NCF Nation: Lou Holtz

Kelly, Irish push through rare slump

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly will coach his 63rd game at Notre Dame on Saturday, which is remarkable for the simple fact that the three men in his chair before him never made it this far.

Not Charlie Weis (62 games). Not Tyrone Willingham (36). Not Bob Davie (60).

No, the last time a Fighting Irish coach took the field for Game 63 of his tenure came Sept. 21, 1991, when Lou Holtz's squad rolled over Michigan State, 49-10. So much has changed since then. And yet so little has changed, too.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAfter some recent struggles, Brian Kelly's Irish look to finish the season strong.
 A win this weekend over Louisville would make Kelly the first Notre Dame coach to start his tenure with five straight seasons of eight-plus wins. No Irish coach has done that during any five-year stretch since 1987-93, a run that saw Holtz coach the program to its last national title.

Notre Dame will go yet another season without a title in 2014, a drought that now stretches 26 years, and a goal that probably looked like a distant dream this past weekend as the Irish fell to Northwestern for loss No. 3 on the year.

Of course, as recently as two weeks ago, before losing at Arizona State, the Irish were right in the thick of things. A month ago they looked ready to break through that title ceiling, unbeaten as they took defending champion Florida State down to the final seconds in a loss.

Reconciling the fall from grace has been a maddening task for the Irish as they enter Senior Day against the Cardinals.

"I think college football is such that it comes down to a couple of plays and a fine line," Kelly said. "And that's why it's so critical that when you turn the ball over like we do, and when we turn it over, it's critical. I mean it's catastrophic turnovers."

Of course, the frustration that comes with a three-loss season is a far cry from what those seniors experienced upon entering Notre Dame at the ground level of the Kelly era.

"I think definitely from freshman year to now, we definitely turned the program around," said offensive tackle Christian Lombard, who, like Kelly arrived to the Irish for the 2010 season. "It's a winning program now, and we expect to win every game. We expect to win every game at home, we expect to be right there with teams, it's just the way it is around here now. It's one of those institutions [like] it was back in the day, so we're all really proud of that."

Added end Justin Utupo, a fellow redshirt senior: "We're obviously the first class that was brought in and [the coaches] looked at us to help build what they were trying -- this winning culture. I was here from the start. I've seen when we were bad. I've seen when we were really good."

Holtz said Kelly has been able to implement such expectations because of his vision and because of his plan to execute that vision. It comes from the benefit of being a head coach at three other stops beforehand, a luxury Holtz was afforded as well, having been in the big seat at five different college and pro stops before taking the Notre Dame job.

Kelly's last three coordinators at Notre Dame earned head-coaching jobs elsewhere. Last year's Irish team had eight players drafted, the program's most in a single draft in 20 years. That the Irish started 6-0 without them -- and without four players lost to academic suspensions two weeks before the season -- speaks to what is in place. That three losses in their past four games has sparked a world-is-ending feeling around the fanbase speaks to the climb left to be done.

 "He's got a young football team this year," Holtz said of Kelly. "And I think next year may be his best football team."

Depending on one's preferred math, the Irish could be returning 20 starters in 2015. And that does not include the potential return of several of their currently suspended players.

That could make this final stretch all the more important for the near-term future of a program that is toeing the line between a 7-6 and a 10-3 campaign this year, a program soon-to-be filled with a new cast of characters that had little part of that 12-1 run to the national title game two years ago.

"They understand that there are some tough times," Kelly said. "But, relatively speaking, I remind them of some tough times, that we were here just a few years ago, when we were 4-5. Those are tough times. Those are difficult times. This pales in comparison. You're now in a winning environment. And you've won a lot of football games. Our seniors win on Saturday, that would be 182 in the last 20 games at home. So keep it in perspective."

Holtz, who lasted 132 games on the Notre Dame sideline, is doing just that when it comes to the man currently in charge.

"I hope Brian Kelly reaches the next 63," he said.

Video: Dr. Lou's Week 14 predictions

November, 29, 2013

Lou Holtz makes his predictions for this weekend's top college football matchups.

Video: Dr. Lou's Predictions

October, 25, 2013

Lou Holtz predicts the winners of some of Saturday's biggest college football matchups, including a couple major upsets.

Video: Dr. Lou's Week 4 picks

September, 21, 2013

Lou Holtz makes his predictions for Arizona State-Stanford, Tennessee-Florida and Michigan State-Notre Dame.

SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The last time Notre Dame took its fall camp away from campus, the flames were rekindled.

Players gathered near Lake Maxinkuckee for a bonfire on the first night of the last ride of the Lou Holtz era, only the leader was nowhere to be found. Soon enough the Irish coach and his three captains were pulling up on a rowboat to talk about how the past was the past, how the previous year's Orange Bowl loss was the previous year's Orange Bowl loss, how there was nothing to go back on.

Quite literally.

Players then all joined in a conflagration of sorts, lighting the tiny wooden ship up in flames.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
AP Photo/John BazemoreBrian Kelly and Notre Dame are planning for a return trip to the BCS title game.
"What happened last year was behind us," former offensive lineman Jeff Kilburg remembers as the message. "We don't have a boat to go back; we're only going forward. It was a cool thing Coach did to fire us up that first day."

It's been 17 years since Notre Dame brought its preseason show on the road, and the parallels between that group at Culver Military Academy and the one that will commence activities Monday at the Shiloh Park Retreat and Conference Center are hardly linear. But by boxing the Irish in some two-plus hours away from home for their first four practices, Brian Kelly is sending a clear message:

The 2012 campaign, the program's most successful in nearly a quarter-century, is nothing but a memory.

"It's a collection of new personalities," Kelly said Friday during his camp-opening press conference. "You can't live in the past. We want to talk about this year. What we need to do is get prepared. The second part of that is no distractions, it's all football. Don't have to worry about getting to math class. We don't need to worry about guys off campus. We're all together. It's 100 percent being around each other and our football team. Both of those things in a combination I think come together with us going offsite."

Players will be without cable. If Kelly has his way, they will be without wifi -- "my anticipation is that will crash within the first 20 minutes," he cracked. The fourth-year Irish coach had looked into a project like this earlier in his tenure, having taken on similar endeavors at Cincinnati, which would hold portions of its fall camp at Higher Ground in West Harrison, Ind.

"A lot of similarities," Kelly said of the Bearcats' camp and the Irish's. "We're still in the process of building infrastructure there. Shiloh Park has been great. [School facilities manager] Dan Brazo here has been very influential in helping put together the field situation there. We feel great about that. There's been some help, but there's still some work. We feel like it's got all the things necessary for it to be a very successful camp."

Holtz's 10-day Culver venture in 1996 was the second straight year he had opened camp there, with a six-day stint in 1995 helping his group move on from a 6-5-1 campaign that had ended with a Fiesta Bowl pummeling from Colorado.

The 28-point title-game loss to Alabama this past January has served as similar fuel for this year's team. On Friday, the 2013 schedule on the wall to Kelly's right inside the Isban Auditorium of the Guglielmino Athletic Complex was punctuated by "BCS Championship Game.”

"There's not a man that sat in this seat, when we met as an entire team that is not committed to that end," Kelly said. "That's why they're here. That's why there's such great excitement and anticipation. From our standpoint as coaches, we can feel that. So it's pretty clear that our players are committed to one goal, and that is to get back to a national championship, just as every other BCS school on Media Day is expecting the same thing."
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

Colleague Ivan Maisel today writes about the Pac-12's pipeline of sending head coaches to the NFL and notes how the Big Ten has lost just one coach to the NFL (Indiana's Sam Wyche to the Indianapolis Colts) since 1948. Today's Take Two topic is this: Why hasn't the Big Ten sent more coaches straight to the next level, and when will the drought end?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

[+] EnlargeO'Brien
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesBill O'Brien's ties to the New England Patriots should make him an intriguing option as a future NFL head coach.
It's a bit baffling why the Big Ten hasn't sent more coaches directly to the NFL. You can talk about the conference's recent struggles, but the Big Ten still produces a lot of great NFL players and has coaches who have worked in the NFL and who are respected by key decision-makers with those teams.

The Big Ten has featured coaches who had been NFL head coaches (remember Lou Holtz, who coached the New York Jets in 1976, coming to Minnesota in 1984?), a head coach who came to the Big Ten from a USFL top job (George Perles from the Philadelphia Stars to Michigan State) and coaches who left Big Ten teams for other jobs but eventually became NFL head coaches (former Northwestern boss Denny Green, former Illinois boss Mike White, former Michigan boss Gary Moeller). Most Big Ten teams have run pro-style offenses and defenses during the years, and while more squads are going to the spread offense, it wouldn't be a huge transition for most coaches to go to the NFL. I think the tendency for Big Ten coaches to stay at their jobs for longer terms has contributed to the lack of direct NFL departures. Many Big Ten coaches looked at those jobs as destinations rather than springboards to the NFL.

I expect the Big Ten's NFL coach drought to end fairly soon. Kirk Ferentz's name has come up for years as an NFL candidate, and while he has remained loyal to Iowa, you have to wonder whether he'll eventually make that leap, if the opportunity is still there. Although Ferentz's stock has dropped a bit in recent years, he's still held in high regard in NFL circles. The other obvious name is Penn State's Bill O'Brien, who talked with several NFL teams about jobs after his first season with the Lions. Although O'Brien seems relatively happy at Penn State despite the challenges there, few would be surprised if he eventually moves onto the NFL, given his love for that league and his experience with the Patriots. He might not move in the next year or two, but I could see him guiding Penn State through the sanctions and then making the jump. Will the NFL court other Big Ten coaches? I don't see Urban Meyer as an NFL coach, but his success can't be overlooked. I can't see Brady Hoke leaving Michigan, although he might be a good fit in the NFL. Bo Pelini has some NFL experience, but I see him more as a pro coordinator than a pro head coach. I'm still watching Ferentz and O'Brien, and I'd expect one to make the jump sometime in the next 3-5 years.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

Yes, it's surprising that the Big Ten hasn't sent more coaches straight to the NFL, although the track record of college head coaches making smooth transitions into the NFL is spotty at best. For every Jimmy Johnson and Jim Harbaugh, there is a Nick Saban (who, by the way, went from Michigan State to LSU to the Miami Dolphins), and a Steve Spurrier. Time will tell if guys like Chip Kelly and Greg Schiano are ultimately judged as success stories at the next level. Still, you would think more Big Ten coaches would have been more attractive to the NFL, given the league's history of pro-style schemes and, let's face it, conservative play calling that thankfully is starting to erode in the pros.

Adam hit on what I think is the key point: the destination job factor. Think about the top coach in the Big Ten in the past 15 years: Jim Tressel. Wouldn't the Vest have fit right alongside a coach like Tom Coughlin in the NFL? Yet Ohio State was Tressel's dream job, and a place where he built his own fiefdom before it all collapsed. Even though the NFL can pay more, calling the shots at a major college program offers much better job security. I also think back on the story of Joe Paterno and how he was reportedly offered more than triple his Penn State salary to take over the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969. Of course, he said no and stayed in State College for the rest of his life.

The same can probably be said for Hoke and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, both of whom I think would make strong NFL head coaches. Yet neither seemingly has any desire to ever go anywhere else but their current job. Ferentz is no dummy. Why risk getting fired by taking over an NFL team -- one that probably wasn't very good, or else it wouldn't be in the market for a new coach -- when you have the cushiest contract in college sports? I wonder about Meyer. On the one hand, he has no pro experience. On the other hand, he's incredibly smart and competitive, and perhaps he'll one day view the NFL lifestyle as preferable to the nonstop recruiting demand of college, especially if he can add another national title or two. I feel like Pelini would jump to the NFL if a team wanted him, but I'm not sure how marketable he is as a pro head coach right now. I believe Mark Dantonio would succeed at the next level, but he seems like a college guy through and through.

O'Brien remains the obvious pick to break the drought. There's no question he's the most pro-ready coach in the Big Ten. The NCAA sanctions and constant distractions at Penn State have to wear on him, but you'd also think he'd want to taste the fruits of his labor once the Nittany Lions are eligible for a bowl again. Yet if the 61-year-old Bill Belichick decides to hang it up in the near future, the New England Patriots would have to take a hard look at O'Brien as his successor. If guys like Kelly and Schiano start to win big, the NFL might start looking toward even more college head coaches, including those in the Big Ten.

Brian Kelly named Eddie Robinson COY

December, 13, 2012
Brian Kelly took home his second coach of the year award of the season Thursday, this time winning the Eddie Robinson award, presented by the Football Writers Association of America.

Kelly is the fourth Notre Dame coach to win the award, following Charlie Weis (2005), Lou Holtz (1988) and Ara Parseghian (1964).

Last Wednesday, Kelly was named the Home Depot coach of the year, becoming the first coach to win that award two times. (He won it in 2009 at Cincinnati.) He is also a finalist for the Maxwell and Liberty Mutual coach of the year awards, in addition to being on the watch list for the Bear Bryant award.

Kelly will be presented the Eddie Robinson Trophy on Jan. 6 -- the night before the Irish's national title game matchup with Alabama -- during a reception at the media hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Robinson's son, Eddie Jr., will be in attendance.

SEC seasons that weren't so memorable

November, 28, 2012
Everybody remembers the championship seasons.

But what about those seasons when everything goes wrong? You know, the seasons that fans scratch completely from their memory banks ... or at least try to.

Here's a look at three seasons in the SEC during the past 20 years that were utterly forgettable:

South Carolina 1999: The Gamecocks didn't win a game and suffered through an 0-11 season in Lou Holtz's first year as coach. Holtz inherited a program that had gone 1-10 the season before, and the Gamecocks went 21 straight games without a win. Their offense was woeful. In nine of the Gamecocks' 11 games, they scored 10 or fewer points, and scored more than 14 only once. They were held without a touchdown in four games. In SEC play, the Gamecocks were outscored 216-72. It's the last time an SEC team has gone winless in a season.

Alabama 2000: Coming off an SEC championship in 1999, it all crumbled for Alabama the season afterward. The Crimson Tide started the season ranked No. 3 in the polls, and there was talk of a national championship. That talk quickly dissipated, and what followed was a nightmarish 3-8 season and the ouster of Mike Dubose as coach. Alabama lost to Southern Miss and Central Florida and ended the season with five straight defeats. The worst was yet to come. The Crimson Tide were hit with NCAA sanctions stemming from Dubose's tenure and the Albert Means scandal. They lost 21 scholarships, received a two-year bowl ban and nearly got the "death penalty."

Tennessee 2005: The Vols went into the season ranked No. 3 in the polls but fell flat on their faces in a 5-6 disaster that was the first losing season of Phillip Fulmer's Hall of Fame coaching career. Fulmer was fired three years later after going 5-7 in 2008. The offense was a train wreck as the Vols played musical quarterbacks all season. It could have been a lot worse, too, if the defense hadn't been so good and kept Tennessee in games. There were several dubious firsts for the Vols along the way. They lost to Vanderbilt 28-24 at home, breaking a 22-game winning streak against the Commodores, and also had their streak of 16 straight bowl appearances snapped.
Brian Kelly received a card from Ara Parseghian this week, just like he does every week. Kelly picks Lou Holtz's brain from time to time as well, seeking advice from coaches who have won national titles at Notre Dame.

The gestures aren't limited to legends, though.

"Charlie Weis knows Notre Dame," Kelly said during his Tuesday news conference. "I got a wonderful note from Charlie last week. It was heartfelt, and it talked about the seniors and wishing them the best, and it was really a terrific note from Charlie. It was very classy. We get a lot of that communication with the former Notre Dame coaches and it's really nice."

As much as the players have been showered with attention in class and online, as much as campus has been buzzing about being home to the nation's No. 1 team, Kelly has heard from all corners as well, saying he received a handful of congratulatory texts when Kansas State and Oregon fell and that the communication lines have been open with Notre Dame icons past and present.

"I get my weekly card from Ara each week; he hand writes a note to me," Kelly said. "The great thing is he's so unassuming. He's done this and been there, but he'll write a note like he doesn't want to assume anything. He's never given any advice, just talking as a Notre Dame fan and alum. It's just great to get that combination with him.

"As it relates to Lou, I talk to him about some specific things that I would like his opinion on. Ara's much more of a fan, supportive. I invite him up every home game to my box and he politely declines because he thinks he's got the best seat in front of the television. That's our conversation. And then with Lou it's more about some specific things."

The players, meanwhile, have noticed the No. 1 sign lit up atop Grace Hall, so Kelly hasn't ignored the obvious.

He insists, however, that whatever celebration period there may have been is now over, and the team is back to the usual business of reviewing its Wake Forest tape and preparing for Saturday's game at USC.

"It's a lot better when that light's on than when it's not on," Kelly said. "I'm sure it's better going to class. I'm sure it's better in the dorms. I'm sure it's a better feeling, a more positive approach to everything. That's unquestionable. But does it affect way they way they come to work every day? No, it does not."
Today wraps up Coaches We Love to Hate week, a theme that brought the readers out in full force the past few days.

On Tuesday, we asked you who the most hated Notre Dame coach was, in addition to fielding your feelings toward opposing coaches.

Unsurprisingly given his performance in South Bend, Charlie Weis has run away in the most-hated poll, with Dan Devine coming a distant second. Why? One reader, Aaron Short, suggested that could have more to do with his portrayal in "Rudy" than anything else.

Ah, the power of Hollywood.

As for opposing coaches you guys hate, the usual suspects filled my mailbag: Lane Kiffin, Urban Meyer, Pete Carroll and Mark Dantonio.

Here's why ...

Joe from Danville, Pa.: Two words: Little Giants. Mark Dantonio by a margin so wide science has yet to determine a system of measure that can determine it.

Brian from Raleigh, N.C.: Currently, I dislike Kiffin the most. If you really listen to nearly any interview he gives, he's still the snotty little brat we always thought he was. I don't know how the media can listen to him and not get that impression. I actually respect Dantonio a lot. I hate MSU, and fortunately that particular school is unable to have more than one really good sports team in a season so committed to mediocrity they are. So as long as [basketball coach Tom] Izzo is there, we won't have to worry about them being too good too often. The ND coach I disliked the most? Gotta be Weis in my lifetime. They all have driven me nuts from time to time ( was born under Devine, grew up under [Gerry] Faust and [Lou] Holtz) but those ND teams simply were not what Notre Dame football is about.

[+] EnlargeCarroll/Weis
AP Photo/Tom StrattmanYears after their respective departures, coaches Pete Carroll, left, and Charlie Weis, seen here in 2005, still rub Irish fans the wrong way.
Rose from Los Alamitos, Calif.: No longer a college coach, but Pete Carroll was the worst. The hair at my nape stood on end when I would hear him speak. Just a bad feeling that the guy was not to be trusted.

Jim from Notre Dame, Ind.: Pete Carroll is far and away my least favorite (former) coach. The man never stopped badgering the officials about any call against his team (even blatant cheap shots ... which, with the players he recruited were frequent), was constantly on the playing field and outside of the coaches box (AT LEAST ISSUE HIM A WARNING!), and honestly, I've never hated an opposing coach more. That said, his replacement is making a run at Carroll's title. His comments about Notre Dame make me irate, and his general demeanor and pouting face are loathsome. I hate them, I hate USC (University of Spoiled Children/University of Sanctioned Cheating), I REALLY HATE USC, and I would love nothing more than for them to be undefeated when the Irish roll into town and beat them. P.S.: When USC was sanctioned (I thought they deserve the death penalty... REGGIE BUSH GOT A HOUSE!!!! A HOUSE!!!) and Pete Carroll got out of dodge, it showed just how slimy he really is.

Brett from Denver: Im younger so I couldnt tell you about coaches predating the mid to late 90's, but since then, to me it has to be Lane Kiffin. Its not even about the ND USC rivalry either, its what he did to Tennessee. Then pile on his arrogance and I despise no one more.

Aaron Short from Bloomington, Ill.: Do you think Devine is coming in second on the Notre Dame coach list because of how he was portrayed in "Rudy"? And in response to the opposing coaches. Lane Kiffin has to take this one. The guy jumps to the NFL, fails ... miserably, which I'm not putting the guy down for taking a chance but then Tennessee gives him a great opportunity. So he takes it and talks it up, saying and I quote "We'll be singing Rocky Top all night long after we beat Florida"... Urban Meyer's Florida, that is. Once again FAILS, miserably ... Pete Carroll darts out of LA before his crap hits the fan leaving Lane Kiffin a back door out of Knoxville. And even though he wants to try to beat Florida again because he reaallllyy wants to sing rocky top all night long, he leaves the Vols in the gutter and jumps back into the loving arms of USC, knowing that a 2 year post season ban would still be better than getting wiped up and down in the SEC. Him and Todd Graham need to set a lunch date together, if the two could commit to a place.

Mullin from Hamilton, N.J.: Without a doubt it's Urban Meyer. Now we know why he wouldn't come to his dream job at Notre Dame. He already has secondary violations at OSU and complaints about his recruiting tactics ... and how come nobody ever brings up the 30 guys that got arrested in his tenure at FLA? That doesn't work at ND. Throw in the fact that he's stolen several top recruits from ND at those 2 schools puts him as public enemy #1.

And we have a voice from the other side, too, as reader Tom Jeffries from Gas City, Ind., defends Charlie Weis' work ...

Tom: Matt I love reading your stuff every week. You do a great job. That being said, this poll was way off. Charlie got the most votes, but it was totally undeserved. First and foremost lets not forget that the last 2 BCS bowls ND was in, was under Charlie. Also I think we can all agree that he was a great person off the field. He did tons of charity work and donated more money than I will ever make in my lifetime. [He] is a good mind, who had trouble adjusting to the college game and getting the right staff together. [He] belonged in the press box, calling the plays. That why he went to Kansas City and dominated, had a good run at Florida, and is now back coaching at the BCS level at Kansas. Lets at least state the facts and give credit where credit is due.

As always, thanks a bunch for sharing your feelings. And for keeping things civil in a post like this. I can't say I'm too surprised by the amount of hatred toward USC's former and current coaches, and the expectations surrounding the Trojans this season should only add to the intrigue and animosity.
1. The desire of the Big Ten and Pac-12 to keep the Rose Bowl as first among equals is understandable. But the playoff proposal that would allow a champion of one of those two leagues that finished in the top four to play in Pasadena and still remain eligible for the championship game solves nothing. There would be two “semifinals” but the Rose Bowl winner could be voted into the championship game. Talk about credibility issues -- how’d you like to win a “semifinal” and be voted out of the final?

2. Over the past decade, as Nick Saban has won three BCS championships, 16 of his players at LSU and Alabama have been voted consensus All-Americans. I can’t find another coach in the postwar era who developed that many All-Americans in so short a period of time (and don’t forget: Saban spent two of those last 10 years in the NFL). By comparison, Lou Holtz, a Hall of Fame coach, had 16 consensus All-Americans in 33 seasons.

3. The return of Arkansas tailback Knile Davis, recovering from the ankle injury he suffered last August, receded before the gutsy appearance of head coach Bobby Petrino at practice Tuesday. Petrino showed up less than 48 hours after he broke four ribs and cracked a vertebra in a motorcycle accident. Davis isn’t allowed any contact yet, and neither is Petrino, who watched from the press box. I’m glad he’s OK, but how a guy that smart who has ridden a motorcycle his entire life can go out without a helmet is beyond me.

Video: Remembering Joe Paterno

January, 22, 2012
Matt Millen, Mike Ditka, Lou Holtz, Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit and Nick Saban remember Joe Paterno.

Champs Bowl brings back memories of '93

December, 28, 2011
Kez McCorvey still shows his players the catch 18 years later. In the film room of Bethel (Tenn.) University, the Wildcats' wide receivers coach focuses on the details of the play, "560 vertical," and not so much on the circumstances surrounding it, which NBC play-by-play man Charlie Jones summed up thusly:

"So the perfect season for the Seminoles, Bobby Bowden's shot at the national championship, coming down to this play. It is fourth down and goal to go. Twenty-yard line. 2:31 left."

Eventual Heisman Trophy winner and NBA point guard Charlie Ward took the shotgun snap from the 20, dropped three steps and fired a bullet over the middle that looked destined for the hands of Notre Dame safety Brian McGee. Instead, the ball dropped into McCorvey's hands for the touchdown, cutting the Irish's lead in half and granting Florida State new life in what was then the Game of the Century -- Nov. 13, 1993.

[+] EnlargeLou Holtz
Photo/Joe RaymondLou Holtz's Irish team upset No. 1-ranked Florida State in 1993.
"My guys here, they'll get plays they think we just invented or something," said the 39-year-old McCorvey, who still gets on the practice field to demonstrate routes for his NAIA pupils. "And I'll tell them we've been running that play forever. 'Look here on YouTube. I'm old as dirt, we're not even doing a good job of doing it and I'm slow and old and I can score, so here.' "

The improbability of the play had McCorvey and his teammates thinking fate had intervened -- "I don't wanna make it sound like Florida State is all that and a bag of chips, but we'd just never been in a situation where we'd been out of a game, so we just never quit."

The celebration, however, was short-lived, one of many twists and turns of a season that saw No. 2 Notre Dame upset No. 1 Florida State, 31-24, only to watch the Seminoles be declared national champions less than two months later despite having the same number of losses.

The schools will renew their rivalry in Thursday's Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., a smaller stage later in the year that will lack the 800-plus media members, dozens of fake credentials, coach's dinner party and rapid trash-talking that surrounded South Bend, Ind., that fall week in 1993.

The messages that week, at least from up top, could not have been any more different.

"Leading up to it, obviously Coach Holtz's thing was at the beginning that we may get beat by 50, and that was just Lou Holtz, that's just how he handled things," said former Irish safety Jeff Burris, who scored the Irish's last two touchdowns of the game as a running back. "And by Monday or Tuesday, 'We'll be happy to be in the game by halftime.'

"Just his mentality was that way, but he was always focused on, 'If we do this the right way it might be a game.' And by Thursday or Friday it was, 'We'll win this game, and this is how we'll win this game.' "

For Florida State, meanwhile, it was business as usual.

"I would love to tell you we did it bigger than the Miami game, but we didn't," said McCorvey, citing a win over the No. 3 Hurricanes a month earlier. "Nothing against Notre Dame, but we felt like since we beat Miami we could win the national championship, so we'd been accustomed to that type of pressure. Coach Bowden, too. It wasn't as big a deal going into games -- the pressure, game situations. So we didn't do a whole lot of things that we hadn't done before."

Yet McCorvey couldn't help himself during the week leading up to the game, making references to "Rock Knutne" and being quoted as saying: "I appreciate what Notre Dame has accomplished, but those old guys don't play anymore. You can't win with mojo or magic. Joe Montana isn't going to put on the pads and win for them."

"I think it was a little bit of ignorance with the Knutne comment," McCorvey laughed. "That was me being young."

Still, the scene was unlike any all parties involved had ever been a part of.

Tickets were going for $1,000. ESPN's "College GameDay" was making its first on-campus appearance, albeit in front of just a few dozen loyal fans stationed on the concourse of the Joyce Center, where Notre Dame's basketball team plays.

"You can tell this is not just a football game; this is a happening," host Chris Fowler said on the air. "Paul Azinger, Roger Clemens, Spike Lee — lots of folks are gonna be here. Al Gore. Andre Agassi. Some others got turned down. As further proof this is transcendent-game status."

Signs in the parking lot offered assets such as an Orlando vacation or a Mercedes-Benz for entrance into Notre Dame Stadium that day.

"When they said it was the Game of the Century," former Irish quarterback Kevin McDougal said, "it really was."

Two days before the game, Holtz and his wife, Beth, invited 50-60 media members stationed in South Bend over to their Woodland Hills home, 10 minutes from campus.

"My then fiancée and I arrived in South Bend on Thursday," Michael Messaglia, Holtz's son-in-law, said. "Expecting a quiet night at her parents’ house, we arrived to a house full of reporters."

After Beth Holtz sent reporters out with cookies in napkins as they left, and after Holtz handed out small boxes of golf balls, the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy wrote in his day-of-game column:

"That settled it. It doesn't matter if Florida State wins today by four touchdowns; I will write only good things about Notre Dame. I have broken bread with Lou. After today's game of the century, I will have only one question.

"What time is dinner before the BC game?"

Of course, the high of Shawn Wooden knocking down Ward's final pass of the Game of the Century was met the following week with a hangover against Boston College, as the Eagles engineered a 41-39 shocker that played a pivotal role in deciding the national championship.

Notre Dame beat Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1. Florida State won its last two regular-season games before topping undefeated Nebraska in the Orange Bowl the same day.

The Seminoles finished atop both The Associated Press and coaches' polls, giving Bowden his first national championship, though the regret wasn't limited to the Irish's side.

"You look back and you think you won the national championship, but you wanted to go 13-0," McCorvey said. "You wanted to not lose a game that whole year and leave your legacy as one of the best teams that ever played. The Notre Dame loss was something that kind of tarnished that a little bit."

USC wants to avoid power shift to Irish

October, 19, 2011
Some games you want to win because you want to win every game. Others games feature highly ranked teams and therefore generate national interest. Some are rivalry games. But Notre Dame-USC is something else entirely, even if the 83rd game of the storied intersectional contest on Saturday features two unranked teams for just the 10th -- and second consecutive -- time in the series.

The battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh is a showdown of national programs. Top recruits across the country who don't feel pinned down to a home-state school or region watch it to test their allegiances. Most of the elite players who are recruited by USC are recruited by Notre Dame and vice versa.

And if you're looking for a marker for which direction either program is going, it's this game. Lou Holtz went 9-1-1 against USC. Pete Carroll went 8-1 against Notre Dame. Where do their tenures rank among their program's histories?

So that's why USC's 20-16 defeat last year resonates, particularly considering how it went down. Start with the obvious: Two rookie coaches who'd both been burned by off-field controversies, trying to make their marks during uncertain times for their programs.

[+] EnlargeRonald Johnson
AP Photo/Jae C. HongRonald Johnson missed a touchdown catch that could have made the difference for USC in last season's loss to Notre Dame.
And then Trojans receiver Ronald Johnson dropped a sure touchdown pass with 1:17 remaining, and Notre Dame ended an eight-game losing streak in the series. Brian Kelly became 1-0 against USC. And Lane Kiffin fell to 0-1 against Notre Dame.

"It was a horrible feeling because of the streak and how long it was and how much work goes into that," Kiffin said. "And there it is right there, one fluke play and all those years are over with."

"Fluke" plays can lead to sea changes. In Holtz's first game against USC in 1986, Notre Dame overcame a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to stun USC 38-37. The Fighting Irish went from a losing season in 1985 to a national title in 1988. In 2001, Carroll lost by 11 at Notre Dame. The next season, his Trojans handed the Irish a historically bad 44-13 whipping, outgaining them 610 yards to 109. And away USC went.

And then there's last year's game, which ended a run of 19 consecutive nonconference victories for USC.

"We knew that if a talented receiver like that was going to drop a ball like that in a situation like that, it's definitely our night," Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o said after the 2010 game. "Things like that don't happen without a reason. It's a huge night for this program and in our lives."

Te'o, of course, is the player that broke USC's hearts on national signing day in 2009. Long considered the next in a long line of elite Trojans linebackers, the top-rated player switched to Notre Dame seemingly out of nowhere.

When considering last year's game, USC takes heart from knowing that it lost in the waning moments without two key injured players: offensive tackle Tyron Smith and quarterback Matt Barkley. While Smith was the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft and now plays for the Dallas Cowboys, Barkley is back and healthy and playing well. He and receiver Robert Woods are one of the nation's best pass-catch combinations.

And another streak is on the line: USC has won 13 consecutive nonconference road games. That, by the way, is the last of many winning streaks established during the Carroll era.

The Trojans this year have been mostly about Barkley and Woods and a notably mediocre defense. But it was the defense that stepped up in the Trojans' 30-9 win over California on Oct. 13, while Barkley and Woods struggled to find their rhythm.

"We needed a game that our defense won for us," Kiffin said.

That defense will need to step up again because Notre Dame won't be easy to move the ball against. Other than an implosion against Michigan, the Irish have played well on defense, surrendering just 21 points per game.

USC went 8-5 in Kiffin's first season, which was mostly given passing grades because of the circumstances. If Johnson had caught that pass, however, most would have viewed the season as a success.

Going forward, Kiffin's Trojans will be saddled with severe scholarship reductions -- each of their next three recruiting classes can only include 15 signees instead of 25 -- which almost certainly will reduce the number of wins the program produces.

But on Saturday, there won't be any real excuses. This game is a national measuring stick, and the Trojans don't want to fall short again and see power and esteem in the storied intersectional rivalry shift back to the Midwest.

Said Kiffin, "We've got to go back and start a new streak this year."

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Andrew Hendrix was running for the end zone, no question about it. He had completed every pass he threw Saturday, had just burst through the line and was seeing nothing but six points in front of him.

But he couldn't help but look back.

"If there was a video board I probably would've seen who was behind me," Hendrix said with a laugh. "But I was checking behind me to see who was behind me, whether I had to make a move on somebody or not, and I ended up losing my balance just at the right time to not get in.

"So it was a little embarrassing, but I'm all right with it."

The humble Hendrix had nothing to be ashamed of, as at that point -- up 33 in the fourth quarter -- the biggest question remaining in Notre Dame's 59-33 rout of Air Force was whether or not the sophomore quarterback would run out of gas during his 78-yard run.

He did, falling forward at the 2, before George Atkinson III punched it in three plays later for the Fighting Irish's final points during a historic day for Notre Dame's offense.

For much of the day, it was tough to figure out who was having the hardest time inside Notre Dame Stadium:

Air Force's defense, which gave up 560 total yards and 59 points, including touchdowns on Notre Dame's first six drives?

[+] EnlargeJonas Gray
Matt Cashore/US PresswireNotre Dame's Jonas Gray rushed for 69 yards on seven carries with two touchdowns.
The group of high school prospects on hand, who had to wonder if this place was as beautiful every October as the 80-degree temperatures and day-long sunshine would have one believe?

Or Notre Dame's media relations staff, which issued historical reference after historical reference over the press box loudspeaker throughout the offensive showcase?

No Irish team had scored so many points since a 62-0 win over Rutgers in 1996, Lou Holtz's final game at Notre Dame Stadium. The same stadium had never seen as many as 92 total points scored, which the Irish and Falcons combined for Saturday.

And no Notre Dame quarterback had rushed for more than 100 yards since Carlyle Holiday did so in 2001 against Boston College.

Hendrix, seeing his first action this season after not playing his freshman season, entered the game in the first quarter and hit Michael Floyd for what amounted to minus-3 yards.

It was smooth sailing from there.

Hendrix finished the day 4-for-4 passing for 33 yards and, more importantly, rushed it six times for 111 yards.

Most of the heavy lifting came on that 78-yard run mid-way through the fourth quarter, the game no longer in doubt and everyone inside the stadium holding their collective breath before Hendrix finally gave out at the 2.

How sudden did that happen? The public address announcer inside the press box had to reiterate the "no cheering" rule, as reporters couldn't help but be stunned by what they saw.

The reaction on the home sideline was far more exciting.

"I did not see that happening," running back Jonas Gray confessed. "He did kind of break away from the guy, but I think he just kind of ran out of gas."

Gray, a senior, had a message for Hendrix as he came back to the sideline following the Irish's touchdown to end the drive.

"I told him to not get caught ever again," Gray quipped. "I've been through that situation. I told him to never look back, just believe in his speed."

This was supposed to be about how Notre Dame's defense would handle Air Force's vaunted attack, especially with starting end Ethan Johnson sidelined and two freshmen seeing extended playing time in Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt.

Another freshman end, Chase Hounshell, made his Irish debut as well, but it was a moot point after Jamoris Slaughter forced a fumble on the Falcons' first play.

If Air Force was going to have any chance of hanging with Notre Dame, it could not afford to cough it up and play catch-up, because there was just nothing it could do defensively.

"We got two key turnovers by our defense that we were able to set up, and any time you get a chance to turn over Air Force and put points on the board, it allows you to extend away from them," Brian Kelly said. "And you need some extension from them sometimes in terms of points because they are so difficult to defend, and I think we saw that today."

The fact Air Force actually outgained Notre Dame, 565-560, shows the potential that was there on the other side.

But Kelly and Notre Dame know that means nothing if they cannot protect the ball, something the Irish accomplished by going a second straight week with no turnovers.

They have now put up better than 500 yards of total offense in four of their first six games, winning the last two of them. And they have now won four in a row after two straight defeats.

As Hendrix came out to line up in victory formation with 33 seconds to go Saturday, the student section couldn't help but look ahead.

"Beat-S-C," it chanted, referencing the Irish's battle with the Trojans in the two weeks.

Funny how things play out. Notre Dame kept beating itself to start the season. Now with the momentum going in the Irish's favor, their toughest opponent may be the bye week that comes a week from now.