Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Some College Fooball Thoughts [J. Mark English]

On Notre Dame Fighting Irish - - Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun Times:

Evidently, being honest and forthright while answering questions is not something Notre Dame captains should do. If they puppet whatever coach Charlie Weis says, even if it's less than the full truth, they are leaders. If they say what really happened, what the opposing coach admits happened, they're not leadership material.

Notre Dame may be one of the prestigious private universities in the country, but football players are not allowed to express original thoughts -- or at least that was the message sent after another loss that ranks among the most embarrassing in school history.

This isn't a ''fire Charlie Weis'' column. I'm content to reserve judgment for a few more weeks. Personally, I think the Irish will upset No. 8 Pittsburgh on Saturday. Anybody who has followed Dave Wannstedt's career knows this is the type of game that his teams usually lose.

If nothing else, a win over Pittsburgh would mute the blue bloods who claim losing to Navy is ''unacceptable.'' What a joke. First of all, in case nobody has noticed, the Irish haven't contended for national titles lately. Secondly, if losing to the Midshipmen is ''beneath'' Notre Dame, why is Navy on the schedule?

But I digress.

What fries my egg more than any of Weis' on-field failures was what was said in the wake of the loss.

Let's start at the beginning.

Navy's triple-option offense racked up 257 rushing yards in a historic upset of Notre Dame two years ago. In last season's game, defensive coaches Jon Tenuta and Corwin Brown devised a scheme that limited the nation's then-second-ranked rushing offense to 157 yards.

The Midshipmen ran wild for 348 yards in Saturday's win, after which Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said: ''I really hope this doesn't come across wrong, but I think the thing that helped us this year was last year. We knew that they'd line up the same way. We didn't execute very well last year. They did a great job against us last year defensively. So we had a pretty good clue that they were going to come back and do the same things.''

In other words, Niumatalolo assumed the Irish would defend his offense the same way as last season and made adjustments that allowed fullback Vince Murray to gallop through the Notre Dame secondary for 158 yards.

Weis prides himself on his ability to manipulate Xs and Os better than opposing defensive coordinators. Well, guess what? In this case, his defensive coordinators got out-schemed. There's no other way to explain it. Hey, it happens. It was logical for Weis and his staff to stick with what worked well the previous year. If they hadn't, Weis would've been ripped for ''out-thinking'' himself, which has been a frequent criticism.


On the Iowa Hawkeyes - - Darren Everson and David Biderman of the Wall Street Journal:

Iowa's upset loss to Northwestern on Saturday didn't fundamentally change the college football season. The unbeaten triumvirate of No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Texas and No. 3 Alabama continues to steam toward the most predictable finish in years.

But here's what hasn't been said: Iowa's improbable winning streak, which had reached 13 games and taken them as high as No. 7 in the Associated Press poll and No. 4 in the BCS standings, was one of the most stunning—if not inspiring—stories in the recent history of college football.

In a day and age when star coaches at schools in the country's richest recruiting grounds have been hoarding the top talent, the Hawkeyes were an unlikely candidate to threaten them. The team has never won an outright national title, it's only had one marquee recruiting class in the past five years and was ranked No. 22 before this season. Even its coach, Kirk Ferentz, said he was surprised by its performance. "Realistically, I have a hard time even picturing us in the top 10," he said last month.

Yet the Hawkeyes started 9-0 this season and beat so many solid opponents that they were ranked No. 1 at one point by the computer polls. Even the loss to Northwestern wasn't an indictment—the Hawkeyes had opened up a lead in the game that collapsed only after junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi was forced out with an ankle injury.

What's remarkable about the Iowa program is its relative isolation. The ride to campus in Iowa City cuts through endless farmland. "I mean, a lot of corn on the drive up," says Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki. The lack of population puts the team in a peculiar fix. Other top football schools fill their rosters with scholarship players from their home states—roughly 59% of Florida's recruits the past five years were from Florida, and a whopping 93% of Texas's were from the state, according to The Hawkeyes have taken only 22% of their recruits over this period from Iowa, which is one of the smaller states to have a major-conference football program.

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