ACC: Brian Kelly
The school is trying to move one of its five scheduled ACC games for next fall to the 2015 season, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly told ESPN.com on Tuesday. That would free up a 2014 Irish schedule that currently has 13 contracted opponents for 12 available slots. Notre Dame would still play the obligated 15 ACC games over the next three seasons, since the 2015 slate would then have six ACC opponents.
Notre Dame has yet to announce its 2014 schedule dates and times, though it had been under contract to play home games against Michigan, Purdue, Northwestern, Rice and Stanford, with road games at Navy, Arizona State and USC, in addition to a neutral-site game against Syracuse in East Rutherford, N.J., as part of New York's College Classic. (That contest had long been scheduled for Sept. 27, 2014.)
The game against the Orange was then weaved into one of the five that Notre Dame would play against ACC opponents as part of their five-games-per-year agreement, which includes home contests against Louisville, North Carolina and Wake Forest and a road game at Florida State.
Kelly said the ACC has been flexible in working with Notre Dame on its schedules. Navy, Stanford and USC are the only schools virtually assured of staying on the Irish's annual schedule moving forward, essentially giving them eight set games each year when accounting for the five ACC games.
Notre Dame's 2015 ACC games are currently home contests against Boston College and Virginia Tech and road games at Clemson, Pittsburgh and Virginia.
For 2016, the Irish are currently scheduled to host Duke, Miami and Virginia Tech, and play a road game at NC State. They are also slated for that season's version of New York's College Classic as well, also against Syracuse.
Notre Dame only announces full-season schedules with dates, though the school has been hoping to unveil its 2014-16 schedules together once they are finalized.
It was not discovered until the day after the Fighting Irish's triple-overtime win over the Panthers last year that cornerback Bennett Jackson and receiver Chris Brown, both No. 2 for the Irish, were on the field together when Kevin Harper's potential 33-yard game-winning field sailed wide right after a bad snap.
It was another hold-your-breath moment in a series that, for one reason or another, has never lacked for drama. A primetime atmosphere awaits Saturday night at Heinz Field when the Panthers and the Irish square off. One team is fighting to clinch bowl eligibility, the other is clinging to BCS-bowl hopes and, well, here we go again.
"It happens," Pitt linebacker Todd Thomas said of the officials' error last season. "Two No. 2s on the field, it happens. Refs make mistakes, so everybody's not perfect. So it happens. So we just put the loss behind us and just carried on to the next week. But it happens. Everybody's not perfect."
Notre Dame has beaten Pitt by three points in each of the last two years, including a 15-12 tractor-pull of a contest in 2011 that both teams are best served to forget. The Irish are 6-3 against the Panthers since 2002, but eight of those games have been decided by eight points or fewer.
There have been seven total overtimes across two of those games -- a four-overtime Pitt win in 2008 and last year's three-overtime Notre Dame victory, its last close call on the way to the BCS title game.
"You know what, we're letting it go, it's old news," Pitt end Bryan Murphy said. "Whatever happened last year happened. We're not paying attention to it. We're just moving on from there. That's all last year. We were a different team, they were a different team. So we're not even concentrating on anything that happened last year."
Chryst echoed that sentiment during his Monday press conference in Pittsburgh, though tight end J.P. Holtz had a decidedly different tone when he told reporters that he did not like Notre Dame, calling their coaches "really cocky."
The comments seemingly made their way back here to Irish coach Brian Kelly, who said Tuesday: "They don't seem to like Notre Dame very much, and they want to beat Notre Dame."
Though in just his fourth year at Notre Dame, Kelly is more familiar with Pitt than any other opponent in the last seven years, having faced the Panthers in each of his three seasons at Cincinnati before playing them annually so far while with the Irish.
He has also faced the Panthers' new starting quarterback, redshirt senior Tom Savage, who appeared in Rutgers' 2009 season-opener against the Kelly-coached Bearcats.
"A big kid, strong-armed, and obviously they like to throw the football with him," Kelly said of Savage. "He's got some talented receivers. We're going to have to prepare ourselves for a kid that likes to throw the football and has some weapons."
The best of those weapons, redshirt senior Devin Street, is two weeks removed from becoming Pitt's career leader in receptions. Though winless and held to 42 or fewer yards in each of his three contests against the Irish, Street has no particular distaste for the team he will face this weekend.
"We don't go in disliking anyone, but we definitely have a respect for Notre Dame and the tradition and that type of team," Street said. "But we don't hate them or anything like that. I think they're a great team."
Both teams are coming off consecutive games against option teams -- Pitt losing to Navy and Georgia Tech, Notre Dame beating Air Force and Navy.
And both will reconvene in two years, and roughly every three years after that, as part of the Irish's five-game-per-year scheduling agreement that takes effect next year with the ACC, which Pitt is finishing out its first season in.
"Everyone knows Notre Dame; Notre Dame is one of the most historic football programs in the country, and they always will be," Murphy said. "I think it's amazing to have a team like that on your schedule. That's always a primetime game for us. I think it's huge for our team going forward to always have that game because we always play great against them. It's always just an amazing game between us two, so I think it's important that we continue that matchup."
Three and four years later, the Irish are staring perfection in the eye with one home game remaining against Wake Forest, and their coach is hoping that is not lost among the sea of emotions that will accompany many for this weekend's senior day festivities.
"The most important thing is for them to get the proper perspective through the week," Brian Kelly said. "In other words, yes, it is your last home game, but we've got a lot in front of us. What you'll remember most is whether you win the game, not that it was your last home game. So make sure that you keep the distractions to a minimum. And if there is any emotion let that be after the game. Let's have the emotion after the game celebrating a great victory.
"So, yeah, there is a little bit of dialogue and conversation about that. Our guys have been around it. They know what it's like. I expect them to handle it appropriately."
"I feel like most of our team knows that it's football. This is a game that most of us have played since we were 5 years old," Demon Deacons fullback Tommy Bohanon said. "For me and a lot of the team, once we get out there and we're on the field with those guys, it's just business as usual, and we'll be able to play the game."
If the Irish are vulnerable this year, it has been at home.
Their starting quarterback, Everett Golson, has been pulled at one point or another in three home games and was knocked out of another, forcing him to miss one more contest. Notre Dame has needed four total overtime periods to come away with five wins by 23 combined points, and 10 of its 13 turnovers have come in front of the home crowd.
"I think what you find is that most good team find a way to win," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "It's not always the prettiest win, but a win is a win and they've won them all. You know that they know how to do it. I think if you have a chance late, you have to make plays. We have a big challenge. This is a really good Notre Dame football team."
Twenty-six Irish players will take part in a pregame ceremony to honor their final contest inside Notre Dame Stadium, and no one will draw a bigger reaction than Heisman candidate Manti Te'o.
The linebacker's first visit to Notre Dame was for the team's 2008 senior day, a loss to Syracuse that ended with the home players getting pelted with snowballs from the stands.
That memory has stuck with Te'o, though for a different reason.
"For that to be their last experience in that stadium, I could really feel that," he said. "So amongst the cold and the snow and all that, I think the worst part of that was to see the pain in the players' eyes as they were crying leaving the stadium -- not because they lost, but because that was their last experience playing under the dome."
Kelly has just one memory of his senior day, 29 years ago at Div. III Assumption, and he does not want it sticking with his players.
"I don't remember the emotion of the game as much as losing the game after," he said. "So I want to make sure that we don't have that experience for our guys."
No, a Dec. 29 finale in the Champs Sports Bowl is not what Notre Dame or Florida State had in mind when summer talk focused on BCS bowl berths and returns to greatness. But the pair of 8-4 teams have found consolation in the opportunity to take down the other and go into 2012 on a high note.
Said Fisher, in response to a similar question: “Recruiting, a little bit of luck, and staying healthy. You have to understand the culture. It’s not been two years or three years since we’ve been on the top, it’s been 10. That’s something we have to change. I’ve said all year that I’ve been pleased with how our players practice. Their effort, their tenacity, they break out the distractions. And then the football gods have to be on your side a little bit, too. Sometimes the ball’s got to bounce your way. We’ve got a good recruiting class this year and I think we’ll have another great year next year. And hopefully a great game tomorrow.”
Ten turnovers and two mind-boggling defeats to start 2011 all but sealed Notre Dame's fate for Orlando, Fla., from the early going. An 8-2 finish that featured a brief return to the national rankings showed what the Irish were capable of, but the sour taste from an 0-2 start lingered.
Florida State, meanwhile, saw a 2-0 start give way to three consecutive losses, dampening its BCS-bowl hopes and, like the Irish, leaving many to wonder what could have been.
The offensive-minded Kelly saw the Irish notch at least 500 yards of offense five different times this season, as they averaged better than 45 more yards per game than a season ago. But that was tempered by 26 turnovers and the fact Notre Dame is closing the season with another quarterback controversy (Tommy Rees or Andrew Hendrix), albeit a different one from the beginning of the campaign (Rees or Dayne Crist).
"I would look at it as we’re still evolving," Kelly said. "From last year to this time there has been a process of evolution for our entire offense and it’s still ongoing. It’s ongoing as we speak relative to our offensive players understanding our system and of course in the recruiting area.”
The Seminoles saw their growth on the defensive side of the ball, where they finished the regular season sixth in the nation in total defense, fourth in points allowed and second against the run — way up in all categories from last season (when they finished 39th, 24th and 26th, respectively).
“Are we disappointed about the wins?" Fisher said. "Yes, we wish we would’ve won more games. I mean, you’d like to win them all. But for a young football team to deal with distractions, with criticisms, the things that come with not winning as many games as you’d like to, they never lost faith in each other. In fact, it maybe made them closer. I feel very good about the future.”
But the future must wait until this season is finished, and Thursday's matchup will provide one last opportunity for each side's seniors to end their careers on high notes.
And for Notre Dame, it's a chance to notch a nine-win campaign for the first time since 2006, before any current players came aboard.
"I feel like it's all that matters," senior end Ethan Johnson said of win No. 9. "It's all that matters. It's what we're focused on right now. Everyone says you take each game as it comes. That's very true. But there's a limited amount of time you can focus on each game in a season. And for this game we've had a long time to focus on it, and we're going to stay focused on it, and we're gonna continue to work and prepare and get ready to play our best football. And there's no reason why we shouldn't do that. No reason why we're not going to do that. We're going to do that.
"We're gonna continue to focus and practice hard and have fun while we're doing it. But yeah, it's really all that matters is getting this win, especially for the seniors. For the juniors, sophomores, freshmen, high school kids coming in — we're all pulling for it and we're all just gonna do the best we can because I came here my freshman year. And I'm a guy who believes you leave something better than it was when you came. I definitely wanna do that. I wanna leave this place better than when I found it."
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- One thing they're focused on, though, is slowing down Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Jimmy Newman's 42-yard field goal sailed wide right, and Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood immediately wanted the ball.
Five-minutes, 24 seconds remained. And even though Wake Forest had all three timeouts remaining, there was not a doubt in either back's mind that the Demon Deacons' luck had run out in an eventual 24-17 loss to Notre Dame.
"Definitely, definitely," Gray said. "That was the first mindset we had. The guys were doing a great job blocking on the perimeter and inside. We knew what we had to do was run the clock out, and by doing that we had to run the ball."
Wood got the first two carries, totaling 11 yards. Gray, who made his second straight start, took it from there, rushing it five straight times for 16 yards, the final carry a third-and-1 conversion that sealed the game with 1:40 left.
The Irish had let other hosts stick around in primetime games before, and they had been bitten, most notably when they struggled in short-yardage situations late in a last-second loss at Michigan. But Gray, who has improved as much as anyone during the course of the season, said the team takes on a different mentality now.
Gray finished with 92 yards on 19 carries -- again, ironically, hurting his yards per rush average in his chase of George Gipp's single-season school record of 8.1.
For that, he can blame a review that followed his 26-yard third-quarter rush into the end zone, as it got marked down at the 1, where he punched it in from two plays later for his ninth touchdown in the last six games.
That score tied things up at 17 after the Irish went into the half down seven, Wake Forest's offense keeping the banged-up defense on its toes with the elusive Tanner Price running the show.
Brian Kelly won his 14th straight November/December regular-season game, and his 20th in his last 22 tries. And he did it the hard way.
When a third-quarter flea-flicker resulted in a 54-yard interception return and eventually first-and-goal for Wake Forest, down seven in the third, Harrison Smith forced a fumble that was recovered by Gary Gray.
The next time the Demon Deacons got so close, Stephon Tuitt recorded a sack, Smith blew up a backfield pass for another loss and Newman missed from 42 yards.
Notre Dame played the majority of the game with Mike Golic Jr. at center instead of Braxston Cave, who left the game after the first play of the second quarter with an undisclosed injury. All-everything linebacker Manti Te'o "was playing on one leg," Kelly said, after the junior left Wake Forest's last drive of the third quarter before returning on the next series.
Defensive end Aaron Lynch had to leave the game on two separate occasions, further depleting an already depleted defensive line, and T.J. Jones somehow made it back after taking a vicious hit on an impressive six-yard grab early in the third quarter.
"We got a lot of guys banged up. A lot of guys banged up," Kelly said. "We'll give you a full report on that when I get a sense of, we got guys that are gonna be -- hey, listen, it's November, too. So there's gonna be some guys that come to practice on Tuesday not full-speed. But these guys are tough, they're gritty and they'll answer the bell."
Earlier, Kelly was less pleased with a question about Notre Dame's passing game. Tommy Rees finished the night 14-of-23 for 166 yards with two touchdowns and two picks.
"I mean is there a negative to everything? Is there a negative?" Kelly said. "We just won a football game, on the road. I mean, what kind of, really, what kind of question, what do you want me to say? What's the answer? We won 24 to 17 against a good football team, and you want to know what's wrong with the passing game. You know what's wrong with it? Um, the coach doesn't call good plays. How's that? There's nothing wrong with it. We're fine. We just won a good game."
It's the best game Notre Dame can win before Nov. 26, as it will face hapless Maryland and Boston College before traveling to what Kelly said will be "hopefully an undefeated Stanford team."
Kelly was later asked if he was looking forward to Stanford, and he made sure to not look ahead with two games left before the regular-season finale.
"No, no, we're on the right track," Kelly said. "We're not too far ahead. The guys know what they're playing for. We're playing for a consistent performance. We have a sign, I don't know if you know this, but we have a sign that says 'Play Like A Champion.' And to play like a champion you have to play consistently. You can't have spurts.
"Tonight was a great step in that direction, of playing on the road, against good competition, down at halftime, come back a couple of times -- that's resolve. That's toughness. That's gritty. We've been trying to build this and it's starting to come and you can see it. And that's why I'm proud of my guys tonight."
The Irish's next three games are against Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College. Two of the three are away from South Bend, but two of the three serve as Irish home games. (Confusing, we know.)
With the Irish 5-3 and set for confere ... er, ACC, play, Notre Dame blogger Matt Fortuna and ACC blogger Heather Dinich preview this week's matchup in Winston-Salem, along with the other two contests.
Matt Fortuna: Heather, first off, what do you make of this Wake Forest team? It is tough to judge from the Midwest -- it beats FSU, gets rocked by UNC and Virginia Tech. Also, the decision to make this a night game struck me as interesting. Are the folks down there treating this one like their biggest home game of the season?
Heather Dinich: Matt, there’s no question the Deacs are taking this one seriously, especially after such a poor performance against North Carolina. What to make of Wake Forest? This is a much, much better team than the one that finished 3-9 a year ago. They’re one win away from bowl eligibility and would like nothing more than to wrap that up this weekend against the Irish. Heading into this game, I thought Wake was overmatched, but now I think they’ll make it an interesting game. With both teams at 5-3, are they more alike than many thought they’d be? It’s hard to tell with such different schedules, but I think Notre Dame has the better win over Michigan State. Turnovers were a huge factor last week for the Deacs. Wake had turned it over just five times all season and then against UNC it had five turnovers. It was an uncharacteristic performance, to say the least. If the Deacs can take care of the ball and get the passing game going, they stand a chance. The bigger question to me is, are the next three weeks a foreshadowing of what’s to come with Notre Dame and the ACC? What are you hearing out of South Bend?
MF: Five turnovers in one game? No kidding, they really are alike. As for your question, Notre Dame will strive to remain independent in football at all costs. Right now I think the Irish are content to watch the dominoes fall in front of them until they are forced to make a move. If that time does come, however, I do think the ACC would be its best bet. For one, Notre Dame would be marginalized in the Big Ten, serving as just another regional power along with Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State. In the ACC it can still expand its recruiting bases from as South as Florida to as North as New York and Boston. Mike Brey, the men's basketball coach, has stated his preference is to remain somewhere East if Notre Dame is forced to move. Also, it is pretty funny that, in addition to this slate of games, the Irish have already traveled to future ACC member Pitt this season, and they currently seem bound for the Champs Sports Bowl, where they would face another ACC school. That would be five out of 13 games this season against current or future ACC schools, for those keeping count at home. While we're at it, Heather, who do you think looks like Notre Dame's likely bowl opponent should it find itself in Orlando?
HD: Right now I’ve got Florida State heading to the Champs Sports Bowl, Matt, and it seems like the most likely scenario. That would be a great matchup of two traditional programs, but let’s stick with the ones we know right now. Heading into this season, I predicted the ACC would strike out against the Irish with an 0-3 record. I still don’t see BC winning at Notre Dame on Nov. 19, considering what a dreadful season it’s been for the Eagles, and if BC isn’t going to get the W, there’s no reason to think Maryland can, even though that game is a virtual home game for the Terps in FedEx Field in Landover, Md. Maryland can’t even fill its own stadium, though, let alone a pro venue, and the Terps just lost at home to Boston College. It’s been a rough first season for Randy Edsall. So, it looks like the Deacs are the ACC’s best hope at picking up a W against Notre Dame, at least from my perspective. What are you predicting the Irish do against the ACC in three games?
MF: I'm with you, Heather. I just cannot see Maryland or Boston College beating Notre Dame, making Wake the favorite among the ACC teams to do so. Even then, the Deacs are clearly overmatched and will have a tough time keeping up with the Irish on both sides of the ball. I circled this one as a potential upset when making second-half predictions a little more than three weeks ago, but Wake has done little since (its only win was over Duke ... by 1) to convince me it can pull off the victory. Who do you got?
HD: I’m sticking with my preseason prediction, Matt, and going with the Irish. I’ll leave the score for tomorrow’s predictions post, but I just don’t see Wake Forest beating Notre Dame’s offensive line or slowing down that running game. Notre Dame’s offense line averages 305.6 pounds. Wake Forest’s undersized D-line checks in at an average of 247.5. No wonder Jonas Gray is averaging 8 yards per carry, and the Irish didn’t allow one sack in October. And of course, they’ve got one of the top linebackers in the country in Manti Te’o. Wake Forest will correct a lot of the mistakes it made last week against North Carolina, but it will come up short in a close game. Since you’re the visitor to ACC country, though, I’ll give you the final word.
MF: Not sure if that qualifies as southern hospitality, but it is appreciated nonetheless. I expect Gray to have a huge game as well. He's a guy who had zero career touchdowns until Week 4 at Pitt. He has had eight since, including three this past Saturday. Brian Kelly's teams are built for November and December, as evidenced by his 21-6 mark in the regular season's final two months. I think Wake Forest has a chance to keep it close early, but it lacks the depth and size to hang with the Irish throughout the night.
Yes, that was his best memory. After all, BC won, 17-0.
As McCluskey said, the storied “Holy War” rivalry is “not just another game.”
It doesn’t matter that Notre Dame is 1-3, or Boston College will be breaking in a new starting quarterback and coming off its first shutout at home in over a decade. Beating the Irish carries a lot of weight in Chestnut Hill -- so much so that McCluskey would rather break his leg and win than stay healthy and lose.
“Yeah,” he said, “I would.”
Boston College and Notre Dame are the only two Catholic universities to play football in the FBS. The Irish lead the series 10-9, but the Eagles have won six of the past seven games. Boston College is coming off a 19-0 loss to Virginia Tech, but there’s no time to sulk, as Notre Dame appears on the brink of turning things around under first-year coach Brian Kelly, who was born in Everett, Mass., and raised in Chelsea, Mass. Notre Dame is looking for its first win in Alumni Stadium since 1998.
“Every Sunday after practice we always tell each other once we walk off the field today, on Sunday, we say that game’s over with, let’s move on,” McCluskey said. “We can’t afford to waste any days at practice looking at it like, ‘Damn, I wish we’d won last week.’ We know how prepared we have to be, how important it is to get good days of practice in. For what we want to do, what our team goals are, it’s just as important as an ACC game even though it doesn’t have an effect on our chances to go to the ACC championship.”
It does have an effect on bragging rights. Boston College’s defense was able to force Virginia Tech to kick four field goals instead of scoring touchdowns, but will face one of the better passing offenses in the country on Saturday. No other Notre Dame quarterback has passed for more yards through his first four career starts than Dayne Crist, who has 1,155. The Irish are averaging 315.5 passing yards per game, but have lost three in a row to Michigan, Michigan State and No. 16 Stanford -- hardly a string of cupcakes.
“Despite their 1-3 record they’re a very good football team,” said coach Frank Spaziani. “They’re big, strong and fast and extremely well-coached. They have all the pieces to the puzzle, they just ran into a little bit of a buzz saw early on in a new regime. We’re looking for a very good football team to come in here, a very hungry team.”
Boston College safety Wes Davis, a native of San Diego, said he has embraced the rivalry and can sense how much it means to the fans and the students on campus.
“The students are a little more interested,” he said. “I think you’ll see some more butts in the seats before game time. This is my fifth year here. I know how it’s going to be, how excited people are for it. There’s definitely a different atmosphere, but from a team perspective it’s status quo.
“It would be ridiculous for us to say we’re preparing any different for Notre Dame than we did for Virginia Tech,” he said. “That would be asinine. I don’t think Notre Dame is doing that either. As a whole we respect how much our fans enjoy this atmosphere and the game. It means a lot to the folks here.”
It also means a lot to the players -- just ask McCluskey.
Notre Dame got manhandled last week against Stanford, but it was just a play away from beating Michigan and Michigan State before that. So we know this team is capable of playing with good opponents. What do we know about BC, which faced two weak teams before getting shut out by Virginia Tech at home last week?
Heather Dinich: We know that quarterback Dave Shinskie has been benched. Yes, Virginia Tech’s defense finally looked like what Hokies fans are used to under Bud Foster, but still … after two interceptions and a fumble, the competition is up for grabs this week between Mike Marscovetra and freshman Chase Rettig. The staff had wanted to redshirt Rettig -- he is supposed to be the quarterback of the future. But the Eagles might not have the luxury of waiting. Will it even matter, though? It looks like Notre Dame’s defense has been pretty friendly the past month, although it has faced some ranked competition. It seems to me running back Montel Harris might have a good day against the Irish.
BB: You're talking about the 93rd-best rushing attack in America having a big day? Look, the Notre Dame defense is what we thought it would be. The Irish give up some big plays and points, but honestly, I think their defense has been good enough to win so far this year. The offense has, surprisingly, had some trouble. If Dayne Crist doesn't miss most of the first half against Michigan that's probably a victory. Against Stanford last week, the offense didn't produce a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter. The passing game has been inconsistent, the running game hasn't been reliable on short-yardage downs and the Irish have hurt themselves with turnovers.
HD: “Issues.” So polite. You could say BC has a few of those after being shut out at home last week for the first time since 1998. BC’s defense deserves credit, though, despite the 19-0 loss to Virginia Tech. It’s a typical Frank Spaziani-coached team: blue collar, hard-nosed tacklers holding opponents to about 17 points per game. They’re coming off a performance that held Virginia Tech to four field goals, and once again, sophomore linebacker Luke Kuechly is among the nation’s leaders in tackles. There’s no time for BC to dwell on that loss, though. They know this game means a lot on campus, to alumni and to the community. Plus, it’s not going to get any easier with back-to-back Atlantic Division road trips looming to NC State and Florida State. BC needs this win badly, but I think Brian Kelly needs it more.
BB: Not just Kelly, but the Irish as a whole. A 1-4 start really puts them in a bind, even with the schedule easing up soon. Remember they've still got to play Pitt, Utah and USC, as well as always-tricky Navy, so they may struggle to get to a bowl game if they lose this week.
I can't see a Kelly offense struggling for two straight weeks. I think Notre Dame will score at least 21 points. BC has a good defense, but let's not confuse Virginia Tech with an explosive attack. Crist will be crisper this week and he won't be getting hit every down like he was against Stanford. With a new quarterback, I think the Eagles will be one-dimensional enough that the Irish defense can handle them. How do you see it?
HD: This is supposed to be a debate, right? It pains me to agree with you, but let me point out that BC has won six of the past seven in this series. Besides, which Crist will show up? The one against Michigan State, or the one that was clobbered by Stanford? I think BC’s defense will make it a little tougher than Kelly would like to see -- most likely a score similar to last year’s 20-16 Notre Dame win.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Today is Bob Diaco's 36th birthday, and he's celebrating it with a new job.
The former Virginia defensive coordinator has officially been hired at Cincinnati for the same job, and the Roanoke Times is reporting Ron Prince will return to Virginia, most likely as associate head coach and special teams coach.
Diaco spent the 2005 season on Brian Kelly's staff at Central Michigan where he served as co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, so it's not a completely random move.
At 36 years old, when you're trying to move up in the grand hierarchy of college football, the title of defensive coordinator at Virginia is more prestigious than the same title at Cincinnati, regardless of the recent success Kelly has had there. (And that's with all due respect to Kelly, a smart, young coach who is going to quickly ascend the college football ranks).
The problem is, at Virginia, it's just a title. It's no secret coach Al Groh is the man behind the defense. And everything else in Charlottesville. Without having spoken to Diaco, it's the one explanation for this move that's hard to ignore. Nobody questions Groh's work ethic, his desire to win or his passion for the game. But his reputation as a micromanager has followed him throughout his career.
Roanoke Times reporter Doug Doughty ran into Diaco after a hoops game recently and tried to ask him about the Cincinnati job, but Virginia assistants aren't allowed to talk to the media. It's what Groh calls his "one voice" policy -- his voice.
"To me, Al Groh is the voice for Virginia football," Diaco told Doughty. "I'll have to take my directive from coach Groh."
Anyone who doesn't is free to hand in their resume.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Well, I don't know how seriously BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo would have considered Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly, but you can scratch him off of my list. Not because he's not a good candidate, but because Kelly is close to finalizing a new contract and because, well, he doesn't want the BC job.
Here's what Kelly had to say about it:
"I grew up there and watched BC," he said. "We've got a great deal of respect for their program, but that's not a job I would be interested in. At the end of the day, I've got a better situation here at the University of Cincinnati."
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Let's say, hypothetically, that I was Gene DeFilippo for a day. Here is the list of resumes I'd have on my desk, in order of interview priority:
1. BC defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani
He has been with the program for the past 12 seasons, including the last 10 as defensive coordinator. He is a family man who has settled in the area, and every year his defenses are consistently among the best.
2. Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly
He is a rising star who has ties to Boston and would reportedly love to come back. His parents and most of his family still live there. He led the Bearcats to the Big East championship and the program's first BCS game.
3. Richmond coach Mike London
In his first season as head coach at his alma mater, London led the Spiders to the program's first FCS national title. The former Virginia assistant knows the ACC, and knows BC, as he was defensive line coach there from 1997-2000. He knows he has to recruit, and knows how to recruit, because he was Virginia's recruiting coordinator from 2001-04. With it only being his second head coaching gig, though, would he stay?
4. Jack Bicknell Jr.
He snapped the ball to Doug Flutie for the "Miracle in Miami" pass in 1984. What more could you ask for? Bicknell, currently the assistant head coach and offensive line coach, was BC's center from 1981-85. He received his masters degree from BC in 1987. His father was head coach at BC from 1981-90.
5. Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley
If the Nittany Lions aren't ready to reward him with a guarantee, Bradley should finally say goodbye. He can recruit the Northeast and at this point in his career would be happy to stick around the length of his contract.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
That's how long former Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski was expected to stay at Boston College before he was "terminated without cause" on Wednesday.
Instead, Jagodzinski lasted two years before he started job hunting (and therein lies your "cause.")
"I thought that we had a coach that wanted to be here for a long time," BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo said at this afternoon's news conference, "and that wasn't necessarily the case."
It's not necessarily going to be the case at Boston College, either.
DeFilippo is under the illusion that BC football is more relevant than its surroundings, when in actuality the program is like the fourth-string quarterback (at best) in a pro town. BC only steals the spotlight when everyone else isn't playing. It's overshadowed by the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Bruins, the Celtics, and, on occasion, even by its own hockey team.
Chestnut Hill is not Happy Valley, where Beaver Stadium looms larger than anything in the zip code, or Blacksburg, where cell reception begins to disappear in the Blue Hills, and a new hotel is reason to celebrate. Maryland coaches often lament their battle for attention between the Ravens and the Redskins, but Ralph Friedgen and Gary Williams are both alums who are attached to their programs. Georgia Tech has the Falcons and the Braves, but they've also got Paul Johnson, and they ponied up the money to keep him -- not fire him.
Head football coach at Boston College is a good, respectable job at a fine educational institution, but it's a tough job because it's based in a high-priced town with little fan support. We're talking about a program that couldn't even sell out its own stadium when Matt Ryan was quarterback. Its location makes it the misfit of the ACC. There's no need for blame, just acceptance.
Unless DeFilippo finds a coach with roots in the area or already settled in it, odds are it won't be his final stop. Nor should it be, and there should be no shame in DeFilippo hiring talented, young coaches good enough to move on to more lucrative jobs, whether it be in the NFL or in college.
One coach who would make perfect sense for this job is Cincinnati's Brian Kelly. He's talented, he's from Boston, his parents and most of his family still live there, and -- bonus -- he's Catholic. But guess what? If Charlie Weis were to be fired at Notre Dame, DeFilippo would likely be searching all over again. Notre Dame is one of Kelly's dream jobs.
Still, DeFilippo insists the program can attract some of the best college coaches in the country and keep them.
"I've got a stack out there of coaches, some are from head coaches at very, very, very good institutions that are interested in this job should anything happen, and I think they would be committed to staying here for the length of their contract, yes."
"There are a lot of positive things here, and there's a lot of coaches that want to come here and be a part of this program."
Sure, but for how long?
"We want to find somebody who really wants to be at Boston College and who is going to be here for the length of their contract. ... We'd like a coach that would stay the length of the contract. That's what I'd like."
DeFilippo said he will bring the staff together and give anyone interested in the job the first opportunity to interview. He also said he plans on bringing in at least two candidates from outside the program. The answer, though, is right in front of him.
DeFilippo needs to finally reward the loyal coach who's been on staff for the past 12 seasons -- defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, a Penn State grad who has been the Eagles' defensive coordinator for the past 10 seasons.
Of course, if Penn State came calling for "Spaz" ...
Hey, everybody's got a dream job, and for most coaches, Boston College isn't it.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Here are a few things to keep an eye on in the ACC's New Year's Day bowls:
1. The Replacements. Junior Nekos Brown will fill in for defensive end Jason Worilds, redshirt freshman Barquell Rivers replaces linebacker Brett Warren, and Jaymes Brooks, who has played four career snaps, will fill in for starting right guard Nick Marshman, who is academically ineligible.
2. Clemson's secondary vs. Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz. Michael Hamlin and the rest of the Tigers' secondary will be without former assistant coach Vic Koenning for the first time, and how they respond will be important. Ganz is 13th nationally in total offense with 299 yards per game and 14th nationally in passing efficiency, but the Tigers are ninth in the nation in pass efficiency defense by holding opposing quarterbacks to a 100.03 rating.
3. Brian Kelly vs. Frank Beamer. This is a matchup between a veteran and a talented up-and-coming coach. Kelly is 22-5 in his second season at Cincinnati and has the Bearcats in their first BCS game. Beamer is 176-89-2 in his 22nd season at Virginia Tech, but is 0-2 in the Orange Bowl.
4. Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He has rushed for 100 yards or more three times this season, and will need his feet to escape a Cincinnati defense that thrives on pressuring quarterbacks.
5. Clemson's record-breakers. Running back James Davis needs just 112 rushing yards on Thursday (his birthday) to become Clemson's all-time leading rusher. He already has 49 career touchdowns, also second in school history and just one short of Travis Zachery's record. Clemson receiver Aaron Kelly needs just 23 receiving yards to become the school's career leader and he already has the ACC career record for touchdowns.
6. Virginia Tech's field position. In close games, field position is critical, and Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber gives the Bearcats the edge. Cincinnati is No. 1 in the country in net punting with 41.51 yards per game. Huber averages 44.89 yards per punt to rank seventh in the nation.
7. Clemson's new and improved offensive line. This had been the root of the Tigers' problems for three quarters of the regular season, but now that they're healthy and have found the right combination, it has freed the top playmakers to make plays. Clemson is 4-0 when it starts an offensive line composed of Thomas Austin and Mason Cloy at guard, Landon Walker and Chris Hairston at tackle, and Bobby Hutchinson at center. That is slated to be Clemson's starting lineup on the of¬fensive line in the Gator Bowl.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
This should be another good, close game, and one that's tough to predict. Here are three reasons why Virginia Tech will beat Cincinnati in the FedEx Orange Bowl, and three reasons why they won't:
WHY VIRGINIA TECH WILL WIN
1. Coaching. Cincinnati's Brian Kelly has done a remarkable job in just his second season with the Bearcats, as he is 22-5 and Cincy is this year's Big East champion. But this is also the program's first appearance in a BCS bowl, while the Hokies were here last season. Kelly won two Division II national titles at Grand Valley State, but Beamer is a veteran determined not to lose this game a third time.
2. Turnovers. The Hokies have a knack for taking it away, while Cincinnati tends to give it away. The Bearcats have gained 21 and lost 26. Cincinnati is 83rd in the nation in turnover margin, and Virginia Tech is 18th. The Hokies have scored five non-offensive touchdowns this season.
3. Defense. The Hokies' passing defense is holding opponents to 170 yards per game, and that will be critical against quarterback Tony Pike. Victor "Macho" Harris is tied for fifth in the nation with six interceptions this year, and he's scored twice off of them. Defense has won games for this team all season, and will have to do it again.
WHY VIRGINIA TECH WILL LOSE
1. Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike. He ranks 29th in the nation in passing efficiency with a 141.07 rating. He took over the spread offense when Dustin Grutza was injured, and has gotten comfortable throwing to Mardy Gilyard and Dominick Goodman. The Bearcats don't run a lot, but they don't have to with Pike's short, effective throws.
2. Special teams. Cincinnati leads the nation in net punting, and punter Kevin Huber averages 44.89 yards per punt to rank seventh in the nation. He has had 21 punts inside the 20-yard line. Cincinnati also leads the Big East in kickoff returns. It's a slight edge for the Bearcats, as Virginia Tech has one of the ACC's best placekickers in Dustin Keys, and Harris has the ability to score on a return.
3. Virginia Tech's inconsistent offensive line. Cincinnati has the No. 2 rushing defense in the Big East and No. 13 in the country. The Bearcats are first in the Big East and ninth in the nation with 2.85 sacks per game, and the Hokies rank 111th in sacks allowed. They're going to force the Hokies to throw it, and while Virginia Tech's passing game has shown some improvement, it's not their strength.