NCF Nation: Jimmy Clausen

Christian HackenbergAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarChristian Hackenberg, the top-rated quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class, will start the opener at Penn State.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Four months ago, Christian Hackenberg was kicking up sand near the dugout as part of the Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy baseball team.

He was finding free time, between baseball and classwork, to break out flash cards and study the Penn State playbook -- names of plays and formations on one side and blank on the other, so he could scribble what they looked like. He'd catch himself daydreaming about running through that Beaver Stadium tunnel and launching touchdown passes behind a cheering crowd.

Now? All that studying, dreaming and summer training has culminated in what he's waited to achieve since Feb. 29, 2012, the day he committed to the Nittany Lions: According to sources, he is the starting quarterback at Penn State.

Hackenberg's father had initially weighed the value of a redshirt, but that was before the senior high school season of ESPN's top-rated passer. And a lot has changed in Happy Valley since then. Sophomore Steven Bench, who some expected to be a short-term Band-Aid, transferred to South Florida upon learning he wouldn't receive first-team reps in the preseason. Then juco quarterback Tyler Ferguson missed about a month of voluntary workouts for personal reasons.

Ferguson still held the edge early in camp. But Hackenberg, perhaps the biggest-name quarterback to ever sign a Penn State letter of intent, quickly caught up and impressed the coaching staff. A week into camp, head coach Bill O'Brien said the race became "very even." Less than three weeks later, Hackenberg pulled ahead. He'll be the second PSU true freshman in the last 100 years to be the starting quarterback.

"Christian has come in here and really done a nice job," O'Brien said early on at camp. "He's attentive. He must be staying up late at night studying the playbook because he's come from Day 1 to Day 2 to Day 3 and improved. And he asks great questions in the meetings."

Hackenberg's strong arm dazzled onlookers at last year's Elite 11 and the Under Armour All-America Game, and the baby-faced quarterback already shows more ability to stretch the field than his predecessor, Matt McGloin. During part of an open practice two weeks ago, some reporters muttered "woah" when Hackenberg zipped a pass against his body to the opposite sideline -- right at the receiver's numbers.

Between his arm, accuracy and size -- he is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds -- Hackenberg's potential and raw ability have never really come into question. Talent is oozing from the aw-shucks kid whose father attended high school in Pennsylvania.

Recruiting analysts, opposing players, college coaches and former quarterbacks have thrown almost as much praise Hackenberg's way as they did to O'Brien after an emotional, 8-4 first season. Said Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer: "Christian is a kid you build a program around."

But potential and high accolades don't always translate to success -- at least not immediately. Former No. 1-rated QB Matt Stafford struggled as a freshman at Georgia and threw 13 interceptions and seven touchdowns. Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen threw seven scores to six interceptions. USC's Matt Barkley had a 15:14 ratio of TDs to interceptions in his first season. ESPN rated each the No. 1 quarterback in his respective class, and all are in the NFL.

So what does that mean for Hackenberg? That future greatness does not necessarily equate to immediate success. Opposing high school coaches have said Hackenberg struggled diagnosing disguised coverages, and the schemes and talent of Big Ten defenses will obviously lie in stark contrast to those Hackenberg saw in high school.

McGloin didn't have the strongest arm but he was a great decision-maker, throwing 24 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2012. Hackenberg is not expected to top those numbers this year, but he is expected to show promise.

The Nittany Lions have had their fair share of busts and underachieving quarterbacks over the years -- Rob Bolden, Paul Jones, Anthony Morelli and Kevin Newsome, to name a few -- but this Lions group also has something different nowadays, namely O'Brien and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher.

O'Brien molded McGloin, a former walk-on, into a player the Big Ten blog thought deserved consideration for the Davey O'Brien Award. What can he do with the best true freshman quarterback prospect in the nation, one who turned down teams such as Alabama, Florida and Georgia?

We'll start to see at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

Instant QB impact at Arizona?

January, 29, 2013
Arizona's biggest question heading into 2013 is at quarterback. Not only are the Wildcats replacing Matt Scott, who earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors and was sixth in the nation with 343.8 yards of total offense per game, but the options on hand this spring are decidedly unproven.

There's 2012 backup B.J. Denker, a JC transfer who was a late addition last summer. And there's Jesse Scroggins, another JC transfer who had academic issues at USC after signing in 2010.

Both have some skills. Neither, however, would be considered a sure-thing, particularly when you consider how valuable Scott was in 2012.

It's possible then that coach Rich Rodriguez might consider a third, youthful option, and it turns out that he's received a commitment from a quarterback that Sports Illustrated believes might have an "instant impact": Anu Solomon.

SI ranks Solomon No. 1 among incoming freshmen QBs in terms of potential "instant impact":
Solomon was a four-year starter at Bishop Gorman. Over that span, the Gaels went 57-3 and won four state championships. Solomon passed for 10,112 yards and 138 touchdowns to just 17 interceptions throughout his career, and he participated in nationally televised showcases against high school powerhouses from California, Florida, Arizona, New Jersey and Maryland. He told analyst Dallas Jackson in October, "The coaches have told me that they want me to come in and compete for the starting job."

Arizona fans are rightfully excited about Solomon, who seems like a nice fit for Rodriguez's spread-option offense.

But the Pac-12 blog would like to insert a "Be Careful What You Wish For." The Wildcats might be better off if Solomon ends up redshirting. At the very least, it would be better for Solomon to see spot action rather than take over the starting job.

Why? Well, the history of true freshman QBs is pretty spotty, other than Jamelle Holieway, who won a national championship as a true freshman at Oklahoma in 1985. And, of course, Holieway's best season was his first for the Sooners.

Few true freshmen QBs start from Day 1, and most are forced into action, rather than winning the job outright. Holieway only stepped in due to an injury to Troy Aikman. Same with Peyton Manning at Tennessee. Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and Georgia's Matt Stafford all became the starters when more senior players faltered.

Chad Henne went 9-2 as a true freshman leading Michigan in 2004, but he was surrounded by a lot of talent. We can all agree Robert Griffin III became a spectacular player, but Baylor went 4-7 with him as a true freshman QB.

The best recent example of a true freshman QB in the Pac-12 is USC's Matt Barkley in 2009. He was the first true freshman to start at QB for a top-five team since Michigan's Rick Leach in 1975. That USC team finished 9-4, losing three of its final four regular season games. The Trojans had lost seven games the preceding six seasons. Barkley threw 14 interceptions and 15 TD passes.

We've seen a number of freshmen QBs play really well of late. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, and in the Pac-12 Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley posted outstanding seasons this past fall, with Mariota winning first-team All-Pac-12. And, of course, there's Andrew Luck. He turned out OK.

But they all were redshirt freshmen when they became starters.

It's also notable that a lot of true freshmen QBs, such as Barkley, enroll early and participate in spring practices. That gives them a significant advantage in terms of getting use to the speed and complexity of the college game.

Solomon won't report until fall camp.

Solomon might indeed become a revelation for the Wildcats next fall. He could win the job, play admirably and three years later become an All-American.

But history suggests he won't be immediately ready, and that the best course is patience. It seems like at least a year of seasoning really helps create a tastier quarterback.

Q&A with Harrison Smith

January, 27, 2012
Harrison Smith's five-year Notre Dame career ended with him ninth on the school's career tackles list (309) and as the Irish's lone captain in 2011. He is now getting ready for the draft and will play in the 63rd Senior Bowl on Saturday in Mobile, Ala.

The safety will suit up for the North team, coached by Leslie Frazier and the Minnesota Vikings' staff. The game kicks off at 4 p.m. and airs on the NFL Network.

After Monday's weigh-in for the game, Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay wrote that the 6-foot-2, 212-pound Smith passed the eyeball test with flying colors, something Smith said his brother texted him about. He joked that he's been getting feedback from plenty of sources -- Scouts Inc. thinks he's a potential Day 2 pick -- but he'll try to block it all out as he readies for the NFL.

You've been hearing so much from so many different people -- from media, from scouts. How do you take all that and put it aside and focus on the task at hand?

Harrison Smith: I think after playing at a place like Notre Dame, where the spotlight's always on you, the media's always there, people are watching you every weekend, you're always on TV -- I think it just becomes part of it. And that's something that, don't get me wrong, I'm nervous before all the games I play in, I'm nervous going out and playing in front of scouts and stuff like that, but it's not like a bad nervous. It's just part of it. And once you get used to it you don't realize that you focus on what you're doing and who you're looking at before the snap, and just the basics of football. All that other stuff isn't even in your mind until you walk off the field.

Can you take me a little bit through the process so far: Where you went after the bowl game, the process of choosing an agent, where you're training and what not?

[+] EnlargeHarrison Smith
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireIrish safety Harrison Smith finished up his senior season with 93 tackles and seven interceptions.
HS: I ended up going with a guy named Brian Murphy, who's actually a Notre Dame grad, and he's got a lot of Notre Dame guys that I've played with. That's just a little bonus, but I liked him. I liked what he's about. So there was that process and then after that I start training, getting ready for playing in the Senior Bowl, going to the combine, pro day. So I worked out a couple weeks at home with Charles Petrone. He's a guy I've always worked out with, and he's always done me right. I've never seen a guy make improvements on all the guys that he trains as well as he does. There was never a question as to where I was training. I always knew I would train with him if I ever got lucky enough to pursue the NFL. And before the Senior Bowl I actually went out and worked out with some other players, a lot of guys who signed with the same agency as me, just to get a feel of other guys who were going to the game and get some camaraderie and stuff like that, and that kind of leads me to this point.

You mentioned having the same agent as some other Notre Dame guys. Who specifically in the league right now, either Notre Dame or non-Notre Dame players, has been advising you? Have you developed any relationships and have any mentors in the NFL right now?

HS: From those guys, I played with David Bruton and Kyle McCarthy. I had a year with Tom Zbikowksi but I didn't get to know him as well as I got to know David and Kyle. And Kyle, I actually played alongside Kyle. So that's a guy who's kind of helped me through the process. And also Sergio Brown's a guy who's up there, stayed in touch with him. He's gotta be happy right now. (Brown's Patriots are in the Super Bowl.) But those guys have all been great. And then on top of that, Chad Pennington's a guy who worked out with Charles Petrone when he was coming up, because he's from my same area. He went to my rival high school. He's just a great guy. If I've ever had a question or needed advice, he's a guy who's done it all and he's a smart guy who just cares about people and doesn't mind spending some of his time helping me out. So he's another guy that I'm fortunate to be in contact with.

With the Senior Bowl prep this past week, how much have you learned about yourself going up against some of the better guys in the country? How much of a measuring stick has this week been for you?

HS: I think it's been a good measuring stick, but at the same time I think when you turn on tape, that's when you really find out what a guy's about. Tape from tough games, that's when it really counts. That's when everything's on the line, this is just kind of a smaller snippet of that. At practices here everything's on the line, too, because you got all the scouts, all the coaches on the team watching you, and you've got to perform under the spotlight. So I think this is a small snippet of everyone's college career. I think it kind of gives those guys who are checking us out and grading us an increased level of the athletes around and just a higher talent pool to see us perform.

Is there anything specific you hope to accomplish this week? Is there any specific weakness or something that's been pointed out to you that you're trying to improve?

HS: No, not really. I'm just going out and doing what I know how to do and being the player that I pride myself on being: a guy that works hard, a guy that can do a lot of things for the team, a guy that's athletic and can definitely play special teams for you. So really just being a guy who can do what the coaches ask: understand the defense, make the calls, stuff like that.

What's the next step for you after this weekend? Are you going to go back home and continue to train, or do you have a next stop on your list?

HS: I'm going back to Knoxville and training with Petrone and just getting after it until the combine.

I'm sure it will be a little crazier when you get to the combine, but how has this whole experience measured up to what you expected going in?

HS: It's been pretty much what I expect. It's obviously going to be hectic and there's going to be a lot of eyes on you the whole process, and in the in-between time there's a lot of work to be done. You always got to get up and you just got to get after it every day, get ready for the next test. That's just what it's about. That's what being a football player's about. It's not any different than my past four or five years, it's kind of more intense and kind of just crammed into a couple months I guess.

(Read full post)

Michigan defensive end Ryan Van Bergen enjoyed the Denard Robinson Show as much as anyone.

[+] EnlargeRyan Van Bergen
AP Photo/Tony DingDefensive end Ryan Van Bergen calls the Michigan defense "a work in progress."
Watching Robinson and the Wolverines offense go up and down the field last week against Connecticut also served as motivation for Van Bergen and the defense.

"Definitely feel like we're strides behind the offense in getting everything down," Van Bergen told this week. "We had some glimpses Saturday, and I think we'll be able to seal some things up and hopefully keep improving.

"We'll get to that level eventually."

Led by Robinson's record-setting performance, the Michigan offense overshadowed a pretty solid defensive effort against Connecticut.

The Wolverines allowed only one touchdown and held UConn scoreless in the second half. Take away a juggling 47-yard reception by Michael Smith, and Connecticut had only 296 yards in the game.

To be fair, the Huskies missed several opportunities to attack Michigan's young secondary, particularly in the first half. Connecticut had its moments, but so did Michigan's defense, none bigger than J.T. Floyd's forced fumble and Obi Ezeh's recovery near the Wolverines' goal line late in the third quarter.

"We're certainly still a work in progress, but I was really pleased to be able to limit UConn to 10 points," coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We played pretty well assignment-wise, we tackled pretty solidly. We gave up a couple big plays, but we also made a couple big plays defensively."

And the defense could have made more.

"We had two interceptions hit guys right in the hands," Van Bergen said. "There were some plays Saturday that if we sealed up, our numbers on defense would have spoken even bigger."

The challenge for Michigan's defense should get tougher Saturday at Notre Dame (NBC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Although Michigan beat the Irish last year 38-34, the defense had little to do with it.

Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, Michael Floyd and Armando Allen pretty much had their way with Michigan, piling up 490 yards and 27 first downs.

Clausen and Tate are gone to the NFL, but Floyd and Allen are back, along with tight end Kyle Rudolph, one of the frontrunners for the Mackey Award. They're operating in a new spread offense under first-year coach Brian Kelly, and a new quarterback, Dayne Crist, will be calling the signals.

"I would call this team significantly different," Van Bergen said. "Notre Dame did a lot more drop-back, seven-man protection for Clausen with two guys in routes. This is a bit more of a spread attack, using more receivers.

"They have a developed quick game, and it’s something we’ll have to prepare for."

Both Van Bergen and Rodriguez identified tackling as an area Michigan must improve after Week 1. With so many young players, especially in the secondary, Michigan allowed "some leaky yardage," Van Bergen said.

That can't happen against Notre Dame, which operates at a rapid pace and makes it tough to reach Crist.

"They like to up-tempo you," Rodriguez said. "They’re going to put it out in space, whether it's to their tight end or their backs or their receivers, and we've got to get them on the ground quickly. Because if not, they'll go up and down the field on you.

"We had a hard time stopping them last year, and even though it's a different scheme, this scheme may be even more difficult to stop."

One way to do it is control the line of scrimmage. Michigan failed to record a sack last week, but end-linebacker Craig Roh and others applied pressure to quarterback Zach Frazer.

Notre Dame's offensive line is supposedly better, but Michigan boasts more experience up front with Van Bergen, Mike Martin and others.

"Having our experience won't hurt us," Van Bergen said, "and their youth, they might be more inclined to get frustrated if things start not going their way. It'll be interesting to see how that develops."

Valero Alamo Bowl preview

January, 1, 2010
It's time for a quick look at arguably the most bizarre bowl game of the year, as Michigan State (6-6) takes on Texas Tech (8-4) on Saturday night in San Antonio (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET).

WHO TO WATCH: Blair White and Keshawn Martin. Michigan State's wave of suspensions hit the wide receivers harder than any other position group. The Spartans will be without their No. 2 and No. 3 wideouts in B.J. Cunningham and Mark Dell, who combined for 74 receptions and five touchdowns this season. White and Martin need to pick up the slack for the Big Ten's top passing offense in a game where Michigan State likely needs to score 28 points or more. Quarterback Kirk Cousins can rely on White, a first-team All-Big Ten selection who has a knack for finding the end zone. Martin also emerged as a difference maker down the stretch, especially on special teams. The Spartans need Martin to break off some nice returns to win the field-position edge.

WHAT TO WATCH: Michigan State's secondary. Head coach Mark Dantonio talked up this group in the preseason, but the secondary has fallen well short of expectations. Quarterbacks like Dan LeFevour, Jimmy Clausen, Scott Tolzien and Adam Weber had their way with Michigan State's defensive backs, who face arguably their biggest challenge in Taylor Potts and the nation's No. 2 pass offense (380.7 ypg). The Spartans will be without starting cornerback Chris L. Rucker (suspension), so they need big performances from defensive backs Danny Fortener, Jeremy Ware, Trenton Robinson and others.

WHY TO WATCH: Do you really need an explanation here? You've got one team (Michigan State) missing 14 scholarship players because of one very troubling stretch on Nov. 22. You've got another team (Texas Tech) that learned Wednesday that its head coach had been fired after wide receiver Adam James filed a complaint. I'm about to make a prediction on this game, but who really knows what will happen? One team will come out of the game looking extremely resilient amid adversity. The other could end up looking like a train wreck.

PREDICTION: Mike Leach's shocking dismissal will impact Texas Tech early, as Michigan State takes a lead. But I don't have enough confidence in the Spartans' secondary to think they'll keep the Red Raiders in check for 60 minutes. Potts gets hot late and Texas Tech rallies to win, 31-27.
No wonder Notre Dame turned down the option of going to a bowl with its 6-6 record. The Fighting Irish had already experienced enough drama to fill multiple seasons.

It was a year unlike any other in South Bend. There were 10 games decided by a touchdown or less, most of them coming down to the final minute and two of them going into overtime. The Irish won three of the first four of those nail-biters, but then the luck turned against them.

Jimmy Clausen finally lived up to his promise as the former No. 1 national recruit by having one of the finest seasons ever by a Notre Dame quarterback. Golden Tate broke every major single-season receiving record, and Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph had star-turning moments in between injuries. The offensive line turned a corner and became a credible unit.

But the offense stalled too often in the red zone, and it could never score enough points to mask the defensive deficiencies. Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta installed his patented blitz-heavy scheme, but the Irish couldn't tackle, get consistent pressure on the quarterback or cover receivers with any skill.

That's why they lost their last four games, and it's why Charlie Weis was fired after a third straight regular season without a postseason. It's time for a new drama to unfold under the Golden Dome.

Offensive MVP(s): Tate and Clausen. It's impossible to separate the two, who each had perhaps the best season in school history at his respective position. Clausen threw 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions, while Tate had more than 1,650 yards from scrimmage and 19 total scores. Each made the other look good, too.

Defensive MVP: Kyle McCarthy. The senior safety was one of the few players who had a good year on the defensive side of the ball. He was the heart and soul of the defense and made several key plays, including a game-saving interception against Michigan State, one of his five picks on the year. That a safety led the team in tackles probably says a lot about the defense, however.

Turning point: The Navy loss. Notre Dame was 6-2 and still had hopes of a BCS bid when it inexplicably got beat at home by Navy for the second time in three years. That pretty much sealed Weis's fate, and the team never won another game.

What's next: A new coach -- probably Cincinnati's Brian Kelly -- will try to come in and wake up the echoes that have mostly been quiet since the Lou Holtz days. Losing Clausen and Tate is a big blow, but there are still enough playmakers to cobble together a decent offense. The key will be somehow strengthening that porous defense, or else it's likely going to be another struggle in 2010.
The decision by quarterback Jimmy Clausen and receiver Golden Tate to leave Notre Dame and enter the NFL draft was no surprise to anyone. But it illustrates that the next coach in South Bend -- whether that's Brian Kelly, Jim Harbaugh, Randy Edsall or whoever else -- has some challenges awaiting beyond fixing the defense.

[+] EnlargeDayne Crist
John Albright / Icon SMIDayne Crist is the only scholarship quarterback on Notre Dame's roster, but he may not be ready to participate fully in spring practice.
Replacing Clausen is going to be the taller order. Clausen not only was a three-year starter with an intricate grasp of the offense, but there's no healthy successor ready behind him. Freshman Dayne Crist got some valuable playing time earlier in the year when Clausen was struggling with a turf toe injury, but Crist tore his ACL in midseason and may not be ready to participate fully in spring practice. Notre Dame has no other scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.

Clausen said he texted Crist on Monday morning before he made the announcement.

"Dayne's ready," Clausen said. "I told him it's his team now. He's got to take the bull by the horns, and he'll do a great job. I just told him to get healthy as fast as he can."

Getting Crist back for some work in the spring will be crucial, especially if the next coach implements a new offensive system.

Tate was the Irish's top playmaker this year and was so valuable in so many ways. He had 18 total touchdowns and always put the defense on its heels.

But losing Tate, while costly, won't be as damaging as it may seem. That's because Notre Dame still has junior-to-be Michael Floyd, who's a No. 1 receiver in his own right. In fact, he was more productive than Tate before his collarbone injury against Michigan State. Floyd just has to stay healthy for the whole season, something he hasn't done in his first two years.

The Irish also have Kyle Rudolph, one of the best pass-catching tight ends in America. And youngsters John Goodman and Shaq Evans showed promise in short stints this season. If you give a coach like Kelly weapons such as Floyd, Rudolph and some promising youngsters, that's plenty to make a passing game go. And Notre Dame returns its top three running backs.

The key will be getting Crist ready as soon as possible. The next coach will have some work to do.
It was an odd sight at the farewell news conference for Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen and receiver Golden Tate. Ex-coach Charlie Weis sat in between his two former offensive stars but wouldn't take any questions, instead just sitting there and smiling, with an occasional chuckle when something funny was said.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Clausen
Kyle Terada/US PresswireJimmy Clausen has decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
The players asked Weis to be there and they took his counsel as they pondered whether to skip their senior seasons and enter the NFL draft. In the end, though, it really wasn't about Weis or whoever the next Irish coach would be. Both guys would have turned pro anyway, and they each made the right decision.

Both players were asked if they felt they could have accomplished more as collegians. And, yes, both leave without Notre Dame having recorded a winning regular season during their three years in South Bend. But it's too much to pin blame for those struggles on their shoulders.

As Clausen said, "It's time for us to move on." Tate echoed that, saying, "With the year I had this year, it was kind of hard to stay. I don't think I can do much better."

Both players enter the draft at the peak of their value, and staying an extra year would likely only allow scouts to pick out flaws in their games, particularly if each were forced to adjust to a new system.

Clausen could be the first or second quarterback drafted and will be the most ready of any prospect, having started three years in Weis' NFL-style offense. He had a phenomenal year any way you slice it, completing 68 percent of his passes for 3,722 yards, with 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Clausen set a school record by passing for at least 300 yards in seven games and led four fourth-quarter comebacks for victories.

Tate said Weis told him before the season he should only leave if he had a 1,700-yard, 15-touchdown kind of season. Well, he got darn close to that. Tate set Notre Dame records with 93 catches for 1,496 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns. He also had two rushing touchdowns, a punt return for a score and 1,915 all-purpose yards.

Though only 5-foot-11, Tate has explosive speed, terrific hands and shows his old running back skills once he catches the ball by breaking tackles and bulldozing through defenders.

Weis didn't speak to the media -- and after his weekend comments on Pete Carroll, maybe it's best he sit that out for a while -- but he did issue a statement on his two players.

"They made big play after big play week after week this fall, and there's no question they are two of the best players in the nation at their respective positions," the statement read. "Maybe the best part is that the arrow is pointing up for both of them, and there's still an upside to both of their games."

It's the right time to take that upside to the NFL.


No need for Notre Dame to go bowling

December, 4, 2009
Both the Chicago Tribune and AOL Fanhouse are reporting that Notre Dame is likely to turn down a bowl invitation this weekend. The team is expected to meet with athletic director Jack Swarbrick on Friday to make a final decision.

But the reasons against going to a bowl are overwhelming. For one, the Irish don't have a head coach. Even if a new coach is named by Monday, he would only have about three weeks to install his system and get ready for the Little Caesars Bowl, one of Notre Dame's possible destinations. There would be more time if the Irish were invited to the Jan. 6 GMAC Bowl.

Neither possibility, however, offers much prestige or money. Proud Notre Dame fans would feel embarrassed to see their team playing in Detroit or Mobile, Ala., and each bowl game has a payout of $750,000. By the time you subtract expenses, the school would likely break even or lose money on the proposition.

While some players, especially the seniors, undoubtedly would like to put the gold helmets on one more time, do you really think Jimmy Clausen or Golden Tate want to risk injury and their NFL futures in the Little Caesars Bowl? And what does Notre Dame have to gain by beating a MAC team to finish 7-6? It has far more to lose by losing to a MAC team and finishing 6-7.

The program would be better served by having its new coaching staff focus solely on recruiting and preparing for the spring. If Notre Dame really wanted to go bowling this year, well, it should have won more games.

Weis set an easy standard to clear

November, 30, 2009
What's most amazing about how spectacular Charlie Weis failed in 2009 is how much the season was set up for him to succeed.

The Notre Dame schedule wasn't the cream-puff lineup as some people described it, but by Irish standards it was very manageable. Only three teams on the entire slate -- Pitt, USC, and Stanford -- are ranked in the Top 25, and none of them are among the nation's top 14. Stanford wouldn't be ranked if Notre Dame had won Saturday's game, while USC came to South Bend with its most vulnerable team in several years.

All Weis really had to do to keep his job was to beat Navy and Connecticut at home and a Michigan team that finished 5-7. That would have made the Irish 9-3 and given the coach a strong argument to return for a sixth year. Yet he couldn't do that or avoid a disastrous four-game losing streak to end the season despite having one of the best quarterbacks in school history (Jimmy Clausen) and the finest receiving season ever by a Domer (Golden Tate).

Notre Dame's best wins this season were against 8-4 Boston College, 6-6 Michigan State and 4-7 Washington. Not exactly the kind of victories you include in a great moments in history section of the media guide.

Because of all that, as athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Monday night, "you couldn't know with significant certainty that next year's results would be better."

Here's what I think is certain: if Swarbrick hires the right caliber of coach, he'll produce much better results than Weis.

Notre Dame is not the super power it once was, but it's hard to go 3-9, 6-6 and 6-6 in three straight regular seasons in South Bend, as Weis did. Sure, the Irish will lose Clausen and probably Tate, much of their offensive line and several defensive starters. But the cupboard is far from bare.

Dayne Crist, who should return from an ACL injury by the spring, was a highly-rated quarterback recruit who got some valuable experience this year. Star receiver Michael Floyd returns, along with promising youngsters John Goodman and Shaq Evans. Tight end Kyle Rudolph is back, as well as running backs Armando Allen, Robert Hughes and Theo Riddick.

Defensively, the Irish can build around guys like Darius Fleming, Steve Filer, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and future superstar Manti Te'o, assuming Te'o does not go on his Mormon mission after this season. Yes, the defense needs serious improvement, especially in its tackling, but that's what good coaches do.

Weis got this team close this year but couldn't get over the hump. Ten of Notre Dame's games were decided by a touchdown or less.

Next year, the Irish have Army, Tulsa, Navy and Western Michigan on the schedule and get Purdue and Michigan at home. Those are six winnable games right there.

Weis's failure was in not winning the games he should have won and never winning the games he wasn't expected to win. That's not a very high standard for the next guy to achieve.

What we learned from Notre Dame, Week 13

November, 29, 2009
What we learned from Notre Dame's 45-38 loss to Stanford on Saturday:

1. Charlie Weis did not end his tenure in style: Remember after the Navy loss, when Weis stressed that the following week would be all about accountability? Apparently the head coach doesn't need to be accountable after the team's fourth straight loss. Weis declined all on-field interviews with ABC during the game and then didn't bother to show up to his own postgame news conference. No matter. His team's performance did all the talking for him.

2. Greatness, wasted: Weis has said he thinks quarterback Jimmy Clausen is the best player in school history, and Clausen capped a tremendous statistical season with five touchdown passes on Saturday. Receiver Golden Tate wrapped up the best season by a wideout in Irish history with 10 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns. There may not be a quarterback-receiver combo as good as those two in South Bend in a long, long time. And now both are almost certainly headed to the NFL as juniors, leaving school without having ever been on a team that finished the regular season with a winning record.

3. The postseason, if there is one, will be dreadful: At 6-6, Notre Dame will have to scrounge around for an opening somewhere after every 7-5 team in the land is placed in a bowl game. They could wind up playing in the Little Caesar's Bowl in Detroit or some other low-level game that's almost embarrassing to the school's tradition. With all the turmoil surrounding Weis and Clausen in the last week and the need to focus on the coaching transition, accepting a bowl bid might not even be worth it for the Irish.

Gerhart makes his Heisman statement

November, 29, 2009
Toby Gerhart: Strike a pose?

In perhaps the most impressive Heisman Trophy statement of the season, Toby Gerhart rushed for 205 yards on 29 caries, scoring three rushing touchdowns and passing 18 yards for another in Stanford's thrilling 45-38 comeback win over Notre Dame.

Gerhart -- oh, he also caught a pass for 33 yards -- was simply a beast, repeatedly punishing the Notre Dame defense. He never went down on first contact, and it's certain that more than a handful of Fighting Irish defenders are going to be worse for wear Sunday morning.

Jason O. Watson/US PresswireStanford's Toby Gerhart rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns against Notre Dame. He also threw for a touchdown.

This was Notre Dame's fourth consecutive defeat, so the program already was hurting. The Irish finish the season 6-6, with all six loses coming by seven or fewer points. Coach Charlie Weis is almost certainly going to be looking for work this winter.

But this one was about Gerhart and Stanford, which finishes the season 8-4 and will be heading to its first bowl game since 2001. The Cardinal, by the way, went 1-11 in 2006, the season before coach Jim Harbaugh arrived.

Notre Dame took a 14-10 lead in the first quarter and didn't trail until Gerhart's final TD run with a minute left -- a run in which the Irish appeared to let him score in order to get the ball back.

The Irish drove to the Stanford 24, but couldn't punch in a tying TD.

For much of the game, the offenses dominated the opposing defenses. Notre Dame countered Gerhart with Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate, a pass-catch combination that had the Cardinal secondary on its heels. Clausen completed 23 of 30 passes for 340 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Tate hauled in 10 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns.

But the Cardinal defense got the game's critical stop with six minutes left. On a third-and-2 from the Irish 35, running back Robert Hughes was stopped for no gain.

Stanford took over. Or Gerhart took over. He rushed seven times for 54 yards on the 10-play, 72-yard game-winning drive, treating the Irish defenders like they were pinball bumpers.

At this point, it's impossible to imagine that Gerhart won't be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. This performance, however, may have made this a two-man contest with Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, though a couple of fellows playing in the SEC championship game on Dec. 5 might make their own counter-statement.

Gerhart has rushed for 1,736 yards this season -- 144.67 yards per game. His 26 rushing touchdowns lead the nation and are a new Pac-10 record.

Moreover, in an age when speed kills, Gerhart reminds us that sometimes power ain't much fun to stop either. Not that Gerhart is slow. He hates it when folks doubt his speed, and we don't want to get on his bad side.

He's a hard man. Some defenders might swear he's made of bronze.

Irish lose in far too typical fashion

November, 28, 2009
Pretty much everything you needed to know about the 2009 Notre Dame season could be learned by watching the 45-38 loss to Stanford.

The Irish offense compiled gaudy stats and pulled off some gorgeous big plays. Charlie Weis dipped into the bag of tricks for a few of those, including the coolest third-quarter sequence: Robert Hughes took the snap from the Wildcat and handed off to Golden Tate, who pitched to Jimmy Clausen, who had been lined up at receiver. Clausen then threw a touchdown to a wide open Michael Floyd.

You score 38 points on the road, and you should win. But, as the story has been so many times under Weis, the offense couldn't overcome a terrible defense.

The Irish actually played fairly well defensively in the first half, but they got worn down by Toby Gerhart and the Stanford running game in the second half. Gerhart had over 200 yards and three touchdowns to make his Heisman case, but the Notre Dame defense makes a lot of players look like superstars. And so an 11-point third-quarter lead turned into yet another close loss that came down to the final play.

Notre Dame had a shot from the Stanford 31 with seven seconds left, but Clausen's heave to the end zone was knocked away.

The Irish were once 6-2 but lost their final four games, all in dramatic fashion, to finish 6-6 for the second straight regular season. Their best hope now is for a low-level postseason destination like the Little Caesar's Bowl in Detroit. Weis was surely done as coach regardless of this outcome; he merely proved it's the right decision. And it was likely the final regular-season game for Clausen and Tate, who sure looked like first-round draft picks on this night.

Notre Dame may have been the most exciting 6-6 team in college football history. But that's not nearly good enough.

Stars shining for Stanford, Notre Dame

November, 28, 2009
The offenses are in control as Notre Dame leads Stanford 24-20 at halftime.

The big names -- Andrew Luck, Toby Gerhart, Golden Tate, Jimmy Clausen -- have all made their plays, as expected.

The biggest surprise might be this: Stanford owns the rushing advantage by only 1 yard -- 81-80.

Gerhart scored his 24th touchdown on the season -- which ties the Pac-10 record -- and has 73 yards on 14 carries.

Clausen is 11-of-16 for 151 yards, with most of the damage going to Tate, who has six receptions for 108 yards with two touchdowns.

Tate and Michael Floyd are giving Stanford's struggling pass defense more trouble than Gerhart is giving the struggling Notre Dame run defense.

The theory is that Gerhart starts to wear a defense down. We'll see.

Just about every game Notre Dame has played this season has been decided in the waning moments.

This one might, too.

Notre Dame leads 24-20 at half

November, 28, 2009
For a change, Notre Dame actually grabbed a double-digit first-half lead.

But the Irish, who have been playing from behind much of the season, couldn't hold onto that 24-13 advantage before halftime. Stanford marched down for a score just before the first-half gun to make it 24-20 and set us up for what will probably be another thriller.

Notre Dame's defense has actually played pretty well. Between the early fumble by Theo Riddick and the last drive by the Cardinal, the Irish had several good defensive series and held Toby Gerhart in check. But you wonder how long it will keep up.

The Irish have a good chance to stay in this thing because of their passing game, though. Jimmy Clausen has three touchdown passes, the last one a 78-yard beauty of a bomb to Golden Tate. Stanford's defensive backs don't look like they're good enough to stop the superior Irish receivers.

Can Notre Dame get a win for Charlie Weis in perhaps his last game as coach?