Wasn't that Special?
No Chance to Smell Roses
Someone forgot to tell Oregon that grunge is dead. The Ducks closed out their 10-1 regular season with an unartful 17-14 victory over archrival Oregon State that wasn't impressive enough to give them the inside track to the Rose Bowl national championship game. Although Oregon moved up on Sunday from fourth in the AP Top 25 and fifth in the USA Today/ ESPN poll to third in each, Tennessee jumped over the Ducks to No. 2 in both polls. That fueled the Volunteers' rise to second in the BCS ranking, 3.6 points ahead of third-rated Nebraska and 5.6 ahead of No. 5 Oregon. Even if the Volunteers lose the SEC Championship game to LSU this Saturday, the Ducks can't overtake the Cornhuskers.
Oregon has only itself to blame. It blew a 42-28 lead in the fourth quarter at home against Stanford for its only loss of the year. Four of the Ducks' wins, including Saturday's at a wet and windy Autzen Stadium, were by three points or fewer. The Ducks finished 110th in the nation against the pass (285.2 yards per game) but a respectable 33 rd in scoring defense (21.8 points per game). "We don't have a true nickel package, so a real passing team that spreads us out is difficult," says defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. "A real power running team can hurt us too, because we're little." In other words, other than a good passing team and a good running team, the Ducks can stop anybody. The difference, Aliotti says, is that his players believe they can stop anyone.
After last Saturday's game Keenan Howry, whose 70-yard punt return for a touchdown gave Oregon a 10-6 lead in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, said, "We'd love a chance to play Miami. We want to prove we're the best. That's the only way to do it."
Bob Davie's Firing
The End Came At the Start
On Dec. 5,2000, in the wake of Notre Dame's 9-2 regular season, athletic director Kevin White extended coach Bob Davie's $1 million-a-year contract through 2005. On Sunday, three days short of the extension's first anniversary, White fired Davie.
White says his second thoughts began last Jan. 1, when the Irish lost 41-9 to Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl. In that defeat and its three losses to start this season, Notre Dame scored a total of 32 points. In a press conference following his firing, Davie said that White had told him on Sept. 30, the day after the Irish fell to 0-3 for the first time in their history, that he had five games to improve Notre Dame or White would "sever our relationship." The day after delivering his ultimatum, White relented and gave Davie the entire season to turn around the team. The Irish did improve, finishing 5-6 with a 24-18 victory at Purdue last Saturday, but White had already made his decision. "A year ago," he said on Sunday, "I thought we'd turned the corner. I really thought we were ready to be a really good program. That [the contract extension] is on me."
Notre Dame's decision to fire Davie was similar to the change that Alabama made a year ago, when Mike DuBose was forced out after having led the Crimson Tide to the SEC championship in 1999. Davie and DuBose were hired within weeks of each other in late 1996, after successful stints as defensive coordinators at their respective schools. Both men found that being a head coach of a high-profile team is unyielding in the price exacted for mistakes. In an age when athletic budgets are reaching well into eight figures ( Notre Dame's is in the neighborhood of $38 million), the pressure on football to produce the money necessary to support the programs is immense.
"Sports is almost a part of the entertainment industry," says commissioner Mike Tranghese of the Big East, of which Notre Dame is a member in every sport except football. "Your people have to feel confident and good about your team. The scrutiny has intensified——because of television and all the games that are on."