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Notre Dame Story: At Large, in Charge

November 24, 2005|Chris Dufresne

Notre Dame lost at home this year to a Michigan State team that finished 5-6.

The Irish have lost the last seven bowl games they have been invited to and haven't played in a major one since the 2000 season, when they were crushed, 41-9, in the Fiesta Bowl by Oregon State.

Two-loss Fresno State almost defeated No. 1 USC on the road Saturday and earned a No. 16 ranking in all three major polls for it.

Two-loss Notre Dame almost defeated No. 1 USC at home on Oct. 15 and is ranked No. 5 in the Harris poll and No. 6 in the Associated Press and USA Today coaches' polls.

Fresno is headed for the Liberty Bowl; Notre Dame is one victory from cinching a bowl championship series berth.

In case you missed it, Notre Dame is Notre Dame and nobody else comes close.

Notre Dame's visit to 5-5 Stanford on Saturday, a lousy-looking matchup anyway you snooze through it, has bowl officials in a tizzy.

John Junker of the Fiesta Bowl is flying up to make sure Notre Dame doesn't suffer a cataclysmic third defeat to a team that lost to UC Davis.

If Notre Dame beats Stanford to finish 9-2, the Irish are going to cash a $16-million BCS check -- and this is the last year they get to keep all the money.

Hearts in South Florida skipped a few beats this week when rumors floated Notre Dame might be more interested in the Orange Bowl now that it wouldn't have to play Miami -- too much bad blood there dating to Catholics versus Convicts -- after the Hurricanes probably coughed up a chance at the Atlantic Coast Conference title by losing to Georgia Tech.

But if you want to follow the money, follow Junker.

And Junker will be in Palo Alto.

If USC and Texas play in the Rose Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl gets the first and the third pick in the BCS selection process.

After sounding out bowl officials, it seems likely the Fiesta Bowl will take 9-2 Notre Dame.

The Orange Bowl, picking second, could then nab Big Ten champion Penn State, and the Fiesta would have a choice between 10-1 Oregon or 9-2 Ohio State.

Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti and Athletic Director Bill Moos had lunch with Junker in the Phoenix area Tuesday, but if you're a betting man in this scenario, take the Buckeyes.

Oregon's best chance is to have Notre Dame lose to Stanford.

Then, the Fiesta could have Penn State-Oregon in a rematch of that decade-ago Rose Bowl.

What happens to Notre Dame will affect bowls from here to Jacksonville.

Because of the Irish, according to associate commissioner Jim Muldoon, the Pacific 10 Conference bowl picture is "clear as mud."

Muldoon is a Notre Dame graduate, but his Irish are complicating things.

Notre Dame will affect the bowl pecking order of the Pac-10, the Big Ten, the Gator Bowl, which affects the Big East selection process, and the Fiesta and Orange bowls.

The power of Notre Dame is an elixir.

Having the Irish in your game, even with two losses, even when Oregon has a better record, is a bowl chairman's muscle relaxant.

More than 30 million people watched all or part of USC's 34-31 victory against Notre Dame in South Bend. This year the Irish's return to prominence led to NBC's highest game ratings since 1995.

The Irish sell like soap -- and that's why bowls belly up to their bar.

This year, unlike some, the Irish have an exciting product to promote and a buzz-creator coach in Charlie Weis.

"They do turn on TV sets," Muldoon said. "It's hard to explain, but when they go on the road, it's kind of like the circus coming to town."

If Notre Dame wins Saturday, look for Ringling Brothers to end up in Tempe, Oregon asking what went wrong, and UCLA to wonder why it bothered taking up the sport.

Wily Wildcat

This space has been tough in the past on Bill Snyder, who coached his last game at Kansas State on Saturday.

Snyder was not soft and fuzzy. He did not particularly like the national media, and he ran his program in almost Iron Curtain isolation.

On a visit to Manhattan, before Kansas State's epic win over Nebraska in 1998, a reporter could not help but be taken aback by the barbed-wire fence that protected the practice field.

Snyder, too, might have cost quarterback Michael Bishop the Heisman Trophy that year because he shielded him from the media.

But it was never about that with Snyder, who was a great coach, a man who took the worst football program in college history and guided it to 11 consecutive bowl games.

The problem the national media had with Snyder was Kansas State's schedule, particularly in 1998, when the Wildcats came within a whisker of playing for the national title with a nonconference slate that included Indiana State, Northern Illinois and Louisiana Monroe.

Kansas State was beyond being a sad-sack loser at that point, and some of us thought it needed to upgrade the competition to be considered as a legitimate title contender.

Snyder ultimately got the message, and that secured his legacy with most.

Kansas State played USC in consecutive years, 2001 and 2002, and won both games, and Snyder is the only college coach who can boast a 2-0 record against Pete Carroll.

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