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Luck Of The Irish
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20. A BMOC Soapbox Moment
We're not ashamed to admit it: we thought we'd have a better chance of seeing the Notre Dame leprechaun wear fishnet stockings and a garter belt before we'd ever see the Irish start this season 4-0. Now that every insufferable ND fan has come out of the plaid woodwork to crow about the resurgence (they knew it all along, of course), there's talk of a Jan. 1, maybe Jan. 2 or, if the stars and Golden Dome are aligned just right, a Jan. 3 bowl appearance.

That's BCS calendar time, which means Notre Dame must finish sixth or higher in the quirky BCS standings to receive an automatic bid to one of the biggies: the Rose, Sugar, Orange or Fiesta, site of this season's national championship game. Or the Irish can qualify for the at-large pool of candidates by winning nine "non-exempt" games and be in the top 12 of the BCS standings.

Here's where Notre Dame is getting its shorts in a bunch, and assorted commissioners of BCS-member conferences are getting a chuckle at the Irish's expense.

Notre Dame beat Maryland in the Aug. 31 Kickoff Classic. Irish officials said it was their "understanding" that the game was non-exempt -- and thus counted toward their BCS numbers -- because it was played the same weekend many Division I-A teams began their seasons.

Kevin White
AD Kevin White and ND may be on the outside looking in at the BCS thanks to a scheduling snafu.
Problem is, those same officials never asked the BCS for clarification. Had they asked -- and the BCS power brokers are semi-incredulous that they didn't call -- those same Irish athletic department officials would have been told the game was exempt. . . the outcome wouldn't count toward a BCS bowl.

The news hasn't gone over real well in South Bend. By moving the game from Aug. 24 to the 31st, Notre Dame insists the victory comes within "the regular season window." The BCS response: whatever.

As of last Friday afternoon, the BCS hadn't received any formal request from Notre Dame to address the situation. Irish athletic director Kevin White said on his weekly radio show (and how many AD's have their own radio gigs?) that the issue would likely go before a BCS "board," shorthand for the Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC, Big 12 and ACC commissioners, but he didn't say when.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame says it won't add a game to its 12-game schedule. This is only the third time in the school's history that the Irish have played 12 regular-season games.

"We're not going to play 13 games and exploit our kids," said White on his show. White's comments about exploitation should go over real well with some of the BCS-member leagues. By White's definition, one SEC program (Alabama), one Pac-10 program (Arizona State, where White was formerly the AD), four ACC programs (Florida State, North Carolina State, Maryland and Virginia), two Big Ten programs (Ohio State, Wisconsin), three Big 12 programs (Nebraska, Iowa State and Texas Tech) and one Big East program (Virginia Tech) are exploiting their players. Interesting, what with the academic reputations of schools such as UVa and Wisconsin, for instance.

Even if the BCS decides not to recognize Notre Dame's win against Maryland, the victory won't go unnoticed. It will still have an effect on the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls, as well as on the computer rankings.

But the bottom line is this: unless the Irish can convince the BCS otherwise, Notre Dame is going to have to win, at the very least, six of their remaining eight games (Stanford, Pitt, at Air Force, at FSU -- The Exploiters, Boston College, Navy (at Baltimore), Rutgers, at USC. We see two gimmes (Navy, Rutgers), two sort-of-probablys (Pitt, BC) and four who-knows-what-could-happens (Stanford -- Ty's old place, the Zoomies, The Exploiters and USC).

19. Notre Doters -- Part II
While the ND administration deals with the BCS, Willingham is busy winning games and putting smiley faces on Irish former players, some of whom had grown a little testy during the latter days of Bob Davie's tenure as head coach.

Former Notre Dame offensive tackle Chris Clevenger, who is back on campus working on his MBA, stopped by practice for the first time since he quit playing after the 1997 season. Willingham saw him, chatted him up, and then asked if Clevenger would like to address the Irish O-line. Clevenger took a polite pass, but it was the thought that counted.

"It means a lot," he says. "It means a lot when the head coach takes an interest in the former players, what the former players think. We appreciate that a lot."

Notre Dame has a flag football game and a dinner in the spring for its former players, but nothing beats the personal touch. Maybe that's why Willingham makes it a point to mention publicly the importance of ND's former players, or why he's giving an autographed team photo to Clevenger. Maybe that's why Clevenger is headed to practice again this Wednesday.

"I think they're playing great," says Clevenger. "Frankly, they don't look like the team they were last year. That's something that comes directly from the coach. That's not a thing on Bob Davie, it's just something I've seen."

Whatever it is, it's working. Notre Dame, in association with Student Activities, has sold about 44,000 "Return To Glory," T-shirts, the ones with Knute Rockne's exhortation: "We're gonna go, go, go! And we aren't going to stop until we go over that goal line. And don't forget men. . . Today's the day we're gonna win! Go in there and fight, fight, fight. . ."

The campus bookstore was begging for more of the kelly green T-shirts and a new shipment was expected any day. Meanwhile, you can still buy Notre Dame replica jerseys for $45 and authentic jerseys for $150 (the jerseys feature No. 1). Now then, would that be considered a minor form of exploitation? Just asking.

18. Kisses and Hugs
In case you didn't notice it Sept. 19, ice stalactites formed instantly when Mississippi State's Jackie Sherrill and Auburn's Tommy Tuberville shook hands after the Tigers beat MSU, 42-14, at Cowbell Central. That's mostly because Sherrill and Tuberville would rather chug garlic and smelt milkshakes than spend any appreciable time with each other -- and partly because Sherrill thought Tuberville tried to run up the score with a fake field goal attempt (it didn't work).

Given their Ice Station Zebra relationship (remember, Tuberville also used to coach at Ole Miss), anything is possible, if not probable. But earlier last week, rather than letting the incident melt into the background, Sherrill took a dig at Tuberville during the SEC media teleconference.

"I've been in this game a long time," Sherrill said. "You're more worried about taking care of your own team than someone else's. You just have to consider the source and go on down the road."

Tuberville was visiting an elementary school at the time and didn't participate in the weekly teleconference. Too bad. Tuberville, when properly inspired, can slice and dice so well, you don't even know you're missing a body part.

Meanwhile, Sherrill should be worried about his own team. The Bulldogs are 1-3 overall, 0-2 in the SEC and generally playing as if they have cowbells tied to their ankles. Their loss to LSU marks the 10th time out of the last 11 they've been beaten by the Tigers. The Oct.12 game against Troy State can't come fast enough for MSU.

17. Triumphant Return
It's been a little more than four months since Wisconsin All-American receiver Lee Evans had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left knee. But with the Badgers' Big Ten season set to begin this Saturday against Penn State. . . at home. . . on ABC (memo to those overseeing company merit raises: note gratuitous plug for network), Evans could make his long-awaited return.

Or not.

Alvarez hasn't said much about it, other than to say Evans could play against the Nittany Lions or perhaps sit out the entire season. Evans has worked out with the team, but according to team officials, hasn't done much real contact work. That could change this week.

Evans is a guy worth rooting for. He could have turned pro, but instead decided to return for his senior season. Then, during limited action in the Badgers' spring game, he caught a 36-yard pass from Brooks Bollinger and blew out his knee.

However it shakes out, Evans' injury has meant the emergence of redshirt freshman Jonathan Orr (18 yards per catch) and true freshman Brandon Williams (about 14 yards per catch).

16. Rainy Days
We're still not sure what to make of Florida State's 26-20 rain-soaked overtime loss at Louisville. There are five possibilities:

  • Florida State isn't nearly as good as we thought it was.

  • Louisville is better than its 3-2 record indicates (five-point loss against Kentucky, three-point loss at Colorado State).

  • The Seminoles did a Tennessee and freaked out in the rain of Tropical Storm Isidore.

  • The Seminoles didn't freak out, but in racing parlance, were no mudders.

  • There's a highly secretive, yet well-orchestrated effort to sabotage my preseason Fiesta Bowl matchup of FSU vs. Oklahoma.

    Louisville must have known something, because the school reportedly ordered an extra set of goal posts a week earlier. That's good, since the old pair were carried off by jubilant fans and students after last Thursday night's game. FSU had beaten Louisville 12 consecutive times, but rain has a way of sometimes equalizing things -- U of L coach John L. Smith admitted as much after the Cardinals victory, as did the Weather Channel anchors on last Saturday morning's show (what can we say, we're Doppler Radar groupies).

    Reason No. 1,892 why college football is such a gas came shortly after Henry Miller's 25-yard TD run in OT. There were the Louisville players dancing and prancing in the small rain-created ponds beyond the end zone. Students shimmied up the goal posts. A joyous Smith could barely spit out a coherent thought to ESPN amphibian Dr. Jerry Punch.

    Later, Louisville quarterback Dave Ragone told the Courier-Journal's Eric Crawford: "Everybody's going to say Louisville's back. And we are."

    He might have a point. The Cardinals don't face a top 25 team for the remainder of their schedule. Then again, U of L's offensive line is still plenty suspect (FSU's Alonzo Jackson had a school-record five sacks against the Cardinals) and Ragone spent considerable time running for his football life (a career-high 21 carries). That said, we wouldn't mind having Ragone on our team any Saturday of his choosing.

    As for Florida State, it's obvious the defense still has problems. The rain made the Seminoles look slower and clumsier than they actually are, but this isn't the first time they've given up big plays. Remember the opener against Iowa State?

    Chris Rix
    FSU QB Chris Rix took the loss to Louisville personally.
    On the offensive side, quarterback Chris Rix tried forcing a pass in OT that did little more than squirt out of his wet hands and into the bread basket of Louisville safety Anthony Floyd. Two plays later, U of L won the game. That's Rix: three wonderful plays, followed by something questionable. But it happens with sophomores, even those as gifted as Rix.

    One question: whose bright idea was it to throw it downfield in OT?

    Afterward, Rix sought out coach Bobby Bowden and apologized for the loss. And chances are the wheels weren't even up on the team charter before FSU fans were thinking it was time to give Adrian McPherson some time at QB.

    But Bowden, as he did last season, is sticking with Rix. "I haven't lost confidence in Chris, and I haven't lost patience in Chris," he told reporters.

    Even with the loss, the Seminoles aren't altogether out of the BCS mix, or even the national title chase. They have Clemson on Thursday, then a road trip to No. 1 Miami, and a home game against Notre Dame, and a late-November game at North Carolina State, followed the next week by a game at home against Florida. Win those games -- unlikely, but not out of the question -- and FSU is probably on the Fiesta Bowl short list.

    Said Bowden before the loss to Louisville: "This year we've got 13 games, but I think it's organized real good. We've got Louisville -- I think the toughest thing is going to be this week, with five days [of preparation]." (Well, he was right about that, wasn't he?) "Then we've got seven [days] before Clemson, even though it's a Thursday night game. That gives you 10 [days of preparation] for Miami. Then you've got an open date for Notre Dame. I really couldn't complain about the way our schedule's set."

    Maybe not, but in retrospect FSU was done in by Louisville's grittiness, Isidore's clouds and a sucker-punch schedule.

    15. Coach Wants To See You, And Bring Your Headset
    After scoring 31 points in its season opener, Texas A&M took a Lucent-like stock nose dive and managed only 14 points against Pitt and just three in a loss to Virginia Tech. That's a grand total of 48 points. These days you can fall out of your dorm room bed and score 48 points just running Iso plays. If it wasn't for A&M's defense (giving up an average of less than nine points), the Aggies would be Kansas of the Big 12's North Division.

    So last week Aggies coach R.C. Slocum essentially demoted offensive coordinator Dino Babers and handed the play-calling headset to assistant head coach Kevin Sumlin. This shouldn't have come as a total shocker, what with A&M ranked 106th in total offense a season ago and a sure-fire cure for insomnia this season.

    Did the changes work? Sure, if you don't allow for the Louisiana Tech factor. Tech has given up 36 points to Oklahoma State, 33 to Clemson, 49 to Penn State and now 31 to A&M.

    It also will help that A&M's next three opponents are Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas. A better test will come Oct. 26 against Nebraska, and the ultimate test of Slocum's tinkering will come Nov. 9 against Oklahoma.

    14. Trouble in Lard Land
    Seems like the N on Nebraska's helmet stands for No Clue.

    Losing to Iowa State is no disgrace -- the Cyclones are a legitimate top 25 team. But the stunner is how ordinary the 3-2 Cornhuskers look. In fact, no major program has played less impressively over the last seven games than Nebraska.

    Start with the blowout loss to Colorado last season, then the Rose Bowl disaster against Miami in the national championship. . . skip past the expected wins against Arizona State, Troy State and Utah State, and move directly to the 40-7 loss at Penn State and the latest embarrassment, a 36-14 loss to Iowa State. And the ISU loss came after the Cornhuskers had two weeks to prepare for the Cyclones. In other words, three weeks, two consecutive losses by a 21-76 margin.

    If head coach Frank Solich and defensive Craig Bohl were co-presidents there'd be impeachment hearings underway. In a state where the favorite reading material is the Farmer's Almanac and the Nebraska football box scores, this latest defeat isn't going to go over real well with the overalls crowd.

    How did it happen? Ask Florida State. The Seminoles went through the same thing last season, losing four games. If it can happen at FSU, it can happen at Nebraska. And has.

    All we know for sure is that we'd rather scrub down the Memorial Stadium lavatories than be Solich or Bohl this week. The former NU player, assistant coach and personal choice of the legendary Tom Osborne is chinstrap-deep in trouble.

    13. Player of the Week
    Is-This-Heaven?-Tag Team of Iowa State QB Seneca Wallace and Iowa QB Brad Banks.
    Banks had four touchdowns, including the game-winner in OT against JoePa. Wallace had a modest 220 passing yards, but threw for one score and ran for two others in upset of NU.


  • West Virginia RB Avon Cobourne
    Any other week Cobourne and his 260 rushing yards and two touchdowns would have been the POW. Sorry.

  • Michigan State WR Charles Rogers
    Thirteen consecutive games with a touchdown catch -- a NCAA record. And he usually does it with two defenders attached to his hip.

  • Auburn RB Cadillac Williams
    The Tigers don't beat Syracuse in triple OT without Williams' 40 carries, 202 yards and two scores, including the game winner.

  • Louisville QB Dave Ragone
    His stats against then-No. 4-ranked FSU weren't anything to write the Downtown Athletic Club about, but he worked his way through a dreadful first half (2 of 8) and made key plays in the rain. Louisville owes its historic win against the Seminoles to the big lug.

  • The Pac-10 Three
    Washington State QB Jason Gesser, Washington QB Cody Pickett and USC QB Carson Palmer all led their teams to wins. Gesser, playing with an injured rib, and Pickett put up huge numbers (Pickett has more than 800 passing yards in his last two games). Palmer put up a huge W against chic Pac-10 pick Oregon State. Actually, we could make this the Pac-10 Six. UCLA QB Cory Paus, Arizona State QB Andrew Walter and Cal QB Kyle Boller also had impressive game. Only Boller's team lost (to Washington State).

  • LSU RB Domanick Davis
    Davis had 122 rushing yards and 173 return yards in win against Mississippi State.

  • Kentucky WR Derek Abney
    Abney had a 100-yard kickoff return and 49-yard punt return for touchdowns in the loss against Florida -- only the seventh player in NCAA history to do both in a game.

  • Florida QB Rex Grossman
    A season-high 375 yards (and two touchdowns) in win against Wildcats.

    Honorable Mention Penn State QB Zack Mills (school record 399 passing yards, four TDs). . . Iowa RB Fred Russell (152 yards, one TD). . . Florida WR Taylor Jacobs (12 catches, 183 yards, two scores). . . Arkansas P Richie Butler (a 79-yard punt against Bama, though it was slightly wind-aided). . . Tennessee WR Kelley Washington (Rutgers DBs are still chasing him). . . Defenses of Texas A&M, Virginia Tech and USC. . . Georgia Tech RB Ajenavi (Ace) Eziemefe rushes for 137 yards and one score as replacement for the injured Tony Hollings. . . Former Penn State LB LaVar Arrington. Gets booted off the PSU sideline for chirping at the officials.

    12. Coaches of the Week
    Iowa State's Dan McCarney ISU had lost nine consecutive games to Nebraska. It had lost the last seven by an average of 55 points. In all, ISU hadn't beaten the Cornhuskers since 1992 and hadn't beaten a ranked opponent in 30 games (McCarney was 0-24).

    But none of that mattered Saturday as the Cyclones dominated Nebraska, 36-14, and ensured McCarney of a lifetime of free meals, adult beverages, and the corn silo of his choice from grateful ISU supporters. Guess what? The Cyclones are 5-1. Now the bad news: On consecutive weeks beginning Oct. 12, ISU plays Texas Tech, at Oklahoma, at Texas, Missouri, at Kansas State, at Colorado.


  • Louisville's John L. Smith
    Give a team ball to Smith -- and to assistant coach Isidore too.

    Kirk Ferentz led Iowa to an upset of Penn State.

  • Iowa's Kirk Ferentz
    Is this heaven? No, it's Iowa -- home of the two biggest wins in college football this season: ISU's semi-shocker against Nebraska, and the Hawkeyes' OT victory at Penn State. The Hawkeyes have won three consecutive games against the Nittany Lions.

  • Georgia Tech's Chan Gailey
    Welcome to the club. Gailey wins his first ACC game and does it under difficult circumstances.

  • Air Force's Fisher DeBerry
    Consecutive road wins against Cal and now Utah. The Zoomies get BYU, Notre Dame and Colorado State at home in October. Win those games and the BCS might have to make room for Air Force. When will someone realize that few coaches do more with less than DeBerry -- and we mean "less" in the most complimentary way possible.

    11. Rumor of the Week
    This one comes courtesy of Dr. Punch: Oklahoma is trying to get out of next season's game against Alabama. If so, the Tide would try to schedule another trip to Hawaii (Bama ends its regular season in Honolulu this year). Remember, NCAA penalties prevent Bama from playing in a bowl game in 2002 and 2003.

    10. Cha-Ching
    News: Ohio State is thinking of implementing a "variable pricing" program beginning next season, charging more for popular games, such as the annual OSU-Michigan contest. Other programs, including Miami and Cal, already feature such variable pricing.

    Reaction: If the Buckeyes tank in one of the premium-priced games, does that mean we'll get a variable rebate?

    9. War Eagle
    Auburn's beloved eagle, Tiger, was grounded for Saturday night's game against Syracuse because of a pulled wing hammy. No, actually it was because of old age.

    We would have reported this earlier, but new federal medical privacy laws prevent schools from disclosing such injury information.

    8. Quote of the Week
    "It's a great day to be a Cyclone."
    -- Iowa State's Dan McCarney.

    7. Stat of the Week
    For the first time in 348 college football weeks the Cornhuskers won't be ranked in the AP Top 25. That's like Maxwell House forgetting how to make coffee.

    6. Maurice Mania
    Ohio State's true freshman Maurice Clarett returned to the lineup after missing the Sept. 21 game against Cincinnati because of minor knee surgery. Clarett had 21 carries (and wanted more) for 104 yards and three touchdowns in the Buckeyes' 45-17 victory against Indiana Saturday.

    Maurice Clarett
    Maurice Clarett scored 3 TDs and ran for 104 yards in his first game back from knee surgery.
    "I'm not sure he rested much out of that surgery," says OSU coach Jim Tressel, who knows a meal ticket when he sees one. "He might have jogged out of the recovery room."

    Tressel, no dummy, isn't going to risk losing Clarett again. Without him, Ohio State struggled to a 23-19 win against Cincinnati. With him, it breezes.

    The Buckeyes will be heavily favored at Northwestern this week, and again the next week against San Jose State before they travel to Madison for an Oct. 19 game against Wisconsin. So no need to over-use Clarett in blowouts.

    Clarett's required a few stitches to his knee during halftime of the IU game. "My only question to the doctor was, 'If he has stitches, can he go back in?"' says Tressel.

    The doctor said yes and Clarett played extensively during the third quarter before Tressel pulled the plug on the freshman's day. "He really didn't want to come out of the game when we took him out," Tressel says.

    5. Florida Flop
    Sure, the Gators are doing the Jaws-chomp these days, but no way do they run the table unless they fix their very un-special teams. In short, it's going to be a long week for special teams coach Jerry Odom.

    Florida dropped a punt snap, had a punt blocked, had a blocked extra point, had a kickoff returned for a touchdown, and had a punt returned for a touchdown. It got so bad that the Gators got an ovation when they finally converted an extra point.

    Head coach Ron Zook is a former NFL special teams coach, so here's guessing he blew a small gasket as the mistakes piled up. Then again, Zook has more important issues: his father died late last week after a lengthy battle against cancer.

    4. Bang For The Buck
    Whatever they're paying Bama's Dennis Franchione, he's earning every dollar of it. The guy loses a recent NCAA appeal, loses his starting quarterback, loses his tailback, loses his punter, loses his center. . . and still beats Arkansas on the road, 30-12. And now he might have to deal with a mini-quarterback controversy.

    With senior Tyler Watts out with a foot injury (he dressed for the game, but didn't see any action), Franchione turned to redshirt freshman Brodie Croyle. Croyle, one of the country's most prized recruits in 2000, played splendidly against the Razorbacks (285 yards, two touchdowns).

    Poor Watts. He endured a rotating QB system for parts of last season, and now this. Watts, always the good Bama soldier, won't say a peep if it happens again.

    3. Heisman Trophy Race
    Bring a coat and tie to the Yale Club: Miami RB Willis McGahee, Oregon RB Onterrio Smith, Michigan State WR Charles Rogers, Ohio State RB Maurice Clarett, Florida QB Rex Grossman, Iowa State QB Seneca Wallace.
    Moving up: Auburn RB Cadillac Williams.
    On the radar: Texas RB Cedric Benson, Ole Miss QB Eli Manning, NC State QB Philip Rivers, Miami QB Ken Dorsey, Marshall QB Byron Leftwich, Kentucky QB Jared Lorenzen, Washington QB Cody Pickett, Tennessee QB Casey Clausen, Texas Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury.
    Slipping: Texas QB Chris Simms.
    Thanks for stopping by the booth: FSU RB Greg Jones.

    2. Whatever Happened To. . .
    . . . the talk that the game has passed Joe Paterno by.

    Yeah, the Nittany Lions lost to Iowa, but did you see JoePa make a beeline to the ref and grab the guy's jersey at OT's end? Paterno is 75 and he still has more closing speed than half of Nebraska's Blackshirts.

    One Hack's Weekly Elite
    Fiesta Bowl Matchup
    Miami vs. Virginia Tech -- 'Canes get gimme against UConn before FSU.
    3. Texas -- Counting days until Oct. 12 game vs. OU. But first, Okie State.
    4. Oklahoma -- Sooners doing the same thing 'Horns are: waiting for Dallas.
    5. Oregon -- Two weeks to get ready for trip to Arizona.
    6. Florida -- Gators better not relax; have to travel to Oxford this week.
    7. Notre Dame -- Even offense-challenged ND should score vs. Stanford.
    8. Ohio State -- Return of Clarett makes huge difference for Buckeyes.
    9. Iowa State -- Fans ought to give McCarney a piece of the goal posts.
    10. Kansas State -- Schedule favors Wildcats' run at Big 12 North title.
    Waiting list: Georgia, Alabama, Wisconsin, Washington, Washington State, Florida State.

    Gene Wojciechowski is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at

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