November 21, 2009

Winners and losers: Irish make a habit of failure

Look at Notre Dame, huddled on the shadowy fringe of irrelevance.

The Fighting Irish have become a national punch line with each successive defeat. The latest kick in the gut: falling 33-30 to Connecticut on "Senior Day" under the Golden Dome.

It was a familiar story line in South Bend, as Notre Dame's defense was run over. UConn rushed for 231 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry.

Don't out all the blame on coordinator Jon Tenuta. This is an Irish defense that lacks athletic ability and playmakers.

Hey, who are we kidding? It's an Irish program that's lacking a lot of things, including a competent head coach.

Too bad ND isn't coached by the Huskies' Randy Edsall. There's no way Notre Dame and its wealth of built-in advantages ever should lose at home to UConn. The school is in its first decade as a FBS program and came in near the bottom of the Big East.

Making this win even sweeter for UConn is that it was quarterbacked by a Notre Dame castoff, Zach Frazer, who took off for UConn after losing a four-man race in the spring of 2007 to become the Irish starter.

UConn limped into this game with three successive losses since the stabbing death of cornerback Jasper Howard.

" 'Jazz,' this is for you," Edsall said, referring to Howard by his nickname. "Best win we have ever had."

This may be the worst loss Charlie Weis ever has had, given what was on the line. But the way the defeats have been stacking up the past three seasons, it's hard to pick an all-time clunker. How about the Navy loss in 2007? Or what about the Syracuse embarrassment last season on "Senior Day?"

Next up: A trip to Stanford, which may be the hottest team in college football. How badly do you think Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh will pile on the Irish?

It would be only fitting for Weis to leave Notre Dame in a blaze of defeat. Any shred of hope Weis had of retaining his job has washed away. In fact, this will be the easiest decision Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick will make during his tenure. It also will be an expensive one, as reports have put Weis' buyout as high as $18 million.

Quarterback Jimmy Clausen and wide receiver Golden Tate also may exit South Bend by turning pro a year early

Notre Dame is 6-5 and this loss makes Weis 35-26 in his five-season tenure, a .573 winning percentage that's worse than predecessors Tyrone Willingham and Bob Davie.

Now, the speculation on who will take over will hit overdrive. The ideal candidate would be an established coach who has proven success. He also ideally would have a defensive background. The coaches who best fit that profile: Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and TCU's Gary Patterson. Others who may be hot are Cincinnati's Brian Kelly and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald.

The winner of the job needs to know this: Notre Dame never may be a consistent relevant national power again.

With that, we say goodbye to Weis. You never will be forgotten.

Winners

Alabama/Florida: Let's lump these teams together after each played a glorified exhibition. Alabama beat Chattanooga 45-0 and Florida routed Florida International 62-3 to set up games next weekend against their archrivals: Alabama at Auburn and Florida playing host to Florida State.

Clemson: It took Dabo Swinney one year to do what Tommy Bowden never did -- get the Tigers to the ACC title game. Clemson's 34-21 win over Virginia sets up an ACC title game matchup with Georgia Tech. Tech won an earlier meeting this season, 30-27. Swinney turned 40 on Friday.

Iowa: A 12-0 win over Minnesota makes the Hawkeyes 10-2 and keeps them in line for an at-large BCS bowl slot.

Florida State: It took some last-second heroics, but the Seminoles toppled Maryland 29-26 to become bowl eligible for the 28th consecutive season.

Kentucky: The Wildcats rallied from a 20-6 halftime deficit to win 34-27 at Georgia. It was Kentucky's first win in Athens since 1977. Earlier this season, UK won at Auburn for the first time since 1966.

Marshall: Mark Snyder may have saved his job, as a 34-31 victory over SMU makes the Thundering Herd bowl eligible.

Missouri: The Tigers finally ended a three-game home losing streak by beating Iowa State 34-24. Mizzou wide receiver Danario Alexander is on fire; he has 34 receptions for 578 yards and five TDs in the past three games.

Nebraska: In two seasons, Bo Pelini has led the Huskers to at least a share of two Big 12 North titles. This season, Nebraska will play Texas in the Big 12 title game after toppling Kansas State.

New Mexico: The wait is over, as the Lobos' 29-27 victory over Colorado State was the first of the season after an 0-10 start.

Northwestern: The Wildcats' season got even better with a 33-31 upset of Wisconsin ; it was Northwestern's third victory in a row and gave it an 8-4 regular-season record. Wouldn't Pat Fitzgerald look good under the Golden Dome?

Penn State: Many experts think the Big Ten will get an at-large BCS bid, and it will come down to Penn State and Iowa. The Nittany Lions' 42-14 demolition of Michigan State could swing the verdict in their favor.

Ohio State: Jim Tressel improved to 8-1 against Michigan with a 21-10 triumph in Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes have won six in a row in the series, matching the best streak in the rivalry since Michigan won six in succession in the 1920s.

Ole Miss: A 25-23 win over LSU is the latest bright spot for a Rebels program that is rebounding to have a nice season after some early-season struggles. That's five wins in their past six games for Ole Miss, which may be playing in Orlando in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day.

TCU: So much for a hangover following the Utah game. The Horned Frogs ripped Wyoming 45-10 to move to 11-0 for the first time in 71 years and remain in good shape for a BCS bowl bid -- and one crazy upset from maybe playing for the national title.

Texas: We've known for weeks that the Longhorns were the best team in the Big 12 South. A rout of Kansas makes it official: Texas is the South champs.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders became bowl eligible for the 16th consecutive season and Mike Leach became the school's winningest coach -- and it all happened in a resounding 41-13 romp over Oklahoma.

UCLA: A 23-13 win over Arizona State made the Bruins bowl eligible in Rick Neuheisel's second season. Credit the defense, which forced six turnovers and scored two touchdowns.

USF: Redshirt freshman B.J. Daniels became the first quarterback in school history to pass for 300 (304) and rush for 100 (104) yards in the same game in leading the Bulls to a tough 34-22 victory over Louisville. USF became bowl eligible with the win.

Losers

Arizona State: A 23-13 loss to UCLA was the fifth in a row for the Sun Devils. ASU has averaged 15 points during the losing streak, and the loss means coach Dennis Erickson will have back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in his career as a college coach.

Baylor: A 38-3 loss at Texas A&M makes it six losses in the past seven games for the Bears, who have scored 14 or fewer points in each loss. How did Baylor win 40-32 at Missouri?

Georgia: If this season wasn't already on the scrap heap in Athens, it is now. A 34-27 home loss to Kentucky drops the Bulldogs to 6-5 with a game left against Georgia Tech.

Kansas: The 51-20 loss to Texas seems minor compared to the damage that has been done to the program in the past week with the announcement of an investigation into how Mark Mangino runs his program.

Louisville: A 34-22 loss at USF was the Cardinals' ninth road defeat in a row and guaranteed them a second consecutive losing season.

LSU: What on God's green earth was Les Miles thinking? Get that field-goal team on the field ASAP! Too late, as LSU lost 25-23 at Ole Miss, hurting the Tigers' bowl positioning.

Maryland: A heartbreaking 29-26 loss at Florida State was the Terrapins' sixth defeat in a row and dropped them to 2-9.

Michigan: Poor Tate Forcier. He tossed four picks and saw his fumble in the end zone recovered for a score in a 21-10 loss to Ohio State. U-M will finish 5-7. The Wolverines now have suffered back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1962-63.

Oklahoma: A bad season became much worse in a 41-13 loss at Texas Tech. The five losses are OU's most since going 7-5 in 1999. With a home game left against Oklahoma State, the Sooners may be staring at a 6-6 record.

Rutgers: Last week, the Scarlet Knights whipped USF 31-0. This week, they were was hammered 31-13 by Syracuse. Don't try to figure it out.

Stanford: We guess Jim Harbaugh didn't heed his warnings about the "ills of hubris." Coming off consecutive victories over Oregon and USC, the Cardinal flopped 34-28 at home against California in "The Big Game."

Wisconsin: Any faint hope the Badgers had for a BCS bid is over after a 33-31 loss at Northwestern.

HOT SEAT

Les Miles, LSU: The end of the Tigers' 25-23 loss at Ole Miss was, um, dubious.

"I don't know what all happened down there at the end," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. "I just know the scoreboard read 25-23 Ole Miss Rebels."

Confusion reigned on LSU's sideline as the Tigers seemed clueless as to what plays to call. The Tigers lost 17 key seconds off the clock between third and fourth down on their final possession, when coaches waited way too long to call a timeout. And the coaches admitted they had no play called when LSU's last-second "Hail Mary" pass came up short at Ole Miss' 6 with one second left. There would be no game-winning field-goal attempt or even a play, as quarterback Jordan Jefferson instead spiked the ball.

"I can only tell you that the management at the back end of the game was the issue," LSU coach Les Miles said, later adding, "It's my fault that we didn't finish first in that game."

TOP STORYLINES FOR NEXT WEEK

1. Charlie Weis' swan song? The hot air that blew into South Bend five years ago may be blowing right out of town, as Notre Dame's contest at Stanford may be the last game of Weis' tenure.

2. Big East intrigue. With league title games in the SEC (Alabama-Florida), Big 12 (Texas-Nebraska) and ACC (Georgia Tech-Clemson) already set, the only theater left next week is in the Big East. Let's hope Pittsburgh beats West Virginia and Cincinnati topples Illinois to set up a de facto Big East title game on Dec. 5 when the Bearcats visit the Panthers.

3. Look out, Boise State. The Broncos have a potential trap game against Nevada on Friday.

4. Rivalry Week, Part II. There's Alabama-Auburn, Florida-Florida State, West Virginia-Pittsburgh, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Texas-Texas A&M, Clemson-South Carolina and BYU-Utah.

Dienhart's weekly awards
COACHES
Wish I were him: Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Glad I'm not him: Mark Mangino, Kansas
Lucky guy: Houston Nutt, Ole Miss
Poor guy: Mike Stoops, Arizona
Desperately seeking a clue: Les Miles, LSU
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
TEAMS
Thought you'd kick butt, you did: Oregon State
Thought you'd kick butt, you didn't: Rutgers
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you did: N.C. State
Thought you'd get your butt kicked, you didn't: Northwestern
They're good: Boise State
They're bad: Arizona State
Did the season start? Indiana
Can the season end? Oklahoma
Can the season never end? TCU
GAMES
Play this again: Oregon 44, Arizona 41 (2 OT)
Never play this again: Florida 62, Florida International 3
Oh ... my ... God: Syracuse 31, Rutgers 13
Told you so: Connecticut 33, Notre Dame 30 (2 OT)
NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for: Arkansas at LSU
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: none
Best non-Big Six matchup: Nevada at Boise State (Friday)
Upset alert: USF over Miami in Tampa
Must win: Georgia over Georgia Tech in Atlanta
Offensive explosion: Notre Dame at Stanford
Defensive struggle: Clemson at South Carolina
Great game no one is talking about: Pittsburgh at West Virginia
Intriguing coaching matchup: Alabama's Nick Saban vs. Auburn's Gene Chizik
Why are they playing? Navy at Hawaii
Plenty of good seats remaining: Wake Forest at Duke

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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