It took over 20 years and about 10 failed Lou Holtz national title predictions, but Notre Dame is headed back to Miami to play for a national championship.
The last time the Irish were in this position to win it all, Holtz was on the Notre Dame sideline instead of working as a college football analyst and the Irish were hosed out of a title by a bogus clipping call in the 1991 Orange Bowl during Rocket Ismail’s last-minute 91-yard punt return vs. Colorado.
The Golden Domers are now taking their talents back to South Beach 22 years later with a team that’s been called overrated all season but just keeps finding ways to grind out victories. Saturday was no exception, as the highlight of the game was an epic fourth quarter goal-line stand in which USC had the ball on 1st-and-goal at the Irish 2-yard line but couldn’t score on seven plays.
Currently ranked second in the nation in scoring defense (10.3 PPG) with a second goal-line stand for the ages earlier this season against Stanford, this group led by LB Manti Te’o will be remembered forever in South Bend.
While the Irish are already being pegged as double-digit underdogs to Alabama if the two play in the BCS National Championship Game, the Irish certainly have the feel of a team of destiny after two overtime wins and two three-point victories over Purdue and BYU.
And to think: If Pitt kicker Kevin Harper had just hit a game-winning 33-yard field goal in double overtime vs. Notre Dame on Nov. 3, none of this would have been possible.
That’s the luck of the Irish for you.
THE CHALLENGER: If you didn’t sufficiently stuff yourself on a Thanksgiving weekend full of amazing rivalry games, the SEC Championship Game will once again be a national semifinal. No one is giving Georgia a chance against Alabama and it’s hard to argue based on how the Bulldogs were blasted by LSU last season in Atlanta. But for all the times Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt has come up short in big games and been placed on the hot seat – especially after a 6-7 season in 2010 – beating Alabama to play for a national championship would be the ultimate redemption.
FIRINGS & HIRINGS: Sunday and Monday are going to be rough days for a lot of college football coaches, as the annual head coaching carousel is about to start whirling in motion. It’s astonishing how many BCS jobs are either already open or about to be vacant, with as many as five openings in the SEC alone (Tennessee, Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, Missouri). The big names out there are Boise State’s Chris Petersen, TCU’s Gary Patterson, Jon Gruden and former Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino. After that, Arkansas State’s Gus Malzahn, Utah State’s Gary Andersen, San Jose State’s Mike MacIntyre, Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes, Kent State’s Darrell Hazell and Northern Illinois’ Dave Doeren should be at the top of every athletic director’s wish list.
FLYING THE COOP? After pummeling Oregon State 48-24 on Saturday, could Oregon’s Chip Kelly have just one game left as the Ducks’ head coach? Rumors have been swirling about Kelly’s jump to the NFL, especially with possible NCAA sanctions looming in Eugene over the Willie Lyles scandal. And there will be plenty of NFL teams seeking a brilliant offensive mind to resurrect their franchise. The most intriguing opening would be the Philadelphia Eagles. Turning down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job after last season is one thing. Turning down one of the marquee NFL franchises loaded with offensive weapons like Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson would be a lot harder to do.
THE INELIGIBLES: Ohio State and Penn State aren’t eligible for bowls, but they made it clear again on Saturday that they are two of the country’s best teams with wins over Michigan and Wisconsin, respectively. That’s hard to believe considering Urban Meyer took over a team that went 6-7 last year and Bill O’Brien inherited the biggest mess in college football history, which included huge defections right before the season started. Both are deserving of Big Ten Coach of the Year and National Coach of the Year.
AUBURN-ED: After a lifeless 49-0 loss to Alabama on Saturday, the unprecedented fall from grace for Auburn head coach Gene Chizik is complete. To go 0-8 in the SEC two years after going undefeated in the conference and winning a national title is almost beyond comprehension. Chizik has no response to the critics who have claimed that all his success is owed to Cam Newton and former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Without either, Chizik is now 8-28 as a head coach. After the implosion we witnessed on The Plains, Chizik could be in for a long, long wait until he gets another head coaching job.
Week 14: Top games
5. Wisconsin vs. No. 14 Nebraska (Big Ten Championship Game): Wisconsin finished 4-4 in the Big Ten and is only playing in this game because Penn State and Ohio State aren’t eligible. Needless to say, this isn’t what the Big Ten had in mind when they set up a conference title game.
4. Northern Illinois vs. No. 23 Kent State (MAC Championship Game): Northern Illinois and Kent State are both 11-1 and two of the best teams the majority of America hasn’t seen play. This is a good time to tune in.
3. No. 16 Texas vs. No. 6 Kansas State: Kansas State’s national title hopes and Collin Klein’s Heisman Trophy dreams have both gone up in smoke but K-State is still playing for a BCS bowl.
2. No. 17 UCLA vs. No. 8 Stanford (Pac-12 Championship Game): This would have been a lot more appealing if these two teams hadn’t just played on Saturday, but a trip to the Rose Bowl is on the line.
1. No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia (SEC Championship Game): As usual, the SEC Championship Game has turned into a national title semifinal matchup as the conference aims for its seventh straight BCS title.
Top photo: Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire