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November 9, 2009
Monday with Mike: Weis' seat heating up
The question was what would happen if the Irish went 8-4 -- and given the state of their season, that could end up being a very important question.
The Irish fell by two at home to Navy on Saturday and now are 6-3. That's the second loss to the Midshipmen in three seasons -- and that comes on the heels of a 43-game winning streak against Navy.
There are games remaining against Pittsburgh on the road, Connecticut at home and Stanford on the road. Frankly, a 7-5 finish looks more likely than anything else. Pitt and Stanford have balanced offenses. Notre Dame can beat both, but it will require shootout wins because the Irish defense won't be able to hold up against the Panthers and Cardinal.
Notre Dame is not paying Weis to go 7-5. The Irish finished with a losing record in 2007 and went to the Hawaii Bowl in '08. A 7-5 record in '09 would mean incremental progress -- extremely incremental progress. That's not good enough.
This is Weis' fifth season; these are his players. His offense is quite good, his defense quite bad. The problem: The defense is two recruiting classes away from being legitimate, but all those offensive stars are going to be gone by then.
Heck, quarterback Jimmy Clausen might be gone at the end of this season. If he's told he's a likely first-round pick, why stay? All he has to do is remember these two words -- "Sam Bradford." And will junior wide receiver Golden Tate, who has had a great year, stick around for his senior season?
There was news last week that Irish backup quarterback Dayne Crist has a torn ACL and will miss spring drills. There are three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, and one is senior Evan Sharpley. If Clausen leaves and Crist is hurt, who is going to take snaps during spring drills?
How confident can Irish coaches be that Clausen and Tate will be back next season? If they return, the Irish again will be good offensively. But they're also going to be less-than-stellar defensively again. That sounds like another 8-4-type of season.
Notre Dame is never going to be what it once was -- a perennial national title contender who could sign anyone it wanted. The school's tough academic requirements play a role. But there are vastly more positives than negatives when it comes to recruiting for Notre Dame. For whatever reason, though, Weis and his staff haven't been able to recruit enough difference-makers.
Weis has a monster ego, but every coach worth his salt has a monster ego. Still, his results aren't commensurate with his ego. All this is important because there aren't a lot of folks out there who have Weis' back. At this point, can anyone be confident Weis is going to get the Irish back into the top 10 -- heck, even the top 20 -- on an annual basis?
In addition, Weis' results have not been commensurate with his salary. Name one marquee victory during his tenure. Yes, there were BCS bids in each of his first two seasons -- but Tyrone Willingham recruited those players. And, frankly, the bids weren't deserved.
And those may end up being the halcyon days of his tenure.
Big Ten bashing
Michigan State and Minnesota look as if they will make it, but if two Big Ten teams make it to BCS bowls, the league will come up one short if the Spartans and Golden Gophers are the league's only other bowl-eligible teams.
The flipside: Will two teams make it to the BCS?
The Big Ten champ is a given; it earns a Rose Bowl berth. But is a BCS bowl going to want a second-place Big Ten team this season?
For the sake of argument, let's say Ohio State wins next week's showdown with Iowa. That would put the Buckeyes in the driver's seat in the league race -- and that also would drop Iowa to 9-2 with a game remaining against Minnesota. Would a 10-2 Iowa team that had lost two of its past three appeal to a BCS game?
Let's also assume Penn State finishes 10-2. In that scenario, would a BCS bowl want a Penn State team that lost to the only two real opponents it had all season?
For the sake of argument, let's say Iowa wins next week over Ohio State. A three-loss Buckeyes team would have no shot at a BCS bid -- but given how the Buckeyes beat Penn State, would a BCS bowl take the Nittany Lions in that scenario?
The team loving all the Big Ten turmoil is Boise State. A 13-0 Boise State team likely would finish six or seven spots ahead of the second-place Big Ten team in the BCS standings. Plus, taking an unbeaten Boise State instead of a two-loss Big Ten runner-up sure would be a great P.R. move for the BCS.
What in the world was happening in the SEC on Saturday? Four league teams played FCS opponents. Yap all you want about the tough conference schedule, but there's no reason to be playing FCS opponents in early November.
Georgia Tech pulled one out in overtime, beating Wake Forest 30-27. Wake scored on a field goal on its OT possession, then watched as Tech drove to a fourth-and-1 at the 5. Coach Paul Johnson's team had failed on four previous fourth-down attempts Saturday, but there Tech was, lined up to go for it knowing that a field goal would send the game into a second overtime. Then, Tech was unsuccessful in trying to lure Wake offside, and Johnson called a timeout. Time for the field goal, right? Wrong. The offense went back on the field, and quarterback Josh Nesbitt gained 2 yards. On the next play, Nesbitt scored from the 3. "I play to win," Johnson told reporters afterward. "The kids work hard and put in a lot of time and effort. If we can't make an inch there, we don't deserve to win the game."
Utah true freshman quarterback Jordan Wynn made his first career start Saturday against winless New Mexico and guided the Utes to a 45-14 rout. Wynn threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns before sitting out the fourth quarter. Usually, teams that are 7-1 don't make quarterback changes, but don't tell that to Utes coach Kyle Whittingham. "He's performing like we need him to. He's not playing like a true freshman," Whittingham said of Wynn, who saw his first college action last week in a victory over Wyoming. Next week, it'll be a much tougher test than Wyoming and New Mexico: Utah plays at TCU, which leads the nation in total defense. TCU has allowed two touchdowns and 25 total points in its past four games.
News that Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder could miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury could mean FSU's bowl streak will come to an end. The Seminoles have made 27 consecutive bowl appearances; second is Florida, with 18. FSU's defense is horrendous this season, and Ponder's strong play was the one constant for the Seminoles. With Ponder sidelined, the job falls to seldom-used redshirt freshman E.J. Manuel. FSU plays Wake Forest this weekend, and Wake quarterback Riley Skinner should carve up FSU's secondary. Will an offense led by Manuel be able to keep up? After that is a home game with a bad Maryland team, and FSU should win even without Ponder. The regular-season finale is at Florida. With Ponder, FSU had a shot. Without him, Florida likely will blitz Manuel into submission.
Nebraska's victory over Oklahoma puts the Huskers in good shape to win the Big 12 North; also in good shape is Kansas State. Those two have a one-game lead in the loss column over Colorado (Colorado!), while Iowa State, Kansas and Missouri are two games back and barely alive in the race. This week, Nebraska is at Kansas -- which has lost four in a row -- and Kansas State is at home against Missouri. The Huskers play host to the Wildcats on Nov. 21, and the Big 12 North likely will be on the line.
The ending of Saturday's Houston-Tulsa game was similar to the ending of the Central Michigan-Michigan State game on Sept. 12. Saturday night, Houston scored with 21 seconds left to cut Tulsa's lead to 45-43. Cougars quarterback Case Keenum was sacked on the ensuing two-point conversion pass, but the Cougars recovered the onside kick. After two completions covered 27 yards, Matt Hogan booted a game-winning 51-yard field goal on the last play of the game. On Sept. 12, Central Michigan scored with 32 seconds left to cut Michigan State's lead to 27-26. CMU went for two but the pass was caught out of bounds. CMU then recovered the onside kick, and after three completions covered 22 yards, Andrew Aguila made a 42-yard field goal on the final play. Aguila actually missed his initial attempt -- from 47 yards -- but Michigan State was offside, giving him another chance.
Staying with Houston for a minute, its defense has given up 1,142 yards and 88 points in the past two weeks to Conference USA opponents Southern Miss and Tulsa. On the bright side, the Cougars have won both games … thanks to an offense that put up 1,445 yards and 96 points. In its two wins over Big 12 teams Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, Houston allowed a total of 918 yards and 63 points.
You want to know why Virginia has lost three in a row? The Cavaliers have gained 543 total yards in those three games; that's an average of 181 yards per game.
BYU quarterback Max Hall threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns in the Cougars' 52-0 demolition of Wyoming. That gives him 82 career TD passes and 18 career 300-yard games, making him the record-holder in both categories in Mountain West history. Former BYU quarterback John Beck held both records, with 78 TD passes and 17 300-yard games.
UAB quarterback Joe Webb accounted for 412 total yards and six touchdowns in the Blazers' rout of Florida Atlantic. Webb threw for 292 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 120 yards and two more scores.
North Alabama, coached by Terry Bowden and the top-ranked team in Division II going into the weekend, fell 31-28 to West Alabama in four overtimes Saturday. West Alabama's winning field goal came after an interception by UNA quarterback Harrison Beck. UNA already had clinched a playoff berth, and the Lions' loss was one of two by previously unbeaten teams, meaning Central Washington is the lone Division II unbeaten remaining. It was West Alabama's first victory at North Alabama since 1987. Ironically, the UNA coach that day was Bobby Wallace, who now is West Alabama's coach. North Alabama, Minnesota-Duluth, Central Washington and West Liberty (W.Va.) were selected Sunday as the four regional No. 1 seeds in the 24-team Division II playoff field. The top two seeds in each six-team region get first-round byes; the event begins this weekend.
Richmond, which had been the top-ranked team in the FCS poll, also fell on Saturday, losing 21-20 to No. 4 Villanova. Villanova, which opened its season with a victory over Temple, scored the game-winning touchdown with 59 seconds left. It's the second season in a row Villanova has beaten Richmond, which missed two extra points Saturday. No. 2 Montana, which clinched the Big Sky title Saturday on a last-play field goal to beat winless Idaho State, should ascend to No. 1 in the polls. The 33-yard field goal was partially blocked but still went through. Montana is the lone unbeaten left in FCS, which begins its playoffs Thanksgiving weekend.