Bob Birge's Irish Eyes Are Smiling

December 16, 2009 6:24 PM

College football's 'silly' season set to begin

ingram 2.jpgOn the PGA Tour, the time after Labor Day is known as the "silly" season, two months of second-tier tournaments and unofficial events.

In three days, college football will begin its version of the "silly" season, that is to say the bowl season.

Starting with the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday, college football fans will be bowled over with no less than 34 bowl games, culminating with the national championship game on January 7. 

Because we can't get enough football and don't really have a life, we'll probably watch at least a part of all 34 games, even if its just a few plays in some of the contests.

But let's be honest, there's too many bowl games. There's 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, meaning more than half of them -- 57 percent - will be bowling.

Continue to College football's 'silly' season set to begin

December 15, 2009 8:00 PM

Notre Dame would be perfect fit for Big Ten

With the Big Ten Conference deciding to pursue the possibility of adding a 12th team, there is a perfect candidate right in its backyard - if only that school would change its decades' long resistance against joining a conference.

That school, of course, is Notre Dame, and it would be an ideal 12th member for the Big Ten.

We realize, however, that we are among the small minority of Notre Dame fans who would welcome such a move. Most Notre Dame supporters would rather give up their first-born child than join a conference. Those folks hold on to their antiquated view with a religious fervor, believing that being independent is part of Notre Dame's heritage, part of its culture.

Maybe that was the case in the days of Knute Rockne of Frank Leahy. But this isn't 1946. Heck, it's not 1986, and it's not like Notre Dame's status as an independent has helped the program in the last 15 years.

Continue to Notre Dame would be perfect fit for Big Ten

December 11, 2009 9:32 PM

Army-Navy still means something

Even though the rivalry has been one-sided in recent years, the Army-Navy game remains one of our favorite sporting events.

This is the true essence of college sports - kids playing for the sheer love of the game. The storied rivals clash for the 110th time Saturday in Philadelphia, which really should be the permanent home for one of the great spectacles in sports.

The talent level on display Saturday won't match what you see in any of the BCS conferences, but that's what makes this game so special. It's all about the pageantry and tradition that is associated with the contest.

The players are realistic to know they won't be playing in the NFL. Heck, a few of them might wind up in Afghanistan in a few months.

A little extra is on the line this time, as first-year Army coach Rich Ellerson has done a credible making the Black Knights competitive again. With a win, Army (5-6) will become bowl eligible and face Temple in the EagleBank bowl on December 29. A loss puts UCLA in the bowl game against the Owls.

Army has dropped seven straight to the Mids, failing to score even a touchdown in the last two meetings, but you have to love the school's enthusiasm.

On the home page of the team's web site, is the following proclamation in big, bold letters: "Beat Navy, go bowling."

Indeed, this game is timeless

December 11, 2009 2:31 AM

Kelly departure angers Cincinnati

While Notre Dame is excited about hiring Brian Kelly as its next football coach, he leaves behind a group of disillusioned players at Cincinnati.

This is the dark side of college football, the big money, big business side.

It's easy to understand why Kelly would want the Notre Dame job. He's an Irish Catholic who grew up in Boston and has been a long-time admirer of Notre Dame. Thursday's announcement came as no real surprise.

Last week, however, Kelly said he was committed to staying at Cincinnati and chided the media for reporting that he was the leading candidate to replace Charlie Weis at Notre Dame.

Now he sounds like a liar. Of course, he's hardly the first coach to renege on a promise. Alabama coach Nick Saban has made it an art form.

Breaking promises, begging out of contracts - it's part of the system, happens all the time in college football. And as long as coaches are paid million dollar contracts, as long as they are exalted and put on pedestals and glorified, it will continue to happen.

If you're a Notre Dame fan, you say to Cincinnati, too bad, get over it, move on, find another coach.

Predictably, Kelly's decision to take the Notre Dame position did not go over well with his former players.

'We already knew what he was going to say. We weren't giving him a round of applause or anything," Bearscats tight end Ben Guidugli said of Kelly. "It's like somebody turned their back on us. We brought this whole thing this far. We've come this far. To have someone walk out now is disappointing."

Indeed, the Cincinnati players learned two painful lessons - college football is a one-way street and don't always believe what your coach tells you.

But don't blame Notre Dame. It's just part of the system.

Maybe all coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision should work under one-year contracts.

December 10, 2009 12:57 PM

Irish can do better than Edsall

Is this the best it can do as a backup plan in case Brian Kelly falls through?

That was our reaction when we read that UConn's Randy Edsall has emerged as a candidate for the Notre Dame football job.

Edsall is a defensive-minded coach - something that certainly couldn't be said about Charlie Weis - and he has done a decent job as the caretaker of the UConn program after it made the jump to Division I-A (now the Football Bowl Subdivision).

But there is nothing about him that knocks your socks off. He has enjoyed moderate - but hardly great - success in his 11 seasons at UConn.

Certainly, the early years should be thrown out, as it would take any coach time to build a program from scratch (the Huskies made the job from Division I-AA in 2000).

Edsall guided the Huskies to a 9-3 record in 2003, when Dan Orlovsky was the team's quarterback. Edsall had another nine-win season in 2007, but the Huskies have been mediocre the last two seasons - 8-5 in 2008 and 7-5 this year.

Of course, one of the wins this year was a double overtime victory at Notre Dame that essentially signalled the end for Irish coach Charlie Weis.

One could argue that Edsall has done a commendable job just making the Huskies competitive in the Big East since the program is still relatively young. He'd certainly have more to work with in South Bend.

Another concern about Edsall, however, is that he tends to be standoffish with the media, and that makes one wonder if he could handle that pressure cooker environment that the Notre Dame job entails.

In any event, Notre Dame needs to get this deal done. It will start to look bad - indecisive - if the search drags into a third week.

December 10, 2009 12:59 AM

Keep Congress away from BCS

File this story under the category of misplaced priorities.

On Wednesday, a House subcommittee approved a bill that theoretically could lead to a playoff to decide the national championship in the Football Bowl Subdivision (but don't hold your breath).

According to the legislation, the NCAA would be prohibited from promoting a national championship game unless it was part of a playoff.

Yes, the BCS is a mess, and, yes, most fans despise it. We understand the inherent unfairness of the BCS and cries of anti-trust violation. We're certainly aware that this is an emotional issue and that college football supporters are among the most passionate of all sports fans.

Honestly, though, doesn't Congress have more pressing matters to concern itself with?

Recognizing the wonderful job the government does of running the country, the last thing college football fans should want is for it to get involved in their sport.

We like the comment of John Barrow, a Democratic representative from Georgia who said, "With all due respect, I really think we have more important things to spend our time on."

Predictably, BCS executive director Bill Hancock dismissed the bill, saying, "With all the serious matters facing our country, surely Congress has more important issues than spending taxpayer money to dictate how college football is played."

Hancock is not wrong. Still, he can spare us the sanctimony and smugness. Other than the BCS apologists, he has no supporters.

How coincidental that the bill is sponsored by Texas representative Joe Barton, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Last year, Texas was locked out of the national championship game despite beating Oklahoma, which lost to Florida in the title clash. Enter Barton to appease the most fanatical of Longhorns fans.

Another person who has spent too much time on this issue is Republican senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. Hatch wants the Justice Department to investigate the BCS for alleged anti-trust violations.

Well, in the words of Gomer Pyle, "Surprise, surprise."

Last year, the Utah Utes were outraged they didn't win the national championship despite going 13-0. Hatch picked up their cause. You think perhaps he was trying to curry favor with some Utah voters?

Funny, but no Florida politicians have spoken out against the BCS.

It's difficult to see this bill - which has little chance of becoming law - as anything more than a grandstanding ploy on the part of politicians who love hearing the sound of their own voices (Isn't that about 99 percent of them?)

We wonder if Barton can name any Texas players other than Colt McCoy. We also wonder if Hatch even knows that current San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith played for the Utes and was part of a 12-0 team.

Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, took umbrage with the notion that its supporters have their priorities out of whack.

Said Rush: "We can walk and chew gum at the same time."

Gee, we never knew that about politicians.

December 9, 2009 2:38 AM

Prediction: Alabama's Ingram to win Heisman

Once upon a time, before the Internet, 24-hour sports talk radio stations and over-hyped media campaigns, the Heisman Trophy actually might have been presented to the most deserving candidate.

Over time, college football's most prestigious award has evolved into a popularity contest, with the winner often being the best player on the best team, not necessarily the most deserving player.

That's why the prediction here is that Alabama running back Mark Ingram will win this year's Heisman Trophy in a season when there was no truly dominant player.

Ingram is the most recognizable player on the nation's top-ranked team that will play Texas in the BCS championship game. His performance in last week's SEC championship game against Florida (113 rushing yards and three touchdowns) certainly didn't hurt his chances.

Here's how we see the Heisman race finishing:

1. Mark Ingram, Alabama
2. Colt McCoy, Texas
3. Toby Gerhart, Texas
4. Tim Tebow, Florida
5. Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

-- McCoy could be the sentimental favorite, with some voters choosing him as sort of a lifetime achievement honor. A starter since his freshman year, McCoy is the winningest quarterback in NCAA history and will be playing in the national championship game after guiding the Longhorns to a 13-0 season. Still, his numbers dropped off down the stretch.

-- Gerhart may be the best story in college football this season and would be our pick if we had a vote. He ended up leading the nation in rushing (1,736) and touchdowns (26). We're still not sure, however, that he's enough of a household name to overtake Ingram and McCoy.

-- Tebow is trying to join former Ohio State standout Archie Griffin as the only two-time winners of the Heisman. However, Florida's loss to Alabama in the SEC championship likely ended his chances - unless a lot of voters sent in their ballots before last week's game. Hopefully, not too many did. It would be irresponsible.

-- Suh had a monster game in last week's Big 12 title game against Texas, but no player who plays strictly defense ever has won the Heisman. It would be stunning if that trend didn't continue.

The final voting totals certainly will be interesting because there is not a clear-cut favorite.

December 8, 2009 6:42 PM

Kelly could be Notre Dame's first - and only - candidate for football job

Here's a question for Notre Dame fans to ponder: Will Cincinnati's Brian Kelly be the first and only candidate the school interviews for its vacant football job?

As the process heads into its second week, we're struck by the fact that no other big names have surfaced after the initial batch - Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops and Gary Patterson - said they weren't interested. Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh has denied reports that he would interview for the position.

All the rejections show - rather clearly - that this job simply isn't what it used to be. Having said that, Notre Dame eventually will find someone - even if it isn't Kelly - to buy into the tradition and accept the pressures that are inherent with this job. Notre Dame still has a lot of selling points.

Of course, it's starting to look as though Kelly will be the man. The school could do a lot worse, and Lou Holtz says Kelly will be hired by the end of the week.

The Bearcats coach is intense, passionate and has the right last name (read: Irish Catholic). Now, some might say Notre Dame would be making the same mistake it made with Charlie Weis, that is hiring an offensive guru who doesn't put enough emphasis on defense.

The one difference, of course, is that Kelly has a track record of success as a head coach, building Cincinnati into a national power. The Bearcats finished the season 12-0 and will meet Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect about the Bearcats' season is that they didn't miss a beat when starting quarterback Tony Pike went down with a broken arm.

Still, it would be kind of weird if Kelly gets hired without any other candidates getting an interview.

December 8, 2009 2:32 AM

Would Texas-TCU been a better matchup than Texas-Alabama?

Ever since Boise State stunned Oklahoma, 43-42, in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, college football fans have fantasized about the doomsday scenario of a non-BCS team actually playing in the national championship game.

What's astonishing about Saturday's Big 12 Conference title clash is how close that situation came to becoming a reality. TCU literally was one second away from being matched up against Alabama in the title game.

Incredibly, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy nearly allowed the clock to run out before the officially put one second back on the board, sparing the Longhorns signal-caller, who is a smart guy, the ignominious fate of being part of one of the most bone-headed plays in college football history.

Yours truly has been among those rooting for a non-BCS team to crash the national championship party. It's our way of protesting a system of deciding of college football's No. 1 team that 90 percent of fans across the country oppose. We have rooted for chaos to shame the BCS apologists.

But we have to confess something. We were glad that Texas pulled out its 13-12 victory over Nebraska. Nothing against TCU, as Gary Patterson has done a wonderful job building the Horned Frogs into a national powerhouse. It's just that a TCU-Alabama national title game would have lacked panache. We're not sure it would have served college football's best interest.

Perhaps we've fallen into an elitist mindset, but Texas-Alabama is a much more glamorous matchup, pitting two of the most storied programs in the sport. Maybe we're wrong because everybody loves the underdog, and TCU certainly would have fit that bill, but we believe Texas-Alabama will attract a bigger audience than Texas-TCU.

Of course, we're not sure Texas is the second-best team in the country. During the regular season, the Longhorns would have dropped in the polls following a one-point win over a team that was a two-touchdown underdog as Nebraska was.

That, of course, is the biggest problem with the BCS. It's easy to dismiss the TCUs, Boise States and Cincinnatis because they don't play in one of the major conferences. But what more can they do than win all their games? We can say they wouldn't beat Alabama, but how do we know for sure if they never get the chance?

Come to think of it, maybe we would have preferred a Texas-TCU title game. The Horned Frogs would have gotten their one shot to slay the dragon. Better to have loved and lost than never loved at all, as the saying goes.

Anyway, we know BCS coordinator John Swofford breathed a huge sigh of relief when Hunter Lawrence's 46-yard field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired.

December 7, 2009 2:55 PM

In Notre Dame's world, things are never dull

With the Fighting Irish in the market for a new football coach, It seems that Notre Dame is in the news cycle 24 hours a day.

Why would anyone ever expect anything different?

The football program may have become an enbarrassment with back-to-back six-win campaigns and 21 losses in the
last three seasons, but it is not irrelevant, despite the claims of ESPN commentator Kirk Herbstreit. Notre Dame football will never, ever be irrelevant, even if the Irish go 0-12:

Having said that, we look at some of the Notre Dame news items of the day: .

First news item -- Weis backs off bizarre comments directed at Southern California coach Pete Carroll.

Continue to In Notre Dame's world, things are never dull

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