5 Thoughts - The Future of Notre Dame
Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen (and Jimmy Chitwood)
Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen (and Jimmy Chitwood)
Posted Nov 16, 2009

The future of Notre Dame football could be on the shoulders of Jimmy Clausen, and he has the potential to pull a Jimmy Chitwood and make a big statement ... if he wants to. Could two non-BCS teams make it into the BCS? Is USC finished? These topics and more in the latest 5 Thoughts.

5 Thoughts - Nov. 15

- 5 Thoughts Week 1 (What to do with BYU) 
- Week 2 (The problem with the polls, and the new star QBs)
- Week 3 (The sleeper team to watch out for)
- Week 4 (The Big East apology)
- Week 5 (To Tebow or not Tebow)
- Week 6 (Bama vs. Florida ... already?)
- Week 7 (The pecking order for the national title)
- Week 8 (The Landry Jones era begins)
- Week 9 (Why not Boise State?)
- Week 10 (The at-large BCS teams will be ...)

1. And then Weis can go out to the farm and make out with Barbara Hershey.

By Pete Fiutak

"I don't know if it'll make a difference, but I figured it's time for me to start playing ball. But, there's just one thing... I play, Coach stays. He goes, I go. "

The immediate future of the Notre Dame football program doesn't rest on the decision making of the school's powers-that-be, and it's not going to come down to fan pressure or even what Charlie Weis does in his final two games against Connecticut and Stanford. It rests on the decision of Jimmy Chitwood, er, Clasuen.

Yes, with the spikey hair (what's left of it) and the way he arrived on the scene by limo, he's more Jimmy Football than Chitwood, but Clausen can make a real-life Hoosiers moment of his own and he and WR Golden Tate can all but decide what happens to Weis by taking a positive public stance for their coach and tying their futures to him. It might be the only way Weis is around in 2011; it'll be too tough a sell to bring him back without something extraordinary happening.

If everyone chooses to return, the Irish get six starters back on offense including Clausen, his magnificent receivers, Tate and Michael Floyd (who form the most talented Notre Dame receiving duo ever), and RB Armando Allen. The defense loses safeties Kyle McCarthy and Sergio Brown, but gets back nine starters. Basically, if the band gets back together (to mix movie references willy-nilly into the same Thought), lookout … at least in theory. And then there's the schedule.

Of course things always change (who thought Stanford would be a nasty game this year?), but if Clausen and company return, there's no reason Notre Dame can't be at least 10-1 playing Purdue, Michigan, at Michigan State, Stanford, at Boston College, Pitt, Western Michigan, Navy (in New Jersey), Tulsa, Utah, and Army before going to USC. Most of the tough games are at home, and again, in theory, the team should be loaded with veterans and skill.

So it's now on Clausen to decide what he wants to do. And if he wants to go for it, he has to get up to the mike, with Tate, Floyd, and the rest of the top players behind him Public Enemy S1W style, and say the following.

"We feel like we have something special here. It might not seem like it over the last few games, but we really are growing as a team, and as an offense, and if we're all back next year, we think we can be unstoppable. But we're not going to start from scratch with a new head coach, not with the opportunities some of us have the option to pursue. If Coach Weis is around for next year, we're coming back, and we're going to the BCS. If he goes, some of us will likely choose other paths."

Now, that's assuming a few things. First, that's assuming that Clausen and company actually like Weis enough to want to do something like that. But if Clausen and Tate return, they're doing so for themselves and their own reasons. Second, that's assuming Clausen and Tate aren't afraid of the impending doom of a likely rookie salary cap that might hit in 2011, meaning it's take-the-money-now time for any prospect who wants to get paid in major league dollars. Clausen is projected to be a first round pick, if not top ten, while Tate is an almost-certain first rounder if he chooses to leave (Floyd is also projected to be a first round pick, but he's not eligible until 2011).

Usually, the situation is in reverse. The fate of the coach determines what the player is going to do, but this is a unique situation and Notre Dame is a unique place. Clausen can put all the pressure on himself and his teammates by making a stand right now. Otherwise, Weis can go back to New England and devise a better play call on 4th-and-two deep in Patriot territory with Peyton Manning frothing at the mouth waiting to get the ball back.

2. The Poinsettia Bowl? Again? Fine.

By Richard Cirminiello

Chris Petersen may never have met Jim Harbaugh. It's possible that the locals don't know the names of a single Cardinal player other than RB Toby Gerhart. However, the entire city of Boise might owe a debt of gratitude to Stanford, which roughed up USC, 55-21, and knocked down a significant hurdle to a possible at-large BCS bowl invitation.

Even if Boise State finishes unbeaten with wins over Utah State, Nevada, and New Mexico State, it has no guarantees for a second BCS bowl invitation in school history. Out of the non-automatic qualifiers, TCU is already in the HOV lane after dismantling No. 16 Utah, 55-28, and winning the WAC alone won't get you into the dance. However, there will be three at-large bids available. The loser of the SEC title game between Alabama and Florida will garner one, and either Penn State or Iowa out of the Big Ten could get the other. No. 3? That appeared earmarked for USC until it ran into that Cardinal wood chipper. What's left now? ACC? Nope. Big 12? Oklahoma State has an outside shot, but still must navigate Oklahoma in Norman. Pac-10? Too much cannibalism going on over the next few weeks. Big East? Interesting. This could be the Broncos' biggest headache if Pitt hands Cincinnati its only loss of the year on Dec. 5.

Once unimaginable, we could be on the verge of having two mid-majors playing in one of the five BCS bowl games, a major step forward for the smaller conferences. Barring an unthinkable upset, TCU has all but secured one spot. And thanks to an upset, Stanford's spanking of Troy, Boise State has taken one giant step closer to a similar fate in January.

3. You want John Cooper back?

By Matt Zemek

Ohio State fans, we're going to have to conduct another fireside chat, it seems... gather 'round. Last week, I had a guest columnist, Myron Stroicz, pen the Weekly Affirmation, which focused on the Big Ten's big problem: an insistence on winning the conference, which comes at the expense of national competitiveness against the USCs and Floridas of the world. How coincidental it was, then, that less than 48 hours after the column was published, Mr. Stroicz's views would be so thoroughly confirmed in Columbus, as Ohio State nipped Iowa in a battle of hyper-conservative coaches who, as Pat Forde of ESPN noted, evoked memories of the famous - and then infamous - 1966 tie between Notre Dame and Michigan State.

The Buckeye program and its leader, Jim Tressel, cannot be booed in the midst of a de facto conference championship game. Success isn't supposed to be knocked. Results, when attained, shouldn't be downplayed. Most importantly, conference championships - the fruit of superiority in the heart of any college football season - need to be recognized as central and substantial achievements. If eight or nine games in a season are played against non-conference teams, a conference title wouldn't mean much. But because conference play occupies at least two-thirds of a season, winning the conference is the foremost attainable goal for any FBS program. Only two teams, under the current system, get to play for something more than a league crown in the bowl season.

As it stands, winning the Big Ten for the fourth time in five years (the Football Writers Association of America needs to investigate the dubious practice of calling a team a conference champion when it loses a head-to-head matchup and ties another team at the top of the conference standings; only Penn State was the 2008 Big Ten champion...) is an AMAZING feat, the kind of accomplishment which should add to a great coach's legendary status.

Yet, this morning, after the narrow win against Iowa, you'd think that James Patrick Tressel is a bum. Some of the comments coming from certain endlessly grumpy precincts of Buckeye Nation would be hilarious if they weren't so profoundly sad.

"Ohio State won in spite of its coach, not because of him."

"This win will only justify his madness."

"JT's (Jim Tressel's) success is his slave."

In other words, you're pissed, Buckeye fans, that you've won another Big Ten championship, because this means that Tressel will continue to lose to USC, Florida and LSU in bowl games.

What a lovely attitude to have after seeing your program reach - let's get a drum roll from TBDBTL here - YOUR SEVENTH BCS BOWL IN THE PAST EIGHT COLLEGIATE FOOTBALL SEASONS.

That's an insane amount of success... positively USC-like. And oh, what program won't be in a BCS bowl this year? Yeah, the deposed Trojan Empire of College Football. The Greeks from Stanford horsed around in the Coliseum on Saturday and drove the dagger through ailing Troy's heart. But you, Dear Brutus, will be in the very Rose Bowl game USC hosted for so long.

It should be great to be a Buckeye this morning, but apparently, all you can think about are the ghosts of Januaries past against SEC foes.

That's sad. James Patrick Tressel loses to USC, he gets understandably ripped. He loses to Purdue, he gets deservedly ripped. He digs out of the hellhole created by those two losses and gets his team to win the Big Ten..... AND HE GETS RIPPED! Not how a coach should be treated. At all. Ever.

So, what to do, Buckeye fans? You have some serious soul-searching to perform after Tressel once again waxes Michigan and does the kinds of things John Cooper rarely did with better talent.

Do you just not care about winning the Big Ten anymore? Myron Stroicz said in his column, "Consolation prizes are a distraction. The road passed through ‘Win the Big Ten' when the system was limited, with access flowing only to the Rose Bowl and nowhere else. (Only when Michigan and Ohio State tied in 1973, and the Wolverines were voted out of Pasadena, did it dawn on the Big Ten that second-place teams actually deserved big bowl tickets.) That ship has sailed. These are the times of a global college football world, not just the village. Take the cue and think ‘Win the National Title.' "

Is that what you think? If so, the prevailing style of play which has been Gospel to most of the Big Ten for generation upon generation needs to be blown up, and the style of coaching witnessed in Iowa-Ohio State needs to go out the window. If winning big intersectional and national games against non-conference opponents in early January really is the goal of the Big Ten, everything about the conference has to change. Conference commissioner Jim Delany needs to schedule post-Thanksgiving games. The league needs to go crazy in scheduling elite opponents for home-and-homes in the coming years. Three yards and a cloud of field turf has to go bye-bye. AND... the tie-in with the Rose Bowl should be obliterated. But ah, do you really want to go there?

See, one of the lasting virtues of college football is tradition. Woody Hayes. Bo Schembechler. Duffy Daugherty. Lloyd Carr. All with eyes fixed on Pasadena.

Ever since Fielding Yost's Michigan club won the 1902 Rose Bowl against Stanford, the idea of traveling West for some California fun and sun in the middle of a Midwestern winter has captured the imagination of Michiganders, Ohioans, and other Big Ten citizens. Expecting Tressel, or any other Big Ten coach not named Pat Fitzgerald (who is young enough to own or develop a different and new-age college football worldview), to disown the sacredness of a Big Ten championship is a fool's errand. It's akin to expecting old-time football writers to suddenly ignore split conference championships when head-to-head tiebreakers exist.

If you downgrade the value of the Rose Bowl and the Big Ten title that comes with it, go ahead... but realize that until the BCS system gets blown up (and that won't happen for at least another four years, if not more), you're basically bashing your own conference and longstanding Midwestern football values.

Don't blame Jim Tressel for winning the Big Ten again. Blame the Big Ten - its administration, but also its prevailing football subculture - for the supposedly problematic and unacceptable "success" of Ohio State football in the Tressel era.

4. And there's no Pony Express in sight.

By Richard Cirminiello

I don't want to completely diminish the importance of recruiting, but unless you're one of the small handful of schools competing perennially for a national championship, the process is grossly overrated. For the other 90% or so of FBS programs, success is all about coaching. Always has been and always will be.

Two-star, three-star, four-star. It matters little what experts say about you before your career begins compared to what you look like four or five years from then. That's where the good coaches earn their six and seven-digit salaries and the average coaches wind up looking over their shoulders this time every year. Take June Jones and Al Golden, for instance. Until they arrived at SMU in 2008 and Temple in 2006, respectively, hope was non-existent and football games were little more than social gatherings for students and the locals looking for an inexpensive day out. In short spans, times have changed. The caliber of the players? Not so much. The caliber of the teaching? You bet.

One man in Dallas, armed with a fancy offense and a blueprint for extreme makeovers, is piloting a program out of a quarter-century ditch that began with the infamous NCAA Death Penalty in the 1980s. One man in Philadelphia, brimming with confidence and a tireless work-ethic, has helped breathe life into a program that was teetering on extinction just a few years ago.

Entering the final turn of the 2009 regular season, SMU is bowl-eligible and leads the Conference USA West Division, needing wins over Marshall and Tulane to play for a league championship. Temple, exiled from the Big East earlier in the decade, has won eight straight games and controls its own destiny in the MAC East Division. Two men. Two thousand reasons why they have no business being in their current positions. And two more examples why success in college football will always hinge on hiring the right man for the job. Athletic directors at struggling schools from Louisville to Notre Dame and Illinois to Virginia know this to be fact, which is why the coaching carousel will once again reach maximum velocity at the end of the month.

5. Hoping for the Holiday? USC?!

By Michael Bradley

The 2009 season, for all intents and purposes, is over for USC, since in Troy, the Rose Bowl appears on most pre-season schedule cards, and playing in the Holiday Bowl is not considered much of a reward for a season. In fact, some Trojans might just consider it a punishment, as if the college football world is making fun of ‘SC for such a bad season. The tendency when things like this happen is to begin the funeral procession for a program. Southern California's 2009 season is a disaster by the Trojans' standards, but let's not get carried away.

USC will be back, and it will likely be back in a big way next year. The entire front seven returns on defense. Matt Barkley will be back under center after a debut that featured many second-half downs after plenty of first-half ups. Coach Pete Carroll has been recruiting some of the nation's best athletes for several seasons now, so the youngsters who will move into positions on offense and in the secondary are certainly not overmatched in the talent department. More importantly, next season will no doubt bring a renewed commitment to the type of results that have characterized the program under Carroll, and that will likely mean fewer appearances by Will Ferrell at practice and more of the high competition that has made ‘SC so good for the past decade.

Stanford (and Oregon before it) proved the Pac-10 is improving, and that the Trojans won't be able to gallivant through league play unscathed any longer. It's wrong, however, to say that this season's three losses (so far) signal the end of a USC's dynasty. The Trojans will be back next year, and any team silly enough to consider them easy pickings will be making a huge mistake.