Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2000: 9-3)
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Coach and programAll that chatter about the demise of Notre Dame football turned out to be a bit premature.
The Irish improved from a 5-7 record in 1999 to a 9-3 mark that featured a seven-game winning streak to end the 2000 regular season and a first-ever Bowl Championship Series berth, in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Sure, the 41-9 loss to Oregon State in the Fiesta Fiasco was tough for Notre Dame’s Subway Alumni to swallow, but the BCS bowl berth added $12-13 million to Notre Dame’s coffers and ensured that embattled coach Bob Davie would be around for a while.
Now, Davie firmly believes that his team is ready to take the next step toward national prominence (the Irish were 15th in the final Associated Press poll for 2000, its best finish since 1995). He thinks that this is his most talented team at Notre Dame, a team that has re-stocked the shelves to the point it can compete every week with the nation’s elite.
“When you look at our football team, I certainly think we have enough talent to win every Saturday,” said Davie, 30-19 at Notre Dame. “We had enough talent to win the Fiesta Bowl. We would have had to have played perfectly, but I think we have it built back up where we have enough talent to win. I don’t see us being out-matched any week.”
To keep moving forward, Davie must find himself a steady quarterback of the future and re-stock the offensive line and defensive secondary. Davie has three sophomores in the mix at quarterback; the most seasoned is Matt LoVecchio, who started eight games last year and showed a great deal of maturity in 2000. He will need to be a steady hand on offense.
Despite the unanswered questions, Davis is confident that the Irish have the talent to compete against anyone in the country.
“We have some ingredients to be successful,” Davie said. “[But] just having the ingredients is not always the most important thing. It’s the dynamics of meshing all those things together that’s important. But the bottom line, being dead honest, from a talent standpoint, this is the most talented team we’ve had.”
OffenseLoVecchio, who completed 73-of-125 passing for 980 yards, 11 touchdowns, one interception and helped the Irish rank 17th nationally in passing efficiency last fall, is clearly the most experienced of the three players in the quarterback derby. A year ago, LoVecchio led the Irish to seven consecutive victories before a 9-3 season ended with a lopsided 41-9 loss to Oregon State.
If LoVecchio is to lose his grip on the No. 1 job, it’ll probably be redshirt freshman Carlyle Holiday -- who showed nifty moves as a runner and completed 7-of-13 passes for 66 yards in the Blue-Gold spring game -- who wrestles the job away from him. But for now, Davie says that the decision to go with LoVecchio is solid.
The tailback position is chock-full of experience from junior Julius Jones (Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2000 with 162 attempts for 657 yards and seven touchdowns) to seniors Tony Fisher (132 for 607, six touchdowns) and Terrance Howard (75 for 424 yards, four touchdowns).
The starting wide receivers will once again be the multi-talented senior David Givens (25 catches for 310 yards, two touchdowns in 2000) at flanker and senior Javin Hunter (13, 256 yards, three touchdowns) at split end. But Davie must come up with a replacement from the pint-sized playmaker Joe Geatherall, who contributed as a clutch third-down receiver and punt returner.
During the 2000 season, Notre Dame’s offensive line was the foundation in an evolving offense that utilized three different quarterbacks, three different tailbacks and three different fullbacks. But on the line, left tackle Jordan Black (6-6, 308), left guard Jones, center Jeff Faine (6-3, 290), right guard Gandy and right tackle Kurt Vollers (6-7, 307) started every game.
Defense and special teamsDavie believes his starting front four is as strong as any he’s had with the Golden Domers. And it’s tough to argue with that opinion, thanks to the return from injury of fifth-year senior captain Grant Irons (6-5, 275).
Irons has started 20 games in his career, two in 2000, 10 in '99, five in '98 and three in '97. He has 120 career tackles, including 50 as a rookie in '97.
The new leader of the linebacking pack will be senior captain Rocky Boiman (6-4, 239). He’ll start again in 2001 after making 58 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks last fall.
The secondary is a primary area of concern for the Irish. The reason: Gone are a pair of guys who ended up being AFC East draft picks, cornerback Brock Williams and safety Tony Driver.
One corner will be ably manned by Shane Walton (5-11, 186), the defensive MVP of the spring game. In the Blue-Gold game, Walton intercepted a Jared Clark pass and returned it 44 yards for a score.
Junior Nick Setta (5-11, 169), who made 8-of-14 field goals and all but one of his 45 extra point attempts, will return as the Notre Dame kicker.
Bottom lineEven if LoVecchio proves to be the man under center and the offensive line and secondary gel, matching last year’s nine wins won’t be easy. The reason: Notre Dame faces a murderous schedule.
Overall, Davie’s crew meets seven opponents that played in bowl games a year ago: Nebraska (defeated Northwestern in Alamo Bowl), Purdue (lost to Washington in Rose), Texas A&M (lost to Mississippi State in Independence), Pittsburgh (lost to Iowa State in insight.com), West Virginia (defeated Ole Miss in Music City), Boston College (defeated Arizona State in Aloha) and Tennessee (lost to Kansas State in Cotton).
Winning eight games and ending up in the second half of the top 25 (and in a decent bowl game) against this trying schedule would be quite a reasonable goal with a still-green quarterback. But who said the expectations of most Notre Dame fans were ever reasonable?