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December 06, 2001

A Tale of Four Title Towns
By Dan Patrick

Between them, they have won 25 championships. The fight songs are the same. The uniforms and colors remain familiar. But something is definitely different. In South Bend, Happy Valley, Washington and Dallas, circa 2001, the unifying thread is not greatness and winning. The only place these teams will meet this year is on the path to respectability.

When will these teams win this year? When will these programs be back? Legitimate questions and hard answers.

Joe Paterno
Joe Paterno is just one win from Bear Bryant's all-time win record.
At Penn State, Joe Paterno's attempt to become the winningest Division I-A coach of all time is a tough story. He's been on the verge for two years. But the Nittany Lions might have to wait until they face Southern Mississippi (Nov. 3) or Indiana (Nov. 17) for their first win.

At the start of the season, Paterno had 322 wins, just two shy of breaking Bear Bryant's record of 323 wins. Florida State's Bobby Bowden started the season with 315 wins (he's now at 318).

All you need to know about Penn State is that Bowden could break Bryant's record before Paterno does. Paterno is battling his own legacy of two national titles and an endless stream of players sent to NFL glory. And the legacy is winning right now.

Notre Dame is 0-3 for the first time in school history. The Fighting Irish could beat Pitt this weekend, but it's not the lock it should be. Bob Davie is only 10 games above .500 in his fifth year as the man at Notre Dame. Davie is battling, perhaps, the greatest legacy in all of college football. Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Lou Holtz. Even Dan Devine grabbed a national title in South Bend. You're supposed to. Producing more than Gerry Faust is not going to be good enough.

It seems obvious to me that the talent levels at both Penn State and Notre Dame have slipped in the past few years. The overall team speed does not seem to be there. That means they are not getting as many blue-chip prospects as they used to. I think it's fair to say that the Big Ten will be tough in the coming years for Penn State. Pitt has a good story to tell in-state recruits, and they may be listening. And both schools face those legacies every Saturday. They will get everything the other teams have because every player and coach on the other side wants to be able to say, "We beat Notre Dame. We beat Penn State."

The Dallas Cowboys are in a bind similar to Notre Dame's. You either love them or hate them. They have a legitimate national presence. Since Jerry Jones took over, the Cowboys have won three Super Bowls, so there is little sympathy out there. What is interesting is that Jones and Jimmy Johnson built that dynasty through drafting and trading. Now Dave Campo is coaching a team that is weak on talent due to an effort to stay on top while the dynasty's key players retired or left. While he once built a top team, Jones has recently tried to buy one. When he finally gets around to building a team again, he'll need some luck. Where is the next Troy Aikman or Emmitt Smith coming from? Does he have a personnel man as good as Johnson was? The Cowboys could be in for an extended playoff absence.

Like Notre Dame, Marty Schottenheimer is 0-3 for the first time.
Like Notre Dame, Marty Schottenheimer is 0-3 for the first time. Like Campo, Schottenheimer is coaching a team that was bought, not built.

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder tried to pay his way into the playoffs by purchasing, essentially, an All-Pro team from 1996. It didn't work and Norv Turner took the hit, though being the offensive coordinator in San Diego is better than being the head guy in Washington right now. Schottenheimer is at the beginning of a long rebuilding program, one that will undoubtedly result in the departure of most of Snyder's quick fixes. Jeff George is already gone. Those Hogs and Hoggettes had better be prepared for some lean years.

As the rest of the football season unfolds, these four stories will continue to play out. Penn State and Notre Dame will continue to try to scratch out wins. But on Oct. 15, the Cowboys and Redskins will face off on Monday Night Football. One of them probably will not be winless on that following Tuesday morning.

Yeah, the Cowboys and Redskins on Monday night. Sounds like a great game.

In 1992.

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