TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- Think college football, and these two
storied programs are sure to come to mind: The Big Ten brutes of
Ohio State and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
Just a couple of hundred miles apart, they have met only four
times -- twice in the 1930s and twice in the '90s -- and never in a
bowl game. Against that backdrop, the fourth-ranked Buckeyes face
the fifth-ranked Irish on Monday in the Fiesta Bowl.
"I think it adds a lot to this game," Ohio State coach Jim
Tressel said Sunday. "We've only played four times before in our
history and the two great programs, here we are in one of the great
settings in college football. I think it adds a little something to
Charlie Weis has the Irish back among the elite in one year and
he's already dodging questions about a possible national title run
next season. The perfectionist that he is, though, makes a 9-2
season not good enough.
"I'm content with the progress the team has made. I'm content
and I'm happy for my staff and I'm happy for the players," Weis
said. "I'm happy for our administration and I'm happy for the
university. But to be honest with you, I think I blew the two games
we lost. So I'm not happy personally."
The Irish losses were 44-41 to Michigan State in overtime and
34-31 to No. 1 USC on Matt Leinart's 1-yard run with three seconds
"When you play two games that you lose by three points, when
you're the head coach you better take that responsibility," Weis
said. "So if you're looking for me to do cartwheels, you'll be
waiting a long time."
Each team will get about $14.5 million for appearing in this BCS
game. Ohio State must share its money with the rest of its
conference. Notre Dame, as an independent, keeps it all.
Rev. John I. Jenkins, the university's president, said it will
be spent on student financial aid, library acquisitions and
scientific instruments for the new Jordan Hall of Science. The
football program is very good to the university.
As for the game itself, on the surface it would seem the big
matchup would be Notre Dame's strong offense, directed by junior
quarterback Brady Quinn, against Ohio State's powerful defense,
anchored by A.J. Hawk, winner of the Lombardi Award as the nation's
top defensive lineman or linebacker.
Interestingly, Quinn's sister Laura is dating Hawk, a
relationship serious enough that Hawk spent the Christmas holiday
at the Quinns' family home.
"Laura has given us all sorts of information on what Ohio State
has done," Weis joked. "She's done a great job of feeding us
Seriously, though, the Buckeyes' defense is the best Notre Dame
has faced, Weis said.
"We have gone against some good defenses," he said. "It's no
secret that the University of Tennessee's defense was very, very
good this year. Ohio State is good on all three levels. Sometimes
you have a dynamic front four, or a rock solid secondary, but
they're good on all levels."
While little has been said of Notre Dame's defense versus Ohio
State's offense, Weis singled out Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith
"He worried me most of anybody on their team," Weis said.
"What scares me is anytime you have a quarterback, and especially
a quarterback who started out with a reputation of being a runner
first, and a thrower second, and now has reversed those roles, you
have a problem."
Smith, suspended from the Alamo Bowl last year and the opener
this season for accepting $500 from a booster, has come back to
lead his team with improved production as this year progressed. In
the regular-season finale, a 25-21 victory at Michigan, Ohio State
trailed 21-12 with 7:49 to play, but Smith engineered touchdown
drives of 69 and 88 yards.
He completed 7 of 8 passes on the winning drive and finished
with a career-high 300 yards passing.
"He knows he's a passer first and runner second, and that's the
toughest thing to teach a quarterback that has athleticism to
realize that," Weis said. "I think he's learned that, and you can
see him evolve from the beginning of the year to the end of the
year where he now understands that he'll run when he has to, not
when he wants to."
Tressel said Smith has that undefinable something that makes him
a natural leader.
"He's got something about him that people enjoy following,"
the Ohio State coach said. "I don't think you can be followed if
you don't produce, and he produces. He's got a certain confidence
and aura about himself that, hey, if you guys will follow me, we
have a chance, and I think he's grown a lot."
The quarterbacks are both from Ohio, Smith from Cleveland and
Quinn from Dublin, a short drive from the Ohio State campus. Smith
is sixth nationally in passing efficiency, Quinn fourth.
Quinn emerged from two years of struggle under Tyrone Willingham
to thrive in the Patriots' complicated offense installed by Weis.
"This system has allowed us to play to a lot of the strengths
of our players," Quinn said. "Coach Weis has brought a lot of
guys along. I think you've seen so much more productivity out of
Maurice Stovall than in past years, and Jeff Samardzija and
different players like that."
Ohio State is a 4½-point favorite.
Weis said that's baloney.
"We're no underdog," he said. "We got two great football
teams. I don't worry about underdog, point spread, those things are
irrelevant to me. You have two teams that both have an equal chance