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.

Friday, January 19

Samardzija Passes On NFL For Baseball

Jeff Samardzija didn’t wait for the NFL draft. Not when the Chicago Cubs offered the Notre Dame wide receiver a five-year deal worth a reported $10 million that likely will leave him financially comfortable for the rest of his life.

Unless, of course, he hires Mike Tyson as his business manager.

Anyway, Samardzija has decided to give up his football career and concentrate solely on pitching. He will report to the Cubs spring training camp in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 14.

Why forego his NFL prospects?

“I have concluded that playing two sports professionally is impossible,” Samardzija said in a statement.

Samardzija was Chicago’s fifth-round selection last summer. He made seven starts and posted a 2.70 earned run average. Baseball America rated him as the Cubs’ fourth-best pitching prospect.

In football for the Irish this season, he caught 78 passes for 1,017 yards. As a junior, he set school records for touchdown catches (15) and yards receiving (1,249).

“I understand some people may be skeptical of my intentions,” he said. “I cannot lie. Leaving football will not be easy. But playing baseball is my first love. It is what I want to do for a living.”
At least for now, Samardzija insists he’s done with football, although if baseball doesn’t work out, who knows what might happen.

“This does not mean I have lost my passion for (football),” he said. “I will always love football. My four years at Notre Dame were amazing. I could not have asked more from my teammates, our fans and our coaches. I appreciate fully that another amazing experience awaited me in the NFL.”

Instead, that experience looms in baseball. And that’s not bad.

Wednesday, January 17

ND Kickoff Times Set

In case you’re dying to know, here are the kickoff times for Notre Dame’s seven home football games next season. Georgia Tech (Sept. 1), Michigan State (Sept. 22), Boston College (Oct. 13) and USC (Oct. 20) all start at 3:30. Navy (Nov. 3), Air Force (Nov. 10) and Duke (Nov. 17) all start at 2:30. All the home games will be televised by NBC.

As you probably noticed, the Irish play Boston College and USC on consecutive Saturdays. Not to be negative, but recent history suggests this won’t go well for the home team. They are 0-9 against those teams in recent years (0-5 against USC, 0-4 against Boston College).

The good news is they follow with a two-week stretch against Navy and Air Force. They are 54-1 combined against those teams in recent years.

And now you know.

Sunday, January 14

Notre Dame Coaching Shake Up

It looks like defensive coordinator Rick Minter and quarterbacks coach Peter Vass are out at Notre Dame as coach Charlie Weis shakes up his staff in the aftermath of a second straight bowl debacle.

Indications are that New York Jets assistant coach Corwin Brown will replace Minter. Former Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus, the Irish’s director of personnel development, is expected to replace Vaas.

Nothing is official, but the South Bend Tribune and writer Eric Hansen got the story, with confirmation expected in the coming days.

Brown, 36, played in the NFL for eight years, including with the New England Patriots while Weis was there. He also starred at Michigan. He coached the defensive backs at New York.

Let’s face it. Weis had to do something after a second straight poor defensive effort. This past season Notre Dame ranked 90th out of 119 Division I-A teams in pass-efficiency defense, 61st in rushing defense and 67th in scoring defense. Those numbers were worse than the previous year despite returning nine starters. they were worse, in fact, than the numbers produced during the Tyrone Willingham era.

The defense was at its worst in bowl games. Ohio State totaled 617 yards against the Irish in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, the more yards ever allowed by a Notre Dame team. LSU had 577 yards while blowing out the Irish in the Sugar Bowl.

You could blame this on inferior personnel, and that’s true to an extent, but the bottom line is Notre Dame didn’t improve and didn’t play to its potential and expectations. Somebody has to answer for that and, it seems, that answer started with Minter.

Thursday, January 11

Walker Leaving to Enter NFL Draft

Darius Walker has provided a post-Sugar Bowl shock -- he's skipping his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft.

To this we say -- are you kidding me?

Yes, we can understand someone like Reggie Bush or JaMarcus Russell or Dwayne Jarrett making the move. But Darius Walker? Yes, he's a good back. Yes, he can play in the NFL. The junior has, after all, rushed for more than 3,200 yards and had consecutive seasons of more than 1,100 yards. He was on pace to break Autry Denson's school rushing record of 4,318 yards. And he demonstrated his versatility by catching more than 100 passes in his last two seasons.

Still, at 5-11 and 205 pounds, he does not dominate games. Another season would help his development and, you would think, his draft stock.

That, it seems, won't happen.

Walker said it's been his dream to play in the NFL.

"It's the right thing to go on now rather than wait," he said.

Coach Charlie Weis didn't have much to say about it (in fact, Notre Dame officials told the media not to bother him during a book signing in South Bend tonight) except this released statement: "He guaranteed he would graduate in the near future. Although disappointed, we wish him nothing but the best."

Walker said he only made this decision after careful consideration. He said the fact Notre Dame is losing a lot of offensive players to graduation, and the fact he might have to share playing time next season, were not factors.

"This was not a blind move for me. It's not something just all of a sudden I woke up one day, hey, let me go to the NFL and see if I can make it. It's definitely something that I put time and research in, something that I feel is right now."

Feeling right doesn't make it right. We'll get a better idea about that come April.

In the meantime, Weis announced that nine players with a final year of eligibility have asked permission to return, including safety Tom Zbikowski, center John Sullivan, defensive end Trevor Laws and linebacker Travis Thomas.

Sunday, January 7

Recruiting Consequences

Yes, there might have been some recruiting consequences in the wake of Notre Dame's Sugar Bowl blow-out loss to LSU.

Three heralded recruits -- defensive end Ben Martin, linebacker Chris Donald and offensive lineman Chris Little -- passed on the Irish. Martin and Donald both chose Tennessee. Little chose Florida State. All three made their announcements during Saturday's U.S. Army All-America Bowl in San Antonio, Texas. The event featured some of the country's top high school prospects.

It wasn't all bad. Notre Dame did get an oral commitment from 6-6, 270-pound offensive lineman Matt Romine from Oklahoma.

The bowl also featured California quarterback Jimmy Clausen, a Notre Dame commitment who will enroll at the university for the second semester. He completed 6 of 11 passes for 58 yards. He did throw an interception.

Don't let that performance depress you. This was an all-star setting with minimal practice time, so it's not a true indication of potential. Wait until Irish coach Charlie Weis gets a chance to work with Clausen.

As far as the overall recruiting, Notre Dame is still positioned to have an outstanding class, and likely will land a few more studs before the February signing period. The Irish should reap those consequences for years to come.

Thursday, January 4

Irish Play To Talent Not Expectations

In the end, Notre Dame lost like you knew it would. In the end, Louisiana State exposed all the vulnerability that made the Irish the worst of the BCS bowl teams.

Yes, that sounds harsh, but, in truth Notre Dame played to its potential. The problem was the expectations were so high, the belief so strong, that this group was national championship material.

It was not, of course. Remember, this remains a game of talent more than coaching. Former coach Tyrone Willingham's last recruiting class was not loaded with prime-time talent. Neither was current coach Charlie Weis' first group.

Notre Dame got hammered by LSU and USC and Michigan this season not because of scheme deficiencies or gambles gone bad, but by a lack of elite players.

That is changing. The current group of highly touted freshmen is likely to be the cornerstone of a resurgence. Weis is lining up another strong class, and likely will continue to do so.

In fact, if you want to see some of the new talent, check out Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The San Antonio game will feature as many as eight Irish recruits, including stud quarterback Jimmy Clausen of California.

Don't expect a BCS bowl next year. After that, things will get interesting. After that, we might see just how good a Weis-coached team can be.

Wednesday, January 3

Sugar Bowl Drama

Okay, so it wasn't the fast start Notre Dame had hoped for in the Sugar Bowl. Still, here we were late in the first half and the Irish were very much in the game, trailing 14-7 and driving.

Forgotten man Darius Walker had become a running factor. The defense was containing LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell.

But then the Tigers' relentless defense forced quarterback Brady Quinn into throwing an interception. It came a few minutes an apparent LSU interception was over-ruled via instant replay.

The Tigers regained momentum. Russell regained his form.

Yes, the Irish were once again in big trouble, but they got out of it when LSU missed a 31-yard field goal.

So what did Notre Dame do? Simply drive 80 yards for the tying touchdown, capped by Quinn's 10-yard TD pass to Jeff Samardzija. It was set up by some big-time running from Walker, who had 117 yards on 16 carries, plus 30 more yards on receptions.

The Russell connected on a 58-yard bomb to Early Doucet that set up Russell's 5-yard touchdown run and a 21-14 LSU lead.

No matter. Looks like we're heading for a dramatic second half.

A Few Sugar Bowl Thoughts

A few thoughts a few hours before the Sugar Bowl and the must-see matchup between Notre Dame and LSU:

1) Bourbon Street is a very unique place, and by that I mean it is not necessarily for those with young children, unless you want them exposed to things far beyond their years. Newspaper decorum makes it difficult to go into details, but let’s just say I saw a guy arrested outside an establishment that would break about 1,000 city ordinances in Fort Wayne.

No, I did not go inside.

However, there also were some great blues bands performing, including one 70-something guy named Rooster who put on a heck of a show.

2) Notre Dame remains an eight-point underdog, which should give coach Charlie Weis his last bit of motivation. It doesn’t hurt that ESPN is reporting that four Tigers will be suspended for at least the first quarter for blowing curfew last night. Unfortunately for the Irish, none of them was quarterback JaMarcus Russell.

Still, it could have an impact considering they include starting safety Jessie Daniels and kick returner Trindon Holliday. Holliday averages 32.4 yards a kickoff return and also has rushed for 161 yards. Daniels will be replaced by Craig Stoltz, who has a team-leading four interceptions in yet another example of LSU’s talent pool.
3) Watch out for the Fox announcing team of Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long. They've never done a college game before. Bradshaw has never announced a game before, although he did some practice games in preparation. So who knows what you'll hear.

3) New Orleans has a Harrahs Casino a few blocks from the media hotel. I am not a gambler. I don’t like to lose and I especially don’t like to lose money. Still, for a few seconds, I was tempted. My 13-year-old son, Vince, called and, during the conversation, warned me not to bet anything.

The last time he offered advice during a bowl trip was last year’s Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. Next to the media hotel was a very large building that looked like a museum. We’re talking a cost of millions and millions of dollars.

My son and I walked over to investigate. As we got closer, he insisted that we turn around, that this was somebody’s house. I told him, in no uncertain terms, that it was NOT somebody’s house, that I was his father and his elder and knew what I was talking about and, by gum, we were going to investigate.

A man came out of the building. “Can I help you?” he asked.

“Sure. I was just wondering what this building was.”

“It’s my house,” he said.

“Your house!” I said. “Well, it’s very nice.”

“Thanks,” he said.

“I’ll be leaving now,” I said.

“That’s fine,” he said.

Yes, I soon got a stern I-told-you-so lecture from my son.

“You should have listened to me,” he said.

I agreed. I bring that up because, in the casino issue, I decided not to listen to him again. So I played $5 dollars in a 25 cent slot machine and lost it all in about 3 minutes. Yes, it’s not a checking account wrecking total (although you should see my checking account), but I have learned my lesson. I will listen to my son’s advice.

Oh, by the way, he thinks Notre Dame will win tonight.

Looking For A Notre Dame Ending

The college football world is rocking, and not just because Nick Saban is back in the game (leaving the NFL's Miami Dolphins for Alabama for about $600 million a year). No, tonight Notre Dame plays Louisiana State in a Sugar Bowl epic designed to restore more of the luster to a New Orleans city that still needs it.

This bowl could pump about $200 million into the economy, which would rank fifth in recent tourism-generated events according to the Baton Rouge's The Advocate.

No. 1 is the 2002 Super Bowl at $350 million followed by $300 million for the 2006 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the $250 million for the 2004 Sugar Bowl (national title game where LSU beat Oklahoma) and the $221 million for the 2003 Mardi Gras.

What does this have to do with Notre Dame's chances? Nothing, of course, but the understanding that a lot of Irish fans are contributing to the city's economic recovery.

As far as the game, consider LSU is 10-2, has won six straight games and has won seven of its last nine bowl games. Notre Dame is also 10-2, but not nearly as well regarded coming off a blowout loss at USC. It has also lost a record-tying eight straight bowl games.

No matter. This is a chance to set a tone for the future while winning for the seniors and it starts, but certainly doesn't end, with quarterback Brady Quinn. He has 36 school records for his career. He's thrown for 35 touchdowns this season against five interceptions. He's completed 63.4 percent of his passes and totaled 3,278 yards.

In an ideal Notre Dame world, he would go out a winner. This, of course, isn't always an ideal world. But tonight, at least, the Irish can do their part to see that it is.