Might of the Irish
Notre Dame sacked USC and muscled its way into the BCS picture
Yes, Matt LoVecchio conceded, the subject had crossed his mind in the week leading up to last Saturday's game at Southern Cal. As soon as the thought popped up, he sought to squelch it. "If I thought too long about what was at stake [more than $12 million] and the position I'm in [starting at quarterback for Notre Dame as a true freshman], I might have started feeling I was in over my head," said LoVecchio after the game.
By keeping his head against the Trojans, LoVecchio, an 18-year-old from Franklin Lakes, N.J., won his seventh game in seven starts for the Irish, completing 9 of 14 passes (no touchdowns, no interceptions) and rushing for a pair of touchdowns in a 38-21 win. Notre Dame is now 9-2 and all but assured of an invitation to a BCS game—probably the Fiesta Bowl—and a check for at least $13-5 million. A loss would likely have sent the Irish to the Gator Bowl, which pays $1.4 million.
While Notre Dame stood to lose a fortune, Southern Cal coach Paul Hackett stood to lose his job in the 72nd meeting of these venerable rivals. (As expected, Trojans athletic director Mike Garrett fired Hackett on Monday.) A highly regarded offensive strategist—his previous post was as offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs—Hackett struggled when put in charge of all facets of the game. He went 19-18 in his first three years at a school where a hair over .500 is unacceptable.
After playing his guts out, amassing 14 tackles and a sack, USC linebacker Zeke Moreno defended his coach. "It's not all his fault," said Moreno. "It's a team effort. You can't finger-point."
Sure you can. In his postgame remarks, Hackett pointed out that his quarterback, Carson Palmer, "turned it over three times" with two interceptions and a fumble. As for Moreno's unit? "For the second week in a row," said Hackett, "our defense did not get one turnover."
Conspicuously absent from Hackett's analysis was any sense of personal accountability. When a team gets two punts blocked, as USC did against the Irish, that's bad coaching. Hackett is a smart and decent man, but the more he palmed off this defeat on his players, the less sympathetic a figure he became.
The Irish, who have steadily improved since their last-second loss to Michigan State on Sept 23, will be a dangerous bowl opponent. Yet the question remains: Why should Notre Dame, with two losses, leapfrog at least four higher-ranked teams to gain one of the two at-large BCS bowl bids?
The answer, basically, is that it's a Golden Domer world, and the rest of us just live in it. The BCS isn't set up to take the highest-ranked team; it's set up to give ABC the highest possible ratings. While fairness might dictate that higher-ranked Virginia Tech, Oregon State, Nebraska and Oregon are more deserving of an at-large, fairness doesn't enter the process. "It's market-driven," says Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White. "The BCS was created to satisfy the needs and interests of the market."
That market—or the network suits who decide what the market will get—craves the Irish because they figure to draw higher ratings than any of those four higher-ranked teams. "That speaks to the tradition of this program," says White. "It speaks to 11 national championships, seven Heisman Trophy winners and a lot of blood, sweat and tears."