It seems that the affection Weis’ Fighting Irish had garnered by winning five out six games dating back to Michigan State on Sept 19th, all but evaporated after Saturday’s upset loss to Navy.
Just when we were finally able to compartmentalize the emotional scars of the 2007 season, the Cadets hit the ND program with another torpedo and suddenly our ship is declared sinking?
Even if all the nautical references we’ve heard were primarily directed at Weis and his future at ND— this team and this program goes how Charlie goes.
Advance and Survive
Despite the fan uproar which tends to ignite media buzz and unfounded “Weis’ replacement” talk, this team knows there’s plenty of damage left to be done. In fact, Charlie Weis still controls his coaching destiny at Notre Dame—but he’s left almost no margin for error.
It’s true that ND isn’t supposed to win, according to Vegas, but there’s really no way to overstate the importance of this game as a Must-Win.
Saturday’s matchup under the lights in Pittsburgh is Weis’ Super Bowl.
Dave Wannstedt’s 8th ranked, one-loss Panthers present the perfect elixir for the wounded Irish.
Have we seen a weaker, less-intimidating Top 10 team, this late in the season?
The Panthers earned their lofty ranking by defeating a lone Top 25 opponent (South Florida) and stringing together five victories since dropping a road game to a 4-5 NC State team.
Not to discredit Pitt’s fine season, but this matchup is arranged perfectly for Notre Dame.
The “road” aspect of this game is a timely departure from South Bend and Notre Dame Stadium—where the Irish can’t seem to exploit the actual home field advantage. Additionally, it should offer an opportunity for the team to escape the distractions of the Navy fallout, and sharpen their focus and preparation on winning one, very big game.
On so many levels, this “Battle at The (Ketchup) Bottle” carries immense implications: both for Weis and the direction of ND football.
National College Football Recruiting Expert, Tom Lemming, shared his insights on the effect of an ND coaching change at year-end:
“Right now it's too early for schools to try and start poaching Notre Dame's recruits,” Lemming said. “But what that speculation about Charlie is doing is it's keeping some of the top recruits, who are considering Notre Dame, on the fence longer.
“Almost every top player in this class or considering being a part of this class is going to Notre Dame because of Charlie. He is the driving force and personality behind the Irish recruiting. That was not the case with Bob Davie or Tyrone Willingham.”
According to a South Bend Tribune article, Lemming also went on to say that if Weis were purged after the season, the 2010 class would fall apart, no matter who the Irish brought in to replace him.
To those Weis haters who tend to oversimplify the impending decision of ND Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, there is an inherent risk with dismissing Weis in the near future.
How will Swarbrick rest easy knowing the football program is in good hands with Charlie?
First,by prevailing in Saturday’s Must-Win scenario, Weis will also satisfy his first true “Signature Win,” among other things. It will also end Charlie’s embarrassing streak of seven straight losses to Top 25 teams and boost his overall record in that department, to 4-11.
Remember, Swarbrick is looking for reasons to retain Weis’ services.
A victory at Heinz Field also means that Weis will improve his record in “Statement” games to 5-3. Yes, you read that correctly, Weis does have an above-.500 record in one noteworthy coaching category! (Read more here to understand how I arrived at this conclusion.)
Three straight victories to finish the season at 9-3 could find the Irish back in the BCS discussion with a National ranking hovering around 15. This scenario would also reward ND with an opportunity to win a top-tier (non-bcs) bowl game, an accomplishment last achieved in 1994.
But let’s not get carried away.
Contrarily, should the Irish prove incapable of defeating Pittsburgh, then they’ll need to win out (including bowl game) just to crack the Top 25—a modest feat that probably will not save Charlie Weis.