Irish created the double standard they must live with
Originally Published: September 11, 2007By Pat Forde | ESPN.com
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae makings news in college football (Statue of Liberty figurines sold separately, in Oregon (1) green and yellow):You've heard of street cred? Well, the phrase of the week here is Dash cred. Who's got credibility with The Dash, who's losing it, who's trying to regain it. Follow along at home as we keep score.
Domers, Your Credibility Is On The ClockWhen Notre Dame (2) trap-doored Tyrone Willingham (3) after just three years on the job in 2004, it established a precedent for the next coach: You've got three years, pal. Have it up and running at full speed or else.
Or at least that should have been the established precedent, if Notre Dame was interested in treating its next coach the same way it treated the first African-American coach in the school's history. But Charlie Weis (4) probably can go 2-10 in this, his third year, and still be back in 2008. Why? The simple answer is fairness -- the majority of coaches should get a fourth season, no matter how the third one turned out. But since fairness didn't factor in with Willingham (6-5 in year three, 21-15 overall), The Dash will offer another reason. Weis (0-2 in year three, 19-8 overall) was awarded a 10-year, $30 million-plus contract during his first season -- something that would make a firing very costly. He got the contract largely on the strength of a close loss to a great USC team and some interest from the NFL -- although Weis said at his introductory news conference in December 2004, "I don't come here to leave and take a job in the NFL in three years. This is not a stepping stone. This is an end-all for our family. When we come to Notre Dame, we come here with the intent of retiring here." So either Notre Dame hysterically overbid to keep an unproven coach who had no intention of going anywhere, or else Weis' loyalty pledge turned weak enough that the school felt compelled to overpay to keep him. Either way, Charlie and the Irish would appear joined at the hip -- even while the Notre Dame of Weis' third season is starting to bear strong resemblance to the Notre Dame of Ty Willingham's intolerable third season. Actually, it's worse. Far worse. That doesn't mean it can't turn around, but the current product is dreadful. Dating back to last season, the Irish have lost four consecutive games by at least 20 points. Last time Notre Dame lost four straight by 20 or more? How does never sound? But then again, they've only been playing football in South Bend since 1887. (One of the big knocks on Willingham, by the way, was too many blowout losses.) It could turn out that the teams that ripped the Irish this year, Georgia Tech (5) and Penn State (6), are the best teams in the ACC and Big Ten, respectively. But that would only continue Weis' trend of beating the bad teams and losing to the good ones. He's 4-6 against ranked opponents (including four straight lopsided losses) and 15-2 against the unranked. Average end-of-season Sagarin rating for the 19 teams Weis has beaten: 62nd. Average end-of-season Sagarin rating for the 21 teams Willingham beat from 2002-04: 55th. The one thing Weis was supposed to deliver was a state-of-the-art offense capable of carving up any defense. He did that -- when Willingham's players were there. The 2007 Irish have not scored an offensive touchdown, even though Weis told his players his first season they would have a "decided schematic advantage" in every game. Some advantage: They've scored 13 points on the season -- fewest through the first two games of the year since 1942. They're last in the nation in rushing offense and total offense.
Tom "Mo" Moschella/Icon SMICharlie Weis and the Irish are off to an 0-2 start in his third season at South Bend.
The easy fall guy for Domers protective of Weis is the same fall guy they pounded in 2003 and '04: Willingham. They'll tell you his lackluster recruiting left the cupboard bare, setting the stage for this difficult season. They like to talk about the rankings of recruiting classes. The Dash likes to talk about productivity. For instance: Of the 856 points Notre Dame has scored with Weis as head coach, 19 of them have been scored by players who originally committed to and signed with him. That includes the defensive touchdown, the extra point and two field goals that constitute this season's scoring. A Weis recruit has scored exactly one offensive touchdown in 27 games: George West (7) on an 11-yard run last season against Purdue, one of three times West touched the ball from scrimmage in 2006. It's true that Weis coached many of Willingham's players better than Willingham ever did. It's also true that Weis owes Willingham a large debt for at least getting the likes of Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija and Darius Walker on campus. Meanwhile, Washington (8) is 2-0 in its third season under Willingham, having won by 30 points on the road to open the season and then ending the nation's longest winning streak in a two-touchdown upset of Boise State (9). Willingham is in a place that suits him better than Notre Dame ever did. He might never have won truly big in South Bend, and might never have been truly happy. But the criticism of Willingham was as excessive as the praise (and compensation) accorded Weis. That's the double standard Notre Dame has set in place, and the double standard it must live with.
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenFormer Irish coach Ty Willingham has Washington off to a 2-0 start this season.
Credibility Games Of The WeekTen matchups in which we can make definitive statements about the winners -- or, in some cases, the losers. Notre Dame-Michigan (10): Winner scrapes itself up off the pavement and hopes it's the start of an epic turnaround. Loser knows how it feels to be Duke.
Louisville-Kentucky (11): Cardinals lead the nation in scoring offense at 65.5 points per game. Wildcats are seventh at 53 ppg. And neither team has played a lick of defense yet. First team to 60 wins? First team to punt loses? You've got to stop somebody to be taken seriously in college football; is one of these teams ready to step up and do that? Big 12 North (12): All six members of the Silly Putty Division play at home -- does anyone care to make a real statement? Big opportunities await for Nebraska (playing host to USC), Colorado (playing host to Florida State) and Iowa State (playing host to Iowa). A win in any of those three games would be a huge credibility boost for a division in need of one. Ohio State-Washington (13): Huskies freshman quarterback Jake Locker looks like the real deal, but he's never seen a defense like the Buckeyes'. They lead the nation in total defense and have not yet surrendered a touchdown. A victory here would firmly establish the Willingham revolution in Seattle. Syracuse-Illinois (14): The two worst coaching hires of 2004 square off. Greg Robinson (5-20 at Syracuse) and Ron Zook (5-20 at Illinois) compete for the right to give their fans false hope that they're turning things around. Tennessee-Florida (15): Speaking of the Zooker, Volunteers coach Phil Fulmer was 2-1 against him when Zook coached the Gators, and must have wished he'd stay forever in Gainesville. That's because Fulmer was 3-7 against Zooker's predecessor (Steve Spurrier) and is 0-2 against his successor (Urban Meyer). Most folks think he'll be 0-3 after Saturday.
Joe Robbins-US PRESSWIRE Offense will take center stage when Brian Brohm and the Cardinals face Kentucky.
Maryland-West Virginia (16): ACC is in need of a quality win and has the home field -- and the Terrapins have lost seven of their past eight against ranked opponents. Mountaineers haven't beaten a quality opponent on the road since 2005, at least. Texas-Central Florida (17): You never see the Longhorns lose games like this. Then again, you never see the Longhorns agree to play a road game against someone from Conference USA -- especially opening its new stadium. The Golden Knights shocked North Carolina State in their opener; if they do it again this is second only to App State-Michigan on the upset meter. Pittsburgh-Michigan State (18): Mark Dantonio would like to prove that he can short-circuit the rebuilding process with the Spartans. Dave Wannstedt would like to prove he can simply win a game of some import. But the Panthers are beat up and on the road. Arkansas-Alabama (19): Either Darren McFadden and the Hogs or Nick Saban's Crimson Tide will emerge as a rival for LSU in the SEC West race.
Jeff Fishbein/WireImage.comPat White and the Mountaineers are looking for a quality road win.
No Credibility Issues HereDashette Milka Duno (20) is 100 percent legit on the Dash cred scale. And looks better on the sidelines than on pit row.
Mark Scheuern/Icon SMIMilka Duno raced through the Dash cred test with no problems.
Conference CallIn response to popular request from warring league loyalists, The Dash has updated last week's skinny on every conference's performance in nonleague games and ranked them from toughest to least. Let the arguments reconvene: Southeastern (21)
The facts: Now 14-3 in nonconference games. Home games: 14. BCS conference opponents: six. I-AA opponents: three. The spin: LSU has done more in two weeks than any other team in America and deserves to be ranked No. 1. Mississippi State won on the road (don't mention that it was against Tulane in a deserted Superdome, just stick with the phrase "road victory"). Kentucky is 2-0 for the first time since 2002. And the Head Ball Coach is looking salty once more. Don't mention: Auburn's home loss to South Florida, from that league (Big East) the SEC always dismisses. Ole Miss' matador defense put the Rebels in a 35-7 hole against Missouri and ranks 109th nationally. Georgia has been removed from the list of serious national contenders. This week's biggie: Louisville at Kentucky. Wildcats have lost four straight by a margin of 82 points to the in-state rivals they once called Little Brother. PAC-10 (22)
The facts: Now 13-3 in nonconference games. Home games: 10. BCS conference opponents: six. I-AA opponents: one. The spin: Crow about the beatdown in the Big House, as Oregon gave the Pac-10 arguably the biggest win of the week for the second week in a row (Cal over Tennessee last week). Celebrate Washington's first 2-0 start since Rick Neuheisel was the coach. Appreciate UCLA hanging tough against BYU. Don't mention: Oregon State being splattered at Cincinnati last Thursday night. This week's biggie: USC at Nebraska. Major Dash cred points would be lost in an upset here. Big East (23)
The facts: Now 14-2 in nonconference games. Home games: 12. BCS conference opponents: five. I-AA opponents: five. The spin: Eighty-eight percent of the conference is undefeated, and who else can say that? South Florida and Cincinnati had huge credibility gains with big wins over BCS league opponents. Five Big East teams rank in the top 20 nationally in scoring. Don't mention: Syracuse. Period. Or Louisville's defense. Might also want to gloss over the fact that the league has played as many I-AA opponents as BCS opponents. This week's biggie: Louisville at Kentucky. Get by this one and the Cards could be 6-0 going to Cincinnati on Oct. 13.
Big 12 (24)
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesColt McCoy and Texas were part of the Big 12 South's weekend sweep.
The facts: Now 18-6 in nonconference games. Home games: 15 (plus two at neutral sites). BCS conference opponents: seven. I-AA opponents: three. The spin: Promote the 6-0 sweep by the Big 12 South. Salute Oklahoma as the scariest team outside of LSU through two weeks. Hail Nebraska for winning a road nail-biter against Wake Forest. Point out that Missouri is 2-0 against BCS comp without having played in Columbia yet. Note that Kansas has outscored its opponents 114-7. Don't mention: Who Kansas has played (Central Michigan and Southeast Louisiana). Ignore the fact that Iowa State (0-2, with home losses to Kent State and I-AA Northern Iowa) is in the league. This week's biggie: USC at Nebraska. If the Corn People are going to make a statement about being back in the big time, this is the chance. Big Ten (25)
The facts: 18-4 in nonconference games. Home games: 17 (plus two at neutral sites). BCS conference opponents: five. I-AA opponents: six. The spin: No other league can match a 10-1 record on the week. Penn State pushed itself into the national spotlight by rubbing out Notre Dame. Iowa's defense leads the nation in points allowed (three) and is sixth in total D. Both Northwestern and Indiana are 2-0, which isn't something you say every year. Don't mention: That weak sister in Ann Arbor. How close Wisconsin came to barfing up big dreams at UNLV. More games against I-AA than BCS opponents. The seven games against the MAC so far. Ohio State's 3-2 halftime lead on Akron. This week's biggie: Ohio State at Washington. Could be the Buckeyes' toughest game until they visit Penn State Oct. 27. ACC (26)
The facts: Now 9-7 in nonconference games. Home games: 10. BCS conference opponents: five. I-AA opponents: three. The spin: Well, at least the league was willing to go somewhere and play someone. And Wake Forest probably would have beaten Nebraska if quarterback Riley Skinner hadn't been hurt. Doesn't hurt to note that Georgia Tech, Clemson and Boston College all look good. Or that basketball season is one week closer. Don't mention: Anything else. Certainly do not mention Virginia Tech and Miami losing by a combined 79 points on the same day. Forget the fact that Conference USA has knocked off an ACC team once each week. Ignore the fact that Miami plays Florida International, because we all know what video clips come with that.
This week's biggie: Florida State at Colorado. Seminoles need to do something impressive.Mountain West (27)
The facts: Now 7-8 in nonconference games. Home games: eight (plus one at a neutral site). BCS conference opponents: 10. I-AA opponents: one. The spin: Nobody played tougher opponents last Saturday. Point out the near-upsets of top 10 teams (UNLV against Wisconsin and Colorado State against California). Note that TCU led Texas until late in the third quarter. And keep an eye on Wyoming and Air Force, both a plucky 2-0. Don't mention: Poor old Utah, which is too beat up to have a chance -- and now plays host to UCLA. And San Diego State looks like its usual compliant self, ranking last nationally in total defense, pass efficiency defense and tackles for loss after one game. This week's biggie: Wyoming at Boise State. Catching the Broncos coming off their first loss since 2005 -- is that good timing or bad? C-USA (28)
The facts: Now 6-13 in nonconference games. Home games: nine. BCS conference opponents: 14. I-AA opponents: two. The spin: East Carolina's win over North Carolina gives the Pirates some important in-state bragging rights with recruits -- and, combined with Central Florida's win at North Carolina State earlier, shows that C-USA owns Tobacco Road. Marshall hung tough with West Virginia, UAB did the same against Florida State, and Southern Miss did not go easily against Tennessee. Don't mention: Neither Rice nor Tulane did much with their opportunities against BCS weak sisters Baylor and Mississippi State, respectively. This week's biggie: Texas at Central Florida. Shock the world?
Ronen Zilberman/AP PhotoColt Brennan and the Warriors have a date with the Rebels in Las Vegas on Saturday.
The facts: Now 6-10 in nonconference games. Home games: seven. BCS conference opponents: seven. I-AA opponents: six. The spin: Hey, you go play six of your seven nonconference games on the road and see what happens. At least Idaho won, and any Idaho victory is worth celebrating (even against Cal Poly). Fresno State nearly pulled a Pat Hill Classic at Texas A&M before losing in triple overtime. Don't mention: The end of the Boise State winning streak. Or Nevada's come-from-ahead loss at Northwestern. This week's biggie: Hawaii at UNLV. Warriors better bring more to this party than they took to Shreveport, La., last week, and more than Wisconsin took to Sin City, too. MAC (30)
The facts: Now 5-13 in nonconference games. Home games: five (plus two at neutral sites). BCS conference opponents: 13. I-AA opponents: two. The spin: Hey, how 'bout that Ohio win over Lousiana-Lafayette! How 'bout Miami almost beating Minnesota, and Bowling Green hanging with Michigan State, and Akron leading 2-0 in the second quarter in the Horseshoe? Don't mention: When you go 1-6 out of conference, including a loss to a I-AA team, you have a lot to keep quiet. This week's biggie: Ohio at Virginia Tech. The league's only unbeaten has a chance to throw something funky at a true freshman quarterback making his first college start. Sun Belt (31)
The facts: Now 0-13 in nonconference games. Home games: three. BCS conference opponents: 10. I-AA opponents: zero. The spin: Reinforce (again) the reality that no league has played a higher percentage of road games. Note the dent Middle Tennessee put in Louisville's rep by scoring 42 points in a losing cause. Insist that Arkansas State would have taken down Memphis had the game not been postponed. And, hey, North Texas' defense did improve, going from 79 points allowed in the opener to only 45 in the second game. Don't mention: The ongoing nonconference bagel in the win column. This week's biggie: Minnesota at Florida Atlantic. Very winnable game for the Owls.
Let Hawaii Haka!When Hawaii (32) did its pregame haka (a Maori war chant) at Louisiana Tech (33) on Saturday, the result was a 15-yard flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Warriors had to open the game kicking off from their own 15-yard line. Not surprisingly, June Jones (34) was displeased. "For someone to micromanage outside the NCAA rules, that's not right," Jones told the Honolulu Advertiser. As the paper pointed out, "The NCAA has rules against unsportsmanlike conduct, but none specifically mentions the haka " And The Dash thought the NCAA had a rule for everything. Hawaii began doing the haka before games last season as a "cultural thing," according to its players and coaches. The WAC office received at least one complaint that the haka was done to provoke or intimidate opponents, so the league sent out a notice "encouraging teams not to perform the haka during road games," the Advertiser said. (You think they were talking to Hawaii? Or perhaps Idaho?) The Dash is all for pregame pageantry and color. As long as the Warriors aren't starting any fights, let them take their haka on the road.
Bad DogTexas A&M mascot Reveille VII (35), the collie that sits on the sideline at Aggies games, was benched last week for snapping at her handler after the guy stepped on her tail. Sounds like he had it coming.
But here's the part of the wire story that stopped The Dash: "Reveille is considered the highest-ranking member of the school's Corps of Cadets and stands at attention in her maroon coat during sporting events and other functions." Highest-ranking member of the Corps of Cadets? Do they salute the dog? Are there medals on the dog's coat? And why does the dog wear a coat to begin with? If Reveille outranks the humans, what right do they have to discipline her for biting one of them? Shouldn't the correct response to a bite from a commanding officer be, "Thank you, ma'am, may I have another?" Tough as Reveille might be, The Dash would rather take its chances with her than Ralphie (36) the buffalo or Mike (37) the tiger.
Bob Levey/WireImage.comBeing the highest-ranking member of the Corps of Cadets gives Reveille something to bark about.
Putting Out An APB ForFormer USC wide receiver Kareem Kelly (38). Bet you didn't know that he's third on the school's all-time receiving yardage list, having toiled through some lean years with Paul Hackett before being a part of the first two seasons under Pete Carroll. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Kareem, please apprise The Dash. Meanwhile, The Dash has had several spies provide assistance in tracking down former Oklahoma State star Hart Lee Dykes, but has not yet heard from him. Dykes made some news this summer for his exasperating attempts to gain disability payments from the NFL after his pro career was cut short by a broken kneecap. Dykes was last reported to be living and working in the Houston area and riding a Harley-Davidson.
Point AfterThe Dash was in Baton Rouge for LSU's walloping of Virginia Tech on Saturday, but had to spend Friday in one of its favorite cities: New Orleans. When hungry in NOLA it's hard to go wrong, but The Dash recommends a visit to Rio Mar (39), a Spanish joint with sublime ceviche and other fish. It's an admitted departure from the grilled meat circuit, but a good one. Post-dinner The Dash touts a trip to Frenchman Street, off the French Quarter and away from the tourist ramble. Grab a beer at D.B.A. (40), kin to the Manhattan bar of the same name. They've only got a million good brews on tap.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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