My Week for Game 4: Notre Dame at Michigan State
Posted by Jimmy Atkinson
Destination: East Lansing, Michigan.
My pick: Notre Dame 33 - Michigan State 28
In today's other "big" game, Penn State-Ohio State, I'm picking the Bucks 42-3.
Destination: East Lansing, Michigan.
My pick: Notre Dame 33 - Michigan State 28
In today's other "big" game, Penn State-Ohio State, I'm picking the Bucks 42-3.
I'm heading to South Bend in less than an hour for the Michigan-Notre Dame matchup tomorrow. Should be an interesting game, as it will most likely be the stiffest test for each team until their final games of the season. (Michigan closes at Ohio State and Notre Dame closes at USC.)
My pick: Notre Dame 21 - Michigan 20.
Tomorrow is Showdown Saturday. There are seven games that feature AP Top 25 teams going head-to-head. Teams from seven conferences plus Notre Dame will take part in those games. For some odd reason (or perhaps because it's the best game on ABC tomorrow), ESPN College GameDay is headed to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Nebraska-USC showdown, even though it was voted as the 3rd most popular game this week in an ESPN user poll. I suppose they didn't want to hype a game on CBS (LSU-Auburn) or NBC (Michigan-Notre Dame). It's a shame that they can't go to a better game though. Anyway, here are the games with my score picks (with rankings in parentheses):
(2) Notre Dame 21 - (11) Michigan 20
(3) Auburn 15 - (6) LSU 9
(12) Louisville 27 - (17) Miami 24
(18) Oregon 31 - (15) Oklahoma 17
(20) TCU 38 - (24) Texas Tech 31
(4) USC 42 - (19) Nebraska 21
(7) Florida 20 - (13) Tennessee 14
Notre Dame didn't dominate this game from the start, but certainly took control of the game in the second and third quarters, capitalizing on Penn State miscues and making big plays. Some photos taken during the weekend:
Friday, 3:36 p.m. EDT — Indiana I-80 Eastbound Exit 77:
6:38 p.m. EDT — Pep Rally. I estimated the crowd at around 35,000. Less than last year's USC game, but still pretty big:
7:03 p.m. EDT — Me with Touchdown Jesus and football:
Saturday, 1:21 p.m. EDT — ND players walk from the basilica to the stadium:
2:10 p.m. EDT — Notre Dame Marching Band:
2:52 p.m. EDT — Goodyear blimp over Notre Dame Stadium:
4:29 p.m. EDT — Jeff Samardzija makes a catch in the second quarter:
4:43 p.m. EDT — Notre Dame lines up against Penn State in the second quarter:
7:04 p.m. EDT — Final score, Notre Dame 41 - Penn State 17:
I returned from Atlanta over a week ago, but haven't found the time to make this post until now. I was extremely nervous for the first 59 minutes of that game, much longer than I thought I would be. Georgia Tech has quite a defense. Quinn looked very shaky, especially in the first half. But the Irish came away with the W, which is all that matters. Here are some photos from what I call Marathon Saturday.
6:58 a.m. EDT — College GameDay Set. Three hours til live:
10:17 a.m. EDT — Buzz gets a bit close for comfort:
11:42 a.m. EDT — Touchdown Jesus in Atlanta (I'm the one holding it up):
11:51 a.m. EDT — I make an appearance on ESPN:
5:19 p.m. EDT — Inflatable Buzz in front of Bobby Dodd Stadium:
5:57 p.m. EDT — Brady Quinn departs ND's team bus:
6:12 p.m. EDT — Me with Touchdown Jesus mockup:
7:19 p.m. EDT — Bobby Dodd Stadium from section 214, row 33:
11:32 p.m. EDT — Final score, Notre Dame 14 - Georgia Tech 10:
11:43 p.m. EDT — Bobby Dodd Stadium after the game:
Sorry if this is nothing more than a shameless plug. Although I do think you diehard Notre Dame fans may find it useful. My senior year roommate Andy Hagans and I are currently developing DomeWire, a new Web site that every morning automatically aggregates news headlines from the previous 24 hours from a select list of Notre Dame football news sources and blogs. Basically, it lets you see every Notre Dame related headline all on one page. There are limitations to it for now, however, as it only works with Web sites who offer RSS feeds, and there are still a lot of newspapers out there whose Web sites do not offer this functionality. But we anticipate that by 2007 or 2008, almost everyone will be offering this. And since Andy is a big Cleveland Browns fan, we're also developing DawgWire. I'd be curious to learn what you all think of this idea. Feel free to post comments here.
Photo courtesy of NDNation's zaggie1
Jimmy Clausen (Oaks Christian, Calif.), the most coveted high school quarterback recruit in recent memory, chose Notre Dame over Southern California on Saturday. He made his announcement official at the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind., where he held an 8:30 a.m. press conference.
"I committed to Notre Dame," said Clausen. "I'd like to thank all the other schools and wish them the best of luck and would like to thank coach Weis for having the confidence in me during the recruiting process."
Many had speculated that Clausen was leaning toward Notre Dame since current QB Brady Quinn would be graduating, leaving the roster spot open. At USC, redshirt freshman Mark Sanchez and senior John David Booty are expected to compete for the starting quarterback job. However, Clausen insists that his decision to commit to the Irish had nothing to do with potential competition.
"That's not a factor at all," Clausen said. "Most people are probably going to think that's a factor, but it's not. I'm the kind of guy who likes to compete, and that's what I'm all about, is competing and getting better and stuff like that. ... So, if Mark Sanchez does play this year and that's the place I wanted to go, I'd go there."
Clausen's early commitment should grease the wheels for Irish recruiting, as several blue-chip prospects are in town today for Notre Dame's annual spring game. The new Irish quarterback has pledged to assist in persuading recruits to come to South Bend.
Jason Whitlock, when it comes to color issues, the only color I paint you is yellow – as in "yellow journalist."
For those of you who missed it, Whitlock argued on ESPN's Page 2 that Charlie Weis' contract extension is an act of racism. After forcing myself to read his drivel and then sift through the angry messages he fielded on an ESPN chat wrap the next day, it seems clear to me that Whitlock's declaration is based more on emotion than fact. To me, this makes his latest piece an act of overt racism.
To be fair, let's analyze the facts on which he is basing his thesis. Tyrone Willingham opened the 2002 season 8-0. Weis opened the 2005 season 5-2. Willingham did not receive a contract extension. Weis did. Willingham was given three years before Notre Dame removed him. Other (white) coaches with similar winning percentages were given more time.
If we stopped there, Whitlock might seem to have a point. However, when you only look at the facts that help your argument, you can prove just about anything. Take Platonian logic for example: God is love. Love is blind. Ray Charles was blind. Ray Charles was God. Okay, I digress, but the point stands. Taken alone, each of these sentences represents either an indisputable fact or a widely accepted philosophy, except for the conclusion of course.
Now, Whitlock insists that he had no problem with the Willingham firing. He says that he thinks Weis is a superior coach. He claims his only problem is that Weis received an extension while Willingham did not, even though Willingham had a superior record after eight games. Notre Dame gave a contract extension to Weis, their current white coach, not Willingham, their former black coach.
If it’s truly racism, I guess it's religious bigotry, too. Ara Parseghian opened 9-0 and did not receive a contract extension. He was a Protestant. Obviously, the Papists hate Prots. Bias toward Swedes? Must be, because Knute Rockne had a three-year record of 21-1-2, but no contract extension.
Whitlock ruled out the possibility of Notre Dame reacting to negative publicity surrounding the potential departure of Weis to the NFL. There are no NFL job openings, he surmised. He's absolutely right. There are no NFL job openings. However, recruiting wars are fought early each year, and Notre Dame is battling it out right now for a few blue chips. In that recruiting brawl, Weis' contract extension was a haymaker. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I've met Coach Willingham several times, and as a former member of the press I had a professional relationship with him. He's a great man. He always treated me with respect, and I in turn respect him for these things. But Willingham was not up to the challenge of coaching elite Division I-A football, and his three-year resume at Notre Dame is a reflection of that. Willingham was fired for underproduction, not race.
The real racists are the Mark Mays and Jason Whitlocks of the world, who cannot discern a business decision from a hate-based one. The hate lies with you, gentlemen, not Notre Dame.
According to Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN, Notre Dame and Charlie Weis will announce the agreement of a new 10-year contract later today. The new deal will extend through the 2015 season. Further details have not yet been announced. Weis's previous contract, which included a meager $1.5 million buyout, stirred speculation that the new head coach of the Fighing Irish could bolt for an NFL head coaching job after his only his first season at Notre Dame.
I was at the Rose Bowl tonight for UCLA's 51-28 win over Oregon State. I was surprised by how the Bruins dominated the game after giving up a touchdown on the game's opening series. And how about Drew Olsen! The much maligned senior quarterback for UCLA tossed six touchdown passes tonight, breaking the school record. The Bruins just might be for real after all. They're off to their first 7-0 start since 1998.
Meanwhile in South Bend, the Irish avoided a hangover thanks to Brady Quinn tossing six touchdowns of his own. The junior quarterback looked superhuman, especially in the first half, when he started 25-of-30 for 287 yards and four touchdowns.
No surprise how easily Texas defeated Texas Tech. Tech was a paper tiger, nothing more. That 6-0 record against inferior competition proved nothing. Today was their day to make a statement, but they're simply not on the same level as the boys in Austin.
Can the Big Ten get any wackier? Northwestern blows out the Spartans while the Michigan game comes down the the final minute yet again. All five of the Wolverines' conference games have been decided in the final minute. Today, the Wolverines were on the winning side of a 23-20 overtime matchup against Iowa.
Down south, the SEC had two nailbiters. Georgia, after losing quarterback DJ Shockley to a knee injury, struggled before holding off Arkansas 23-20. And in Tuscaloosa, the Tide scored a late field goal against Tennessee to win a barn-burner, 6-3.
It's taken me a few days to recover. And while I am very disappointed in the outcome, a 34-31 USC win over Notre Dame, I appreciate that I attended the greatest college football game of the season, and perhaps one of the greatest college football games of our time. Had the Irish stopped USC on that fourth and nine or had Matt Leinart come up short on that final quarterback sneak, this certainly would have been my favorite game I've ever witnessed. Greater than the 1993 UCLA-USC game that ended with Marvin Goodwin's end zone interception. Greater than the 1996 USC-UCLA overtime game that featured a 17-point Bruin comeback. Greater than either the 2002 or 2004 Michigan-ND games.
I've been to 162 college football games in my life. I've seen ND-USC and UCLA-USC countless times. I've been to 13 Rose Bowl games and have seen teams crowned national champions six times. But no football game in my memory received as much hype and lived up to the hype as much as this one did. The atmosphere was electric. This was college football pageantry at its best. And even the weather cooperated: it was a perfect fall day with clear skies, moderate winds, a crispness in the air and the temperature in the mid-60s. The game was hard fought by both teams for a full four quarters. Big plays were made (Tom Zbikowski's 59-yard punt return in the second quarter; Dwayne Jarrett's 61-yard pass reception on fourth and nine late in the fourth quarter). The Irish came out in their green uniforms. And the officials, even without the aid of instant replay, did a fine job of officiating.
Simply put, there is no one to blame for Notre Dame's loss. I can't single out one individual who blew it or claim that the officials made a string of bad calls. USC just beat them. Simple as that. A great game to win for USC. A tough pill to swallow for Notre Dame, knowing that they played their absolute best and still could not get the job done. USC is just that good.
Well, in any event, here are some photos that I took on that fateful day, Saturday, October 15, 2005:
The College GameDay set in front of the stadium:
Irish take the field in green jerseys:
Jeff Samardzija's 32-yard touchdown reception:
Fourth quarter view from section 16, row 48:
Being a ND '04 grad, It's no secret that I'm an avid Notre Dame football fan. So it should come as no surprise that I'm picking the Irish to upset the Trojans this Saturday in South Bend. Here are my reasons why and how Notre Dame can beat USC:
In their last 16 games that follow a bye week, Notre Dame is a remarkable 15-1. This year's bye week could not have come at a more favorable time. The Irish were originally scheduled to play Pittsburgh last week. But during the offseason, the decision was made to move that game up to the front of the schedule to give Notre Dame one extra week to prepare against the defending national champions. USC on the other hand spent last week playing a closer-than-the-experts-predicted game against Arizona. A Notre Dame bye week gives the team a healthy rest and the coaching staff an extra week of prepare time.
Notre Dame's confidence has suffered terribly since losing to Boston College in 2002. After surging to an 8-0 start, the Eagles win over the Irish that season dampened any national championship aspirations and the Irish have not been the same since. A few weeks later, #7 Notre Dame faced #6 USC. This is where the destiny of the two teams diverged sharply. After a 41-10 Trojan whipping of the Irish, Notre Dame was sent into a two-year downward spiral, while USC went on to win back-to-back national championships. In the 2003 and 2004 games, the Irish probably never even thought they had a chance to beat the Trojans. And it showed. Two more 31-point losses only proved that Notre Dame didn't even belong on the same field as USC. Enter Charlie Weis and Notre Dame's 4-1 start. The team is playing with a confidence not witnessed since they rushed out to that 8-0 start in 2002 by defeating Florida State on the road. This is a team, unlike Tyrone Willingham's squads, that believes they can win. And the student body and alumni are buying into it as well.
While restored confidence benefits Notre Dame, overconfidence could plague USC. After three games of mediocre play, the Trojans have lulled themselves into overconfident laziness. They've proved to themselves against Oregon, Arizona State, and Arizona that they don't have to work hard, can underachieve, and still win whenever they want to. This may have worked against these opponents, but to defeat Notre Dame in South Bend, USC will have to play much better than they have the past three weeks.
3. This ain't last year's Trojans
Last year's Trojans were a nightmare for opponents because they were literally unstoppable offensively and their defense did not budge. This season, while performing well in the second half, the USC offense has been very shaky at times in the first half. Matt Leinart has been rattled. Reggie Bush has been stuffed. The offensive line has been porous at times. Wide receivers have dropped balls. What's more surprising is how mistake-prone the Trojans have been: penalties have taken their toll as have slow starts and poor special teams play. The Trojan defense also has left much to be desired.
4. This ain't last year's Irish
With a senior offensive line and numerous receiving targets, Brady Quinn is proving himself to be a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and just may be invited to New York come December. In the past three seasons, Notre Dame has only mustered only four touchdowns against USC, and those have all come in the first half. Expect more from the Weis-run offense in this meeting. Unlike the past three meetings against USC, Notre Dame will not be outcoached in this one. As the LA Times points out, Pete Carroll may have finally met his match.
The Golden Dome that tops the administration building on Notre Dame's campus was recently re-guilded over the summer. The last re-guilding occurred in 1988, the year that Notre Dame faced #1 Miami at home. In the past three meetings, Miami had defeated Notre Dame by a total of 93 points. But 1988 was Lou Holtz's first home game against the Hurricanes. The Irish went on to win 31-30. Hmmm... 93 points, re-guilding, #1 ranking. Sound familiar? Okay, so it's just an historical comparison. But what's Notre Dame without a bit of mystique thrown in the mix?
The Bottom Line
For the first time in a long time, this game will mean something. Long regarded as one of the greatest rivalries in college football, this game has been competitively dormant, meaningless, or both for over a decade. Now, for the first time since 1990, both teams are ranked in the top 10. With they pre-game excitement at fever pitch, the big bulls-eye on USC's #1 ranking, and Notre Dame's momentum and confidence in themselves, I predict a Notre Dame win on Saturday to propel the Irish firmly back among the nation's elite. As USC's 23-game win streak in 1973 ended in South Bend, so too will USC's 26-game win streak in 2005.
Jimbo's Pick: Notre Dame 38 - USC 37
After taking last week off, I am headed out to South Bend this weekend and will cover the USC - Notre Dame game. I will arrive in South Bend on Thursday afternoon to get ready for the biggest football weekend to hit the ND campus in several years. Friday night, I will be at the pep rally in Notre Dame Stadium. For those of you who cannot make it, ESPNEWS will televise it beginning at 7:00 p.m. EDT. Early Saturday morning, I plan to stake out a front-row spot for ESPN's College GameDay broadcast live from the Library Quad. (Look for the biggest ND flag; that'll be me!) And of course Saturday afternoon, I will be in the stadium for the game between #1 USC and #9 Notre Dame.
Despite a 21-point second half comeback by the Irish, the Spartans prevailed in overtime and defeated Notre Dame 44-41. Notre Dame has failed to beat Michigan State at home since 1995. Two turnovers made all the difference in this game. At the beginning of the second half, with the Irish trailing by 7, quarterback Brady Quinn threw an interception that was returned 30 yards for a touchdown by Sir Darean Adams. In the third quarter, the Irish had the ball first and goal at the one-yard line, but fullback Asaph Schwapp, in an attempt to extend the ball to the goal line, fumbled and the Spartans recovered. That 14-point swing was just too much for Notre Dame to overcome.
Well, at least I managed to get some good photos.
On Friday night before the game, Charlie Weis addressed a capacity crowd at Notre Dame's Joyce Center. Former coach Ara Parseghian and quarterback Brady Quinn also spoke to the crowd.
It must have been a big game because one of the Goodyear blimps was out in full force, flying above the Golden Dome, above Bond Hall during the Notre Dame band's concert on the steps, and above the stadium during the game.
And I had my best seats of the season so far, section 29, row 28, at the north 35-yard line on the press box side, right in the heart of the Notre Dame student section.
Four quarters was not enough to decide the outcome of this game, but after an Irish field goal, the Spartans scored a touchdown to immediately end the game, 44-41.
I'm heading back to my alma mater this weekend to see Michigan State - Notre Dame in South Bend. The Irish are celebrating the 75th anniversary of Notre Dame Stadium, the "House that Rockne Built," which first opened in 1930.
My pick: Notre Dame 31 - Michigan State 24
Who would have thought that 17 points would have won this game? After much talk of explosive offenses and maligned defenses, the tables turned on Saturday in Ann Arbor, as Notre Dame's defense stepped up big to hold Michigan's offense in check in a 17-10 Irish win over Michigan.
Or was it poor offensive play by Michigan that determinded the outcome of this one? Wolverine quarterback Chad Henne had three chances to score touchdowns in the red zone, and all three times he came up empty-handed. In the second quarter, Henne had a wide open receiver in the middle of the end zone, but never turned to see him. Instead he tried to thread the needle on the sideline and was picked off by Tom Zbikowski. In the fourth quarter, Henne overthrew Jason Avant on fourth and goal. Minutes later, he fumbled a snap inside the one-yard line. The Irish were simply there to take advantage of his mistakes.
Another note: Irish fans sure are glad that college football is using instant replay this season. Two fumble calls were properly overturned in the fourth quarter, both in Notre Dame's favor, inciting Michigan's student section to litter the field with debris.
Picks on the Notre Dame-Pittsburgh game from the College GameDay crew and me:
Kirk Herbstreit: Notre Dame
Lee Corso: Pittsburgh
Jimmy Atkinson: Notre Dame
ESPN College GameDay is live in Pittsburgh right now to preview many of today's college football games, highlighting tonight's Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh matchup at Heinz Field.
The last times we saw each of these teams in action were in their respective bowl games. Each team was handed an embarassing defeat, with Notre Dame losing in the Insight Bowl to Oregon State, 38-21, and Pittsburgh losing to Utah in the Fiesta Bowl, 35-7.
Fast-forward eight months: each team has a new head coach returning to his alma mater from an NFL coaching career. The Charlie Weis vs. Dave Wanstedt matchup certainly makes an intriguing story line. But personally, I'm more interested in seeing what Notre Dame's defense can do to slow down Panthers quarterback Tyler Palko, who threw for five touchdowns in last year's 41-38 Pitt win at Notre Dame Stadium. I'm also interested in seeing just how explosive the Irish offense can be. Ten starters return, including quarterback Brady Quinn. And with Weis being the offensive mastermind that he is, the Irish certainly will score a lot this season.
Last year's Pitt-ND game was a scoring fiesta. Tonight's game will feature many points once again, but this year under Weis is different. Notre Dame's talent will be too much.
My Pick: Notre Dame 38 - Pittsburgh 31