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BCS win would end streak, criticism

Heather VanHoegarden | Sunday, December 11, 2005

Fiesta, Orange, Independence, Gator, Fiesta, Gator, Insight.

Colorado, Florida State, LSU, Georgia Tech, Oregon State, North Carolina State, Oregon State.

With that list, one that dates back to the 1994 Fiesta Bowl when Notre Dame was dominated by Colorado 41-24, Irish coach Charlie Weis will not be short on ammunition when motivating his team between now and its Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl matchup with Ohio State.

“It will be mentioned,” Weis said, grabbing his chest and jerking back with a smile when asked Saturday about Notre Dame’s seven-game bowl losing streak. “It won’t be history. It will be mentioned. Every day. Multiple times. It will be emphasized.”

As the Irish try to end the skid at the bowl that started it, Weis’s players find themselves fully aware of the streak but doing their best to put it behind them.

“We’re in a BCS game, we want to win a BCS game,” safety Tom Zbikowski said. “We don’t want to win because other teams couldn’t accomplish that in the past. We want to win because we want to win.”

Notre Dame (9-2) faces a team that had a very similar season in Ohio State (9-2). Both teams could easily be 11-0, with the Irish a 4th-and-9 stop and overtime loss away, and a 72-yard drive and a close loss separating the Buckeyes from a perfect record.

But they’re still playing a BCS game – Notre Dame’s first in five years and Ohio State’s third Fiesta Bowl in four years. For the Irish, who have come a long way since last year’s 6-6 finish, this is the game they need to win – not only to end this season on a positive note and reward its graduating seniors, but to make a statement for the future as well.

If Notre Dame can find a way to contain Buckeye quarterback Troy Smith and minimize the damage linebacker A.J. Hawk does on the defensive end, it will validate the 2005 season.

The stamp of approval from the entire country rests on this game. Notre Dame doubters will have no choice but to admit the Irish are back if they win.

No more blowout losses, no more bowl game losing streak – just one win against a top-five team to end a season in which a 10-2 record sounds much better than 9-3.

“You had a great year, now this is the game,” Weis said. “This is the game that everyone is going to remember. You lose this game to Ohio State … Everyone remembers that you lost the bowl game.”

And so the Irish must make a lasting impression. For all those critics who said Notre Dame played an easy schedule, or for those who say the television-friendly Irish do not deserve to be in the BCS, despite earning an automatic at-large berth, beating Ohio State is the way to prove them wrong.

For fifth-year seniors like Brandon Hoyte, Mark LeVoir, Dan Stevenson and Corey Mays – who have seen Bob Davie fail, George O’Leary come and go, Tyrone Willingham get the controversial axe and now Charlie Weis succeed – this bowl game will put the final stamp on their tenure at Notre Dame. When it was announced Dec. 4 that the Irish were going to the Fiesta Bowl, Hoyte said he wants “to go out on top and feel as if we have left a mark on the Notre Dame program.”

Pick a reason the Irish want to win this game – from ending the seven-game bowl losing streak, to putting the Irish back at the top of college football, to rewarding the seniors who have endured a tumultuous five years – there is no doubt this game is critical.

And there is no telling what a win over Ohio State would do for this team and this program.

“[This game] is huge,” defensive lineman Trevor Laws said. “We’re in the BCS bowls and to get a big win over one of the best teams in the country, it just sets us up for the run that we’re going to make next year.”

But before the Irish players can make any type of run next season, their coach is likely to run his mouth in the next three weeks of practice.

“I think it gives you a great opportunity to humiliate them,” Weis said of the losing streak. “I think I’m really looking forward to doing that. Those games are gone, there’s nothing you can do about them. But I like that firepower going into practice everyday, [and] they will be hearing that on a regular basis for the next several weeks.”

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Heather Van Hoegarden at hvanhoeg@nd.edu