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Denver: great team, or the greatest team? Would you be satisfied with "one of the ten greatest teams?" Plus: hard times in the NFC South, where defense goes to die.

17 Sep 2007

Confessions of a Football Junkie: Emerging From the Pack

by Russell Levine

Here we go again.

Just three weeks into the new college football season, the legions of crystal-gazers that double as the sport's fan base are already anticipating -- and decrying -- the next controversy atop the Bowl Championship Series standings. Never mind that the first edition of those standings won't be released for another four weeks.

The problem is that a quartet of contenders has begun to separate itself from the pack, but there is only one game between those teams remaining on the schedule (Florida at LSU) -- meaning three worthy teams could finish undefeated and one would have no chance at the national title.

Those four teams are LSU, Oklahoma, USC and Florida. Each has authored statement victories this young season, the latter two doing so Saturday. USC went into a very hostile environment at Nebraska, at night, and walked out with a 49-31 win that was not as close as that score would suggest. During the competitive phase of the game, the score was 42-10. Florida, meanwhile, opened up its conference schedule by destroying Tennessee, 59-20, at home.

Of those top four, only Florida was a real question mark coming into the season. The Gators lost 14 starters from last year's national champions. Among the replacements was quarterback Tim Tebow, who saw the field plenty as a freshman but rarely threw the ball. Three weeks in, Tebow has put any doubts to rest. He's second in the nation in passing efficiency, completing nearly 74 percent of his passes, with eight touchdowns and just one interception.

What's more, he's proving to be every bit the rushing threat he was as a freshman, when he was deployed mostly as a short-yardage runner. With Tebow fast becoming the elite dual-threat quarterback in college football, the Gators don't suffer from the lack of a standout running back.

The authoritative victories by USC and Florida followed similar results a week ago from LSU (which destroyed Virginia Tech) and Oklahoma (which did the same to Miami). Just as was the case last week, when LSU gained on No. 1 USC in the polls, this weekend's final scores opened the eyes of poll voters, as Florida moved up to a consensus No. 3 and USC gained back some of what it lost when the Trojans were idle last Saturday.

Perhaps the voters are learning. Florida's move came at the expense of West Virginia, which fell a spot in each poll, to fifth. The Mountaineers are an excellent team and could well end up in the mix for a spot in the BCS title game, but they have yet to look dominant this season.

The human polls tend to suffer from the bad habit of "anchoring" a team to its ranking and refusing to drop anyone that wins. At least thus far this season, the voters seem to have done a better job of recognizing that not all victories are created equal.

Having LSU, USC, and Oklahoma in a potential logjam atop the polls has to bring back unpleasant memories for BCS officials, for it was those exact teams that gave the BCS its biggest headache yet. In 2003, USC finished atop both human polls but was third in the BCS standings. LSU beat Oklahoma for the BCS title, while USC won the AP crown after thumping Michigan in the Rose Bowl. It remains the only split championship in the BCS era.

Still, it is far too early to project three (or more) teams to finish undefeated. Beyond LSU-Florida, which is shaping up as one of the games of the year on Oct. 6, USC must travel to both Oregon and Cal, while Oklahoma may have the easiest path of the top teams, but still has its annual showdown with Texas. And if West Virginia is to contend, it must survive a difficult round-robin against a much deeper Big East conference.

Trying to project season-long results in college football is normally a fruitless exercise, particularly in a year in which parity has crept into the game. The evidence of that is as plentiful as the number of games where heavily favored teams from the power conferences are forced to sweat out difficult wins over mid-major teams. Middling teams from the BCS leagues fare even worse. Just ask the Big Ten, which saw Minnesota fall to Florida Atlantic Saturday, and the Big 12, which had Oklahoma State lose to Troy on Friday.

No list of the season's surprising developments could be complete without including Notre Dame. The school has a high-profile coach, a national television contract and regular top-rated recruiting classes, yet fields what might be one of the absolute worst offenses in Division I-A, and a defense that's not much better. If that can happen to Notre Dame, then it's official: Anything is possible.

How bad are the Irish? They gained just 79 net yards against a Michigan defense that was torched by both Division I-AA Appalachian State and Oregon. That the Fighting Irish are in a rebuilding mode after losing their three best offensive weapons from a year ago is no shock. That Notre Dame has seemingly become a creampuff the likes of Duke is a complete stunner.

The team has yet to score an offensive touchdown and has produced minus-14 yards on 100 carries in three games. (The NCAA counts sacks against rushing yardage, which accounts for that preposterous total.) Coach Charlie Weis has a reputation as an offensive genius, but he's having a hard time getting anything going with his quarterbacks playing behind an offensive line that resembles five human traffic cones. At one point in Saturday's 38-0 loss to the Wolverines, quarterback Jimmy Clausen was sacked by four Michigan players simultaneously.

Irish fans, I want to hear from you. I'm soliciting your opinions in a completely non-taunting manner. It appears to me that in his third year, Weis is getting the benefit of the doubt far more than Ty Willingham did in his third season in South Bend. Am I wrong? If I'm right, why do you think that is (non-racially charged reasons, only, please)? Leave your thoughts in the comments or drop me an e-mail at Russell-at-footballoutsiders-dot-com.

I understand that Willingham's last two recruiting classes left the Irish bereft of upper-class talent. But where are Weis's players? I expected Notre Dame to struggle this year, but they're not even competitive right now. I would love to know what the line on Notre Dame-Duke would be if that game were played this week. At home, I don't think the Irish would be favored by more than a field goal.

Speaking of bets, it's a stone-cold lock that neither the Wolverines nor the Irish will factor in the chase for a berth in the BCS title game. It's one of the few safe assumptions in college football.

John L. Smith Trophy

I usually try to avoid any winning coach with the JLS Trophy, but some brain farts are just too big to ignore.

Rich Brooks earned his biggest win as Kentucky coach Saturday night as the Wildcats stunned Louisville, 40-34, on a late touchdown pass by Andre' Woodson.

It's what happened immediately after that scoring pass that earned Brooks this week's award. Woodson's pass gave Kentucky a five-point lead with just 34 seconds left, yet Brooks inexplicably sent his kicker onto the field to attempt the PAT instead of going for two and a potential seven-point margin.

There is a lot of debate about when to go for two, but never in this situation, which is clear-cut as they come. The extra point meant nothing for Kentucky, while a two-pointer would prevented a touchdown from beating the Wildcats. Brooks is lucky Brian Brohm and Louisville couldn't convert, otherwise he might be hanging (in effigy, of course) from the goalposts at Commonwealth Stadium.

The only conceivable excuse is the wild celebration that followed a last-minute, 57-yard touchdown pass, Brooks felt he couldn't get a two-point play called in time. Yet even that doesn't apply; Kentucky had a timeout remaining.

Congratulations, Rich. On the win and the JLS Trophy.

BlogPoll Ballot

This season, I'll again be voting in the BlogPoll, hosted by mgoblog. I'll post my ballot in Junkie each week. Feel free to comment, and I may adjust may rankings based on your suggestions.

Rank Team Delta
1 LSU --
2 Southern Cal 1
3 Florida 1
4 Oklahoma 2
5 California 2
6 West Virginia --
7 Rutgers 3
8 Ohio State 6
9 Penn State 4
10 Boston College 7
11 Oregon 7
12 South Carolina 7
13 Texas 2
14 Clemson 1
15 Alabama 11
16 Wisconsin 3
17 Kentucky 9
18 South Florida 2
19 Cincinnati 4
20 Louisville 11
21 Arkansas 1
22 Arizona State 4
23 Hawaii 1
24 Missouri 1
25 Texas Tech 1

Dropped Out: Georgia Tech (No. 8), Nebraska (No. 12), UCLA (No. 16), Washington (No. 21).

Rankings that may require further explanation: I view the top four as very even and the rankings there will continue to change week-to-week. All four have one really impressive win. USC's came on the road, so I thought about putting the Trojans back up top, but decided I would pick LSU over USC on a neutral field right now.

This is the first week that teams with a loss were allowed to stay. Louisville and Arkansas both dropped close games in the final seconds, on the road, to good teams.

I'm still trying to figure out what to make of the Big Ten. The bottom half of the conference is horrendous, but Ohio State and Penn State may still turn out to be really good. I'm no longer convinced that Wisconsin is anything special. Ohio State gets the nod this week for a road win over a decent Washington team.

Games I watched at least part of: West Virginia-Maryland, Oklahoma State-Troy, Pitt-Michigan State, Michigan-Notre Dame, Tennessee-Florida, Texas-UCF, Arkansas-Alabama, Boston College-Georgia Tech, USC-Nebraska, Florida State-Colorado.

Portions of this article appeared in Monday's New York Sun.

Posted by: Russell Levine on 17 Sep 2007

77 comments, Last at 19 Sep 2007, 9:32pm by lionsbob

Comments

1
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 5:46pm

For anyone curious the Wisconsin defense has the following issues:

-Redshirt freshman starters at both safety positions

-Best cornerback has missed significant playing time including the entire game on Saturday

--New starter at middle linebacker

--Senior DE Jamaal Cooper was dismissed from the team right before the season opener

--Best remaining D-Lineman, Matt S (name is too hard to spell) barely practices as he is spending time with his brother who is deathly ill

So it's pretty much a hodge-podge back there of guys who are struggling to figure out where to be and when. Playing two senior-led offenses (Washington State/Citadel) exposed those issues in a serious fashion.

In case anyone was wondering what in the wide, wide, world of sports was a going on here........

And NO, this is not any type of excuse. Merely background information for those curious.

2
by David B (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 5:46pm

Re: Mr. Weis and the Irish, perhaps the administration thinks that they can no longer afford to fire a coach that they've given a gigantic contract to when the football team is so horrid that no other top name coach would be willing to takeon the rebuilding job? Out a ton of money and no replacement isn't exactly a great mix.

3
by TheWedge (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 5:48pm

Why preseason polls suck:
Wisconsin is still ranked ahead of OSU and PSU in the AP and USA Today poll (#7! in USA Today) despite looking absolutely horrible against 3 crap teams.

4
by bowman (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 5:50pm

I think the JLS trophy should be co-won with Brown (Texas), who went for 2 points when up by 11 over UCF. I can't imagine a single situation where a 13 point lead is better than 12 points, but a significant situation where 12 points is better than 11...

5
by bradluen (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 5:54pm

2: Horrid or not, there are still about 90-something I-A coaches who would leap at the ND job. Though I'm sure that this year, the elite candidates are eyeing Michigan more closely.

6
by Don (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 6:00pm

Houston Nutt should be mentioned as a legitimate JLS trophy nominee for his decision late in the game. Arkansas has the ball 3rd and 12, with a 4 point lead and a little over 2 minutes left. Alabama has used their last time out. What does Houston do, call a pass!! Keep in mind that their best WR is out, and that they do NOT have a decent passing game. Run the ball and the clock winds down to around 1:30 before Bama gets the ball back.

7
by bradluen (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 6:01pm

3: 7 is too high for Wisconsin, but at least they have a 3 TD win over a Washington State team that posted double-digit wins in its other games. That's more than Texas can say - the TCU win doesn't look as good now as it did last week.

8
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 6:03pm

Wedge:

We will find out soon enough. Iowa on Saturday while Washington State plays USC. Along with liking to think Wisconsin can beat the Hawkeyes I am curious to see what kind of fight the Cougars put up against the Trojans.

WSU was Wisco's first game in case you are curious.....

9
by vanya (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 6:09pm

I thought the Weiss apologists were all pointing to the failure of Willingham's recruiting classes, and the excuse is that Weiss' freshmen really just aren't ready yet. Other excuses for Weiss not getting hammered as much as Willingham are that a)Weiss came with more of a "genius" reputation than TW, based on CW's time in New England so he gets more of the benefit of the doubt, b) fatigue - after hating on Willingham so much, ND supporters just can't stomach turning on Weiss already and admitting failure.

10
by James G (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 6:10pm

4 - you beat me to it, but I wanted ask why Russell didn't pick that one, either especially given that he has UCF-Texas listed as one of the games he watched.

11
by kevinNYC (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 6:11pm

Weis has recruited well and I can see that talent in the true freshmen at QB, RB, and WR. I think most ND fans see those young talented players and that's why he's getting a "free pass". For example, one of his top 2006 recruits, a sophomore Darrin Walls, made an amazing play to score their only TD this season.

If there's one thing Weis can be killed on, it's the play of the o-line. Sam Young was third best player (according to Scouts 2006) in the country and he's been horrible. The entire line is really an embarrassment. There's no experienced areas on the whole team. It's basically a bunch of kids and inexperienced upperclassmen learning on the job with a good player here and there.

I liked Ty Willingham as a person, but I'd be lying if I said I thought he was a good coach. One example was a game at BC where Ty chased the 2 point conversions too early and they lost on a last second FG.

12
by Todd S. (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 6:13pm

Edit suggestions: Minnesota lost to Florida Atlantic. Troy beat (presumably) Oklahoma State.

13
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 6:22pm

Right now, if I were a coach currently locked in a recruiting battle with Weis over a given player, I would bring in a copy of Dr. Z's column from last week, where a story is recanted where Weis says to Gruden "We knew what all your defensive calls meant but you still beat us!"

Then intimate that, inferring from that quote, Weis' record since Willingham's skill position players graduated, and the recent Patriots controversy, maybe Weis isn't quite the offensive genius that everyone thought he was.

Mean, nasty, and unfair, but that's collegiate recruiting.

14
by joe football (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 6:26pm

USC is beatable if someone can force them to pass. JDB continues to uninspire. Nebraska got blown away when USC just decided to run every down

15
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 6:28pm

I wonder partially if USC's problems with the pass is as much or more a result of the fact that USC lost so many receivers last year, and not JDB's failings in and of themselves.

I don't see him as much beyond a "game manager" type, but his key receivers have been making their share of mistakes.

16
by Harris (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 6:36pm

I think Weis gets the pass Willingham didn't is because Weis seems willing to put in work to correct the problems in a way Willingham (in many minds) wasn't. Plus, everyone expected the Irish to be mediocre at best and horrible at worst this season so Weis isn't working against heightened expectations. I'm not worried that ND is bad; I expected that. I'm worried becuase they look inept and soft.

17
by bradluen (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 6:43pm

But who on USC's schedule has the defense to put the game in Booty's hands? I thought Nebraska might, but nope. UCLA might, but who can tell what those wacky Bruins will do these days?

18
by SGT Ben (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 6:49pm

#11

Weiss' wins are with Willinghams players. Has he really recruited well? Of course, talking up Freshman who aren't playing (or not playing well) is the Homer Dame way of things...but let's face it, Weiss can't coach nearly as well as people seem to think. He has been the only thing more overhyped than any Notre Dame Win from last season.

My impression of Willingham as a Dame Coach is that he was a decent but not great coach. But I'd rank him higher than Weiss.

I don't think Weiss could coach his team out of a paperbag right now. Maybe he needs one of the Patriots "video assistants" to come down and help the Irish win a few games.

19
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 6:50pm

I have been pleased with the new Badgers qb, Tyler Donovan. He has missed some open receivers but otherwise thrown short and long, to many different players, avoided INTs and run effectively when needed.

And with a frosh at left tackle it"s been needed...

20
by Michael (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 6:50pm

As a ND fan, let me explain how we are feeling this year:

First, we need to make a correction. Notre Dame has not had "regular top-rated recruiting classes". The classes of 02-05 were ranked, in order: 24, 12, 32, and 40. The only decent rating among those is the 12 in '03, and if you go back and look at that class (http://rivals100.rivals.com/commitlist.asp?Year=2003&School=55), you'll notice two things: first, that it reads like a Notre dame roster from either '05 or '06, and second, that almost all of those names are gone. In their place, as upperclassmen, are those two horrendous classes, and the second one would actually be worse if Weis hadn't done a more than fair amount of damage control; he came in late in the recruiting season and tried to salvage it, but there's only so much that can be done in February. That kind of recruiting simply does not give you the talent to compete with the teams on our current, extremely front-heavy schedule.

Weis' players are playing. Allen, Clausen, Kamara - these guys are all starters. The main problem Notre Dame has right now is that we have absolutely no offensive line to speak of, and O-line is the position that requires the most time to develop that skills and strength to perform. Since Notre Dame has an official policy of not taking JUCO transfers, they are left without the quick fix that coaches like Pete Carroll used when they came into floundering programs: bringing in JUCO linemen and then building prospects behind them. (Not intended as a criticism; simply pointing out that it was used as a stopgap and ND does not have that luxury.)

As for Weis getting the benefit of the doubt, I believe there are a number of reasons for that. First and foremost is that Weis is passionate. Weis is an Irish man, he understands the traditions, he understands the expectations, and he has stepped right up to that. Willingham always seemed emotionally distant; he never seemed to get upset, even after bad losses. Second, there is the recruiting issue; Irish fans are not idiots; we can use the computers and we watch the recruiting as rabidly as anyone. Weis is reeling in top players and he seems to be going after "Notre Dame guys", as cliched as that sounds: guys who understand that playing for ND isn't just about football and that football isn't the be-all end-all of their college experience. Again, this was an area where Willingham just seemed not to care. The best Irish player of the last four years, possibly the best Irish quarterback ever, Brady Quinn, wasn't really recruited by Ty, he was recruited by the Ndukwe family. In other words, the guy who turned out to be among the best QBs in college football for the last two years was practically ignored by ND, and then was criminally mismanaged after he arrived.

Our problems with Willingham (or at least the problems of every Irish fan I've ever talked to) had nothing to do with race. It had to do with timid play-calling, poor recruiting, and an apparent complete lack of any give-a-damn about the young men he was supposed to be leading. Now, there are legitimate complaints with Weis: he probably wasted too much time messing with a spread offense and not enough on fundamentals, and he is still learning the art of coaching up younger players, but you can't say the guy isn't a hard worker, and you can't say he doesn't care, and if we see those two attributes, the coach will get more leeway.

21
by GatorGriff (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 7:01pm

Urban and Weiss were hired weeks apart. They've each had two recruiting classes -- one of which was hastily put together after their respective hires, and one was a "full year" recruiting class. Except for a handful of guys -- Leak, Brandon Siler, Andre Caldwell & Jarvis Moss, Zook didn't exactly leave the cupboard full (recall that Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith starters from the 2006 squad, did not play under Zook), and no one ever accused DeShawn Wynn of being a premier RB.

That being said, in Florida's game on Saturday vs. Tennessee, Urban recruits gained 213 of the Gators' 261 rushing yards, and 150 of the Gators' 299 receiving yards. Additionally, Brandon James, a Meyer recruit, gained 193 return yards.

On defense, 7 of the 11 guys who got most of the playing time were Urban recruits.

So I ask: When is Notre Dame going to start blaming Weiss for ANYTHING??

22
by Tim Gerheim :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 7:16pm

Typos are fixed. For what it's worth, I barely knew Florida Atlantic had a football program.

Also, having just struggled to watch the Florida game and absolutely failed to watch the Nebraska-USC game on sketchy bootleg internet television while in Germany, I started salivating as I read Russell's list of games he watched. And this from someone who's not such a big college football fan, at least compared to NFL. Take not your college football for granted, for it is as unknown in the rest of the world as Cricket is in the US.

23
by DMP (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 7:24pm

My hope is that John David Booty emerges as an awesome QB, makes it to the pros and starts as a rookie, only so I can see Chris Berman calling him John "David and Goliath" Booty during highlight ad libs to avoid the obvious but less Disney-friendly (and just as bad) John David Booty "Call". Then again, reference to a "Goliath" Booty might not work with Disney either...

I don't think one can base an argument just on prior bad recruiting to explain away ND's problems. Many schools don't have top-40 recruiting classes (about 77 of them), and yet a number from that group manage to coach up their recruits to respectability. The problem is not that ND is a bad team with bad players. The problem is that they look completely discombobulated and good coaching is supposed to prevent that.

24
by oljb (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 7:28pm

As a West Virginia fan, although I'm pissed that their ranking has slid in two successive weeks following 3+ score victories, I understand why it has happened with all the other activity. My main concern is whether, if WVU does indeed sweep the difficult Big East round-robin, the same writers who have been so slow to recognize Cincy and USF are going to reward the Mountaineers fairly by putting them back in the top three. I really don't see which of the top ten teams besides USC and whoever survives LSU/Florida could be considered to have a harder schedule than WVU.

25
by TheWedge (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 7:33pm

Badger:
My impression of Wisconsin is that they are a mediocre powerhouse program. I could easily see them getting 9 wins and maybe even beating 1 of the other Big 10 powers (OSU/PSU). I just don't believe they've played like a top 10 team. Although you are right, time will tell.

26
by Michael (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 7:43pm

GatorGriff, Florida's recruiting classes from '02 are as follows:

02: 20
03: 2
04: 7
05: 15

This has provided them with a solid offensive line largely built of seniors with experience and size. As was clearly stated, you can't get much going with an inexperienced and undersized line.

27
by Michael (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 7:46pm

DMP, an utter lack of older, experienced offensive linemen spells doom for any team. This would be true no matter the coach. Carroll and Meyer are great coaches, but if you gave them ND's '07 squad, they still would be ineffective. Too many "Ole!" blocks, and too little strength from inexperienced guys.

You know, given that one of the consistent points made on this site is the value of offensive lines in offensive success, I'd expect more people here to understand this. I have to say, I'm a little disappointed in the readership here.

28
by Alex (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 7:53pm

Except for a handful of guys — Leak, Brandon Siler, Andre Caldwell & Jarvis Moss, Zook didn’t exactly leave the cupboard full (recall that Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith starters from the 2006 squad, did not play under Zook), and no one ever accused DeShawn Wynn of being a premier RB.

I thought I read somewhere that Zook recruited 20 of the players that started last years BCS title game for Florida? Just because they weren't playing when he was there doesn't mean he didn't provide the team with talent. Meyer took over a team that had plenty of talented players, they just weren't being coached well.

29
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 8:02pm

Is Cal not a legitmate threat anymore? That USC-Cal game might be a match-up between top 5 teams.

Again, I like seeing Alabama get props, but I am not sure if I would put them in the teens just yet...they made the same 2 mistakes against Vandy as well (fumbled snap and picked off screen pass, only Arkansas was better able to capitalize). This game against Georgia is huge-since it might set up an undefeated Bama-LSU match-up (both teams have tough games though before as well).

30
by bradluen (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 8:13pm

ND's starting O-line, recruiting rankings from Rivals.com:

LT Paul Duncan 6-7 308 Jr
#26 OT in 2005
LG Mike Turkovich 6-6 301 Jr
#30 OT in 2005
C John Sullivan 6-4 303 Sr
#3 C in 2003
RG Dan Wenger 6-4 287 RFr
#3 C in 2006
RT Sam Young 6-8 310 So
#1 OT in 2006

Only one senior starter, but there's size, and the recruiting services thought there was talent.

31
by SGT Ben (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 8:17pm

#24

The problems that are currently facing WVU are:

#1 - Defense...do they really have one and how will the match up against the teams ranked above them

#2 - Recognition...hard to claim this because of the preseason Heisman talk...but let's face it, WVU is not known as an annual powerhouse school outside of it's own fan base. Last year they had (what should have been) a schedule to get them undefeated. Instead, their defense let them down. This season, they've not shown enough reason to discount their defense as...other than top 10. Their offense can and will score points...but the defense will have to do some heavy hitting and create some serious stops before any voter will seriously consider them a top 3 team.

#3 - It's West Virginia. The state doesn't exactly have a great rep. Coal miners and inbreeds is about all that WVU is known for outside of it's own borders. Granted, that's more superstition/stereotyping than anything...and movies like "The Hills Have Eyes", "Wrong Turn", and the ever-famous...ever-entertaining..."Deliverance" all depict what many believe WV to be outside of the Coal Mines. The states reputation is hard to overlook.

All this being said, they are my #2 favorite team in College Football (Born and raised in Ohio, so it's OSU first) after having lived there for 8+ years. Great people who think they live in a colder version of the South when it comes to hospitality! I just don't believe (at this time) that they could beat a USC or an LSU...or even my OSU team.

32
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 8:19pm

oh and I was not around (or too young) for the Hershel/Bo Jackson years, but Darren McFadden is the best RB I have ever seen in college football. One of the few players I am glad I got to see live in person play (unfortunately it was only his true freshman year, though he did break a 70 yard run for a TD against a great defense)...I am hoping to see him again when they visit LSU this year.

33
by peachy (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 8:29pm

For comparison, UF's starting offensive line this year.

LT Jason Watkins, 6-6 300 Jr
#22 OT 2004
LG Jim Tartt, 6-3 305 Jr
#27 OG 2004
C Drew Miller, 6-5 292 Sr
#7 OT 2004
RG Maurkice Pouncey, 6-4 311 Fr
#15 OG 2007
RT Carlton Medder, 6-5 320 Sr
#31 OT 2003

Pouncey is starting due to a pre-season injury to Phil Trautwein, 6-6 310 Sr, #28 OT 2004

34
by bradluen (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 8:31pm

Further:

John Sullivan is the #1 or #2 center on all the 2008 draft boards I've seen.

2006 ND starters Ryan Harris and Dan Santucci were both drafted.

And yet the Irish O-line sucked last year: not like this year of course, but bad enough to let Brady Quinn get the crud smacked out of him on a regular basis.

35
by Pat F. (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 8:40pm

I'm not really a Notre Dame fan, but here's my two cents on the Weis v. Willingham perception. Willingham's record is buoyed by starting out 8-0 his first year; he was below .500 for 2+ years after that. While those 8 wins included a couple victories over highly-ranked teams, my recollection is that the 8 wins were by and large of the smoke-and-mirrors/"just find a way to win" variety, and that sort of thing just doesn't hold up long-term ("Guts Versus Stomps"). (Also, both the ranked teams they beat, Michigan and FSU, ended up not looking like top-10 material by season's end)

Weis, meanwhile, had Notre Dame blowing out inferior teams with some regularly during his first two years. While they Irish were never a great team, they were certainly good, and were at least legit top-25 material. They generally didn't have a good defense (and I always thought Quinn and company were sorta overrated) and got beaten by the true elite teams, but they were legitimately good, which is more than I think you can say about Willingham's group.

Plus, Weis seems to be a pretty progressive coach in terms of strategy, which earns him bonus points in some people's books (including my own). He'll sometimes go for it on 4th and 5 from his own 40 in the second quarter a close game, for example, which I think should be done much more often in general.

36
by Nate (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 8:49pm

28 - I thought the same.

37
by hooper (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 9:04pm

Re: Weis

I'm not a ND fan, and really barely pay attention to them. I didn't follow Willingham's career, and I'm not following Weis either. (Frankly, ND doesn't interest me.) Still, I do wonder one possibility that I didn't happen to read in the comments yet (apologies if I missed it).

Could Weis be given more leeway because he came downward from a successful NFL program, while Willingham came upward (of sorts) from Stanford? It would seem to me that Weis's background might lead people to believe that he'll eventually get there - that there's undoubtedly the genius there that people assert. However, they might feel that Willingham's earlier success was simply an upward trend in an inferior market that doesn't necessarily indicate the ability to win at ND's self-perceived level.

Or, ND fans could have simply resented having a Stanford guy as a coach. Academic standards, and all that... ;)

38
by Fourth (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 9:20pm

24: I'll actually agree with you that WVU's sched is more difficult than Texas or Oklahoma's this year. That said, the Big East is still a wait-and-see for me. Louisville confirmed that you can't win with no defense, and Auburn is certainly *not* who we thought they were, diminishing USF's win. From what I've seen of the top 4 Big East teams this year (WVa/Marshall, WVa/Maryland, Louisville/MTSU, USF/Aub, and highlights/recaps only of Rutgers) based mostly on the eyeball test, I'd rank the offenses...
1. Louisville (Brohm is real good)
2. WVa (Slaton = amazing, but passing O is meh)
3. Rutgers (haven't seen much of them)
4. USF (Auburn makes everyone play ugly, but wow)

And the defenses
1. Rutgers (though not much competition)
2. USF (can both tackle and run fast)
3. WVa (can't tackle)
Last: Louisville (can't tackle or cover).

I don't know who is going to come out of that mess..WVa has the best chance, but they'll have to improve their tackling over the course of the year if you're going to convince me they can take out any of LSU/USC/UF/OU.

Now since I can't post without mentioning the SEC, can we call next week "Reality Check Saturday" for two of our little brothers in the East, Kentucky and South Carolina?
Kentucky +6.5 @ Arkansas
South Carolina +16.5 @ LSU

39
by JoeyMeyer (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 9:39pm

Weis also, I think, gets some extra credit for his bluster. Willingham is a boring interview and extremely reserved, which is fine as long as you're winning, but surely wears thin if you're not. Then again, if you don't score an offensive touchdown all season I'm sure that bluster wears thin, too.

40
by bradluen (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 10:13pm

WVa's passing game is currently good, if too dependent on Reynaud's yards after the catch. If they can work out how to involve Noel Devine, who looks scarily fast, they could be outstanding.

Still think Rutgers has the best shot of anyone in the Big East at the BCS championship game because of their schedule. WVa has to travel to USF, Rutgers and Cincinnati (who will wreck somebody's season); Rutgers' road schedule is trivial until the closer at Louisville.

41
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 10:22pm

Wedge:

Look, I am not arguging that Wisconsin has looked good. I just keep in mind the following:

--Wisconsin always starts slow. Always. They just do. Why? No idea. Well, some idea but it's pure guess so why bother mentioning. But if you sift through the archives you will rarely find Wisconsin blowing out anyone on the road early and only tearing apart truly inferior teams when at home.

--Wisconsin was ranked as high as they were because they only lost six guys from Offense/Defense but what a six. Both starting safeties, middle linebacker, quarterback, left tackle and left DE. Pretty much all the brains of the defense and two of the most critical offensive positions.

--Bielema plays his young guys. Alvarez tended to give the fourth year junior first shot but BB has a slew of redshirt freshmen in the rotation. He would rather live with the mistakes and take advantage of the talent. Barry loathed all mistakes so would sacrifice the chance for a big play to have folks in the right place every time. Hence the reason Wisconsin, especially on defense, has been gashed early.

Well, this likely reads as excuse making so I will stop. I just wanted folks to understand the train of thought behind the posts.

42
by thok (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 10:34pm

Re 29:

While Cal is a good team, Longshore has been medicore at QB, and the defense still needs work (in particular the D-Line has done little to impress me). Don't let our good WR's and RB's make you ignore the rest of the team.

The Oregon game will be interesting (especially since Tedford has struggled against his ex-employer in the past).

43
by oljb (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2007 - 11:38pm

I can't argue that West Virginia's pass defense leaves something to be desired. They are legitimately good at stopping the run, as they were last year, but they give up passes both short and long with disheartening regularity.

So I don't think it's a lock that they will go undefeated. However, if they do go undefeated against some pretty killer offenses coming up in the schedule, I think that would prove they have a complimentary defense to go with a championship-level offense.

My point is, if West Virginia goes undefeated, the only reasonable scenario I can see where they wouldn't be in the championship game is if both USC and Floria/LSU were undefeated. A snub in favor of an Big Ten or Big 12 team would be something of a travesty.

But, of course, it's still early, so we'll see.

44
by Fourth (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 12:06am

43:
Yeah, I think we pretty much agree here. I only say "pretty much" because if WVa goes undefeated as you say, but is winning games 49-41, while Oklahoma also goes undefeated (even if against somewhat lesser competition) but keeps winning by 6 touchdowns, I'd vote Oklahoma in. I don't think the gap in the strength of sched is all that large, though looking at it now, it certainly exists. I just wonder where all these "killer offenses" are on WVa's schedule...Louisville and...? Rutgers is the only other offense that could even be considered close to that. WVa does have a killer road schedule, though, between @USF/@Rutgers/@Cinci. Of course, this whole OU v WV debate is super extremely hypothetical, as Russell points out at the beginning, though it's part of what makes college football fun :)

45
by Tiresias (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 12:28am

"Oklahoma may have the easiest path of the top teams, but still has its annual showdown with Texas."

Texas has been completely unimpressive.

46
by David (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 1:11am

USC's line play (d-line and o-line) impressed the hell out of me on saturday night. Their nose tackle was completely unblockable, and their offensive line was getting them 10 yards/carry.

47
by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 1:13am

Re 31: Since "Deliverance" is set in the mountains of Georgia, it's a little odd to cite it as a description of life in West Virginia.

48
by db (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 1:58am

Willingham's problem is that he is so dry and boring he can suck the life out of any program. He closed practice, severely limited access to players and runs the most boring O on turf. He punted twice in the first half from inside the OSU 40 last weekend. Gilbertson didn't do much at UW but he did leave the lines loaded with good young prospects. Ty has a losing record as a coach because he is just too bland to win.

49
by db (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 2:01am

That is "Paint-dry-TY and the Vanilla O".

50
by KJ (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 5:30am

I agree that the race card gets overplayed in general, but honestly, anyone who says the main factor isn't white Catholic who went to ND, vs black Protestant who didn't, is just kidding themselves. There are other key factors, sure, like coming from the Pats or the fact that everyone went all in on Weis and turning on him would mean long-term ND defeat. But the other things are mostly just perception. *You* might like Weis because he is "progressive" (a funny thing to argue counts as a positive for public opinion at such a tradition-rich school), but do you think Willingham would have gotten any breaks if he had went for 4th and missed? Please.

51
by James G (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 8:39am

Gilbertson didn't do much at UW? All he did was totally demolish the program. They were 1-10 under Gilbertson. Ty had a huge mess to clean up.

52
by Dennis (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 8:53am

#20: So if we take the worst of those classes (asuming the ratings mean something), that means ND has the 40th best talent in the country. Yet they aren't even close to being the 40th best team right now, they flat out suck. They'd have a hard time beating Syracuse. So if a team is underperforming by this much, how is it not the coach's fault?

I agree with #50 - Weiss is a Notre Dame guy and Willingham wasn't, so Weiss is going to get the benefit of the doubt for quite a while.

53
by Pete (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 9:53am

I think Tebow looked good on Saturday, although there seems to be a bit too much of a tendency for Tebow to run (however, this may have been setting up for later fake-runs). I agreed with the commentator who said Tebow should have been taken out when the Gators were up by 3 touchdowns. I do appreciate that Meyer may have wanted him to get practice in a game throwing to different receivers, however.

I think Florida should have huge concerns over their pass defense. The Gators never got any pressure on the QB unless they brought in multiple blitzing defenders (and never really pressured the QB that much, IMO). This could be a huge problem against LSU who practices against one of the best defenses lines. I am not positive, but I also do not remember Stafford throwing many bad passes when he is not pressured (although his receivers still seem to drop at least a half dozen passes every game… much like Tennessee did against Florida).

The Florida Pass Defense eventually did stop the screen passes (apparently 1 defender for 2 receivers was not working well). However, I really hate how Charlie Strong (ever since Stoops & Zook) defends against the pass. Does any pro system consistently have 1-2 cornerbacks in man coverage start 5-10 yards off the line of scrimage and back-pedaling?!? The Gators consistently give any opposing team a 5-8 yard pass. Last year only Auburn (and LSU and South Carolina, to a lesser extent) really took advantage of this. Add to that multiple injuries this past week and trouble could be brewing for the Gators.

When not pressured Georgia's QB, Stafford, throws quite well, especially on short and medium range passes. This could really hurt Florida.

Personally, I prefer a mix of calculated data (Sagarin, DVOA) with Polls. Polls can factor in aspects of a team that a program may overlook (injuries/suspensions, etc.) However, I agree that a problem with many Polls is that voters can park a team on a spot until they lose when they deserve to drop.

54
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 9:57am

One thing I will say about Weis vs. Willingham...

Let's go back a few years, to a time when USC wasn't what it is today. And it wasn't that long ago. Yea, let us go back to the late 90s, when Paul Hackett was the USC coach.

USC at the time wasn't getting the best of recruiting classes, either. But as a resident of LA, the thing that was by far the most obvious was game day.

Crowd (small as it was then) roaring. Band playing. Song girls gyrating. The Coliseum announcer "Now taking the field...your USC Trojans!"...crowd cheers...band plays louder...

...and the team listlessly jogs onto the field.

Every week, week in, week out. You just didn't get the impression that the team cared.

Emotion, energy, and momentum play such a huge role in college football, and you just felt like those USC teams had none of those things.

When replacing Paul Hackett with Pete Carroll, maybe the team didn't turn around instantly (it took two years, which is still pretty fast given the lackluster recruiting classes Hackett brought in), and in fact, his first year was quite lackluster, but you never got the impression that the team didn't care. And in his 6+ years, that's one impression you just don't get from his teams.

When Willingham was the Notre Dame coach, that's the kind of Notre Dame team you saw. The team just didn't seem to care.

Likewise, I don't question whether Weis' teams care or not. That said, the worst recruiting class they've had in the past while is 40th, and while that's not great, it still means upper third, and Weis is not in any way, shape, or form, getting anything out of those classes. It's his job to figure out what they can do and have them do it, and he obviously hasn't been doing that job, and that is not on his players, that's 100% on Charlie Weis.

55
by pete c (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 10:10am

Big Penn State fan here. I think the Big Ten is tough at the top, but all around atrocious after the top 3. These schools are just not getting the athletes that the Pac 10 and SEC teams are getting. In a lot of the Florida and California schools, the third stringers are as fast and as athletic as the first stringers at the Big Ten Schools. Some of it is the recruiting pool in those states. A lot of it is increased competition from the Big East, Big 12, and even an improved MAC. years ago Joe paterno would pick of the Mid Atlantic as to which guys he wanted to go to Penn State. Then you get years like the mid-90s when he loses Eddie George to OSU.

Look at Michigan. Their loss to ASU was not a fluke. ASU ran them off the field. No longer can a Big 10 team line up and pound the ball to win.

56
by Trogdor (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 11:07am

"DMP, an utter lack of older, experienced offensive linemen spells doom for any team. This would be true no matter the coach. Carroll and Meyer are great coaches, but if you gave them ND’s ‘07 squad, they still would be ineffective. Too many “Ole!� blocks, and too little strength from inexperienced guys.

You know, given that one of the consistent points made on this site is the value of offensive lines in offensive success, I’d expect more people here to understand this. I have to say, I’m a little disappointed in the readership here."

I don't mean to be snarky here, but you seem to be missing the point altogther. Nobody here is denying the importance of line play. What we want to know is, if line play is Notre Dame's biggest problem, then why is Notre Dame's offensive line so terrible?

Are they just doing a bad job developing the linemen they have? Did they not recruit enough linemen for several years (looking forward for upcoming needs is a big part of coaching)? Their current starters were all somewhat highly regarded out of high school - while those rankings aren't by any means authoritative, surely they can't be that completely wrong about every single Notre Dame lineman, can they? Why are there so many "Ole!" blocks?

It's not enough to say Weis should get a free pass because their line sucks. Isn't part of his job to make sure the line doesn't suck? To 'coach up' the bad players, to recruit better ones (he's had enough recruiting classes he can't entirely use the Willingham excuse), and to make something work?

Look, I've made no secret that I'm not the biggest Notre Dame fan, and I am completely thrilled that they suck so bad. So I'm not going to be the most sympathetic to a coach who's had two (and a half-ish) of his own recruiting classes, has a reputation as a genius, and has defenders claiming the cupboard was so empty there's nothing he can do. Again, those recruiting rankings are not the most accurate, so let's assume for the sake of generosity that over the past four years ND has gotten the 65th-best offensive talent. Does that look like even the 65th-best offense to you? They are just drop-dead awful. No matter how bare the cupboard may have been - and I don't by any means believe it's as bare as is being made out - they're still radically underperforming the talent level. Somewhere along the line these players aren't improving enough to face college competition. And that falls squarely on the head coach.

57
by Dan (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 11:15am

Weis made 20 million+ via bowl games for the school in his first two years. He has a lot of goodwill(as would anyone in business) for generating those numbers. If you think that Willingham was going to win 19 games with Quinn, Shark and a bunch of non impact-NFL players then you haven't watched Ty coach. He is not exactly tearing it up at UW where he is 9-16.

ND's frosh and sophomore classes are each rated in the top 10. It is obvious that a team devoid of any upper level talent is not going to win games against a brutal schedule. ND's early signings this year are rated as a top 5 class. In the business world analysts would put a good valuation on ND because success is on the way. If Weis wasn't bringing in talent there would be a problem, but I think a ton of people are going to look like fools by bashing this guy.

58
by mactbone (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 11:20am

Willingham:
9-3 (Gator Bowl)
5-6
6-6 (Insight Bowl)

Weis:
10-3 (Fiesta Bowl)
9-3 (Sugar Bowl)
0-3

Tony K. thinks ND fans are ready to fire Weis. Other people think ND fans are giving Weis too much time and imply racism.

I think there's a substantive difference when a team goes to two BCS Bowl games (deserved or not) and develops first round talent compared to a team that barely wins games, stays mediocre and doesn't develop any good players.

Re 21:
Yeah, the knock on that Zook guy was always his horrible recruiting.

59
by James G (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 11:25am

57 - Yes, Ty is not tearing it up at UW, but you can't just use his overall record and call that his ability as coach. Neuheisel and then Gilbertson absolutely wrecked the UW program. The year prior to Ty, they were 1-10. Ty's been 2-9 and then 4-7, which shows improvement. And, they were likely a bowl team last year had Stanback not gotten hurt. Talk about bare cupboards. Ty was virtually starting from scratch (although, yes, the previous coaches did get him Stanback).

60
by DMP (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 11:50am

What Trogdor said!

61
by mmm... sacrilicious (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 11:53am

#55: That can't possibly be the whole story. First of all, if recent history (the past 10 years) has taught us anything, it has taught us that conference strength is cyclical. 6-7 years ago, people were saying the same things about the Big Ten. Then OSU won a national championship, the conference won a bunch of bowl games, and 2-3 teams annually finished in the top 10 for a few years in a row. Every conference (except possibly the SEC) hits temporary low points; this is one for the Big Ten.

Second, I'm not sure your logic works. Sure, the Big Ten is facing increased competition for recruits at the margins. But the recruiting options for prospects north of Kentucky, west of eastern Pennsylvania, and east of the Dakotas haven't changed dramatically; it's not like the MAC is threatening. You could make an equally strong arguments about increased competition for the Florida "big 3" from South Florida and USF, or for the Pac 10 powers from Boise State, Hawaii, Utah, etc. I think this is a country-wide phenomenon that is caused by the 85-scholarship limit and increased national TV exposure for everyone.

Finally, the stereotype of the "line up and pound the ball" offenses is easy to make, but way off-base. The only teams that currently fit that description are Michigan and Wisconsin. OSU won the Big Ten last year using a spread option that they took directly from Texas.

62
by SGT Ben (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 12:30pm

#47 - Re 31: Since “Deliverance� is set in the mountains of Georgia, it’s a little odd to cite it as a description of life in West Virginia.

It wasn't so much that it was about West Virginians in particular...but that is a very common misconception of the state of West Virginia. That they are a bunch of backwards-backwoods-inbred folk. By my having lived there for 8+ years, I hear all sorts of jokes directed at me as if it were true and it was contagious. It's silly, but that's just how it is.

#61 - OSU didn't take the spread option offense directly from Texas. Texas was far from being the only team to use that offense successfully. WVU, anywhere Urban Myer has coached and several other schools (with names that elude me) were using that offense two years ago when OSU saw it's advantages with their personnel. This year, our QB isn't nearly as athletically gifted a runner as Troy was...so we've matched our offense to match our playmakers. Next year, it could be different depending on who lines up behind center. Give some kudos to Tressel for finding something that worked against everyone except Florida...then hang him for not being prepared! lol

63
by Dennis (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 1:42pm

Re 58: So if the reason ND sucks so bad this year is because of Willingham's failures in recruiting, then Weiss must be the greatest coach in the history of college football if he was able to take ND to two BCS bowls with Willingham's crappy players. So that means that if Willingham was still there, not only would they not have scored an offensive touchdown in three games, they probably wouldn't have even gotten a first down.

64
by Disco Stu (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 1:51pm

Re 63-

yes exactly. well summarized

65
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 2:39pm

I wonder how many 5 star players Appalachian state had on their roster.

I understand they are young, but being young and being outplayed and outcoaches are two different things.

66
by Dennis (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 3:31pm

Here's an analysis of it from an opinion column in the Rocky Mountain News today. It's a bit heavy on the race issue, but there are some good points in it.
http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/opinion_columnists/article/0,2777,...

As for Weis, my friend JJ explains why the different treatment given to Weis and his predecessor at Notre Dame, Ty Willingham (who is black), is an illustration of why race still matters:

"Look," he says, "why did the white guy get the 10-year contract extension in the first place? As I recall, there was plenty of excitement after Willingham's first year, too - maybe ND's athletic director sent him a nice fruit basket.

"I'm not saying ND's AD and president are sitting there saying, 'Well, Weis sucks, but he's white, let's give him another chance.' Obviously that's not what's happening.

"But I do think there's plenty of institutional racism, and this is a good case. Weis isn't getting another chance because ND's administration is overtly racist, it's because everyone at ND is just more inclined to think highly of Weis and poorly of Willingham.

"There might have been plenty of reasons to think Willingham wasn't the right guy - I'd have fired him too - but the fact is that there's just no reason in the world to think Weis is a superstar coach or ever will be. He was a risky hire to start with, a guy with a mediocre track record as a coordinator and no experience whatsoever with either being the head of an organization or with college football at all. By the way, a black guy with that résumé would have no possible chance of being hired at ND, but that's neither here nor there.

"(Florida coach) Urban Meyer could start a college football program from scratch and it'd be better than this by year three. If you've ever been routed five times in a row, under any circumstances, you're not a superstar coach, period. Occam's razor has spoken - the most likely explanation for the sheer awfulness of this team is that Weis is simply a bad college football coach.

"But Weis gets another chance, while Willingham gets the ax. One (Weis) is laughably unproven, one (Willingham) has been successful elsewhere. One's white, one's black."

67
by mactbone (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 4:23pm

One went to two BCS bowls, the other... not so much. One won 9 games his second year, the other won 5. One got buzz from commentators about NFL interest, the other didn't.

Weis isn't a superstar coach but recruiting rankings seem to think he's doing a nice job there. He turned a good QB into a first round pick. It seems really that people are arguing two different points, Weis is a bad coach and this year is proof of that and Weis is a worse coach than Willingham.

Willingham's Second Year:
Sept. 6, 2003 Wash. St. W 29-26
Sept. 13, 2003 at Michigan L 38-0
Sept. 20, 2003 Michigan State L 22-16
Sept. 27, 2003 at Purdue L 23-10
Oct. 11, 2003 at Pittsburgh W 20-14
Oct. 18, 2003 Southern Cal L 45-14
Oct. 25, 2003 at Boston College L 27-25
Nov. 1, 2003 Florida State L 37-0
Nov. 8, 2003 Navy W 27-24
Nov. 15, 2003 Brigham Young W 33-14
Nov. 29, 2003 at Stanford W 57-7
Dec. 6, 2003 at Syracuse L 38-12

Willingham's Third Year:
Sept. 4, 2004 at Brigham Young L 20-17
Sept. 11, 2004 Michigan W 28-20
Sept. 18, 2004 at Michigan State W 31-24
Sept. 25, 2004 Washington W 38-3
Oct. 2, 2004 Purdue L 41-16
Oct. 9, 2004 Stanford W 23-15
Oct. 16, 2004 at Navy W 27-9
Oct. 23, 2004 Boston College L 24-23
Nov. 6, 2004 at Tennessee W 17-13
Nov. 13, 2004 Pittsburgh L 41-38
Nov. 27, 2004 at Southern Cal L 41-10
Dec. 28, 2004 at Oregon State L 38-21

Weis's first and second seasons look a lot like Willingam's first - win a bunch of games they should, beat Michigan or some other decent team, lose to a team that beats ND every so often (BC, MSU), and then get beat by USC and the bowl team. Only difference is that Weis did it twice and Willingham did it once - ergo Weis gets another year.

I checked the average scores for Willingham and Weis at ND. Willingham comes out at 22.2 for and 22.19 against. Weis comes out 30.46 for and 25.21 against, even counting this season's games.

Make of all this what you will, but I think people that dislike ND will have a lot of fun this year and maybe as long as Weis is the coach but that doesn't mean Willingham was any good or would do any better.

68
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 4:49pm

That seems like the best reason why Weis would get another year. Willingham had one year of "Beat who you should, lose to the good teams", then two lackluster years. Weis has two of the former, and this year certainly seems to be the latter.

No matter what Weis has in a contract, if he goes 5-7 this year, and next year were to do the same, he would be fired.

As Willingham was.

69
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 4:53pm

Perhaps if Ty was able to coach his recruits going into their junior and senior year they would have been better-Unless it was just the genius of Weis that gave Quinn the normal jump between a player's sophomore to junior season....

70
by lofistew (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 5:25pm

I'm a lifelong Notre Dame fan and I've lived in the South Bend area my whole life, so I've always had a very close-up view of the program. I'd like to bring up something that I haven't seen mentioned in this debate yet.

Namely, one of the main factors in Willingham getting only three years at in South Bend was that the ND bigwigs were in a big hurry to hire Urban Meyer before anyone else grabbed him from Utah.

I'm convinced they thought that Meyer would surely come back to Notre Dame. After all, he had coached there from 1996-2000. But to ND's shock, Meyer turned them down (ironically after taking advice from former irish coach Bob Davie) and went to Florida. So Weis eventually got the job.

I think Willingham is a fine man, but he's not a top-notch head coach. He's way too cautious -- I've never seen a team punt so much on 4th-and-2 from the opposing team's 38-yard-line. The program was listless and not improving. Even if Willingham had coached at ND for another season or two, I don't think there's any way they would have the success that Weis had in 2005-06 with those players.

But if Boy Genius Urban Meyer had not been up for grabs at the end of 2004 season, I think Willingham would have lasted at least one more season in South Bend. The ND brass made a snap decision and wrongly assumed that Meyer was theirs for the asking. But it didn't work out that way.

I was a Weis guy, although I was concerned about they way ND crapped the bed in big games (except for the USC game in '05). Now I really have doubts.

The offense is certainly the worst in ND history and maybe the worst in recent Div. I history. That can't all be blamed on lack of talent or poor recruiting. Weis and his coaching staff have done a terrible job preparing this team to play this season.

Barring a major turnaround, I think there's a good chance Notre Dame could go winless this season.

71
by Dennis (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 6:05pm

#70: That's a great point about the Meyer thing. And that brings up another question: what is the upside of coaching ND?

It's a no-win situation. The expectation of the fans is anything less than a championship is a disappointment. And if you do win it, you don't get the credit you probably should because everyone points to the advantages ND has with their own TV contract and such. And if you have a bad year, you get criticized everywhere.

If a team like Florida struggles, it's a big deal around Gainesville but nobody else really cares. When ND struggles, it's national news. So unless you're a big ND fan or alum like Weiss, I don't see the attraction of the Job.

72
by lofistew (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 9:00pm

Re: #71 -- You know, Dennis, the funny thing is, the whole "ND fans expect a national championship every year" thing is kind of misrepresentation.

I think most ND fans just want to have a chance at a national title on a halfway consistent basis. We want the Irish to be "in the mix" with the USCs, the Floridas, the Ohio States, etc. After all, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz only won a combined three titles in 22 seasons, and yet they're still considered legends at ND.

They don't have to go 13-0 every year to please most Irish fans (granted, some are idiots -- but every fanbase has those). But how about winning a bowl game every decade or so? How about coming up just short at 12-1 and ranked third? Or finishing a 9-3 season with 5-game winning streak? How about beating a ranked team as an underdog once in awhile?

I don't think that's too much to ask. Lots of other schools do that. All the ND fans I know just want the Irish to be in the conversation about the best teams in the country, instead of the laughing stock they've become.

73
by Dennis (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2007 - 9:13pm

lofistew, fair enough. I think the underlying point is still there, that the ND coach takes a lot more heat nationally than coaches of other teams. The job seems like a no-win situation.

74
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 09/19/2007 - 1:44am

After all, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz only won a combined three titles in 22 seasons, and yet they’re still considered legends at ND.

Only?! Joe Paterno has two in 41 seasons. Bobby Bowden has two in 31 seasons. Woody Hayes only had three in 28 seasons. Three titles in 22 seasons is incredibly high. That's one every eight years!

"Notre Dame fans aren't that bad. We don't ask much. I mean, our coaching legends have only earned a national championship once every eight years. Is that so much to ask?"

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by RickD (not verified) :: Wed, 09/19/2007 - 7:56am

re: 18
I was trying to remember when a Gruden-coached team beat the Pats and couldn't. So I looked up the Dr. Z column. FWIW, the person Weiss was talking to at the time was Monte Kiflin, the year was 2000, he was the Bucs' defensive coordinator and Gruden was still in Oakland at the time.

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by lofistew (not verified) :: Wed, 09/19/2007 - 3:29pm

#74 -- That's my point. Even though Paterno, Bowden, and Hayes didn't even come close to winning a national title every year, they are still considered coaching legends at their schools and in college football in general.

I'm not saying ND fans expect as their birthright to win a national championship every year or every eight years. But we would like the Irish to at least CONTEND for one every once in a while, something which hasn't happened since 1993.

In fact, in the 13 seasons since '93, ND has finished in the final AP top 10 just once (#9 in 2005), while finishing unranked six times (and this season will undoubtedly be the seventh time).

You may feel it's unreasonable for ND fans to want their team to be one of the top 25 teams in the country more often than every other year, but I don't.

The whole "ND fans are impossible to please because they expect perfection" thing is a strawman argument. If Ohio State or Florida or LSU or dozens of other big BCS programs had Notre Dame's record over the last 13 years, don't you think their fans would be bitching, too?

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by lionsbob (not verified) :: Wed, 09/19/2007 - 9:32pm

Alabama and Notre Dame fans are the same....I think most Bama fans know we are not going to win a National Championship 4 or 5 times in the next 10 years (I can dream...) but we do want to be a BCS-caliber team every season.