Buckeyes, Irish to kick off BCS Week

BCS matchups too often have produced anticlimactic mismatches, but this season's big four games have the potential to provide memorable collisions, writes Pat Forde.

Updated: January 2, 2006, 3:27 AM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- And so we arrive at the end of the road. At BCS Week, for lack of a better term. The stirring crescendo to the college football season -- at least in theory.

In years past the BCS bowls have too often produced anticlimactic mismatches: In the seven years of its existence, at least one of the Big Four games has been decided by two touchdowns or more, and the average margin of victory in BCS games has been 14.3 points. Rock bottom was reached last year, when Oklahoma soiled the Orange Bowl.

Vince Young
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesVince Young has certainly proven he can take over games.
"I felt like they gave up," Texas quarterback Vince Young said Friday, calling out the Sooners and their quarterback. "Jason White as the leader should have kept them going on the sidelines. … I can guarantee that we wouldn't get run over like that."

We can only hope Young's guarantee holds true Wednesday night, and that it holds true for the entirety of BCS Week. There is hope for a fitting ending to this season: some real drama, matching some real giants of the game (both institutional and individual).

The BCS bowls certainly have a promising leadoff game in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Dropping Notre Dame and Ohio State into the same stadium is never a bad thing.

We're talking about schools that rank second (Notre Dame) and tied for fifth (Ohio State) in all-time victories. Schools that claim a combined 12 AP national championships. Schools that have a combined 13 Heisman Trophy winners.

Both the Fighting Irish and Buckeyes arrive in Sun Devil Stadium fully flexed -- ranked in the top five and on a roll. Notre Dame (9-2) has won five straight since that last-second loss to USC. Ohio State (9-2) has won six straight, capped by its comeback triumph at Michigan.

The Irish are led by the most prolific offense in modern school history, averaging 38.2 points and 489 yards per game, and ranked sixth nationally in scoring. The Buckeyes are led by one of their best defenses ever, ranking seventh in points allowed.

And they are led by coaches whose strengths are reflected in those numbers. Charlie Weis, named Sunday the Football Writers Association of American national coach of the year, is the offensive game plan guru who has transformed Notre Dame from inept to overpowering on that side of the ball. Jim Tressel, whose approach to football tends to be as conservative as his sideline sweater vest and tie, is all about defense and the kicking game.

Whichever coach loses, it will come as a shock. Neither is accustomed to defeat at this time of year.

Weis hasn't lost a postseason football game since the 1999 AFC championship game, when he was offensive coordinator with the New York Jets. In his run with New England, the Patriots were undefeated in the playoffs.

Tressel has won three straight bowl games, all as an underdog. At year's end he's flat-out hard on his coaching colleagues.

Tressel has made Lloyd Carr's life miserable in November, and he ended Larry Coker's joyride at Miami. (Fact is, life has never been as good for Coker since that yellow hankie landed in the end zone at the 2003 Fiesta Bowl -- and it hit a new low last week with the Hurricanes' shameful lay-down against LSU.)

Charlie Weis
AP PhotoCharlie Weis and ND play seven home games in 2006.
Even if Tressel wins another bowl game here, it's hard to imagine it having a negative effect on Weis' standing in South Bend. The first-year coach is enjoying an extended and passionate honeymoon.

Weis has Notre Dame making its biggest bowl appearance in at least a decade, and the Irish are thisclose to a startlingly rapid return to Godzilla status. Win this game and bring back the talented junior triumvirate of Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija and Darius Walker and the gap grows even skinnier.

Before Notre Dame left for Arizona, Weis was asked in a news conference whether he looked at the Fiesta Bowl as an opportunity to tell the country, "We're going full throttle. Notre Dame is back."

Weis' response: "I think you should know the answer by now. If you know me well enough, you can answer that one yourself."

Here's your answer: You'd better believe it.

But the Fiesta Bowl is just the first intriguing BCS game. The Nokia Sugar and FedEx Orange Bowls bring their own story lines -- and could be the biggest threats to a sweep of four competitive games. West Virginia and Florida State are significant underdogs in their respective games.

The entirety of the Big East Conference's credibility could be riding on West Virginia when it plays a road game against Georgia in the Georgia Dome. By that point the Big East, already widely criticized for keeping its BCS standing, could be 0-3 in bowls.

Rutgers acquitted itself well in a virtual road game against Arizona State, but couldn't stop the Sun Devils from scoring. South Florida, in its first bowl game, couldn't find the end zone. That's 0-2, with injury-depleted Louisville facing an uphill task against Virginia Tech as the league's last prelude to the Sugar Bowl.

There will be pressure on the Mountaineers to represent, against a Georgia team that is one point and one tweaked knee away from being unbeaten. If quarterback D.J. Shockley had been healthy enough to play against Florida, the Bulldogs almost certainly would have won. And they had Auburn all but beaten until giving up a 62-yard, fourth-down, last-minute pass play and a subsequent game-winning field goal.

If you're a fan of black-and-blue football, this game should have plenty of it between West Virginia's relentless running game and Georgia's physical defense.

And if you're a fan of legends, you have to be interested in the Sunshine Boys gathering at the Orange Bowl on Tuesday night. Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno, the two winningest coaches in Division I-A history, are staging their own Gray Panther rally in Miami.

In keeping with the theme, both old men are a little bit grumpy. Bowden once more is having to dadgum his way through questions about player misbehavior. Paterno continues to swat away questions about reversing the perceived decline of his program. And neither septuagenarian wants to hear one word about retirement.

Of course, all three games are merely prelude to the Rose Bowl collision of Texas and USC. If the Longhorns and Trojans both show up to play as expected, that game will provide the season climax we've all been waiting for.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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