Pete DiPrimio, sports columnist and college beat writer for The News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne, Ind., takes his best shots on the world of Notre Dame football.

Thursday, November 30

Carlson In Line For Mackey Award

It’s been quite a day for senior tight end John Carlson. First, he was named first team academic All-American by ESPN The Magazine. Then, he was named one of three finalists for the John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s best tight end.

Now, if he can just get his knee healthy in time for a bowl game.

Let’s start with the academic honor. Carlson has a cumulative grade point average of 3.59 and earned a 3.8 GPA last spring. He’s a member of the Academic Honors program and is on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

As far as his on-field accomplishments, Carlson has 46 catches for 621 yards and four touchdowns. He missed two and a half games because of his knee injury.

The other finalists are Arizona State’s Zach Miller (41 catches, 420 yards, three touchdowns) and Minnesota’s Matt Spaeth (47 catches, 564 yards, four touchdowns).

The winner will be announced next Thursday.

Carlson was a receiving non-factor in his first two seasons, totaling 13 catches for 87 yards and a touchdown while being used mostly as a blocker and special teams players (18 tackles, one forced fumble). He’s made the most of his opportunity. Will it be enough to win the Mackey Award? Our guess is yes, it will.

Monday, November 27

For Notre Dame, Sugar Is Great, But Just Win

The latest BCS rankings are in, and here's what we know -- Notre Dame is in the running for a BCS bowl, but not guaranteed a spot. Given its clout and fan base and TV appeal, however, there's almost no way a BCS bowl will not chose the Irish.

First, Notre Dame dropped from fifth to 10th in the BCS rankings with the loss to USC. Only the top eight receive automatic bids, so the Irish must get in with an at-large bid. The top 12 are eligible for that, so they seem safe.

The Rose Bowl has the first shot at picking an at-large team, followed by the Sugar, Orange and Fiesta Bowls. With USC having passed Michigan for the No. 2 slot, it appears the Trojans will face Ohio State in the national title game, with the Wolverines dropping to the Rose Bowl.

Yes, the Rose Bowl would love to have Notre Dame, which hasn't been in Pasadena since the Knute Rockne era (1925). But do Rose Bowl officials really want an Irish rematch with Michigan, which has already whipped them, and likely would again? It would not be the most compelling of matchups.

All indications are that the Sugar Bowl is the best bet to take Notre Dame. That would mean facing Florida, Arkansas or LSU. If Florida beats Arkansas in the SEC title game, and assuming it doesn't move ahead of USC in the BCS rankings, it would go to Sugar Bowl. That would create an interesting matchup between Irish coach Charlie Weis and Florida coach Urban Meyer. Meyer, as you surely remember, was the first coach Notre Dame officials wanted after firing Tyrone Willingham. Meyer passed to take the Florida job.

That would be a compelling matchup.

And if the Rose and Sugar pass on Notre Dame, about as likely as the Pittsburgh Steelers making the NFL playoffs, surely the Orange or Fiesta Bowls won't. And if they all do, then the Irish will get either the Gator or Cotton Bowls.

Don't worry. No BCS bowl in its right mind would pass on a 10-2 Notre Dame team.

The regular season ends this Saturday with the conference title games and the USC-UCLA rivalry showdown, so a lot of possibilities remain (say if UCLA upsets USC). BCS bids go out on Sunday.

So be a little more patient before making your bowl trip plans. And while you're waiting consider this -- Notre Dame has to win whatever bowl it gets. After eight straight bowl losses, it's time to show the Irish are, indeed, ready to make the jump to true consistent national contender status and that can't happen until they start winning bowls.

Sunday, November 26

Quinn, Irish Still Have Much To Prove

Okay, so Brady Quinn didn’t have the all-world performance against USC to suggest, however unlikely, that he would beat out Troy Smith for the Heisman Trophy.

With just a week left in the regular season it would take a stunning surprise -– and generate cause for a recount -– if Smith didn’t win the award. He’s too consistently good, too consistently dominating, to not win.

And I say this as a Heisman voter.

Quinn, meanwhile, hit just 22-of-45 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns. He even added a career-long 60-yard scramble run. It was a decent showing that would have been better if Irish receivers could have avoided a mid-game flurry of drops, but it still wouldn’t have made a difference. USC’s defense was too good.

“It was a gutty performance,” coach Charlie Weis said. “He didn’t get a lot of help. Yes, he was far from perfect. Join the club. I was far from perfect, too.”

Weis still believes Quinn’s NFL worthiness will be displayed during the spring’s NFL Draft (scouts from the Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were at Saturday’s game). In the meantime the Irish (10-2) have a bowl game left. The Sugar Bowl is the most likely spot, although if BCS opportunity falls they’ll wind up in the Gator or Cotton bowls.

“This is a tough loss,” Weis says, “but fortunately there’s enough time to recover. Our seniors will have to suck it up and get ready to go to a bowl.”

After losing its last four big-time games (twice to USC, once each to Michigan and Ohio State), Notre Dame needs to show it’s ready for elite. That needs to come from a bowl victory against an elite opponent. Remember, three losses in a season isn’t nearly good enough.

Saturday, November 25

USC Is Too Good

Okay, so USC is too good, and wide receive Dwayne Jarrett is Superman, which comes a year after Reggie Bush proved he was Superman, which is a year after Matt Leinart was Superman, which tells you the Trojans have way too much talent to be fair.

USC waxed Notre Dame, which likely puts the Irish into the Sugar Bowl, where it belongs. Far, far away from the likes of USC, Michigan and Ohio State.

Still, a 10-2 regular season record, with a chance at 11-2, isn't bad.

USC Takes 21-10 Halftime Lead

Thank heaven for Steve Quinn who is not, no matter how much you might want it to be true, related to Brady.

Steve, a seldom-used Notre Dame linebacker, gave the Irish a chance with a momentum-sparking second-quarter blocked punt that set up Notre Dame’s first touchdown – Brady Quinn to Marcus Freeman and provided hope that a 21-3 deficit wasn’t insurmountable.

Thank heaven for Mike Richardson, whose interception after that first touchdown seemed to suggest a major rally, until Rhema McKnight had his second drop of what should have been a first-down-making reception.

Thank heaven for Trevor Laws –- Trevor Laws! –- whose interception seconds later again rejuvenated Irish hopes.

They were dashed, of course. Why? Because the much-hyped offense, and not the much-maligned defense, couldn’t make a play. Quinn was just 8-for-23, in part because of McKnight drops, in part because of his own inaccuracy and poor choices.

The result was a 21-10 USC lead.

USC won the toss and deferred, which meant Notre Dame would receive, which was just the way coach Charlie Weis wanted it.

Quinn went deep the first play. Rhema McKnight made a great 38-yard sideline catch over tight coverage by Terrell Thomas. For a moment, the Irish had the momentum.

Notre Dame faced fourth and 9 at the USC 29. Of course Weis went for it. The Irish lack a reliable field goal kicker, and why mess with a punt when the odds favored it going into the end zone for a touchback, giving USC the ball on the 20.

The gamble didn’t work. A pressured Quinn might have run for the first down, but he overthrew McKnight instead.

USC then marched ruthlessly for a touchdown and the early lead.

That was not the way Weis wanted it.

It wouldn’t be the last time it happened in a first half of missed Irish opportunities.

A Spectacular View

We're a half hour before the ND-USC kickoff and the view is spectacular. The San Gabriel Mountains -- glowing from the setting sun -- are in the distance. So is downtown L.A.

The Coliseum itself, built in 1923, was the site of the 1932 Olympic Games. USC has played here since 1923.

The temperature is cooling rapidly, but fan enthusiasm is heating up. So is the focus of representatives of the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar bowls, who are all here.

Notre Dame is almost certain to go to the Sugar Bowl (meeting either Florida, Arkansas or LSU), unless it manages to make the national title game, which is set in Phoenix (also the site of the Fiesta Bowl).

Meanwhile, for a little extra color, consider Tommy Trojan, USC's life-size bronze statue. It's covered up, not because of concern of what Notre Dame fans would do to it, but because of UCLA fans. The L.A. rivals meet next week and Bruin fans have a history of pranks against the statue in the week leading up to the game, usually by painting it in the UCLA colors. To protect against it, USC officials wrap it up for protection.

Perceptions Before THE Game

USC students don’t discriminate here 90 minutes before the kickoff that could determine the national championship. They boo Notre Dame players as they warm up on the Los Angeles Coliseum field. They boo the coaches. They boo the five unfortunate Irish fans who have seats in the middle of their section.

Notre Dame receiver Jeff Samardzija gets extra attention.

“Stay with baseball!” they chanted.

Samardzija, of course, ignored them.

The students, and many adults, were equally boisterous when the Notre Dame team arrived at the Coliseum two hours before kickoff. The band played the USC fight song while fans sang it to the Irish.

They, too, ignored it.

That I was able to see all this is a relief. Earlier in the afternoon, I had taken a wrong turn on the way to the Coliseum. This put me in an area that, to be politically correct, was unnerving. Think Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Vacation asking for directions and you’ll get the idea.

Tapping into my male roots, I didn’t ask for directions. And I did make it.

I also got to check out the USC campus, which is very, very nice. It’s just north of the Coliseum, which is situated in a park that includes a rose garden and a science museum.

Because it’s sunny and warm, you have fans in shorts, fans in tank tops, fans in the kind of attire you’d see on a beach. It’s supposed to cool off by halftime, so they might need a change of clothes.

That, of course, is of no consequences for this game. USC pushes its national title game prospects with the motto, “Leave No Doubt,” as in whip the Irish to all but clinch a shot at No. 1 Ohio State.

Notre Dame, of course, has other ideas. Brace yourself. It should be very interesting.

Friday, November 24

Weis, Carroll Battle On, Off Field

Charlie Weis and Pete Carroll had a memorable football battle last year at Notre Dame Stadium. We could see another one Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum. But it’s the unseen battle, the recruiting war, that could determine how this rivalry plays out in the future.

Notre Dame has 12 Californians on the roster and is looking to sign more, which is why Weis will take advantage of his time in Los Angeles to recruit. Along the way he might bump into Carroll, the USC coach who has restored Trojan luster through great recruiting.

“Pete is a tireless recruiter,” Weis said. “That’s probably my biggest complaint. I wish he’d stay home. Every time I’m on the road, there’s a handful of (coaches) that are out there either coming right before me, right after me or on the same day. Unfortunately, he’s one of them.”

The results are obvious -– USC has won 54 of its last 57 games and two national titles.

“He’s not willing to rest on his laurels and sit home and take for granted, hey, this is USC, you want to come here. He’s a very big competitor off the field, especially in recruiting, as he is on the field.”

Weis is just as competitive (witness his 19-4 record and outstanding recruiting), which should make for some compelling drama, on and off the field, in the years ahead.

Thursday, November 23

ND Recruiting Never Ends

Saturday’s game at USC is not the end of the world, or even of the season, which is why coach Charlie Weis will not be joining his players on their return home. He has more important matters to consider –- like getting more players good enough to keep the Irish in national title contention.

Weis says he plans to stay out West and recruit, slowly making his way east back to South Bend. Several members of his coaching staff will do the same thing. Given the high school talent in California, that seems a wise use of time.

“I’m well received,” Weis says, “but that doesn’t mean my presence is going to win out on every kid you end up visiting.”

Weis visits a lot of high school players, which means meeting their families and, at times, their extended families.

“There’s anywhere from just a couple of people to everyone within three states,” Weis says. “I have a presentation that I do, then I answer questions. It’s their call on how many people are there. It’s their terms, not mine.”

Of course, once a player signs and gets to campus, Weis sets the terms. And with a 19-4 record, those terms seem to be working out, no matter what happens in the national title game race.

Tuesday, November 21

Weis Is A Finalist

Charlie Weis continues to make national coaching waves. This time he's in line for the George Munger Award that goes annually to the best coach. Weis is a finalist along with Ohio State's Jim Tressel and Rutger's Greg Schiano.

Notre Dame is 10-1 this year and ranked sixth in the polls, fifth in the BCS standings. Weis is 19-4 in his two seasons, making him the first Irish coach to reach 19 victories in his first two seasons.

Division I coaches and members of the media vote for the award, which will be announced Dec. 7.

All this is fine, but let's get to the question you're really asking yourself -- who's George Munger? Well, he's the former standout head coach from the University of Pennsylvania.

How likely is Weis to win this award? Given Ohio State's unbeaten status, not very. But then, a win over USC would certainly help.

The Practical Weis Approach

Here’s the deal with Notre Dame’s national title game prospects. It not only has to beat USC Saturday, it was to win in dominating fashion. That’s the same USC team that has won 54 of 57 games, the same USC team that hasn’t lost by more than 11 points since Pete Carroll took charge six years ago.

At least publicly, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis isn’t talking about trying to generate enough offense for a blowout win. He spent today talking about being patient and controlling the ball, which is not conducive to a blowout victory unless the Trojans commit about six turnovers.

That ain't happening.

That doesn’t mean Weis is in concession mode. He pushes all available motivational buttons. He mentions Notre Dame’s four-game losing streak to USC and how good it would be for the seniors, “To walk out of here with one win over those guys.” He played every USC song known to man during Sunday night’s team meeting so the players would know what to expect when they entered the Los Angeles Coliseum. Before last Saturday’s Army game he had already seen every offensive and defensive play USC has run in the last three weeks.

Weis is prepared. His Irish will be prepared. That might be enough to produce a victory, but will it be enough to propel Notre Dame into the national title game? He sounds like he doesn’t think so.

“Really, you’d like to go out there and get this little losing streak (to USC) out of the way and put yourself in position to be in a strong BCS game, with a very, very long shot of playing for it all.

“It would only be after an extremely convincing win. The odds of that happening -- they haven’t lost by more than seven (in the last 57 games). You’d need a very convincing win to even get into the discussion.

“If that materialized, sign me up. But let’s be practical. That’s the way it is.”

Heisman Trophy Reality

You’ve got to give Charlie Weis credit. The Notre Dame coach knows the truth when he sees it. And after seeing Troy Smith’s performance in Ohio State’s win over Michigan, he came close to conceding the Heisman Trophy race.

No, he didn’t say he’d pick Smith over Brady Quinn. But he acknowledged the difficulty Quinn faces no matter how well he plays Saturday against USC.

“Watching that guy (Smith) play, look, I’m prejudiced,” Weis said. “My view is tainted because I don’t know what the description of the Heisman Trophy is. To me, who is the most valuable player of their team? Who has done more for their team to be in the position we’re in than anyone else in the country? I think my guy qualifies under that criteria.

“If the criteria is who is the best player on the best team, we can’t match that. But there can’t be anyone in the country who means more to his team than Brady Quinn means to Notre Dame.”

If it doesn’t make a difference in the Heisman voting, it just might during next April’s NFL draft.

“Because it looks as though it’s going in Troy’s direction (winning the Heisman), people look at that like that’s being a failure,” Weis said. “My answer to that is, let’s wait till draft day and see where (Quinn) ends up.”

Monday, November 20

ND-USC Has High Recruiting Stakes

You bet Notre Dame and USC recruit many of the same players. Why wouldn’t they? Both are gunning for national championships and you don’t win them with stiffs.

So as you watch Saturday’s showdown, consider the recruiting implications. You know Charlie Weis is.

“We go after a lot of the same guys, and he (USC coach Pete Carroll) wins some and we win some,” Weis said. “The only way you’re every going to get any good recruiting is if you’re willing to go against the best. Whether or not you get them, you have to be willing to go against the best.”

Weis, in case you’ve forgotten, is very willing.

“It’s important not to be afraid to lose in recruiting. You don’t concede a guy to an opponent. It’s important to go after the best guys, the high-character guys, the guys who can read and write and play.

“Everybody wants those guys.”

Not everybody gets them. But as last year’s recruiting class shows, under Weis, Notre Dame is getting more of them.

Pick Your Top 5

OK, let's say you're an unbiased voter set to pick your top five college football teams. Or even if you are biased. How would you list them? Send it to us and we'll tabulate it and run it. Will it make a difference in the BCS standings? Probably not, but then, it never hurts to try.

In the meantime, there's that little game in Los Angeles to contemplate. Yes, it's about the players, but for many, it's also about the coaches. Here's a few numbers to consider while you're picking your top-5:

USC coach Pete Carroll is 19-0 in November and 63-11 overall. He has never lost by more than 11 points. He's also won 32 straight home games.

Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis is 7-0 in November and has never lost a night game or a true road game.

Bottom line -- the Irish have to crush the Trojans to have a shot at the title game. That likely won't happen. But with a few twists, they could get a rematch against either Michigan or USC in the Rose Bowl. More likely, they'll play Florida or Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.

The anticipation is growing. Can you feel it?

Sunday, November 19

Notre Dame's National Title Push

Once again Notre Dame lost for winning. This time Arkansas passed the Irish in the coaches’ poll. They are now sixth in both polls, which might be worrisome, except for the fact they stayed fifth in the BCS rankings, with only USC left.

Of course, that’s a very big USC, and that helps. The Trojans’ win over California ensured Saturday’s showdown in Los Angeles will rank just behind the Ohio State-Michigan thriller for national impact, although people bracing for Florida-Arkansas in the SEC title game might disagree.

To heck with them.

Anyway, to move past three other teams to reach the national title game opposite Ohio State, Notre Dame not only has to beat USC, but win impressively. Even then, that might not be enough to pass a Michigan team that drubbed the Irish in South Bend two months ago.

In fact, it won’t be enough, but why take away hope now. Enjoy the week. Enjoy the hype. And if you get to enjoy the USC game aftermath (a tough task considering the Trojans have won 32 straight home games, 54 of 57 overall, with coach Pete Carroll 19-0 in November), well, don’t sweat the rest of it. After all, the Rose or Sugar bowls are a nice consolation prize.

Who knows? If there’s an Ohio State-Michigan II, there might also be a USC-Notre Dame II.

Saturday, November 18

Quinn Heisman Hopes Take a Hit

Bad news for all you Brady-Quinn-for-Heisman fans -- it almost certainly won't happen.

No, Quinn didn't do anything wrong during Notre Dame's easy win over Army. He threw for three touchdowns and more than 200 yards, and was 22-for-30. He did throw an interception for the first time in more than a month, but that was no big deal.

What was a big deal was Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith's performance in the Buckeyes' victory over Michigan. He threw for four touchdowns and more than 300 yards against what might be the nation's best defense. He came up big in the year's biggest game, just as he has so often all season.

And remember, Quinn struggled against Michigan with three interceptions.

At this point, Quinn's only hope is to have the game of all games next Saturday at USC while leading Notre Dame to victory. If that happens, he has a chance (although not a big one). You lead a team to an undefeated season and a spot in the national title game, as Smith has done, you've earned the glory.

But Irish fans can take consolation in this fact -- if Notre Dame beats USC , it might get a bowl rematch against Smith and Ohio State. You can bet that Quinn would rather have a national title than a Heisman. Of course, he'd probably rather have both, but you can't always get what you want. At least, that's what Mick Jagger tells us.

And The Winners Are...

It's not like you didn't know it, but just in case you didn't, receiver Jeff Samardzija and tight end John Carlson are among the best at their position in the country. How do we know this? Because they are in the running for national awards.

Samardzija is one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which is nothing new. He was a finalist last year, losing to Oregon State's Mike Hass.

This year Samardzija's competition is Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson and Rice's Jarrett Dillard.

Carlson, who is out with a knee injury, is one of eight semifinalists for the John Mackey Award, given annually to the nation's best tight end.

They are among the reasons why quarterback Brady Quinn is having such a big year.

We'll know by Dec. 7 who the winners are.

Friday, November 17

Quinn, Smith and Clooney -- You Decide

Are you shocked that George Clooney -- George Clooney!!! -- was named the sexiest man alive instead of Brady Quinn? Are you looking for payback?

Well, get a hold of yourself. There's football to be played and Quinn's Heisman Trophy prospects could very well be decided Saturday.

No, it doesn't have much to do with Notre Dame's game against Army. Quinn could lose the Heisman with a really bad game, but that won't happen. He'll play well, put up some good numbers and lead the Irish to a victory.

Quinn's chances likely rest with Troy Smith and the Ohio State-Michigan game.

Unless you've just returned after a long abduction by aliens -- so that's what happened to Regis Philbin lately -- you know that Ohio State and Michigan might well be playing for the national championship and that Smith is Quinn's biggest rival for the Heisman.

Their numbers are very similar, although Smith has the slight edge in completion percentage and quarterback rating. The fact his Buckeyes are No. 1 and 11-0 is the biggest plus.

Here's the deal, and I know something about the deal because I am a Heisman voter. If Smith plays well and leads Ohio State to a victory, it's over. He's the Heisman winner. Quinn, after all, had his Michigan chance and look what happened there.

If Smith plays OK and the Buckeyes win, Quinn has a chance. If he plays well and the Buckeyes lose, Quinn has a chance. If he struggles and Ohio State loses, Quinn moves into the driver's seat, with this big qualifier -- it will come down to his performance the next week at USC.

So if you're a Notre Dame fan, which means you're also a Quinn fan, you'd better be rooting for Michigan and the Wolverines sacking Smith about 10 times.

And as for that Clooney guy? How many football games has he won?

Wednesday, November 15

Good Body Guards Are Hard To Find

Coaching is a tough business, and not just because you can get fired for a few too many losses. The injury to Penn State's Joe Paterno shows that even standing on the sidelines can be dangerous.

Charlie Weis understands that as well as anyone. He remembers twice during his New England days getting rocked by opposing players.

He was coming off stomach by-pass surgery and needed a cane for support. He told the two backup quarterbacks, Damon Huard and Rowan Davie, that their job was to protect him. They were to stand on either side of him and ensure he stayed safe. Nothing else was more important.

"You're not playing," Weis said, "so just protect me."

Instead, Weis twice got flattened -- once against the New York Giants, once against the Buffalo Bills.

"I got run over," Weis said. "I went right to my back. Fortunately, I didn't get hurt in either one."

Pain was left for the next day's game film review session.

"Not only did I get humiliated as they rewound me getting run over about a hundred times, but you can bet Damon and Rowan were taking a verbal beating from me at the same time."

The gist of that verbal message -- one job, one job, and you screwed it up.

So what does this have to do with Saturday's Notre Dame-Army game? If you have to ask, you'll never understand.

Tuesday, November 14

You Pick The Irish Kicker

Looks like it's time to tell Carl Gioia to take a hike. No, not literally, but he's on the verge of losing his kicking job. Actually, he's spending this week trying to win it back.

Coach Charlie Weis had enough after three missed extra points against Air Force. No, it didn't matter that two were blocked.

Gioia has now missed four extra points this season, which is really bad. He's made 7 of 11 field goals, which isn't terrible, although Weis only lets him kick in situations he has a realistic chance of making.

Anyway, Gioia, Ryan Burkhart and Bobby Renkes will compete this week to see who kicks against Army, and, perhaps the rest of the season.

Let's face it. The Irish won't need a kicker Saturday against Army. They will the next week against UCS and they will against whatever bowl opponent they face.

So who would you like to see kick? Let us know and we'll post your comments

No Sweat -- Notre Dame Will Cruise Over Army

What would you say the odds are that Notre Dame loses to Army on Saturday? A thousand to one? A million to one?

Let's face it. The Cadets have no chance in this game. Zero. Unless an earthquake swallows up the Irish during their game-day walk to Notre Dame Stadium, it ain't happening.

Saying Army has problems is like saying the sun will rise in the East. It has no set starting quarterback. Its best player, Caleb Cambell, is out for the season with a torn ACL. One of its best players, defensive end Cameron Craig, is hindered by a sprained ankle. It has committed 32 turnovers this season, the most in the nation. It has lost four in a row, including a miserable 43-7 performance against Air Force.

Yes, that's the same Air Force Notre Dame whipped last Saturday.

The Irish (9-1) have one game before next week's epic showdown at USC and they are not about to blow it. Not with these stakes. Not on Senior Day.

So if you bleed for the Blue & Gold, you can relax this week. Next week you'll have plenty of time to sweat.

Monday, November 13

Live Your Notre Dame Fantasy

Did you ever want to be a Notre Dame football player, but were too small, too slow, too clumsy or too athletically challenged? Now you get a second chance to dream the Fighting Irish dream because a second session of the fifth annual ND Football Fantasy Camp has been added.

That means 60 more men of all ages -– sorry, no women –- who are free from July 1-5 and who want to experience instruction from the Irish coaching staff (and get meet and greet head coach Charlie Weis) can sign up.

The first session, June 27 to July 1, is already sold out.

Besides getting to bond with Notre Dame coaches and former players -- and even play a game at Notre Dame Stadium -- participants will get official home and away jerseys, game pants, practice apparel and a lot more. For more information contact camp director Patrick Steengerge at 817-219-7274, or go to

Oh, and just in case you didn't realize it, this dream is not free.

Believe It -- Irish Back In Title Hunt

If you think Notre Dame's national title hopes will be decided in two weeks, take a deep breath. There are still those darned conference championship games to decide, which means the SEC championship, which means Florida, which means Dec. 2.

First, the Irish have to take care of their own business, which means beating Army and suddenly refocused USC. Army should be a blowout. Guys like senior receiver Rhema McKnight (pictured) should thrive. It's Notre Dame's last home game, Senior Day, a big emotional event. This should be a 40-point laugher.

USC will be a rock-the-college world event. Not as big as Michigan-Ohio State, but very, very close. That comes with one big stipulation -- the No. 3 Trojans have to beat California this Saturday. The more impressive they win, the better it will be for Notre Dame.

So say the Irish win out. Then they need a large victory margin by the Michigan-Ohio State winner -- large enough to drop the loser to at least No. 3 in the polls.

Then they need No. 4 Florida to lose -- either to rival Florida State on Nov. 25 (not likely) or in the SEC title game the following week (Arkansas will be a major challenge). To be safe, No. 6 Rutgers needs to lose to anybody, although I can't see the Scarlet Knights passing Notre Dame unless the Irish lose.

So take a deep breath. These next few weeks figure to be awfully exciting.

Sunday, November 12

Notre Dame Moves Up In Rankings

The BCS rankings are out, the polls are out and Notre Dame took a jump. It moved up four spots to fifth in the BCS standings, which puts it solidly within the top 8 needed to earn an automatic BCS bowl bid.

To nobody's surprise, Ohio State and Michigan remain No. 1 and No. 2. USC is third and Florida is fourth. Rutgers made the biggest move, jumping seven spots to No. 6.

In the coaches poll, Notre Dame is fifth. It's sixth in the AP poll, with Arkansas slipping in at No. 5.

All this is the result of Saturday's flurry of upsets. Texas, Auburn and California lost. Louisville lost on Thursday. Yes, the Irish notice. In fact, they found out the result of the Texas-Kansas State game as soon as their flight home from Air Force Saturday night landed.

"You should have heard the roar from the back of the plane when the K-State/Texas game was announced," coach Charlie Weis said today. "They are well aware of what's going on. These kids are dialed in just like the rest of us."

Who knows? A few more upsets, a couple of dominating performances against Army and USC, and the Irish might earn a national title berth after all.

Saturday, November 11

Notre Dame Set To Jump In Polls

Hey, if you're a Notre Dame fan, you gotta love this.

No. 3 Louisville loses. No. 5 Auburn loses. No. 8 Cal loses. No. 6 Florida should have lost (we'll see if slipping past a mediocre South Carolina squad 17-16 hurts them in the polls).

The No. 9 Irish, meanwhile, rolled over Air Force 39-17 to improve to 9-1. It's the first time they've had back to back 9-win seasons in 13 years.

As usual, quarterback Brady Quinn was spectacularly efficient (207 yards passing, four touchdowns), receiver Jeff Samardzija had his usual big plays (six catches, 106 yards, one touchdown) and tailback Darius Walker busted loose for 153 yards and a score.

Add it up and you figure Notre Dame will make a big jump in the polls. How big? That depends on No. 4 Texas and No. 7 USC, who have yet to play. If they both win, and Notre Dame impressed enough to pass Florida, it could be No. 5. If they both lose, the Irish could jump all the way to third.

So brace yourself. These BCS prospects are looking better all the time.

Friday, November 10

Explaining The BCS Part III

Here's the last of the information in how the BCS selects its teams.

Team-Selection Procedures

The bowls will select their participants from two pools: (1) automatic qualifiers, all of which must be selected, and, (2) at-large teams, if fewer than 10 teams qualify automatically. The following sequence will be used when establishing pairings:

1. The top two teams in the final BCS Standings will be placed in the National Championship Game (“NCG”).

2. Unless they qualify to play in the NCG, the champions of selected conferences are contractually committed to host selected games:

Atlantic Coast Conference—Orange Bowl

Big Ten Conference—Rose Bowl

Big 12 Conference—Fiesta Bowl

Pac-10 Conference—Rose Bowl

Southeastern Conference—Sugar Bowl

3. If a bowl loses a host team to the NCG, then such bowl shall select a replacement team from among the automatic-qualifying teams and the at-large teams before any other selections are made. If two bowls lose host teams to the NCG, each bowl will get a replacement pick before any other selections are made. In such case, the bowl losing the No. 1 team gets the first replacement pick, and the bowl losing the No. 2 team gets the second replacement pick. If the Rose Bowl loses both the Big Ten and Pac-10 champions to the NCG, it will receive two replacement picks.

A bowl choosing a replacement team may not select any of the following:

A. A team in the NCG;

B. The host team for another
BCS Bowl;

C. When two bowls lose host teams, then the bowl losing the number one team may not select a replacement team from the same conference as the number two team, unless the bowl losing the number two team consents.

4. After steps No. 1, 2 and 3 have been completed, any bowl with an unfilled slot shall select a team from the automatic qualifiers and/or at-large teams in the following order:

A. The bowl played on the date nearest to the National Championship Game (in 2007, Sugar Bowl January 3) will pick first;

B. The bowl played on the date second-nearest to the National Championship Game (in 2007, Orange Bowl January 2) will pick second;

C. The bowl hosting the game that is played in the time slot immediately after the Rose Bowl game (in 2007, Fiesta Bowl) will pick third.

The rotation noted in paragraphs A, B and C will be as follows:

January 2007 games: Sugar, Orange, Fiesta

January 2008 games: Orange, Fiesta, Sugar

January 2009 games: Fiesta, Sugar, Orange

January 2010 games: Orange, Fiesta, Sugar

All teams earning automatic berths must be selected. No more than two teams from any single conference may play in BCS games in a single year, regardless of whether they are automatic qualifiers or at-large picks.

5. After completion of the selection process as described in Paragraph Nos. 1-4, the Conferences

and Notre Dame may, but are not required to, adjust the pairings taking into consideration the following:

A. whether the same team will be playing in the same bowl game for two consecutive years;

B. whether two teams that played against one another in the regular season will be paired against one another in a bowl game;

C. whether the same two teams will play against each other in a bowl game for two consecutive years; and

D. whether alternative pairings may have greater or lesser appeal to college football fans as measured by expected ticket sales for the bowls and by expected television interest, and the consequent financial impact on Fox and the bowls.

Explaining The BCS Part II

Here's more insight into the BCS selection procedure:

At-Large Eligibility

If there are fewer than 10 automatic qualifiers, then the bowls will select at-large participants to fill the remaining berths. An at-large team is any Division I-A team that is bowl-eligible and meets the following requirements:

A. Has won at least nine regular-season games, and

B. Is among the top 14 teams in the final BCS Standings.

Note: in order to participate in a BCS Bowl game, a team (i) must be eligible for post-season play under the rules of the NCAA and, if it not an independent, under the rules of its conference and (ii) must not have imposed sanctions upon itself prohibiting participation in a post-season game for infractions of the rules of the NCAA or the rules of its conference.

Explaining the BCS Part I

In the interest of clarity, we're going to list the official BCS selection procedures so there is no confusion about what Notre Dame's chances are. In the interest of brevity, we're going to divide it into categories. Here's the first.

Automatic Qualification

1. The top two teams in the final BCS Standings shall play in the National Championship Game.

2. The champions of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and Southeastern conferences will have automatic berths in one of the participating bowls after the 2006 and 2007 regular seasons.

3. The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, or the Western Athletic Conference will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either:

A. Such team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or,

B. Such team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.

No more than one such team from Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, and the Western Athletic Conference shall earn an automatic berth in any year. If two or more teams from those conferences satisfy the provisions for an automatic berth, then the team with the highest finish in the final BCS Standings will receive the automatic berth, and the remaining team or teams will be considered for at-large selection if it meets the criteria.

4. Notre Dame will have an automatic berth if it is in the top eight of the final BCS Standings.

5. If any of the 10 slots remain open after application of provisions 1 through 4, and an at-large team from a conference with an annual automatic berth for its champion is ranked No. 3 in the final BCS Standings, that team will become an automatic qualifier, provided that no at-large team from the same conference qualifies for the national championship game.

6. If any of the 10 slots remain open after application of provisions 1 through 5, and if no team qualifies under paragraph No. 5 and an at-large team from a conference with an annual automatic berth for its champion is ranked No. 4 in the final BCS Standings, that team will become an automatic qualifier provided that no at-large team from the same conference qualifies for the national championship game.

At Notre Dame, Grades Do Matter

OK, here's the smart aleck comment of the day -- What's with Notre Dame? Heck, it can't even lead the nation in graduation rates, let alone football performance.

Sure, the football team is 8-1 and likely to make a BCS bowl. Yes, most of its athletic teams thrive at the highest levels.

Still, how can the Irish finish second to Navy in graduation rates? They have to be better than that. If you're not first, you're no where.

All right. I'm done venting. I needed a release after discoving the email I just got from a guy guaranteeing me 25 percent of 15 million sterling pounds (whatever that comes out to) was bogus. Anyway, Notre Dame continues to set impressive standards in the classroom as well as the athletic fields. For more on this, check out this Indianapolis Star story.

Thursday, November 9

Rutgers Does Notre Dame a Favor

Can you say, 'Thank you, Rutgers.' Of course you can. The Scarlet Knights just did Notre Dame, and Texas and Florida and USC and every other one-loss team a big favor by upsetting previously undefeated Louisville.

Third-ranked Louisville is likely to take a big drop in the BCS standings, which means teams such as Notre Dame are likely to move up. If enough upsets happen in the next few weeks, the Irish (8-1) could slip into the national title game -- assuming they keep winning.

Yes, that national title shot is probably overly optimistic, but they will certainly lock up a BCS bowl bid if they finish 11-1. Who knows? Maybe 10-2 might make it after all.

Brady Quinn Up For O'Brien Award

Are you like me? Do you see that Brady Quinn is a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Award and ask yourself, who the heck is Davey O’Brien?

Well, good news. We have the answer. Davey O’Brien was an outstanding quarterback at Texas Christian University in the late 1930s. He was the first person to win the Heisman, Maxwell and Walter Camp awards in the same season. He had an outstanding NFL rookie year with the Philadelphia Eagles before retiring to join the FBI. He was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1956. He died of cancer in 1977.

Anyway, back to Brady, who is in the running for enough awards to fill a room. He already has thrown for 2,579 yards and 25 touchdowns, against just four interceptions. He’s completing 63.6 percent of his passes and he recently became the 32nd player in NCAA Division I-A history to throw for more than 10,000 career yards. He’s on pace to throw more than 90 touchdown passes and more than 12,000 yards.

He’s one of 18 semifinalists for this award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top college quarterback. Other semifinalists include Louisville’s Brian Brohm, Florida’s Chris Leak, Ohio State’s Troy Smith, West Virginia’s Pat White, Michigan’s Chad Henne and Texas’ Colt McCoy.

The winner will be announced on Dec. 7, with an awards dinner set for Feb. 19. Former Irish great Paul Hornung also will be honored with a legends award.

So now you know.

Let Weis Worry, Bring On USC

Are you ready to start thinking about USC? Do you just blow past the next two weeks with Air Force and Army to ponder the game that will REALLY impact Notre Dame's postseason future?

Well, that's fine with you, but don't bother Charlie Weis about such nonsense. He's very much focused on the present, which starts with Saturday's game at Air Force. The Nov. 25 game at USC might as well come in the next century.

"We are not talking about USC," Weis said. "We will not even breathe one word about USC until it gets to that week. We will just be talking about Air Force."

A cynic could argue that Air Force is mediocre and Army is worse and let's get the hype going. Weis doesn't bite.

"We don't think that way. We don't talk that way. We know that game is three weeks away. We're cognizant of that fact. It isn't like we're oblivious to it. We know what they are.

"We lose to Air Force, lose to Army, think about how much less importance that game will have. You better be worrying about Air Force. That's what we will be worrying about."

And us? We don't worry. We second guess.

Wednesday, November 8

Bouncing Back Boosts Irish

What do you think the biggest challenge Charlie Weis has faced this year? Would it be the inconsistent offensive line play? How about that darned defense, which still is perceived as the team's Achilles Heel?

Actually, Weis said the biggest challenge was getting the Irish to bounce back from the Michigan loss. That defeat was so decisive, so surprising, so deflating, that it knocked them out of the national title picture. Not even a six-game winning streak could restore the luster, at least when it came to poll voters' perspectives.

"The one thing was the egg we laid against Michigan," Weis said. "That was the biggest challenge. When you go into the year with high expectations, and all of a sudden you turn the ball over five times...

"I take credit for the loss now. I think overcoming that, getting the players to fight as hard as they have, a lot of times these kids don't get enough credit. A disheartening loss early in the year can break a team's spirit. It didn't break their spirit. I've really grown to admire the fight that these guys have."

That fight has left Notre Dame positioned for a BCS bowl. It's not the national title so many had hoped for, but it's not a bad consolation prize. If, and this is a big if, the Irish win out.

Tuesday, November 7

Teams To Honor Lewis' Son

Notre Dame and Air Force will honor the son of Irish defensive backs coach Bill Lewis during Saturday’s game at Colorado Springs.

Greg Lewis was an Air Force graduate and helicopter pilot who was killed during a 1998 training mission in Nevada. He was a walk-on football player for the Falcons in the late 1980s. He flew for the 66th Rescue Squadron in Nevada and the unit had an insignia representing the Jolly Green Giant’s feet. That insignia will be part of a decal both teams will wear on the backs of their helmets during Saturday’s game.

The idea came from another of Bill Lewis’ sons, Jeff, who emailed coach Charlie Weis about doing something to honor his brother. Weis set everything up before telling Bill Lewis (pictured).

“Bill and I have talked about this multiple times,” Weis said. “There’s nothing worse than losing one of your kids. I think any parent in the world would feel that way.”

The elder Lewis was previously the head coach at East Carolina and Georgia Tech before moving the to NFL as an assistant coach for nine seasons. He joined the Irish last season when Weis was hired.

Zibby A Thorpe Award Semifinalist

Tom Zbikowski is one of 11 finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation's best defensive back.

Competition includes Michigan's Leon Hall and Ohio State's Antonio Smith.

The award is based on performance, athletic ability and character. If it also included a good left hook, Zbikowski would be a lock. Instead, its up to a panel of voters, who will narrow the list to three on Nov. 20. The awards ceremony is Dec. 7 in Oklahoma City.

Zbikowski is a threat to score from all over the field. He's scored seven touchdowns via punt return, interception return and fumble return. You wonder what would happen if coach Charlie Weis put him in on a few goal-line situations.

We'll have to remain wondering. That won't happen.

Get Angry America -- Irish Not On Major TV

You need to get angry. You need to get your priorities together. Call your congressman. Call the governor. Call the President. Yes, today might be a little busy with elections and the future of city, state and country, but it's time to do something about what really matters:

Notre Dame is not on major television this Saturday.

That's right. If you want to see the Irish stomp all over Air Force, you'll have to tune into something called CSTV. What's that? It's a college sports network looking to make a big splash onto the national scene, and what better way to do it than with Notre Dame football.

So instead of turning to NBC, ABC, CBS or ESPN, you have to go to CSTV, which, conveniently, is being offered free this weekend at a cable operator near you. The problem -- not all cable operators are accepting it. You can also watch the game on your computer -- for a fee, which seems, well, un-American.

So this is where you have to call somebody with clout, power and the ability to change lives. Somebody like Larry the Cable Guy. Or Bob Costas. Or, if all else fails, the guy that owns the local bar. Surely he can get access to CSTV.

In the meantime, take comfort in the fact the game that really matters -- USC -- is on ABC.

Monday, November 6

Forget Nice -- Irish Need To Get Mean

Okay, it's time to analyze the latest BCS ratings and see what that means for Notre Dame.

First, the Irish have to play better. They've got Air Force and Army the next two weeks and that won't impress poll voters or computers. They have to win big. Yes, I know about the sportsmanship deal, but they need to win like 35-0 in both games to show the offense is still clicking and the defense can stop somebody on a consistent basis.

Then, they have to beat USC, which means they have to stop the pass, which means they have to stop the big play. The coaches know it, the players know it, heck, even the cheerleaders know it.

Will they do it? That is what will make these next few weeks so intriguing.

Notre Dame is ninth in the BCS standings. That's significant because only the top 8 receive an automatic BCS bid. You have to be in the top 12 for an at-large BCS bid, and that's where things get tricky.

First, if the Irish win out, they are in the BCS and will enjoy a really nice postseason. Not as nice as being in Tempe for the national title game, but after the Michigan debacle, you take what you can get.

If they lose to USC, but it's close, they'll be 10-2 and have a decent BCS shot. They have enough national clout (can you say lots of fans willing to travel to bowls and spend lots of money) to be on any bowl's wish list. Certainly BCS officials would give Notre Dame a long look.

If the Irish get crushed by USC, they'll be at the Gator or Cotton bowls. If they stumble against Air Force or Army, they'll be at the Gator or Cotton bowls in body. In spirit, they'll be right where the Pittsburgh Steelers are -- in misery.

But that won't happen. It's time for Notre Dame to play like a national championship contender, which means beating the heck out of people. The time to start is now.

Saturday, November 4

Did Notre Dame Impress You?

Notre Dame got its season high in points. It got a convincing -- well, sort of -- victory. It beat the oh so beatable foe (North Carolina).

Now, is that enough to make a big BCS impression? You tell us. Is beating up on hapless North Carolina -- despite a series of defensive lapses that doesn't bode well for the future -- enough to move the Irish into more secure BCS standing, especially when you compare it to the less-than-dominating performances of Michigan, Auburn and Florida?

That's for the poll voters and computer experts to decide. For now, consider that Notre Dame has won six straight games, which is six more than, say, West Virginia has won in a row. That, in the end, might make all the difference.

Chicago, A Cow and the Irish

So here we are, 11 minutes before halftime of a game Notre Dame cannot lose and the most dramatic moment at Notre Dame Stadium comes during a timeout break, when members of the rock band, "Chicago," go out on the field for a brief ceremony. Who's Chicago? They were popular back when Mrs. O'Leary's cow was causing downtown Windy City havoc.

Sorry. Chicago isn't that old, although by all the gray hair visible from the press box, they aren't ready to dominate the MTV airwaves anytime soon, either.

Meanwhile, the Irish are doing what they should be doing -- dominating hapless North Carolina. They need to impress voters and nothing impresses like a well-played game. So far, they doing just that, especially since the Tar Heels seem to have decided not to bother covering receivers today.

Thursday, November 2

Irish Eyes On Key Matchup

You can bet the Notre Dame coaches are following tonight's key matchup between unbeaten West Virginia and unbeaten Louisville closely. The loser will drop, if only slightly, in the polls, and if that's not enough for the Irish to pass them, it should be enough to close the gap.

Notre Dame needs a bunch of teams to lose to move into range for a national title shot. That's unlikely to happen, but it's game such as West Virginia-Louisville that can help the Irish move up in the polls -- if they win decisively.

No matter what happens in that race, there's another race to consider -- the Heisman Trophy. A strong surge has propelled quarterbackBrady Quinn back into the hunt, although he still has a ways to go to catch and pass Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith. Still, it seems to be a two-man race, as this South Bend Tribune story suggests.

Wednesday, November 1

Weis Gets His Payback

If you seek enlightenment over the consequences of Brady Quinn's agreement on 60 Minutes that coach Charlie Weis can be a jerk sometimes, you'll be disappointed. Why? Because neither party will reveal exactly what the punishment was.

To recap, Weis was portrayed in a Sunday 60-Minutes piece during which he said some very family-unfriendly things (yes, they were bleeped out). Some of them were directed to assistant coach Brian Polian, who has gotten a lot of grief from the players this week (safety Tom Zbikowski made it a point to give Polian a hard time about it). At one point Quinn was asked if Weis could be a jerk and Quinn agreed, with a smile.

Weis said on Tuesday he had already paid Quinn back for that remark, but wouldn't reveal what it was. Quinn said today he had paid a price, but declined to reveal it.

"I can't go into what the payback was," Quinn said, "but there was payback and he's the head man, so he's in a position to do things. I don't know how many more times I'm going to be able to take some of those conseqences."

Quinn also implied the remark was taken out of context, an excuse that apparently didn't convince Weis.

"I was asked, can (Weis) be rough. At times Coach can be tough. He would be somebody you would not necessarily call your friend at that particular time. But you need that in order to win. It takes that sort of attitude. If you want to call it being a jerk, I'm sure everyone in that locker rom would say, 'Yeah, I want a coach who is going to be a jerk and who is going to win ever game.'"

That, apparently, is about as much enlightenment as we're going to get.