As institutions, Stanford, Northwestern and Notre Dame have a lot in common. All are academically renowned private schools with Division I-A football programs. When the NCAA released its most recent Graduation Success Rate data, all three boasted four-year scores of 95 percent or higher
On the field, however, the Cardinal and Wildcats haven't always been in the same league as the Fighting Irish. The latest example of this came Saturday. Both Stanford (against No. 7 Oregon) and Northwestern (at No. 8 Iowa) knocked off Top 10 opponents, a feat Notre Dame has not accomplished since the second game of head coach
Proud Domers would surely scoff at any comparison between their beloved Irish and the historically second-class squads in Evanston and Palo Alto, but is there really that much difference between the three programs these days? All three sport six victories this season. Northwestern just became bowl eligible for the third straight season (compared with two for the Irish) and sixth time in seven years (five for Notre Dame). Stanford had been in rebuilding mode but now appears headed in the right direction thanks in part (see if this sounds familiar) to a gifted 6-foot-4 drop-back passer.
"Even though we're similar academically, we're in a little different boat as Stanford and Notre Dame," said Northwestern coach
Granted, neither the Cardinal nor Wildcats have the Four Horsemen, Touchdown Jesus or Rudy. What they do have is a pair of charismatic young coaches -- Stanford's
Notre Dame, on the other hand, is into Year Three of the Weis hot-seat debate. Following the Irish's second straight home loss to former punching bag Navy, another round of speculation over his future figures to only intensify over the next three weeks. Irish fans expect BCS bowls, but with road games remaining at 8-1 Pittsburgh and 6-3 Stanford, it's going to be a challenge just to get eight wins.
Notre Dame's failure to return to the realm of national elite remains puzzling to many considering the Irish's multitude of perceived advantages -- their tradition, their national television contract, a series of recruiting classes that, according to analysts, rank right up there with national powers like Ohio State and Alabama. No objective observer would contest that Weis has a core of elite skill players in quarterback
But a high-powered offense only gets you so far. The Irish racked up 512 yards against Navy and may well have won if not for two red-zone turnovers by Clausen. But the junior quarterback has had to carry his team all season thanks to a defense that ranks 79th nationally and gave up 348 rushing yards to the Midshipmen. Don't let the Scout.com or Rivals.com star-system fool you; Notre Dame does not stockpile athletic defenders like Florida or USC and probably never will.
In that respect, the Irish aren't that different from Stanford, which rode a pair of stud skill players, quarterback
The difference between Northwestern/Notre Dame and USC or Florida is the Trojans and Gators turn out that many prospects every year. The difference between the Wildcats and Irish is the former holds no delusions about becoming the next USC or Florida. With a record of 6-4, 3-3 in the Big Ten, Northwestern sits in fifth place in the conference. Judging by its narrow wins over 5-5 Michigan State and 4-6 Purdue and its loss to 5-5 Michigan, Notre Dame would probably sit around the same spot if it were a member of that conference.
Fitzgerald was an All-America linebacker on the Wildcats' 1995 and '96 Big Ten title teams. While the school has yet to produce another team on the level of those squads, its current level of consistency is unprecedented. Saturday's Iowa win likely assured its fifth bowl trip this decade; it had played in three its entire previous history.
"People outside the program would always say that Northwestern might win games for a couple of years, but to win consistently would be very difficult to achieve," said Fitzgerald. ... "We've proved that's not the case. And we're having all this success without sacrificing what we stand for as a university."
Stanford's history is closer to Notre Dame's than Northwestern's. The school of
Despite dealing with some of the most stringent admissions requirements in the country, Harbaugh has been able to land nationally coveted prospects like Texans Luck and running back
In three years, he's built his program to about the same place Weis has in five. (We'll find out definitively when their teams meet Nov. 28.)
"[The Oregon win] was the best opportunity that Stanford football has had in the past 10 years to express who this team is, and they expressed it," said Harbaugh. "Who would not like to watch this team play? Is there a better show around?"
Notre Dame gets showcase opportunities nearly every week and has yet to take advantage. While the aerial-minded Irish can be fun to watch, they're more often aggravating. It's been that way for 15 years; only now their games are at least entertaining.
If Notre Dame does decide to make a change at season's end, perhaps the school will look to Stanford and Northwestern as models. At least we know those programs are on the rise. Admittedly, they have a ceiling, but so, too, does Notre Dame.
Nearly every discussion of Weis' possible departure in South Bend invariably includes Cincinnati coach
Former backup quarterback
"He's made it hard," Kelly said of the sophomore Collaros, whose current passer rating of 210.2 would shatter that of national leader Kellen Moore (169.4) if he had enough attempts. "I think I'll have to reconsider my decision [to start Pike]."
Cincy's national showcase wasn't entirely flattering, however. Its defense and punt return coverage allowed the Huskies (4-5) to rally from a 37-17 third-quarter deficit to cut the score to 40-38 on a
With BCS No. 4 Iowa's loss to Northwestern, 9-0 Cincinnati finds itself jostling with 9-0 TCU for the title of "next in line" in the BCS title race (i.e. which team would face presumably undefeated SEC champion Florida or Alabama should No. 3 Texas inexplicably fall down the stretch). The Horned Frogs moved ahead of the Bearcats for No. 4 in the latest BCS standings by a scant margin of .004. TCU figures to build its edge in the short-term if its beats 8-1 Utah next week, but the Bearcats will have a chance to make the last impression on voters when they visit 8-1 Pittsburgh on Dec. 5.
These Bearcats remind me of
My reaction to the latest polls and BCS standings:
One of the most inexplicable voting decisions of the season took place in the human polls this weekend. Obviously, Oregon figured to drop following its 51-42 loss at Stanford, but in an utter disregard for common sense, voters in the coaches poll dropped the Ducks from No. 8 to No. 16, six spots behind USC (No. 10), a team with the same 7-2 record whom Oregon stomped 47-20 just a week earlier. Voters in the AP poll reacted much the same way -- the Ducks fell three spots below the 11th-ranked Trojans.
This is a classic example of voters arbitrarily punishing a team for a loss without accounting for any context. Consider: Oregon fell more drastically (seven spots in AP, eight in coaches) for losing on the road to 5-3 Stanford than Iowa did for losing at home to 5-4 Northwestern (five sports in coaches, seven spots in AP). But more inexcusable is the failure to account for USC -- which itself rose two to three spots following an unimpressive 14-9 win at Arizona State. Not that the Trojans don't have their own gripe -- they sit two spots behind Ohio State.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games.
While Alabama's offense seemed to right itself in the second half against LSU, my No. 1 team right now is Texas. Over his past three games,
• No. 3 Alabama's game plan against LSU seemed curious at times, but it worked. Despite having the current Heisman favorite,
• Penn State's soft schedule allowed it to largely mask an inadequate offensive line, but Ohio State -- like Iowa before it -- exploited the Nittany Lions. Facing heavy pressure, quarterback
• Hopefully for
• You would think it difficult for a 9-0 team to experience a "rough" weekend, but such was the case for Boise State. In their attempt to land a coveted BCS berth (a cause for which the WAC
• On paper, No. 1 Florida cruised to a 27-3 win over 2-8 Vanderbilt, but many of its season-long offensive issues resurfaced, most notably the fact the Gators allowed four sacks. Florida now ranks 83rd nationally in sacks allowed (22). Give
• Oregon State (6-3, 4-2 Pac-10) is quietly making its now-annual late-season push for Pac-10 contention following a 31-14 win at Cal (6-3, 3-3). Quarterback
• The obvious asterisk to that latter stat is that Cal played the second half without tailback
• Has USC quarterback
• Props to Georgia Tech coach
• A month ago, Kansas coach
• Arkansas (5-4) creamed South Carolina (6-4) 33-16, which would be notable if the Gamecocks' late-season slides hadn't become
• Texas' McCoy and
• Temple freshman running back
• A lot of people watch the CBS sitcom
The game of the weekend -- and quite possibly the wildest finish of the year -- came in No. 13 Houston's 46-45 win at Tulsa on Saturday. How improbable was the ending? On Sunday morning I spoke with a fellow writer who turned off the game with a few seconds remaining and was under the impression that Houston lost.
Down 45-37 with 3:28 remaining, Cougars star
Ever heard of an onside kick?
The Cougars (8-1) recovered it at their own 39-yard line, and Keenum completed passes of 14 and 13 yards. With three seconds left, Houston sent out redshirt freshman kicker
He drilled it.
"You just try to stay cool," said Hogan, a walk-on. "Everybody is in [the locker room] getting jacked up, and I'm in here listening to country music trying to stay calm."
No one is cooler and calmer than Keenum, whose Heisman hopes would likely be extinguished without Hogan's field goal. He's now completed 71 percent of his throws for 3,815 yards, 28 TDs and five interceptions.
"As long as we have No. 7 back there," said Houston coach
Conversely, Wolverines coach
At that point, Rodriguez trailed off and his mind appeared to wander for a second. He then proceeded to launch into a tangent about a "disappointing" postgame moment with Hope. He said the Purdue coach shook his hand, then introduced offensive lineman
"Their coach seemed to bring [Reckman] over like I was the reason that his lineman got suspended for the one game," said Rodriguez. "He came over and shook my hand and then introduced Mr. Reckman and then said, 'Thanks coach, we appreciate what you did.'"
If the conversation did happen the way Rodriguez described (a SportsCenter clip showed an interaction involving the three of them but with no audio), that's an awfully petty move by Hope -- especially by involving his player. Address those matters privately. Don't mock a competitor moments after beating him.
But the real loser in the situation, as has increasingly been the case this season, is Rodriguez. The West Virginia native often gets himself in trouble simply for his natural instinct to say whatever's on his mind, regardless of how it looks publicly. Hope may be petty, but Rodriguez comes off as a sore loser for even brining up the subject when he should be explaining why his offense has so badly regressed and his defense remains terrible.
He'll have a whole lot more explaining to do if Michigan loses its last two games to Wisconsin and Ohio State and finishes with its second straight losing season.
Miami's sophomore receiver -- with the help of some serious blocking -- turns in one of the most exciting punt returns you'll see all season.
Arizona State's safety picks off a Matt Barkley pass, but only after three other players on two different teams get their crack at it.