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Pittsburgh loss may be final straw for embattled Weis at Notre Dame

Controversial replay calls have become uncomfortably common this college football season. The latest may have cost Charlie Weis his job.

When the officials in the booth ruled that Notre Dame quarterback JimmyClausen fumbled on a late-game, 3rd-and-16 pass (it sure as heck looked like his arm was moving forward) Saturday night against Pittsburgh, it put and end to the Irish's latest attempt at a fourth-quarter comeback. It probably spelled their coach's impending doom, as well.

After last week's home loss to Navy dropped Notre Dame's record to 6-3, the consensus was the Irish would need to either upset the No. 8 Panthers or beat both Connecticut and No. 25 Stanford in their last two games. They just lost 27-22 to Pittsburgh, and after watching the Cardinal throttle USC 55-21 earlier Saturday, it's hard to envision the Irish winning in Palo Alto.

In other words, Weis is looking at a best-case scenario of 7-5 in his fifth season in South Bend. That's not remotely good enough for Golden Domers.

Many will presumably spend the next few days venting about that suspect Clausen fumble call, but the Irish could have saved themselves the trouble had they not dug themselves yet another huge hole. Behind another big night from freshman sensation Dion Lewis (21 carries, 152 yards, one TD) and a breakout performance by sophomore receiver Jonathan Baldwin (five catches, 142 yards and a TD), Pitt carved up Notre Dame's hapless defense en route to a 27-9 fourth-quarter lead. Meanwhile, through three quarters, it appeared Clausen was headed toward his least productive performance of the season.

But Clausen -- with a big assist from star receiver Golden Tate -- made another furious comeback attempt. Nary an Irish game this season hasn't included one. His 18-yard touchdown pass to Tate cut the score to 27-16; then, Tate broke an ensuing punt return 87 yards for another score. With the defense finally slowing down the Panthers, Notre Dame got the ball back on its own 20 with 3:39 left.

But following some initial success, the Irish's last drive bogged down on a first-down chop block penalty, then lost possession two plays later on Clausen's "fumble." Pitt only needed one first down to run out the clock.

It was a big non-conference win for Dave Wannstedt's upstart Panthers, who improved to 9-1 heading into a crucial season-ending swing against rival West Virginia and undefeated Cincinnati. Regardless of the Backyard Brawl outcome, their Dec. 5 home showdown with the No. 5 Bearcats will determine the Big East championship. The way Pitt is playing, it's fully capable of earning the league's BCS nod.

Notre Dame (6-4), on the other hand, saw its last remote BCS hopes go dark. Weis himself said before the season he expected the Irish to at least be in the BCS "conversation." Right now they're fighting just to stay in the Gator Bowl conversation -- and that doesn't bode well for Weis.

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