The sad truth
Despite hopes, Irish ride same coaster as competition
Posted: Thursday October 4, 2007 4:06PM; Updated: Thursday October 4, 2007 4:22PM
The panic seems to have subsided, as Notre Dame has settled into its abysmal football autumn. The outrage and shock that ensued as the Fighting Irish went 0-2, then 0-3 has faded into something resembling a quiet, embarrassed acceptance. During coach Charlie Weis' long, weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon in South Bend, 26 questions were asked before the big-picture issue -- Notre Dame already has its worst start in history -- was broached. And quickly, it was left behind, for 15 more questions about wideouts and special teams.
There is little use at this point in hammering away at such a painful topic. If Weis had answers he would have provided them three weeks ago. Or his team would have won a game by now. Clearly, the coach is still looking. A horrid season is guaranteed, and the solution goes far beyond coaches and players, straight to philosophies that were put in place decades ago.
Irish athletic director Kevin White once told me, "Notre Dame is committed to being the national parish.'' Not to paraphrase him, but the implication was that Notre Dame, as the nation's pre-eminent Catholic University, and one that derived much of its esteem -- to say nothing of its power and money -- from success on the football field, would like to keep it that way. Think big, plan big, win big. Play the best, win national championships, graduate all the players. Be the model of perfection.
That model is admirable, and anyone who has been to a football Saturday at Notre Dame can tell you the university is, indeed, a special place. But the model doesn't work anymore. Notre Dame is a lot like everybody else, only with gold helmets and a whole lot of very old tradition.
Notre Dame plays at UCLA on Saturday. The Bruins, like most of the teams that have beaten the Fighting Irish into their 0-5 start, are a respectable college football team. Not great. Not bad. This means that UCLA will probably beat Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl, and an 0-5 start will become 0-6.
The rest of the Notre Dame schedule has been repeated endlessly. UCLA is followed by five consecutive home games at Notre Dame. This might foster hope, except the first two of those five are against No. 7 Boston College and No. 2 USC, both of whom are unbeaten heading into this weekend's games. College football can be wildly unpredictable, but the odds favor Notre Dame reaching the end of October with an 0-8 record, which is stunning by any measure.
(After that, the schedule gets much softer, with consecutive games against Navy, Air Force, Duke and Stanford. But to suggest that Notre Dame will run that table is a giant leap of faith. But more on the schedule later).