Notre Dame Football: Nebraska Cornhuskers

4-star LB Jaylon Smith commits to Irish

June, 2, 2012
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ANGOLA, Ind. -- Long rumored to be a heavy Notre Dame lean, four-star outside linebacker Jaylon Smith (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers) ended all speculation with a pledge to the Fighting Irish on Saturday at the inaugural R.A.S Football Camp hosted by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer at Trine University.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Smith is ranked No. 46 in the ESPN 150 and is the top prospect in Indiana. He reported offers from Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas A&M and USC.

"Every (Notre Dame) coach has the same stand character-wise," Smith said. "Other coaches tell you what you want to hear, and I saw that with my brother." Rod Smith, a running back, is entering his sophomore season at Ohio State.

Smith is Notre Dame's top 2013 commit, its third commit in the ESPN 150 and its 13th overall.
Three-star wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp (Lombard, Ill./Montini) said Monday he will honor his commitment to Nebraska rather than go to Notre Dame, ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers reports.
"I came to the decision last night around midnight," said Westerkamp, who is the 50th ranked wide receiver in the country by ESPN. "When it came down to it, I just love Nebraska. I'm so excited about it and can't wait to get out there. I know Nebraska is the place for me. I had to see my options and put it all on the table. In the end, this is the place for me."

Westerkamp committed to the Cornhuskers in May, was offered by the Irish in December and visited Notre Dame shortly after, a trip he said he had to make to see if he felt the same way about both schools.

Westerkamp was ESPNChicago.com's Player of the Year, becoming Illinois' all-time leader in career receptions (235), yards (4,584) and touchdowns (66) this season. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder had 12 catches for 353 yards and five touchdowns in the state title game.
"Notre Dame was respectful of it," Westerkamp said. "They respected that I gave them a chance. They told me if anything changes before signing day they would take me in a heartbeat.

"Nebraska was thrilled and excited. They were just really excited and screaming a little bit. They were happy. It was a good feeling that both programs wanted me."

Champs Bowl brings back memories of '93

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
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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."

Stanley commits to Irish

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
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Bishop Gorman (Nevada) four-star offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley committed to Notre Dame on Thursday, just days after visiting South Bend, Ind.

Stanley chose the Irish over Arkansas and Nebraska.

He marks Notre Dame's 16th Class of 2012 commit, the Irish's ninth four-star commit and their fourth offensive line commit.

Our Greg Biggins has more here.

Kuechly tops Te'o for Butkus Award

December, 5, 2011
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Boston College junior Luke Kuechly won the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker.

Notre Dame junior Manti Te'o was one of six finalists for the award and finished in fourth place in the voting, notching 20 points and one first-place vote.

Kuechly, whom Te'o and the Irish defeated Nov. 19, received 58 points and 19 first-place votes after finishing second to Texas A&M's Von Miller last season.

Alabama's Dont'a Hightower (33 points and five first-place votes) and Courtney Upshaw (23 and three) finished second and third, respectively. Nebraska's Lavonte David (16 and one) and Georgia's Jarvis Jones (14 and one) finished fifth and six.
A majority of the college football world's attention will be focused on Tuscaloosa, Ala., this weekend as No. 2 Alabama hosts No. 1 LSU in what many are calling the game of the century.

With that in mind, let's take a look back at some of the notable AP No. 1 vs. No. 2 games involving Notre Dame.

Thanks to ESPN Stats and Information for the help.

Nov. 13, 1993
No. 2 Notre Dame 31, No. 1 Florida State 24
Shawn Wooden batted down eventual Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward’s pass in the end zone to seal the Irish's upset win. The next week, however, top-ranked Notre Dame suffers its only loss of the season, falling to No. 17 Boston College. FSU beat Florida and then Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to win its first national title. Notre Dame eventually topped Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl to finish No. 2 in the polls despite its earlier win over the Seminoles.

Nov. 19, 1966
No. 1 Notre Dame 10, No. 2 Michigan State 10
The two led the AP rankings for six straight weeks, with Notre Dame entering this game on top. The Irish came back from a 10-0 deficit but, with the ball in its own territory with less than two minutes left, settled for a controversial tie. They finished the season No. 1. The Spartans finished second.

Nov. 9, 1946
No. 1 Army 0, No. 2 Notre Dame 0
With scalpers getting a reported $250 per ticket for the game at Yankee Stadium — no small amount 65 years ago — Johnny Lujack made a key diving tackle of Army's Doc Blanchard on a potential touchdown run, keeping the game a scoreless tie. Army, which entered with a 25-game winning streak and was a two-time defending national champion, fell to No. 2 after a close 21-18 win over Navy in its finale. Notre Dame, which entered the contest 5-0, ended the season ahead of Army, securing the national title.

Notre Dame mailbag

October, 7, 2011
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Apologies for having to cut the chat short today, but I have decided to make it up to you guys with a mailbag. Here's a look at what's been on your mind recently.

James from Dallas writes: Matt, I'm surprised you aren't more bullish on the IRISH as an underrated team. When the adjusted stats come out from Football Outsiders -- adjusted for competition, ND will show up as among the top five or eight defenses in the country. Rushing offense will be top 10, and total offense will be top 15. Doesn't the fact that ND is ranked behind Texas, Nebraska, West Virginia, and Michigan strike you as odd? Baylor?

Matt Fortuna: James, not at all. Michigan beat Notre Dame and is undefeated. Texas is undefeated. And Nebraska, West Virginia and Baylor all have better records than Notre Dame, all losing to ranked, undefeated opponents. The Fighting Irish have no argument to be ranked ahead of any of those teams right now and, given their popularity, will hardly ever be considered an underrated team, though I suppose an 0-2 start may have put them in the backs of some people's minds.


Bradley Horner from South Bend, Ind., writes: Do you think that Tuitt and Lynch can be prepared enough this week to face Air Force's triple-option? They have only allowed one rushing TD this year (Denard Robinson), but AF runs the ball more often. How will the game play out and who do you think will win?

Matt Fortuna: I don't think anything can really prepare a defense for Air Force's offense, considering there are so few other teams like the Falcons. Tuitt and Lynch didn't play at Michigan and have to be disciplined here. If they get anxious and try to bull-rush or overpursue, they will play right into Tim Jefferson's hands. That being said, I like Notre Dame because of how its offense matches up with Air Force's defense.


Mason from Mishawaka, Ind., writes: Michael Floyd had yet another stellar performance against Purdue and showed he can catch and run-block. Does Floyd have a shot at Heisman?

Matt Fortuna: Notre Dame needs to win out and be in contention for a BCS bowl berth, which, if it is, would probably be in huge part because of Floyd. It's a long season and a lot can still happen between now and then, but Floyd's numbers have certainly been noteworthy. He will get no shortage of national attention.


Josh from Waterloo, Iowa, writes: Sooooo...... ND fan here.... can we relax and expect the Irish to be legit for the rest of the year??? Or should we continue to live week by week? Im going with A I hope for now.... GO IRISH!!!

Matt Fortuna: You definitely can't relax, or Air Force will sneak up on you. USC and Navy, in light of recent years, cannot be overlooked, either. The first two weeks of the season should have taught you not to take anything for granted with this team, though it certainly does seem headed in the right direction as of now.


Pat from Indianapolis writes: Comment: Matt in an article about ND you mentioned that Illinois was the only three-loss team to go to the BCS. Well, that is not true. Off the top of my head Purdue (2001 Rose Bowl), Pitt (2005 Fiesta Bowl), and UConn (2011 Fiesta Bowl) (4 losses) have all gone to BCS games. There may be others, but those are at least three.

Matt Fortuna: A couple of you pointed this out, and I probably should have been clearer: Illinois was the only at-large team to make a BCS bowl with three losses. The others were automatic qualifiers because they won their conferences. Sorry for the confusion.

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