In South Bend, the Sky Has Fallen on Notre Dame's Golden Dome
When the 2009 college football schedule made its debut last winter, there were two very distinct camps of Notre Dame observers.
One group was rejoicing because the Fighting Irish were improving, going to a bowl game in paradise (which the Irish would win in impressive fashion over a home-standing and good Hawaii squad), and the slate looked soft. Only a date with the USC Trojans was truly daunting and that came in South Bend.
Unwisely sincere visions of 11-1 or 10-2 shimmered on the sunny horizon.
Contrarily, the other group huddled under an ominous black cloud. Even more troubling, the dour-faced horde wasn't composed exclusively of Notre Dame haters. There were many intelligent, reasonable (if cynical) Golden Domers who looked at the 2009 array and saw trouble. Big trouble.
Sadly for Notre Dame and its supporters, that trouble has arrived. And then some.
The soft schedule has reared up and taken a bite out of Charlie Weis' program—first it was the Michigan Wolverines.
The loss didn't look too bad in the weeks that followed as the Wolverines grabbed two more victories, including the Big Ten opener against the Indiana Hoosiers. Then the Winged Helmets took a highly-ranked Michigan State Spartan team to overtime before losing.
The bloom is off the rose, however, as Michigan has only heard The Victors once since dropping that game to Spartie. The team has lost five of six and the exception was a cupcake over the Delaware State Hornets.
Consequently, the loss to Michigan is beginning to stick out on Notre Dame's resume.
Even so, all was quiet on the Fighting Irish front until last weekend.
Weis and company rolled out a series of nice wins—they took out that same Spartan side that beat Michigan, a game Purdue Boilermaker team on the road, the Washington Huskies and Boston College Eagles at home, and the Washington State Cougars in San Antonio for some odd reason.
Nevertheless, the brightest reason for hope might have been the only loss in that winning jag. In the midst of all those victories, USC came to South Bend and left with a hard-fought, well-earned win. The Irish walked away with heads high and the respect of a lot of doubters.
Of course, the Navy Midshipmen came sailing into Indiana and blew all those warm, fuzzy feelings to smithereens.
We can heap all the praise we want on the service academy and we should—those kids came in and used an excellent game plan to put a whooping on Notre Dame in its own house. Still, the reality is the loss is unconscionable under the Golden Dome.
A program that fancies itself one of the big boys can't be losing to Navy.
Certainly not twice in three years. At home.
The disaster against the Midshipmen was the third blemish on a season that had many faithful expecting at least a 10-2 finish with a juicy bowl game reward. If the sky didn't crash that day, it certainly has now.
On Saturday, the Irish went into Pittsburgh and ultimately came up short against one of the better teams in the nation. No shame in dropping a game to the eighth-ranked squad in the country (No. 9 in the latest BCS) on its own field, but that's loss No. 4 for Charlie Weis and his program.
What about those two games left?
Looming this weekend is a confrontation with a Connecticut Huskie team that went bomb-for-bomb with the undefeated and fifth-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats, only to lose 57-45. Although the game is at home, the matchup can't be considered great news for a defensive unit that's already struggling.
The Fighting Irish end the regular season with a trip to Palo Alto, Calif. to take on the lurking Stanford Cardinal. You might've heard my guys blitzed those Men of Troy 55-21 in Los Angeles?
Again, that'll be a stiff challenge for Notre Dame.
Splitting the two games would be an accomplishment. It would also turn those 11-1, 10-2, or even 9-3 dreams into a 7-5 nightmare. Shoot, if Charlie-in-Charge can urge his youngsters to a sweep of the pair, the season will still be an 8-4 thud with two head-shaking losses.
Needless to say, whiffing on the duo and skidding to 6-6 would be...worse.
In all this ugliness, the ugliest element is the one that can't be avoided.
Given Notre Dame's history of impatience with mediocrity, Charlie Weis should get his walking papers at the conclusion of the year. Look at his record against those of his predecessors (since Lou Holtz and ignoring the temporary placeholders):
Bob Davie—35-25 for a winning percentage of .583 in five seasons.
Tyrone Willingham—21-15 for a winning percentage of .583 in three seasons.
Charlie Weis—35-25 for a winning percentage of .583 in five seasons.
Complicating matters, Weis' tenure has been marred by the sort of extenuating circumstances that finally landed Davie and Willingham on the chopping block.
The Irish has seen its share of lopsided losses under Weis—reputedly one of the primary reasons Willingham caught the axe—and neither of the guys who came before him ever lost nine games in one year.
Neither lost six consecutive home games. Neither dropped a contest to Navy.
In fact, no Fighting Irish coach had lost to Navy since 1963—a string of 43 consecutive games. Now, Weis has lost twice since 2007—a string of three games.
Against that backdrop, it should be impossible to keep Charlie Weis. Except he's already been retained; he's under a recklessly lucrative contract until 2015.
Everywhere you look, it's bad-news-getting-worse for Notre Dame.
And that means it's time to find shelter in South Bend because the real carnage is about to start.
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