BCS standings and had to be ahead of one AQ champ (they wound up finishing ahead of two, Louisville and Wisconsin).
But the Huskies have a schedule that ranks 120th in the nation (i.e. dead last), which is the worst of any team to ever play in a BCS bowl, beating out Hawaii's 111th-ranked schedule in 2011. Plus, Northern Illinois lost to 4-8 Iowa.
That simply doesn’t look like a BCS team, regardless of whether they met the qualifications and the Big 12 coaches, four specifically, weren’t buying it either.
Baylor’s Art Briles, West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen, Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops each had Northern Illinois no higher than 19th in their final Coaches’ Poll ballots. Meanwhile, they each tried to pump up the prospects of the Sooners, putting them no lower than ninth.
Of course, it didn’t work out -- Oklahoma wound up in the Cotton Bowl, while Northern Illinois gives the MAC a payday it’s never seen before.
The votes are in, mine included.
I’ll divulge the process that I went into in picking the 78th Heisman Trophy winner later this week. But the consensus when discussing this with other voters is that we’re headed for a history-making ceremony with Texas A&M redshirt freshman QB Johnny Manziel the favorite.
A Manziel victory, the first ever for a freshman, would put him among the award’s trailblazing winners. It’s a group that includes the first junior (Doc Blanchard in 1945), back-to-back winner (Archie Griffin in 1974 and ’75), the wide receiver ( Tim Brown in ’87), primarily defensive player ( Charles Woodson in 1997) and sophomore ( Tim Tebow in ’07).
It’s heady company, for sure and it remains to be seen if older voters will let it happen. But this much is certain with days before the ceremony: this has been the most surprising selection process I’ve been a part of.
Ups and Downs
They only played in the Big Ten title game because the teams that actually finished ahead of them were ineligible. But the Badgers ran for a whopping 539 yards – the most ever given up by Nebraska – to win a third consecutive Rose Bowl berth. They are the league’s first team since Michigan from 1977-79 to make three straight trips to Pasadena.
Five yards. It’s how close Georgia came to an SEC title and a spot in the BCS title game. Instead, the Bulldogs are relegated to Orlando and a matchup with Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. That has to be especially hard to swallow given their rival Florida is off to the Sugar Bowl. The Bulldogs put themselves in a position to beat Alabama, but ultimately it was another tough loss for Mark Richt, who is now 2-10 vs. top 10 teams since 2007.
They were already bowl-bound for the third consecutive year, but the Bears made it three seasons with at least seven wins for the first time since 1949-51 by pulling past Oklahoma State. The Bears may have a budding star on their hands in Lache Seastrunk, who has run for 693 yards and 8 yards per carry the last five games.
Down: Louisiana Tech
At 9-3 and with the nation’s No. 2 offense, the Bulldogs won’t go bowling. Extended an offer in the Independence Bowl, they turned it down with other (i.e. bigger) options still available to them. But with Northern Illinois knocking Oklahoma out of a BCS spot it created a reaction that saw the Liberty, the bowl the Bulldogs had their sights on, taking Iowa State instead. It was a costly mistake that will deny the nation a final glimpse of QB Colby Cameron.
For the first time in school history the Panthers have a 3,000-yard passer in Tino Sunseri and a 1,000-yard rusher with Ray Graham. More importantly they also became bowl eligible in the first year under coach Paul Chryst, overcoming a 2-4 start and earning a shot at Ole Miss in the Compass Bowl.
Down: Middle Tennessee
The Blue Raiders, who last week announced that they would be joining Conference USA, were shut out as Arkansas State claimed its second straight Sun Belt crown. Riding a four-game winning streak into the matchup, in which they averaged 29 points and 400 yards, Middle Tennessee mustered just 203 yards in the loss.
3 – Despite losing the ACC Championship Game to Florida State, Georgia Tech is going to the Sun Bowl after receiving a waiver from the NCAA last week. They join North Texas (5-7 in ’01) and UCLA (6-7 in ’11) as the only teams to play in bowls with losing records.
10 – Boise State reached 10 wins with its 27-21 win over Nevada. Chris Petersen has now reached double-digits in victories in all seven seasons at the school.
77 – Oregon State set a school record for most points in a game in its 77-3 rout of Nicholl State, eclipsing the 76 it scored against Williamette in 1931.
They said it
"(Strong) told us he's not going anywhere, don't listen to the rumors."
-- Louisville wide receiver Damian Copeland on coach Charlie Strong, who has been rumored as a candidate at Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee.
"My first championship ever. I'm still ecstatic about it. I really can't even explain it right now. It just feels so good."
-- Alex Singleton after the Tulsa RB's 1-yard score in overtime gave the Golden Hurricane their first C-USA crown since 2005.
“It seemed like a place that was very close to getting to the next step. I feel like I can make a difference here. That was the one thing I wanted to be able to do."
-- Dave Doeren during his introductory news conference after leaving Northern Illinois for North Carolina State.
Crystal ball (BCS edition)
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Stanford (Jan. 1)
Both teams bring plenty of star power at RB with the Badgers’ Montee Ball and Cardinal’s Stepfan Taylor. But if one of these defenses can manage to take either offense out of its game, which QB comes through? I’ll put my faith in Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, who has a 72.7 completion percentage in the last five games.
Prediction: Cardinal 31, Badgers 20
Orange Bowl: Florida State vs. Northern Illinois (Jan. 1)
Nation, the Huskies. Huskies, the nation. Behind QB Jordan Lynch, the MAC Offensive Player of the Year, Northern Illinois became the latest non-AQ team to burst into the BCS. The Seminoles have been less than impressive of late, but Bjoern Wener and Florida State’s second-ranked defense may be too much for Lynch and Co.
Prediction: Seminoles 40, Huskies 27
Sugar Bowl: Louisville vs. Florida (Jan. 2)
Former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong helped the Gators win national titles in 2006 and ’08 before leaving for Louisville in ’09. So he knows exactly what kind of challenge Florida’s fifth-ranked defense will pose for a Cardinals team without a win over a Top 25 team. Teddy Bridgewater is one of the nation’s most underrated QBs, but he won’t be enough.
Prediction: Gators 30, Cardinals 20
Fiesta Bowl: Oregon vs. Kansas State (Jan. 3)
It’s the game that in 2010 Bill Snyder kept from coming to fruition as he backed out of the home-and-home games for ’11 and ’12. But now it’s happening and should provide an interesting matchup as Snyder’s disciplined, opportunistic defense tries to slow down Chip Kelly’s frenetic offense. This has shootout written all over it.
Prediction: Ducks 38, Wildcats 34
BCS Championship Game: Notre Dame vs. Alabama (Jan. 7)
The Irish would seem to have the defense to go toe-to-toe with the Crimson Tide. But as ‘Bama showed in racking up 350 yards against a star-laden Georgia D, the Eddie Lacy/T.J. Yeldon running game is too tough and too deep to stop. Expect the duo to be the difference, wearing down Notre Dame and putting its revival on hold.
Prediction: Crimson Tide 21, Notre Dame 14