Charlie Weis and Jack Swarbrick are brilliant men.
For Coach Weis and AD Swarbrick to push a 7-4-1 schedule model, successfully execute an off-site home game in San Antonio, and solidify a New York City game amidst the already hallowed confines of Yankee Stadium is ingenious.
But before we start picturing A-Rod and Kate Hudson in the front row between Jetah and Giuliani, we need to make sure that all went well down in the Lone Star State last weekend.
Was the 40-14 victory over Washington State at the Alamodome truly a breakthrough event for the University of Notre Dame and its football program?
Here’s the good, the bad, and the final analysis for ND’s modern version of a “national” game.
The Good News
Notre Dame filled the Alamodome to an 82 percent capacity rate, selling over 53,000 tickets. Most of the fans in attendance were Irish, proving that the power of the shamrock reaches deep into the heart of Texas.
On the recruiting front, nearly 40 current and potential commits attended the game. Although they were prohibited by NCAA regulations from normal interactions with Coach Weis and his staff, they were still in attendance to witness something akin to a Notre Dame football Saturday home game.
Adding to the recruiting benefit was Toney Hurd Jr., who gave a verbal commitment to ND on Friday, becoming the first Texan of the year to turn Irish. He joins a team that currently has big-name starters from Texas like Kapron Lewis-Moore, Chris Stewart, and Nick Tausch.
Hurd may be the first key Texan to make plans for South Bend, and that could inspire others to follow.
Oh, and Notre Dame won. That’s always important.
Forty points, a near-perfect performance by Jimmy Clausen, a 100-yard game from Robert Hughes, and a dominating sack-filled effort by the first team defense helped add to the ever-evolving mystique of Irish football.
The Bad News
NBC aired the game at prime time, which helped the Irish gain a few more viewers. The problem was that the Peacock lost multiple prime time battles to a rain delay, cartoon, quack attack, and a repeat of some CSI show (CSI: Tulsa, I think).
The USC v. Oregon game more than doubled the audience for the WSU v. ND game. CBS and CSI also doubled-up the Domers, while an episode of FOX’s The Cleveland Show more than tripled the NBC numbers before they got World Series Game Three back on the air when skies cleared in Philadelphia.
It also hurt that the opponent was Washington State. The brutal Cougars, who will finish the season as one of the worst statistical teams in Division I football, played the tomato can role to the highly favored Irish contenders.
A prime time game in a major recruiting market where 80 percent of a giant dome stadium is filled with (mostly) Irish fans, despite the fact that they’re playing 1,300 miles away from Notre Dame Stadium, is a very good thing.
Yes, a better matchup would help the TV ratings, and they were hurt by the fact that the Pac-10 game of the moment, and the World Series, were running at the same time. But prime time is prime time, and the Irish still pulled millions of viewers to NBC.
Most importantly, the Notre Dame brand got out into the badlands of Texas. Alumni and fans spent Thursday and Friday night feeding into the culture of San Antonio and covering the River Walk late into the evening. There were blue and gold jerseys, Irish hats, and ND fight songs throughout a major Texas city for two or three days.
Notre Dame can’t simply recruit regionally. They can’t pull enough talent out of Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit to be a national contender. They can’t depend on beating out Big Ten recruiters throughout the Midwest and expect to beat USC.
Notre Dame must recruit nationally.
More specifically, they must recruit the talent hotbeds of eastern Virginia, South Florida, Southern California, and the state of Texas. They must get the next dynamic wide receiver out of Cali, the next stud cover corner from FLA, and the latest five-star monster run-blocker out of Texas.
If Notre Dame ever intends to win another national championship, they will do it with 22 guys from 22 corners of the American football landscape.
Digging deep into the heart and soul of Texas football was a major step in the right direction, as long as Toney Hurd Jr. is the first of many, not the last of few.
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