May 23, 2013

Irish Madness - Snubs R Us

Yes, the poll widget is still broken.  Yes, I'm still actively working on migrating to another site to continue the Irish Madness bracket.  No, I'm not buying time with this snub post - I had planned to do it all along.  OK, so maybe I expanded the list of snubbed games given the circumstances and linked more videos and archived SI articles.  Just trying to keep the rabid reader base at bay with something until we get back to voting on the most memorable ND games.

Speaking of, kudos to everyone who attempted to vote and has spread the word on this Irish Madness experiment.  Thankfully, there's been a healthy dose of positive feedback for the concept.  Nothing like a grass roots movement to determine a fake winner to a carefully constructed fanciful diversion.  All told, there were 612 Notre Dame games spanning the 5+ decades deliberated upon by the selection committee.  Picking the top 10% of games from that pool was fun, but daunting.  The equitable parameters of 13 per decade helped narrow choices, but like any good tournament with subjective criteria, some memorable games felt the wrath of the snub.

To give these snubees a nod to their historical significance, the following Snub List is presented as those games left on the chopping block from the real bracket.  These 50 games undoubtedly perpetuate the snubfest for those games still not mentioned that hold special memories for fans.  Hell, at the fundamental level, every game is memorable with its own commemorative ticket and game program.  But lines must be drawn somewhere, hence snubbery.

For giggles, sub-categories were created to describe the snubbed games' NIT-bound memorableness.

Anytime You Play #1, It's Memorable Principle
1961: @#1 Michigan St 17 - #6 ND 7 -- God bless early-60's pollsters and their ND leanings: The Irish finished 1960 with a paltry 2-8 record, but only needed wins over unranked Oklahoma and unranked Purdue to jump to #8 the following week when Kuharich's squad beat USC for the 5th straight time.  ND rose to their lofty #6 ranking for their battle with top-ranked MSU.  Alas, they stymbled in a close contest, promptly lost their next two and ended the year 5-5 unranked.
1962: @#1 USC 25 - ND 0 -- USC was crowned the unofficial official National Champion after this victory ...some cat named Marv Marinovich was the Trojan captain
1965: #1 Michigan St 12 - @#4 ND 3 -- prelude to the following year's Game of the damn these teams had great defenses...on second look, this game probably should've made the Irish Madness bracket
1967: #1 USC 24 - @#5 ND 7 -- The Juice was loose in South Bend [SI game article]..."Run OJ Run" [Phish joking mid-jam at a show in Milwaukee that fateful night June 17, 1994 with OJ actively on the lam]
1972: @#1 USC 45 - #10 23 -- the "Anthony Davis 6 TD game" probably ranks in the top 10 for USC fans most memorable games of all time...

1980: #1 Georgia 17 - #7 ND 10 -- '81 Sugar Bowl featured freshman sensation Herschel Walker and UGA's 1st national championship... this highlight reel to the tune of "Devil Went Down to Georgia" is well done, minus some static...lord knows what happened on that kickoff where nobody fielded it...this game was one of the "Last Four Out" of the 68-game field...too many other great late 80's games trumped this
1985: @#1 Penn St 36 - ND 6 -- a rainy affair that only one team showed up for

Anytime You Are #1 and Lose, It's Memorable Corollary
1965: @#6 Purdue 25 - #1 ND 21 -- Bob Griese's performance in this game was alluded to in this Boilermaker fluff section...another example of "on second look" remorse
1967: @#10 Purdue 28 - #1 ND 21 -- are current Purdue teams/fans even aware that their school toppled #1 Notre Dame twice in three years?
1990: Stanford 36 - @#1 ND 31 -- 3 fumbled punts for ND...Derek Brown lets the game-winner slide between his fingers at the Stanford wasn't ranked with future NFL'ers Ed McCaffrey, Touchdown Tommy Vardell and Glyn Milburn is beyond thing coach Denny Green didn't do was let ND off the hook
1990: #18 Penn St 24 - @#1 ND 21 -- two home losses as #1 in the same season is pretty hard to do...#4 greatest PSU upset of all-time apparently...Rocket Ismail doesn't play the 2nd half as the Irish don't cross midfield, begging the what if question

When ND No-Shows in a Big Bowl Game, It's Memorable for the Haters Theory
1994: #4 Colorado 41 - ND 24 -- the Bears draft scouts watched this game earnestly
2000: #5 Oregon St 41 - #10 ND 9 -- still amazed Dennis Erickson's tenure in Corvallis hasn't been vacated by the great and powerful NCAA
2005: #4 Ohio St 34 - #5 ND 20 -- okay, not entirely fair to include this loss under this category as it actually was a contested game, but I got lazy so deal with it
2006: #4 LSU 41 - #11 ND 14 -- what is it with giving up 41 points in bowl blowouts?

When Championship Caliber Teams Shut Out Top 10 Heavyweights on the Road, It's Blowout Memorable
1966: #1 ND 38 - @#10 Oklahoma 0 -- a nice can of whoop ass was opened in Norman...even if the Sooners had a down year, ending the season out of the top 20, it's still a helluva loud statement to make

When the 70's and SEC Scheduling Become So Intertwined, Irish Fans Think They're on Allman Brothers Tour
1976: #12 ND 13 - @#19 South Carolina 6 -- 1st clash with the Gamecocks
1976: @#18 ND 21 - #10 Alabama 18 -- after back-to-back bowl showdowns with the Tide in '73 and '74, the powers-that-be saw fit to schedule some regular season meetings between these two illustrious programs, this '76 matchup being the first...ND has yet to play in Tuscaloosa, traveling to "neutral" Birmingham twice ('80 and '86).
1977: @Mississippi 20 - #3 ND 13 -- 1st trip to Oxford...Only blemish on championship season as the Rebels grabbed the lead with 3:28 left...Irish had to wait till 1985 to exact's a great 25 anniversary remembrance from the Rebel perspective
1978: @#14 ND 31 - Tennessee 14 -- 1st run in with Rocky Top...Irish went to Knoxville the next year...Between 1970 and 1980, ND played 7 SEC schools for the 1st time.  The main bracket features two of these with '70 LSU and '77 Clemson, plus the aforementioned '80 Sugar Bowl vs. Georgia.

When Playing Pittsburgh Was a Big Ranked Deal
1973: #5 ND 31 - @#20 Pitt 10 -- 209 yards from freshman Anthony Dorsett was a nice consolation prize for the home team
1977: #3 ND 19 - @#7 Pitt 9 -- Ross Browner plays like a bat out of hell in these clips...Panthers were defending champs, but '76 Heisman winner Dorsett thankfully didn't have a 5th year to torment Irish defenses.  He did enough damage in 4, setting the opponent career mark with 754 rushing yards
1978: @ND 26 - #9 Pitt 17 -- a big momentum win for the Irish as Devine's defending champs stumbled out of the gate, losing their first two...2 close wins over unranked foes followed...beating top 10 Pitt changed the course of the season...I believe a young Keith Jackson is the announcer on this highlight reel
1989: @#1 ND 45 - #7 Pitt 7 -- 2nd week in a row Holtz faced a top 10 team...impressive focus

When Ranked Rivals Meet, It's Almost Always Memorable 
1970: @USC 38 - #4 ND 28 -- Irish bring sterling 9-0 record to Colosseum for final regular season game...Joe Theesman throws for an Irish record 526 yards, but also has 5 denards, I mean turnovers...championship dreams down the denard
1978: @#3 USC 27 - #8 ND 25 -- Irish rode 8-game winning streak out to LA...Montana leads a furious 4th quarter comeback (sound familiar?), but miss out on the 2-point conversion on the go-ahead score...clinging to a 1 point lead, ND's defense has to hold prevent the Trojans from getting into field goal range in 45 what appears to be a forced fumble recovered by the Irish, officials rule incomplete...USC kicks FG with 4 seconds left and goes on to win national championship
1980: @#17 USC 20 - #2 ND 3 -- the nightmare happens again as undefeated Irish (9-0-1) travels to LA for Coach Devine's final regular season game, only to be upended by an inferior Trojan team

When You Go For Two and the Win, Only to Come Up Short, It's a Memorable Coaching Decision
1987: @Penn St 21 - #7 ND 20 -- when everyone is frozen to the core, might as well try to go home're already miserably cold...ranks #10 on Penn State's top moments in Beaver Stadium this game has that going for it...which is nice?

When Drama Unfolds on Rocky Top, It's Heart-Stoppingly Memorable
1990: #1 ND 34 - @#9 Tennessee 29 -- a great spectacle at Neyland between two top 10 teams...gracious Rocket was fast..."He is special"...some awfully awful puns in there as well.

When Heisman Winners Burst Onto the Scene with Heisman Moments
1987: @#9 ND 31 - #17 MSU 8 -- Tim Brown took two punts to paydirt, kickstarting his Heisman campaign in the 2nd game of the season versus the eventual Big 10 champs.
1991: @#3 Michigan 24 - #7 ND 14 -- Grbac to Desmond...I'll spare you the video highlights

When Top 10 Showdowns End in Frivolous Ties
1992: @#3 ND 17 - #6 Michigan 17 -- Reggie Brooks TD run alone should have earned a spot in the field of 68, if he remembered it...Holtz channeled '66 Parseghian's conservative play-calling, but these were vastly different circumstances and the home crowd wanted to walk out victorious

When 2-Heisman Hype Finally Plays His First Game, It's Definitely Memorable for Beano
1994: #3 ND 42 - Northwestern 15 (@Soldier Field) -- Ron Powlus' 1st day under center wearing the gold and blue: 18-24, 291 yards, 4 TDs...Beano's words looked prophetic

When Perennial Doormats Shock the Country En Route to a Historic Season
1995: Northwestern 17 - @#9 ND 15 -- one NU website ranks this the greatest game in Wildcat history

When Backup QB's Almost Win the Orange Bowl
1995: #6 Florida St 31 - #8 ND 26 -- Tom Krug had the Irish up 26-14, but the defense fell apart late as Danny Kanell, off all people, was just too good

When Coach Authors Time Management for Dummies
1999: @#7 Michigan 26 - #16 ND 22 -- I hope Bobby Brown still commemorates life's great moments with "excessive" celebration...this game birthed the legend of Tom Brady, up to that point, Tom Who?
1999: @#20 Purdue 28 - #16 ND 23 -- like it or not, the Bob Davie Era can be summed up with this

When Mother Nature Has the Home Team in a 6-Team Parlay
1999: @ND 25 - USC 24 -- Once the 2nd half started, the winds changed, the rain picked up, the students bared all and Southern Cal knew it wasn't their day

When A Starved Fan Base Exults in Momentous Rivalry Victories
2002: @#20 ND 25 - #3 Michigan 23 -- the smoke and mirrors victories of Ty's "Return to Glory" were extraordinarily satisfying and chock full of suspenseful drama...they just ring a little hollow in hindsight
2002: #12 ND 21 - @MSU 17 -- Pat Dillingham to Arnaz Battle...the most unlikeliest of game-winning catch-and-runs

When Bad Coaching is Syndicated for Re-Runs
2002: @#6 USC 44 - #7 ND 13 -- Return to Glo....oh dear what happened
2003: #5 USC 45 - @ND 14 -- mismatch central
2004: @#1 USC 41 - ND 10 -- thankfully this 3rd deja-vu experience earned Tyrone his cushy severance package

When the Only Game You've Ever Walked Out in Disgust Happens
2004: #15 Purdue 41 - @ ND 16 -- 1st Boiler win in South Bend since 1974, and it wasn't even Drew Brees making mincemeat of the defense...lowlights include a 100-yard kickoff and 97-yard pass...the mad dash for Legends began in the 3rd quarter

When Bad Coaching Surprises Fans with One Last Victory
2004: ND 17 - @#9 Tennessee 14 -- Mike Goolsby's finest moment in an Irish jersey...witnessing this triumph in Rocky Top was the cherry on top a weekend that was going to be marvelous regardless...can't wait to return to Neyland and tailgating on fans in the country

When You Cross Off a Victory in Ann Arbor From the Bucket List and Never Have to Visit That Stadium Again
2005: #20 ND 17 - @#3 Michigan 10 -- sitting two rows behind Darius Walker's parents made this afternoon all the more special

When Securing a BCS Bid is the Prize for an Electric Finish
2005: #6 ND 38 - @Stanford 31 -- video game stats all around in Palo Alto, including a monster day from Darius Walker, who sealed victory with this game-winning rumble...ND out-gained Cardinal by 300+ total yards and 16 first downs, yet still needed to rally at the end

When Tate Forcier Becomes a Household Name (Uggh)
2009: @#18 Michigan 38 - ND 34 -- thinking about this game makes me want to punch cinder blocks

When Rick Moranis Classics Inspire Game-Winning Play Calls
2010: @ Michigan St 34 - ND 31 -- Little Giants, enough said

When ND Stadium Evacuates and Mid-Game Tailgating in the Law School Happens
2011: USF 23 - @#16 ND 20 -- a surreal gameday experience that overshadowed the rather awful performance on the field

May 02, 2013

Technical Difficulties

If you haven't noticed by now, the poll widget on the right is FUBAR.  

We certainly want to thank those of you who have been stopping by and casting their vote in this exciting experiment.  Any momentum that's building with Irish Madness is getting defiantly Mutombo'd by a widget glitch that refuses to tabulate votes.

We're actively looking to correct the problem, but after a diagnostic check by a well-respected computer doctor (who also found several other sites experiencing the same problem), Blogger doesn't appear to offer any viable fixes.  So we may go Art Modell on everyone, pack up shop and move to another platform.  Stay tuned for more info.  

Don't give up on Irish Madness - your votes will be heard!

April 30, 2013

Irish Madness Round 1: Angelo Bertelli & Johnny Lujack Sub-Regionals

In case you're just joining us, here's a brief introduction to bring you up to speed, complete with the full bracket, followed up with the #16 seed play-in matchup breakdowns that were voted on last week.*  We now roll into the opening four Round 1 matchups.  Since we made the difficult (but necessary for actual remembrance sake) choice to preclude the pre-60's games, a different ND star of yore title-sponsors each sub-regional.  Last thing we want to do is dismiss the players this proud program was built on.  That said, we've got some matchups to break down.

*Dealing with some technical difficulties regarding the final vote tallies.  My unscientific diagnosis is a website "cookies" issue as I can't find a computer that has the final results - they all show only 5 votes.  At one point in the voting frenzy, I know there were double digits votes entered.  Working on a solution.  For the time being, I'm going with the presumptive winners, though none should matter once they face a #1 seed.

(#1) 1966: #1 ND 10 - @#2 Michigan State 10   vs.   (#16) 2011: @Michigan 35 - ND 31

Play-in round winner of the UM Nightmare Finish showdown, Denard & the Gang's "prize" is a match with one of the most legendary Game of the Centuries in college football history, the 1966 classic at Spartan Stadium.  There's plenty to say about this game, but pretty sure the flowery praise can wait at least another round.  No #1 seed has lost in March Madness, and I don't think a #1 seed will be losing in Irish Madness.  

Enjoy stomping your older brother this go-round Sparty. 

(#8) 2006: #12 ND 40 - @MSU 37   vs.   (#9) 1977: #5 ND 21 - @#15 Clemson 17

A true generational divide showdown.  On one hand you've got a dramatic come-from-behind road victory against an unranked rival in a season whose hopes were dashed the week prior.  On the other hand, you've got a dramatic road victory against a ranked southern power school as the last true test in a still-undefeated campaign.  

There's scant Googleable info recounting ND's first ever trip to Death Valley the Lesser (is there an unspoken understanding in the South that differentiates between LSU's Death Valley and Clemson's Death Valley?  Phil, I assume you know this or can readily find out).  Talent abounded on both rosters as 36 players from this game ended up playing in the NFL.  Joe Montana did Joe Montana things, erasing a 10-point 4th quarter deficit to eek out victory and preserve the team's title aspirations.  

Fast forward to 2006 and Charlie Weis' squad is licking their wounds after an embarrassing home loss to Michigan.  Sparty Stadium is never fun to play in, especially night games with a driving rain storm staring down a 21-37 4th quarter drubbing and long bus ride home.  That's when Leprechaun magic created one of the more riveting comebacks in recent memory.  

Only one of these victories prompted the losing side to invoke Teddy Ruxbin, H.R. Pufnstuf and applesauce as coping mechanisms (there's even a bonus Valenti rant - "The whole country's laughing at us!").  The greatest radio meltdown of all time comes close to trumping the memorable game itself.  

(#5) 1991: #18 ND 39 - #3 Florida 28   vs.   (#12) 1966: #6 @ND 26 - #8 Purdue 14

The last game of the ’91 season steps into the ring against the first game of the championship ’66 season.  First, some words on the throwback game. 

Those of us born in the 80’s and beyond attribute only fleeting success for the Purdue program during Joe Tiller’s heyday.  But back in the 60’s, Purdue was a perennial force to be reckoned with.  Yes, I wrote that sentence with a straight face.  It’s true. 

Short Tangent #1: The Jack Mollenkopf (how does any recruit not answer the phone when JACK MOLLENKOPF is on the line?) Era witnessed the longest tenured coach in the school’s 123-year program, as well as the winningest coach (84 wins is Darren Hazell’s target number for West Lafayette immortality…not the greatest city to never have to pay for a beer).  In the decade of the 60’s alone, Mollenkipf’s teams went 65-28-3 for a sterling .677 winning percentage, including 6 seasons of AP top 20 year-end ranks.  The Boilermakers produced 14 All-Americans during the decade and finished 3rd place or higher six times in the Big Ten standings.  A guy by the name of Bob Griese started wearing the black and gold in 1964.  As a junior the following year, Griese led Purdue to a 7-2-1 mark, the most wins in a season since 1945.  He’d go on to finish 8th in the Heisman voting in 1965.  Purdue went 9-2 in 1966 to cap off Griese’s career, beating USC in the Rose Bowl, the program’s first ever bowl game. Steve Spurrier edged Griese for the Heisman, a “bridesmaid trend” over the next few years as Purdue RB Leroy Keyes finished 3rd (1967) and 2nd (1968 – OJ Simpson winner) and QB Mike Phipps finished 2nd (1969).  Hold up, let me get this straight - - 3 different Purdue players in 4 years finished runner-up as the most outstanding player in the country?!  What was in the West Lafayette water?  Along with these great individual accomplishments, the team went 8-2 in 3 consecutive seasons to close out the decade, earning Big Ten co-champs in 1967.  Quite an impressive run that virtually nobody outside the state of Indiana knows about. 

There was nothing short about that tangent, but don’t you feel the slightest more educated about ND’s longtime, soon-to-not-be-scheduled rival?  If whatever the go-to blog for Purdue football doesn't link to this post, they're doing their program a disservice.  You're welcome Boilermaker Nation.

Bringing the discussion back to Irish relevance, Purdue dominated the decade against its in-state northern rival, winning 7 out of 10 games, including 4 times in Ara’s first 6 seasons.  From 1965-1968, ND and PU were both ranked in the top 10 for their annual early season square off.  The ’66 contest found the Irish seeking revenge [Video Highlights] following the 1965 game in which #1 ND traveled to Purdue and lost by 4.  (Short tangent #2: The Boilermakers have beaten the #1 team in the country 7 times!  Only ND and Oklahoma have more top-ranked takedowns).  The 14 points allowed by the ND defense in this opener would be the most given up all season, with the MSU tie being the only other double-digit surrender.

A lot of words for a memorable game that’s likely to get steamrolled in the vote by a bowl game of recent vintage. 

The ’91 Sugar Bowl (yes, technically in 1992, but it was the ’91 season) redeemed a late season tailspin of the Tennessee collapse and a no-show in Happy Valley against a top 10 Penn State team.  Nobody gave the Irish a chance in New Orleans [LA Times game preview], and things didn't exactly start well [Video Highlights] as the Gators jumped to an early 13-0 lead in the 2nd quarter.  Thankfully, Florida repeatedly shot themselves in the foot, settling for field goals and Shane Matthews lobbing inexplicable interceptions in the end zone.  But the Irish offense couldn't get anything going, totaling 34 1st half yards on the ground.  Being the butt of every bowl game joke and doing nothing about it was all the motivation Holtz needed at half time.  That and turning The Bus loose on the worn-down Gators. The final 30 minutes belonged to the away jerseyed Irish, who incorporated green numbers for added motivation.  As the players carried Holtz off the field in triumph, the doubters were silenced.  And yes, for historical perspective, this game marks the last time Notre Dame bested the SEC champs.  

Two tremendous Irish road victories waging battle in this 1st round.  Gerry Faust’s unranked squad delivered a surprising performance on the road against Dan Marino, upsetting the #1 Panthers [Video Highlights].  Marino should have just started making Isotoner commercials in the post-game presser and spared himself the career underachiever label that was to come.  

At the beginning of the 4th, down 13-10, Coach Faust dialed up a daring flea-flicker.  For that specific play package, Faust subbed out frosh phenom Allen Pinkett because Pinkett had problems with the pitch in practice.  So in came senior tri-captain Phil Carter to execute the trick play.  The resulting 54-yard TD strike couldn't have been scripted better.  It was QB Blair Kiel (yes, Gunner's uncle) longest completion of the season.  Pitt added a FG to make it 17-16 Irish.  Then, with just over 8:00 minutes to go, the freshman sensation Pinkett showed why he supplanted his senior counterpart with a 76-yard cutback TD run that cemented the upset bid.  Pinkett added an insurance touchdown four minutes later to complete the "rout."

The Irish probably shouldn't have been out of the polls for this one.  Two weeks prior, they stood at 5-0, with two top-20 wins over Michigan and Miami on their resume.  A home loss as time expired to unranked Arizona, followed by a road tie to unranked Oregon prompted voters to drop the 5-1-1 Irish outside the rankings.  The unexpected takedown of Pitt vaulted ND back to #13, to which they responded by losing their last 3 contests.  The mercurial season rationalizes its lower seed here, but beating #1 is always memorable.

Gerry Faust's shining moment has its hands full with quite possibly the crowned jewel game of this past remarkable season.  The Oklahoma showdown in Norman turned out to be the "pinch me" moment for 2012.  Surviving several close calls to Purdue, Michigan, Stanford and BYU were undoubtedly feel good wins, but for a program with championship aspirations, a lightning rod victory was needed.  Emphatically knocking off the Sooners convinced all Irish fans that they could believe a trip to Miami was very real and possible.  If Manti doesn't play like an unadulterated madman, he likely doesn't get invited to New York as a Heisman finalist.  Best of all, BCS dreams were a reality.

*Revised Tuesday, 10:46 pm.  Thanks to Boiled Sports blog for the correction on Coach Mollenkopf's correct spelling.  Happy to see Boiler Nation is reading.

April 24, 2013

Irish Madness: #16 Seed Play-In Matchups

We're off and running out of the blocks with 4 matchups pitting #16 seeds against each other for the distinction of meeting a #1 seed in the official Round 1.  We here at WeIsND use common sense in referring to the numerical rounds of competition, unlike some other "Madness" tournaments.  But that's neither here nor there - let's get to some matchup breakdowns!

Leading off with some throw back games that share a common thread - both happened to be the last on the sideline for their respective coaches.  Joe Kuharich's tenure came to a merciful end at the hands of the Orangemen (nice to see programs crossed the p.c. line back in the 60's).  Renowned as the only Notre Dame coach with a losing record, Kuharich stumbled to a 17-23 mark over 4 seasons from 1959-1963.  His overall winning percentage could have been worse seeing as the week before the Syracuse game, ND's game against Iowa was cancelled in the wake of the JFK assassination.  

If you didn't click on the link above with the score of the game - do so now for some terrific old reel footage of the game.  Your ears will perk at 0:20 when Syracuse's fullback's name is given.  I imagine Kuharich's players could have guessed he wouldn't be returning for the '64 season, but at least they gave the throngs of fans that packed Yankee Stadium a nice diversion from the national tragedy, as the announcer remarks, "The South Benders are playing inspired football."  

On the other side of the overmatched coach playoff stands Gerry Faust, who amassed a 30-26-1 mark in 5 seasons, but gets credit for leaving some bowls and silverware in the cupboard for Coach Lou.  And for recruiting Tim Brown.  As for the blowout in South Beach, I'll let Jeremy describe its memorableness:

"’85 Miami was a terribly miserable game for any ND fan.  But the reason why it probably takes this matchup is that it helped to stoke the flames and led to what became perhaps the most heated football college football rivalry of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.  The teams only played a handful of times during that stretch, but every game felt like the fate of the world rested upon the outcome.  Good vs. Evil.  Catholics vs. Convicts.  And Lou could always point back to the 1985 game any time he wanted to stir up the Lads and inflame their emotions."

So do you like your exiting coaches to go out with the semblance of a fight or a complete thud?  A loss that rings in the Era of Era or a loss that gives birth to a truly riveting, albeit short-lived rivalry.  You decide.  

2010: Michigan 28 - @ND 24   vs.   2011: @Michigan 35 - ND 31

Two classic "memorable for all the wrong reasons" games.   Choose your weapon of Denard destruction as back-to-back heart-wrenchers welcomed Brian Kelly's first two meetings in this rivalry.  Both crushing comebacks occurred inside of 30 seconds, ripping victory away in the same manner UM's weasel mascot steals breakfast from the gentle marmot.  The 2010 game lacked the spectacular back and forth see-sawing of leads that the 2011 game delivered.  But what '10 lacked in theatrics, it made up for in pure, unadulterated brain farts.  Exhibit A: Denard 87-yard run untouched. Exhibit B: Kyle Rudolph slips past secondary for 95-yard go-ahead TD.  Exhibit C: BK's QB roulette was in full bloom with 3 untested signal callers getting the opportunity to underwhelm. Particularly love the last plays of each half with Nate Montana and Dayne Crist throwing the final jump ball attempt a combined 27 yards deep of the end zone.  Wowzers.   

As for the 2011 know what, I've written too much about these nightmares.  The less I write and you think about either of these games, the better.  One must advance, but the cruel fate of getting pummeled by their in-state brethren awaits. 

1994: #6 Michigan 26 - @#3 ND 24   vs.   1996: #4 Ohio St 29 @#5 ND 16

When top 10 heavyweight programs square off in the House That Rock Built, magic is often in the air.  Unfortunately, these two Saturdays mixed the wrong potion and ended up with black magic spoiling the day.  

I vividly recall watching the '94 Michigan game (the last time both schools squared off both ranked in the top 10, btw) in the parking lot of a Ft. Wayne high school parking lot in between matches of a high school tennis invitational.  What I don't remember is how much punishment I handed out to my next opponent in my inconsolable state after Todd Collins bested Ron Powlus in The Shootout in South Bend.  Derrick Mayes's corkscrew turning TD grab is one of the greatest clutch catches I've ever seen.  Listen to the announcer positively gushing about Powlus.  It's as if Beano Cook is in the production van singing Powlus sweet nothings in his earpiece.  For such euphoria to be swept away as time expires by the leg of Remy Freaking Hamilton still galls me.  

1996 turned out to be Holtz's swan song.  If this game had turned out differently, maybe the team marches on to contend for the title...maybe Lou doesn't leave...maybe a better succession plan than DC Bob Davie gets worked out... who knows.  The Irish had just gone to Austin and stolen a victory from #6 Texas, with another top 5 foe waiting for them the following week.  Except the Buckeyes were the better team, immediately, running back the opening kickoff inside the 15-yard line.  It seemed all downhill from there as the drama on the field never matched the fanfare of hosting Ohio State for the first time since the 1935 Game of the Century. 

1991: #13 Tennessee 35 - @#5 ND 34   vs.   2007: Navy 46 - @ND 44

Two down to the wire finishes that stand at opposite ends of the memorable spectrum.  If underdogs and sportsmanship and swaying and frozen ropes of snot and streak-stoppers and hitting rock bottom as a program appeals to you, the '07 loss to the Midshipmen amidst the Losingest Season Ever checks all the boxes.  

On the other hand, the "The Miracle in South Bend," as Rocky Toppers affectionately refer to this '91 game, was exceptionally high caliber.  The Irish happened to be on the wrong end of a comeback for the ages.  When Rick Mirer takes a long sack off of a broken play, it sets up a longer than it should have been field goal for Craig Hentrich.  Big deal, we thought in the stands, sitting comfortably on a 31-7 near the end of the 1st half.  The field goal was blocked, Hentrich was injured (he couldn't kick the game winning FG with :04 left) and momentum decided to wear orange from there on out.   

                                                              * * * * *

Those are your play-in game matchups.  Which resonate more with you?  Cast your vote on the right side of the page, leave your comments here or send Tweets to @WeIsNotreDame, spread the word about #IrishMadness and check back in the coming days for more matchup breakdowns and the next batch of memorable games to vote on. 

Irish Madness - The Quest for the Most Memorable ND Football Game

It's been more than 4 months since ND played for the National Championship.  The Blue-Gold game is now in our rearview mirror.  To keep ND football in the forefront and piggyback on the glow of the magical 2012 season, we've created an entertaining experiment: a 4-region bracket tournament that decides once, and until the next time someone does this, The Most Memorable Game in Notre Dame Football History*

Of course we'll hang an asterisk on this endeavor from the get-go.  Since very few, if anyone who may actually read this, have first-hand memories of the Rockne and Leahy dynasties, we limited the pool of entrants to the last 5 decades of ND football.  So 1960 is the first year our selection committee considered.  To equitably fill the bracket, each decade received 13 games each, with 3 wildcard selections rounding out a full 68-game bracket.

Fittingly, the four #1 seed games represent the last four championship seasons of 1966, 1973, 1977 and 1988.  Since "Memorable" doesn't discriminate between victory and defeat (though certainly we remember more fondly the wins), 19 Irish losses litter the bracket, some even "favorites" in early rounds, according to seed.  Did some memorable games not make the cut?  Of course.  Not surprisingly, the "snubs" were mainly games of recent vintage, many of which were stinging losses of varying pain thresholds.  But we feel confident the selection committee chose the most appropriate games for the bracket.  For giggles, we'll even post a "snub" list of the top 25 snubbed games for them to stew about in their media guides.

As you can see on the right side of the page, there are multiple polls of matchups, the first of which are the four play-in matchups pitting all #16 seeds striving for sacrificial lamb status in the main draw.  As the bracket progresses, we'll keep updating the voting windows with new matchups and welcome you back often to continue casting your deciding vote on the games you think are the most memorable.  What makes memorable you ask?  All in the eye of the beholder.

There's "memorable" for all the right reasons, like the '92 Snow Bowl with its unforgettable images, and there's "memorable" for all the wrong reasons, like Navy ending their ignominious losing streak in 2007.  This bracket brings you games of all kinds: heavyweight bowl game showdowns, top 10 rivalry grudge matches, riveting comebacks, equally riveting comebacks that fall just short, plays that take your breath away, drama that unfolds in waves, challenges for the #1 throne, with more than a couple #1 vs. #2 armageddon-type stakes.

These are the games that spin generational yarns, eliciting a touch of embellishment with each re-telling.  These are the games that crystallize those "I remember when..." moments, lending a personal gravitas to the memories of a game that you'd never trade.  These are the games that you witnessed in person with your dad, or watched with your uncles in the den, or a group of buddies at the pub, and still talk about that day in reverential tones.  These are the games that define Notre Dame coaches and players' legacies.

These games are the reason you meet Shawn Wooden backstage at an Umphrey's McGee show and instead of saying "A pleasure to meet you, I enjoyed watching you play" you shout "Bat it down! Batted down!"  And he relishes every second of the encounter that detours down memory least I think he did.

So enjoy this experiment and the blasts from the past, both near and far.  Please carry on any and all arguments/cheers of support in the comments section of each matchup breakdown and on Twitter: @WeIsNotreDame #IrishMadness

March 01, 2013

Conference Tournament Preview!

The calendar has turned to March, so we are quickly approaching my favorite time of the sports year:  March Madness.  For the casual fan, the term “March Madness” refers strictly to the NCAA Tournament, which, to be sure, is one of the greatest sporting events of the year.  For me, however, the NCAA Tournament takes a backseat to conference tournaments, which are unparalleled in terms of excitement, unpredictability and drama.
Why do I love conference tournaments more than the NCAA Tournament?  Try these on for size:
·         The Dream:  Everyone (in general) is still alive and can dream of running the table to make the NCAA Tournament, then winning it all.
·         The Culmination:  As a hardcore fan following all of the regular season conference races, this is an opportunity to watch the action of January and February come to a stirring conclusion.  
·         Familiarity Breeds Contempt:  Conference tournaments provide another opportunity for old rivals to duke it out in a neutral site setting, as opposed to the interleague approach of the NCAAs.
·         Familiarity Breeds Love:   Mismatches occur in both types of postseason play, but I would much rather watch a lower seeded major conference team that I have been watching all year than some small conference tomato can.
·         Better Post-Upset Matchups:  Teams are more evenly matched in the conference tournaments.  When a #15 seed beats a #2 seed in the Big Dance, my first thought is “Well, this sucks.  I don’t want to watch Norfolk State in the next round.”  In a conference tournament, you can say, “Awesome.  Maybe Washington State can get hot and make some noise against Arizona.” 
·         The Love of the Game:  People tend to deride the conference tournaments as meaningless, but the lack of a prize can make it so much more meaningful when, for example, two teams that are locked into a high seed are going toe-to-toe for nothing else than pride and love of school. 
·         The Purity:   During conference tournaments, I don’t have amateurs telling me about their uncle’s pool or waving brackets in my face (PSA:  the only thing more annoying than hearing about your brackets is hearing about your fantasy football team.  This is not my opinion; it is an incontrovertible fact).
·         The Action:  More games means more gambling.  On the Thursday of conference tournament week, the wall-to-wall action runs from dusk to dawn in all corners of this fine country.  Truly a beautiful thing.
Unfortunately, I am sad that, for the second consecutive year, I will not be in Las Vegas, which is the undisputed epicenter of conference tournament week.  With the Pac-12 Tournament moving to Las Vegas this year, Sin City is now hosting four conference tournaments in 2013.  Along with live action, Vegas, of course, features unlimited viewing, gambling and drinking options, which always makes for a glorious four or five days.
Rather than previewing the tournaments, I am instead going to rank each major conference tournament from most favorite to least favorite.  Keep in mind that picking a “least favorite” conference tournament is like selecting a least favorite Rolls Royce.  In other words, we’re dealing with varying degrees of awesomeness.
1.       SEC Tournament (rotating sites; principally in Atlanta, GA, but also recently in Tampa, FL, New Orleans, LA and Nashville, TN) - The gold standard of wacky, nutty and downright zany outcomes.  From tornadoes to Renardos (as in Balkman, of South Carolina’s miracle run to the final in 2006) to Varnardos (as in Jarvis, shot blocking virtuoso from Mississippi State), the fun never stops.  Mix in massive numbers of full throated Kentuckians descending upon “Catlanta,” or this year in Music City, and you’ve got a reliable recipe for down home excitement.  In any event, some things are difficult to explain and my undying love for SEC hoops is one of those things.
Predicted Winner:  Florida
Possible Cinderella:   Arkansas

2.       Big East Tournament (New York, NY)- When you bring great players and legendary coaches together in the World’s Most Famous Arena, you necessarily get unforgettable moments, which makes it so sad that this tournament will never be the same again after the Big East dissolves.  The memories are indelibly etched in my mind:  Ray Allen’s friendly rim jumper over Allan Iverson, Gerry McNamara’s amazing run of buzzer beaters, Colin Falls with the buzzer beating 3 against West Virginia, 6 overtimes between Syracuse and Connecticut, DaSean Butler with back-to-back game winners (punctuated by the “The Butler Did It Again” call from the incredible Sean McDonough) and the inimitable Kemba Walker helping UConn win 5 games in 5 days.  Simply put, this is the highest level of play of any conference tournament and it will be dearly missed.
Predicted Winner:  Louisville
Possible Cinderella:  Providence

3.       Big 12 Tournament (principally in Kansas City, MO but also recently at Oklahoma City, OK or Dallas, TX)- Another great tournament with some extremely well played, competitive games.  For a classic example, look no further than 2007, when star freshman Kevin Durant led Texas to a 32-10 lead, only to see the Kansas Jayhawks come roaring back to win in overtime. 

On the wildness front, it gets no better than 2003,when Kansas State’s Pervis Pasco intercepted desperation pass and started running off the floor to celebrate a hard fought two point win.  Unfortunately for Wildcat fans, there was still two seconds on the clock when Pasco caught the pass, so his premature celebration resulted in a traveling call.  With a second chance on life, Colorado’s James Wright proceeded to drill a buzzer-beating 3 pointer- off the backboard, no less- for the win. 
Predicted Winner:  Iowa State
Possible Cinderella:  Texas

4.       Pac 12 Tournament (formerly in Los Angeles, CA, now in Las Vegas, NV)- The Pac-12 is usually very balanced, which results in plenty of close contests and exciting runs by lower seeds.   Notable moments include Colorado’s miracle run last year, two-time tournament MVP Isaiah Thomas’s cold blooded jumper to sink Arizona in 2011, DeMar DeRozan’s DeLightful run of dominance to score the victory for 6th seeded USC and 4th seeded Oregon blowing out everyone in 2007.  The relocation to Vegas should make things even more exciting.
Predicted Winner:  California
Possible Cinderella:  USC

5.       ACC Tournament (principally in Greensboro, NC) - There are many reasons to respect Duke and their approach to the ACC Tournament is near the top of the list.  Coach K, in contrast to his disciple Mike Brey, has always emphasized the importance of winning the ACC Tournament and his teams have delivered to the tune of 10 titles in 14 years.  As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats and the Blue Devils’ winning approach has caused their conference brethren to raise their collective level of play, thereby resulting in some tremendous moments including:  Tyler Hansbrough hitting the game winning jumper against Virginia Tech in 2008 (followed by one of the more awkward celebrations ever), Maryland beating Duke in an overtime classic in 2004, Georgia Tech’s near stolen bid in 2010 and, from the way back machine, Randolph Childress delivering a performance for the ages in 1995.
Predicted Winner:  Duke
Possible Cinderella:   Clemson

6.       Big Ten Tournament (rotates between Chicago, IL (2013) and Indianapolis, IN)- The Big Ten suffers a bit from its general pace of play and the fact that viewers might be suffering from tournament fatigue by the time the final rolls around on Sunday afternoon.  It has not, however, been lacking in the buzzer beater department, as seen by Minnesota’s Blake Hoffarber hitting a miracle turnaround three to beat Indiana in 2008 and Evan Turner’s half court bomb to sink Michigan in 2010.
Bonus side story:  On the day after Turner’s shot, Ohio State was favored by 6 to beat an Illinois team that was squarely on the NCAA bubble.  My friends and I all took the Buckeyes , who erased a large second half deficit and narrowly escaped two excellent chances for Illinois to win at the end of regulation and the first overtime.  In the second overtime, Ohio State hit two late free throws to win by 7 and we all started going crazy, along with other people in the Aria sportsbook.  Among those celebrating were two Illinois fans who had bet on Ohio State and were apparently more happy to win $20 than to see their team make the NCAAs.  Illinois was ticketed for the NIT two days later.
Predicted Winner:  Indiana
Possible Cinderella:  Iowa

In addition to the major conferences, I always have a soft spot in my heart for two others:  the Missouri Valley Conference (“Arch Madness”) and the Atlantic 10 Tournament.  Arch Madness features great basketball fans, a lively venue and many evenly contested teams, while the A10 showcases its impressive depth.  The latter moves from the Boardwalk in Atlantic City to Brooklyn this year, which offends my traditionalist and nostalgic sensibilities, but with the “Catholic 7” defecting from the Big East, it is clear that turbulent times are ahead for the A10.
Predicted Winners:  Illinois State (MVC) and LaSalle (A10)
Possible Cinderellas:  Drake (MVC) and Saint Bonaventure (A10)

January 04, 2013

WeIsND Roundtable: 2012 Season in Review

1. Three Biggest Storylines that Gripped You During 2012 Campaign 

Dan: (1) Development of Everett Golson: While I didn’t boo Tommy Rees when he came on during the Michigan game (I don’t think?), I was certainly very critical of Kelly’s handling of the situation. I continued that way probably up until about the Oklahoma game. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and Kelly played his cards masterfully. Everett is now a clear leader of this offense, he understands when to tuck it and run, and appears to be making much better decisions now than in September. Not to mention, he still has three years left – what an incredibly exciting thought.

(2)  Dominance on defense: This one is easy of course. I know our defense is well heralded - #1 scoring defense, incredible red zone efficiency, etc. I think the thing that stands out the most though are only giving up 2 rushing touchdowns all year and only 2 touchdown drives of over 60 yards. Additionally, no drives over 75 yards. No opponent starting inside their own 25 scored a touchdown. That's just an amazing statistic.  

(3) Development of offensive line: A lot of people were nervous when Warriner departed and Heistand took over. That faction appears a bit silly now. The offensive line has gelled to become an incredible unit and a real strength of this offense. The second half against Miami and the entire USC game (between the 20s at least) show just how great this unit is.

Jeremy: (1) The ND defense is legitimately elite.  Even with a secondary held together by bailing wire and first-time starters.  2009 seems like decades ago.  

(2) The QB carousel.  Not always gripping me in ways that I liked.  But an interesting story nonetheless.  Also - Everett Golson is going to be unbelievably good.  Perhaps as soon as next season.

(3) The Cult of Manti.  Deserves no explanation.

Jimmy: (1) Manti-Mania: Time is the ultimate arbiter of Manti’s lasting legacy, but the bar has already been raised to Legen…Barney Stinson “wait-for-it” moment of gravity…Dary status.  Quantifying the impact Te’o had on this 2012 team, the Notre Dame football program as a whole, the university endowment and general morale of everyone associated with ND Nation is next to impossible.  If Manti were an earthquake, Richter’s scale would need recalibration.  

In addition to the tenacious tackling, electrifying interceptions and unrivaled passion, Manti resonated with fans on a spiritual level this season.  He inspired us well beyond the gridiron, and in turn, the Notre Dame community helped lift Manti’s heavy heart.  Te’o converted the most cynical doubters into believers and added luster back to the golden helmets.  Over the last 20+ years, there may be only one other player across the college landscape who evoked such reverence -- yes, Tebow is his name-o.

Had Manti left school after his junior year, it would have been a success story.  A devout Mormon from Hawaii surprises everyone by choosing a Catholic school in snowy South Bend.  He lives up to the hype, becomes an All-American, gets drafted as a 1st (maybe 2nd ?) round pick and enjoys a fine pro career.  I’m sure ESPN Hallmark (if this channel doesn’t exist yet, it should) would green light production on this story.

But a script re-write was due when divine providence steered Manti’s decision to return to school.  His charisma and leadership sparked a legitimate Irish revival as opposed to the fool’s gold “returns to glory” in 2002, 2005 & 2006.  Factor in the off-the-field plot developments with the “HeIsManti” awards season lovefest, and his story transforms into a Hollywood blockbuster.

You probably have to go back to Rocket Ismail to find the last ND player who takes your breath away at least once a game.  A mainstream cult hero, acknowledged by all (well, maybe not the impenetrable bubble that envelopes SEC Territory) as a really, really, ridiculously good player and spectacle to behold.  

And the biggest stage still awaits Manti.  

(2) Team Unity: A huge reason for this season being such a delightful ride was the cast of characters suiting up each week.  Yes, the spotless record tints everything with rainbow sparkly magic glasses, but the unity of this squad grounded this team, serving as the foundation to build a champion.  You don't have to look hard to find likable guys -- BK's RKG's -- littered up and down the roster.  Start with the biggest teddy bear of them all, Big Lou Nix and his homemade Chocolate News program (highly recommend watching all 5 episodes).  There's the wacky weekly team bonding experience that is Trick Shot Monday.  There's the unspoken best beard competition on the team, pitting KLM (the safari hat-wearing, front-row cheering basketball super fan who blends into no crowd) vs. Matthias Farley (as close to a Matisyahu and Michael Franti mashup if I've ever seen one).  Not to be outdone, Zeke Motta entered the fray with what could be his leprechaun audition look.  

Normal things that can, and often do, sabotage teams just didn't with this group, like the QB controversy that wasn't.  When Lo Wood and Jamoris Slaughter both were lost for the season by the 4th game, excuses were selling for pennies around the stadium.  Not a single excuse was made as everyone embraced the "next guy up" mantra BK preaches.  Win or lose, it will be bittersweet watching this assemblage of men play for the last time together.   

(3) The Saga of Mariano Rees: Imagine yourself a quarterback good enough to play at ND, who steps in as a true freshman and wins his first 4 starts, including the first win over a huge rival in a 8 years and a bowl game win over a traditional power. 

You start the next year backing up the same heralded recruit you replaced the year before, but Coach pulls the plug on him and rides your moxie to win 8 games as a sophomore. 

Entering your junior year, brimming with confidence, your college-ness gets you arrested in the summer and Coach suspends you for the opener, essentially ceding your starter job to a redshirt freshman, a new heralded recruit. 

You say all the right things to make amends.  You deflect (baseless?) rumors of your imminent transfer to another school. You embrace your role as backup and help the starter learn the ropes. 

Surprisingly, Coach calls your number when the freshman falters in the first home game.  Your own fans boo you as you take the field.  Talk about conflicting emotions.  Coach trusts you to run the 2 minute offense to secure a tight victory, which turns the boos into cheers, then declares the redshirt freshman the starter the next week.  Coach calls on you several times throughout the early going, nearly giving ND Nation a nervous tick at the prospect of QB roulette...again.  You deliver clutch throws coming in cold off the bench, earning the status as a "QB Closer."  It's an engrossing, yo-yo act that the selfless Tommy embraces and makes the most out of.  It's fair to say without his game-winning Purdue drive and overtime touchdown pass to TJ Jones vs. Stanford, 12-0 may not be possible without Mariano Rees. 

Matt: (1) Will the D allow a rushing touchdown: I'm used to defenses that give up at least a rushing TD per game. So as the weeks went by, the sheer dominance of the defense was wrapped up neatly into the stat that they had not allowed a rushing TD. 

I'll admit, when The Belldozer had his rushing TD called back, that was one of my most fired up moments of the season. Of course, it's ridiculous to expect a defense to make it through a season unscathed on the ground, but the fact that we even flirted with it is a testament to Nix, KLM, Tuitt and the rest of the big uglies

(2) Manti Teo: Many many words much more eloquent than mine have been written about the Teo experience, but the Heisman campaign after Klein lost, and the way Manti handled personal tragedy before Michigan week were compelling. The odds of my firstborn being named Manti have gone from 0% before the season to at least 5% now 

(3) Tommy Rees, the closer: 
I remember being so frustrated when BK first pulled this stunt early in the season. We were struggling against Purdue, Mike Mayock would have you believe Purdue's defense has 11 first rounders, and it looked like another typical season going nowhere.  At the time, it seemed like Golson needed to go through these growing pains, win or lose the game be damned. 

Of course, now sitting on the eve of the championship, it's blindingly apparent that early in the season, Rees saved our ass a few times. One of the weirder dynamics I've ever seen on a team. 

2. We're Goin to Miami...

Jeremy: It still hasn’t really set in yet.  Must be that 6 weeks or so between Thanksgiving and the title game.  As excited as I am for the Bama matchup, I just don’t want this season to end.  Its been an incredibly enjoyable run and I have a tough time believing that I’ll ever have so much fun following a sporting team for the rest of my life. 

Jimmy: Wow, wow, wow.  Will Smith's PG rap lyrics never sounded so good.  The biggest stage in college sports is rolling out the red (or is it orange?) carpet for Notre Dame.  It's a terrific accomplishment to get there, but the work isn't done.  One mission and one mission only - championship title #12.

Matt: Not much to say here. It's still hard to believe, and if you're injecting me with truth serum, there's a part of me that is petrified this will be an LSU or Ohio State BCS experience. Of course, this team is totally different than those, built on defense and strong line play. Having a mobile QB doesn't hurt either 

I'll be standing strong in Joe Robbie Stadium with the Irish faithful on Jan 7th, and given my expectations for the season back in August, that in itself is a miracle

3. Offensive and Defensive MVPs

Dan:    Offensive – Theo Riddick. Similar to my criticism of the Rees / Golson situation, I was also critical of Kelly early on for his use of Riddick and Wood. But the latter half of this season showed just how great Riddick was in this offense. Huge catches against Stanford and Pittsburgh, not to mention an absolutely dominant day on the ground against USC.

Defensive – Manti Te’o. This one is a bit tougher than it may initially seem. Some may point to the Pitt game and how well they ran on us when Nix was out of the game. And, don’t get me wrong, Nix is an incredibly important part of this defense and deserves more credit nationally than I think he’s getting. But Te’o is the captain of this defense, the heart and the soul. What a pleasure watching him this year has been.

Jeremy: Pretty easy choices here - Manti and Eifert.  

But let’s go off the beaten path a bit for purposes of discussion.  On offense, I’ll go with Theo Riddick.  I’m not surprised that he had a great season as a RB - anyone who watched some of his runs during the early part of his career (pre-switch to slot WR) could see that he had natural vision and talent running the ball.  But I doubt anyone could have predicted that he would have a better season than Cierre Wood, clinch the SC game by running right down the Trojans throat, or make a few of the largest catches of the season (see: Stanford and Pitt).  Not to mention his amazing leadership and his assistance in getting Golson and the offense aligned.  And his moment with his mom on senior day was awesome.  Love that kid.

On defense, how about Danny Spond?  While the secondary was probably everyone’s biggest defensive concern heading into the season, the Dog LB spot was incredibly unsettled.  Spond was the presumed starter, but after a preseason headache/migraine scare, we were all a bit unsure whether he’d ever play a down of football again.  Instead, he came back, set the edge, played in coverage and locked down the toughest position on the defense.  His contributions often go unnoticed on the stat sheet and on the highlight reels, but I guarantee you that Bob Diaco went into the LB meetings every week praising Spond’s effort and improvement.  

Jimmy: On offense, how bout Everett Golson.  Growing pains and a few unexpected Tommy Reed moments aside, when clutch was needed, Golson's cannon arm and sneaky legs delivered.  Beginning with the road trip to Norman, the game slowed down for Everett and the results began matching the potential.  The team suffers a catastrophic letdown loss to Pitt if not for Golson's late game heroics.  He toyed with Wake's hapless defense and kept the chains moving on time-killing possession after possession in the Coliseum, stamping the ticket to Miami.  A case can be made for Riddick, Eifert or Zack Martin.  

On defense, going unconventional with Louis Nix III.  He's the most important cog in the defensive unit, allowing everyone else to collect sacks, tackles and most of the acclaim.  Yet, as a nose guard deep in the trenches, Nix amassed 45 hard earned tackles, including 2 sacks.  His 5 batted passes ranks 3rd overall, another impressive feat for his position.  

Overall Team MVP -- Manti Te'o.  See above gushing sentiments.

Matt: Theo Riddick: Could have gone Golson or Eifert here, but Riddick turned into an invaluable part of the offense. He looks like a scatback, and true to that image he is a great receiver out of the backfield, but he was blowing people up as a running back. Theo Riddick turning into a physical runner was what took this offense to another level

Louis Nix: Look, the easy answer is Teo. He's the most decorated college player on terms of awards EVER. So he's probably the MVP of the team. But we have had some pretty good linebackers come through over the years (probably never at Teo's level). But what we haven't had to go with those Lb's is a dominant nose man. 

The return of Irish Chocolate next year is perhaps has me most excited, and most confident that the defense won't have a significant drop off with the departure of Manti

4. Favorite Moments of 2012 Season (In Person & On TV)

Dan:   I was lucky enough to see so many great moments in person this year – the goal line stand against Stanford, the 5 straight picks against Michigan, the entire OU game… I think my favorite moment though was Cierre Wood breaking away from the pack against Oklahoma for the first touchdown. We were sitting in that end zone, and he ran towards us and suddenly he was in the second layer and then he was gone. It was so clearly going to be a touchdown that the section was jumping and celebrating long before he got to the end zone.

My favorite moment on TV has to be the goal line stand against USC. At that point it was clear we were going to Miami and the celebration could begin.  

Jeremy: Two candidates for the in-person.  The first one is rather obvious - the postgame “Oh What a Night” sing along after the Michigan win.  Surreal and awesome moment.  The second one may have been the walk from Soldier Field back towards the Red Line, amidst a mass of ND fans chanting “We Want Bama!” (foreshadowing!!)

The first favorite TV moment had to be watching the Irish play a near-perfect game against Oklahoma in perhaps the most important and biggest matchup since the ’05 SC game.  Watching the Irish celebrate in the Coliseum comes in a close second.  The fact that I got to watch both of those games with my Dad, a long-suffering Irish die-hard, probably had something to do with it.

Jimmy: Man, there are so many good choices to pick from, this should merit its own post.  For TV moment, I'll pick the Stanford goal line stuff to end the game.  Just an exhilarating, rip-your-shirt-off-WWF-style, we're-streaking-through-the-quad finish.  

The Oklahoma and USC wins were triumphant in different respects, but the endings were wrapped up nicely by the time of the 2:00 minute warning.  Though I have to mention that my biggest superstition turned out to be sitting in the exact same chair at the same table at the same restaurant (Haymarket Brewery in Chicago) for both OK and USC games.  The first go round found me accompanying my wife for her Northwestern Reunion outing.  A sweet drink deal kept the deliciously potent beers coming all night.  On several occasions, me and my viewing partner Ryan (South Bend native who had more or less turned a blind eye to his reunion festivities) were caught screaming in joy, only to realize we were the only two people out of hundreds paying attention to the screen.  Good Times!  Well, when Ryno came back to Chicago for Thanksgiving and we worked out baby duties to free up our evening, we couldn't think of a more appropriate venue to watch the finishing touches on 12-0 than our good-luck charm Haymarket.  

Favorite in-person moment, hands down, goes to the goosebumpapolooza Senior Day introductions.  Can't remember the last time I got to my seat with more than 25 minutes before kickoff, and the place was packed and already rocking.  The rising volume by the time Manti was introduced reminded me of old Chicago Bulls starting lineups when you could barely hear Jordan's name by the end.  A lifetime moment to remember.  

Matt: Manti against Michigan

Again, many more eloquent words have been written by people who get paid to wax poetic, so I'll keep this brief. But seeing Manti and the students with the leis, against Michigan, at night, with Denard throwing the ball around like he was drunk, yeah...that's number one

5. Heisman Sound-Off

Dan: I can’t say I’m too fired up about the Heisman. Should Manziel have won? Probably not? Should Te’o have won? Maybe. Anyone who knows anything about college football knows what the award has become at this point. Generally it goes to the best offensive backfield player on the best team (or at least top 5 team). If there isn’t really a clear candidate that fits that profile, expect an offensive backfield player to have a couple good performances late in the year and catch all the media hype. If they want to fix the award, then change who votes. 

Manti Te’o won more awards than any player in the history of college football this year (understanding there are more and more awards to win every year). He did far better than any purely defensive (i.e., no return game) player has ever done before. He cares about the award on January 7th, and so do I. That said, I would support a change to the award – just make it an offense only award. They are kidding themselves at this point.

Jeremy: Can’t say that I expected Manti to win the Heisman, so while it was somewhat disappointing, it wasn’t surprising.  But this year simply reinforced the idea that a defensive player has an almost impossible hill to climb to win the award.  Its not the award for the best player in college football, it's an award for the best offensive stat-compiler, or the offensive player with the best “moment.”  Which is fine.  

It's just a shame that so many people in this country who so obviously don’t watch much college football vote for what everyone considers to be the most prestigious college football award.  

Jay Mariotti somehow has a vote.  All you need to know.  

Matt: Justice was served. Look, I'm a Manti guy. And it's impossible to quantify the impact a defensive player has on a game. Manti's effect when far beyond his tackle count or even his 7 picks. 

But his stats dropped noticeably in the second half of the season, at the sAme time Johnny Football was putting up Playstation numbers. I know ND fans and probably my fellow WeIs pals will bring up manziel's LSU and UF games, and that's fair game. I just can't get worked up over Manti losing the Heisman. Maybe I'm in the minority among ND fans.

6. Biggest Losses / Gains for 2013

Dan:  Biggest loss – Manti T’eo. Too easy and obvious, but still the right answer.

Biggest gain – Amir Carlisle. I think we’re going to see Carlisle play the role of Theo and succeed. I think Greg Bryant is going to play immediately and will have an important role to play (particularly since I think Cierre will go pro), but I expect Amir to be a pleasant surprise, particularly catching passes.

Jeremy: Losses - Staying away from an individual loss, I’ll focus on the outgoing seniors/5th years as a whole.  This group has been through so much and have done so much to drag this program from some of the lowest points in its history all the way up to the peak of the mountain.  The great behind-the-scenes stuff produced by this season really showed the great leadership provided by guys like Te’o, KLM, Motta and everyone else.  The hope is that the guys coming back will pick up on the example they provided and continue to move the program into the next “glory years” period.  I wouldn’t bet against them, but it's hard to believe that anyone else could be as inspiring and just downright awesome as those guys.

Gains - I suppose when we’re talking about “gains” here, the best place to look is probably the incoming recruiting class.  And while I think this is going to end up being a Top 5 type class, I’m having a tough time seeing a whole bunch of immediate contributors.  Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Because although the outgoing guys are leaving some big holes in some spots, I believe there are some good guys already in the program who can fill most of those positions.  Which means that the need for immediate contributors is not as extreme as in some prior seasons.  

As for guys to keep an eye on - look for Greg Bryant to be in the mix for carries right off the bat, Alex Anzalone to play on ST and perhaps in the ILB rotation by the end of the year, Isaac Rochell to work into the DL rotation (much like Sheldon Day this season) and Jaylon Smith to get on the field somewhere, somehow.  He’s just too damn athletic.  Also, if ND lands Max Redfield, he would almost certainly be able to help the team in some manner.

Matt: Loss - Teo. Enough said

Gain - Respect. I'll let Jeremy and others chime in on recruiting. But the biggest gain to me is the respect and credibility that has come with this season. 

Past BCS seasons had a bit of smoke 'n mirrors to them, built on prolific offenses but no commitment to defense, either in the coaching or recruiting. 

This time, it feels like the foundation has been laid to stay 'relevant' for a long time to come

7. State of the Program

Jeremy: If you listen to Brian Kelly’s press conferences, he loves talking about the “process.”  His opponent in the upcoming Title Game, Nick Saban, uses similar buzzwords.  If we’ve learned one thing about this magical season, its that this version of the Irish has bought in to what Kelly is selling.  It remains to be seen whether this will have a lasting impression, or whether it's the culmination of an amazing senior class, a few great recruiting efforts and some good bounces.  But I’m not going to be betting against Brian Kelly for a while.  

Jimmy: The players have bought into BK's plan.  The results caught up with expectations this year.  The recruiting machine is churning on overdrive.  Despite a gaping hole with Manti's departure to Sundays, his presence will still be felt, without a doubt.  His impact will reverberate for years to come, and incoming freshman like Jaylon Smith know they're carrying the Te'o Torch and building upon the work started by this team.  Without elaborating too much, I believe the program will establish a new consistency of 10+ win seasons for the foreseeable future.  Assistant coach defections are sure to happen in the next year or two and make for some hand-wringing and possibly brief hiccups, but I can confidently state: In BK I Trust.  

8. Recruiting Impact of 2012 Season

Jeremy: Can already be seen in the Greg Bryant commitment.  Simply put, a guy like Bryant doesn’t call up ND out of the blue without a season like this.  

The interesting question is whether Kelly and his staff can work the delicate balancing act between RKGs and five-star prima donnas.  To be sure, not every five-star will have the “make up” of an Aaron Lynch.  But ND’s success is going to open up the recruiting pool, and Kelly will have to work hard to separate the Lynches and Greenberrys from the Tuitts and Te’os.  It's a nice problem to have, but one that’s going to bear watching.