Friday, November 30, 2012

Waiting for the National Championship

Notre Dame 22, USC 13

Things ND fans have been up to this week:
-voting Manti Te'o for Heisman over and over and over (but still not as obsessively as those cheating A&M fans, apparently)
-staring dreamily at the national rankings
-booking every single flight to Miami
-budgeting for championship tickets that may or may not materialize at face value once the lottery results are released
-thinking, "DAMN! Why am I not eligible for the lottery this year?!"
-blowing raspberries at the SEC
-wondering who to contact about making the sign on top of Grace Hall even brighter
-shopping for Christmas gifts in uNDefeated gear
-kicking back and watching the basketball team thwomp Kentucky in a blackout game
-re-watching Manti Teo's five zillion highlight reels, press conferences, and interviews from this season
-wishing it was time for another Trick Shot Monday
-twiddling our thumbs waiting for the results of the SEC title game

Things I have been up to this week:
-Watching my hard drive crash
-Not writing my football rant
-Contemplating various dubious excuses for why I haven't written my football rant

I have come to the conclusion that it is because these words are superfluous. They have always been superfluous, but this week in particular, I feel like there is

Because the Irish? They went out to the Coliseum on Thanksgiving weekend, and they said it all.

This may be an uncouth exaggeration, of course, but pretty much the entire game went like this:

Actually, what's great is how much that' s NOT an exaggeration.

The Irish had to settle for 1 TD and a plethora of field goals (including a 52-yarder--thanksverymuch all you Kyle Brindza haters out there) in 6 trips to the red zone, indicating that the much-improved offense hasn't quite achieved the same NYPD status as the defense (in case you haven't seen the movie Men In Black in about a dozen years, NYPD means I will Knock Your Punkass Down). But whether the Irish were high-scoring or not, the USC defense had no idea what to do with Theo Riddick.

The man is a spark that, left unattended, may grow to an inferno that destroys the SEC.

(...or at least whatever defense the SEC throws at us in the title game.)

Theo ran for 148 yards against the Trojans, averaging 7.3 yards per carry, with one 20-yd run, one TD, and 3 additional catches for 33 yards. Southern Cal (often referred to as Running Back U) had 118 rushing yards total.

Why Brian Kelly didn't hand the ball off to Theo Riddick on the goal line (instead of running two straight QB sneaks and a pass) remains a complete, unfathomable mystery to me. Riddick was unstoppable. The Trojans tried to tackle him They looked like they were gonna tackle him. But you can't tackle a man who charges like a bull and whose enter of gravity is somewhere approximately around your ankles. At least not on the first try.

Besides Riddick being a Highlight Reel Unto Himself, we also have to be thankful for Everett Golson  A) playing like an absolute pro champ (for a freshman) -- just like he always does on the road, B) finally getting the ball to Tyler Eifert, and C) not turning the ball over once.

Speaking of everybody's favorite TE, I would just like to pause for a second and say that it's possible Tyler Eifert may be the best tight end that Notre Dame has ever produced. Like...ever. Maybe the hyperbole of the TV commentators is getting to me. Or maybe I just think the man deserves the Mackey Award and will have a kick-ass future in the NFL. He's consistent, he's reliable, he's a helluva blocker--and darn if he doesn't make at least two catches every game in the midst of double coverage. Usually for a first down or a touchdown, because that's just how the man rolls.

Eifert is one of the clear reasons our offense has had success this year. In fact, I'd say all of the seniors are: Eifert, Cave, Golic, Martin, Riddick, Wood, Goodman. With so many underclassmen playing key skill positions, the seniors are not just what's held the offense together; they're what's allowed the offense to grow. That and the phenomenal play of our defense.

Look, even Lane Kiffin thinks so:
Notre Dame showed me they have phenomenal senior leadership.
(Yes, Lane Kiffin said this actual thing.)

He also said something along these lines (but which I cannot quote exactly since I can't find the stupid article where I read this quote in the first place--so if anyone can source it for me, that would be phenomenal): Notre Dame plays very old-school football; that's why they have so many close games. They're extremely tough to play. You have to work to get anything against them, because they're not going to give you anything.

In every close game this season, the defense has provided just enough stops to give the offense a chance to atone for its mistakes. In turn, the offense has put up just enough points for the Irish to hang on and win. As those victories accumulated and confidence grew, you could begin to see the offense and defense feeding off each other. It's now a palpable thing. You can see it in the way the players interact with each other; the way they cheer each other on.

The defense is still the dominant unit, but the offense is now moving of its own volition. The offense is proving to the nation that everything they said at the beginning of the season is true: they've got playmakers at every position. They may not play like they're angling for the highlight reel on every down, but that doesn't matter, because they're not playing for the highlight reel.

They're playing for the National Championship.

The Best

So every SEC blog everywhere will be saying the Irish have no shot at winning the national championship. We can't keep up with The Best Conference In The Country, we don't belong in the same conversation as Alabama, we're not even going to beat out some freshman punk from A&M for the Heisman, blah blah blah blah BLAH.

For some reason, I am not impressed by the argument that we should be scared spitless of the SEC based on reputation alone. Especially not when Notre Dame has beaten as many bowl-eligible teams as 'Bama and Georgia combined. (THAT'S RIGHT CONFEDERATES.)

Basically, I agree with this video:

It's not the beginning of the season anymore. You can't be riding on the coattails of last year. Is the SEC a good conference? Yes. Are 'Bama and Georgia good enough to play for the national championship? Yeah, sure.

But whether you like it or not (no matter what transpires in any of the conference championship games this weekend) only one team in the country is going to remain undefeated. Only one team has the right to enter this national championship game ranked #1.

We are the best team in college football, and nothing South of the Mason-Dixon line can change that.

So for the next 40-odd days, I'm just gonna sit here like the cat that ate the canary.

I shall bask in the warmth of this certainty. I shall walk with unremitting peace in my heart. I shall proclaim, with equanimity, the utter changeless-ness of truth.

This little light of mine?

I'm gonna let it shine.


This team is sixty minutes away from legendary status. Trophy or no trophy, Manti Te'o is already there.

These players are the makers of their own echoes.

But just in case you'd like me to pour a little more hot fudge on the top of your sundae, here are a few thoughts on just how unequivocally badass it is to be perfect this year:

-The Irish have achieved 12-0 perfection in 2012, and they are headed to Miami two play for their 12th championship title for the first time in 24 years, with the help of Stephon Tuitt's 12 sacks. (And keep in mind: if the world decides to end on December 24th, the Irish will go out as the #1 team at the time of the Rapture, and you just can't beat that.)

-Manti Te'o is a finalist for 8 major college football awards:
Maxwell - college Player of the Year
Bednarik - college Defensive Player of the Year
Bronko Nagurski - best defensive player
Lombardi - best lineman or linebacker
Butkus - best linebacker
Lott Trophy - Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year (IMPACT = Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community, Tenacity)
Senior CLASS Award - outstanding senior student-athlete
Heisman Trophy -  most outstanding player in college football
If Manti wins the Heisman, he will be the 8th player in Notre Dame history to do so. (Also please note that Manti officially has 7 interceptions on the season--more than any other linebacker in the FBS. 7 interceptions = 7 former Heisman Trophy winners. Fortuitous, yes?)

-If Brian Kelly's squad wins the national championship this season, Kelly will become the fifth Irish coach to win a championship in his third year (alongside Leahy, Parseghian, Devine, and Holtz), with (of course) a team led by #5 on both offense and defense.

-For the first time ever, a school has been ranked #1 in both the football polls and in student-athlete graduation rates.

On Being #1

That last stat is by far my favorite. For years, people claimed that Notre Dame would never again be able to field a national-championship caliber team because its academic standards were too high.

This is preposterous, and now everyone knows it.

Take it from the Tuesday Morning Quarterback post on ESPN this week:

Big football programs with good graduation numbers don't get their results out of the sky. They set higher internal academics standards than the NCAA or their conferences require, and let recruits know, from the start, that they mean business about the classroom.

The very first stop for potential recruits on official visits to Virginia Tech, for example, is an hour with an academic counselor. That happens before the young man meets any coach, or sees the stadium and its NFL-caliber facilities.

Set the bar high, and athletes will respond -- because they are competitive by nature. Make excuses, and the graduation rate will be low.

This last sentence, to me, is the absolute key.

Pretty much every college student I know has, at one point or another, sat down and calculated just how poorly they can do on a given test or exam in order to get the grade they want in the class. People, in general, will figure out how to put the minimum effort to achieve a desired result.

Not every school needs to set the bar as high as, say, Stanford--but there's no reason every school can't at least maintain the academic standards required for admission. Universities are not free tickets to the NFL. The NCAA's emphasis on student-athlete is not just some nerdy propaganda campaign. Most college athletes--even on elite, championship-winning teams--won't even make it to the pros. In the long run, it doesn't behoove these athletes at all for schools to pay for an education that they aren't receiving.

I realize this is all very broad-sweeping and somewhat accusatory. Many, many student-athletes take full advantage of the academic opportunities that are opened to them by a full-ride athletics scholarship. And yes--it's true that you can go back to school any time and finish your degree.

But it is a sad truth that too many of the "elite" programs in college football structure their academics so that athletes don't have to suffer the same rigors as their fellow students. And it isn't necessary.

Beginning roughly 20 years ago, about the same time big money started flowing into college football, many football-factory universities have lowered their internal standards. This can even be a recruiting tool: "Don't go to Notre Dame, they will make you study, come here and party, party, party." Having achieved its double first, Notre Dame would do collegiate athletics a favor by disclosing its internal standards for athletes. That would help set a good example.

Well, I'll tell you one thing: the internal standards for Notre Dame's student-athletes aren't a secret. Because they're exactly the same as the standards for all the other students.

Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that being offered a Notre Dame football scholarship doesn't slightly boost your chances of making it through the admissions department unscathed. But I will say that once you're in, you're expected to take the same core liberal-arts curriculum as every other student on campus. This is everyone's favorite fast fact: "Yep, that's right--our athletes take calculus."

But the reason Notre Dame's graduation rates are so high isn't because they recruit strong students, slap the academic handbook on their desks, and let them have at it. Notre Dame's students succeed because of the extraordinary support structure the university has created for them. There is an entire department dedicated to academic services for student-athletes. This includes not only study hall and tutoring, but academic advising so they can chart their schedules and make sure they're on-track to graduate in four (or three-and-a-half) years. Many athletes are encouraged (or required) to take classes during summer session, so they can take fewer credit hours when their sport is in-season.

Any school invested in the success of its students (and student-athletes) is going to have similar structures in place. And any school that has sacrificed the free-flowing fount of knowledge for a dysfunctional Gatorade dispenser of gridiron glory surely has enough revenue stashed away to atone for its academic sins.

If you're investing millions of dollars in athletic complexes and athletic scholarships, surely you can afford to invest a little more in your students as well.

I am just saying.

"When Manti Te'o wins the Heisman, he won't have to give it back."
-College GameDay sign

So in case you somehow missed it, College GameDay trekked out to L.A. for its 3rd Notre Dame game of the season. Lee Corso picked the Irish to win (again), making the Man With the Crazy Headgear 20-0 all time in games involving the Trojans. The best GameDay signs I saw (all thanks to Twitter) included the above, as well as these three:

Following the game, "Superfan" Kapron Lewis-Moore made my night with the following blast at Rick Reilly:
Rick Reilly ‏@ReillyRick
No way Notre Dame beats USC tonight. If I'm wrong, I'll come to South Bend + polish every freaking helmet. I can't be wrong ALL year, can I?

Kapron Lewis-Moore ‏@KLM_89

Kapron Lewis-Moore ‏@KLM_89
@ReillyRick I know you see ND nation tweets!!! I will even take you out for a burger afterward or something!!!

And yes, in case you missed it: Reilly actually came to campus and laid his hands on a few of the helmets. Never mind that after all the bull he's slung about the Irish this season he doesn't deserve to be within ten miles of those helmets.

I wonder what good ol' attention-hoggin' Rick will pull out for the National Championship. Seriously, if the Irish win, somebody needs to go all Hermione Granger on his ass. That's right, Rick Reilly: you are the Rita Skeeter of the college football universe. Hand over your Quick-Quotes Quill. If you write one more word about the Irish, I will reveal to everyone that--that--that your brains have been eaten by the zombie version of Bo Schembecler!

We will not tolerate your tomfoolery any longer.

ND Nation

Seriously, About that Heisman Though

So guys. I have decided that if Johnny Manziel wins the Heisman this year, I'm basically going to give up on it and never worry about it again. I'm not saying that Manti Te'o absolutely must win or there is no justice in the universe. I'm just saying I agree with Coach Kelly:

If a guy like Manti Te'o can't with the Heisman, they should just make it an offensive award.

That's what it is anyway, isn't it?

But you can't un-brand a brand name. It's always going to be the Heisman Trophy, even if the only players the Heisman committee gives it to for the next 70 years are quarterbacks. (So, basically, exactly like the last 70 years.) And if, for example, they decide to give the award to someone like Manti Te'o, the award could, perhaps, become more than it is. It could become what it's supposed to be: the award for the most outstanding player in college football.

Look, I'm not saying Johnny Manziel isn't a good quarterback. He beat Alabama, he has outrageous numbers, etc etc etc. But give him Player-of-the-Year or something. Don't give away the most prestigious award in college football to a freshman like he's earned it after a one-and-done. If Manziel's any good at football, he'll be pretty friggin' good next year, too. Just keep your pants on.

The Heisman committee's unremitting obsession with quarterbacks is starting to irritate me. I understand how important quarterbacks are to the success of the team. I appreciate how much friggin' fun it is to watch a kick-ass quarterback play the game. And I don't necessarily have a problem with, say, Peyton Manning winning the league MVP award over and over and over.

However, if you're looking for a player who can galvanize his teammates, engineer a game-winning stop, guarantee a momentum shift every time he gets his hands on the ball, and help lift his entire program to championship-caliber football.... Then yeah. You're looking for Manti Te'o.


Offense come and they wanna go home:

Although hey, I will say this--it's not like the Heisman Trophy is the most important thing in the world. I agree with Te'o himself: playing with his teammates, playing for his school, playing for the championship all mean more. A trophy's just a trophy. Mant Te'o has left an indelible mark on this program that's worth a million bronze statues.

He may have even supplanted Brady Quinn as my Favorite Player Ever.
(Although srsly, Brady Quinn's still got the best biceps of any quarterback I've ever seen).


We're going to Miami. (Bienvenido a Miami.)

Even if I don't get tickets in the lottery (even if I can't can't afford to fly and forgo the mad idea of hitchhiking all the way to Miami and stay home like a sane person to watch the game), it doesn't matter. The Irish are playing for the national championship, and I will still be able to watch every helmet-smashing, turf-tearing, goal-line-stopping second of it.

So even if we are the disparate thousands--even if we cannot be united in the stadium by rabid, joyous loyalty and a mutual love of credit card debt--let us cheer on the Irish like they can hear the echo of our voices from a zillion miles away.

Let's go, boys. Bring home that crystal ball.


No comments:

Post a Comment