Monday, December 27, 2004

Insightless | by Jay

Maybe you missed it amid the haze of a holiday hangover, but apparently Notre Dame is playing in a bowl game tomorrow. Yep, we're squaring off against one of the Pac-10 also-rans in a converted airplane hangar out in the desert to the delight of literally hundreds.

(By the way, what exactly is the "Insight.Com" bowl, and how long has it been around? Well, it used to be the Copper Bowl, then it was the Domino's Bowl, the Weiser Lock Bowl, and finally the Bowl. It's got an illustrious history of games like unranked Cal vs. unranked Wyoming in a 17-15 nailbiter in 1990 -- a good game, no doubt, but not exactly the caliber of matchup ND is used to. By comparison, and if anything shows how far removed we are from past glories, that same year Cal and Wyoming faced off in the Domino's, Rocket was returning a punt against #1-ranked Colorado in the Orange Bowl.)

I took a quick poll of the BGS staff to determine if Notre Dame playing Oregon State in the Bowl is a good idea, and came up with...well, not much. Some of the reasons why this game might be worthwhile, depending on your point of view:

Going Out in Style. For the seniors on the team, this might be a chance to wrap up their careers in a better way than a 31-point blowout at USC. Quinn remarked that "we want to send them [the seniors] out on the right note."

Ty Factor. According to some of the players, we're playing for Ty. "We want to show this country what coach Willingham has done for us in the past as men and as football players," senior linebacker Derek Curry said. "I really want to win it for him. His spirit lives on within us." Carlyle added: "It's to show our appreciation for him and what he's done for us."

Record Achievement. I think Darius has the chance to break the freshman running record. There might be another individual record or two up for grabs.
Chad Johnson
Payback. The last time we matched up against Oregon State, it wasn't pretty. Revenge against Oregon State for the 41-9 Fiasco Bowl blowout would be a touch of vindication as well as a chance to end the recent 0-fer bowl win streak.

Payout. We get a bonanza of $750,000 for playing this game. Yee-haw.

Development. During the season, because of NCAA practice limitations, the younger players don't get a chance to develop, as there just isn't any time for them to get any meaningful practice. Every minute is spent on game-planning and prepping for the next game, and very little attention is paid to the youngsters. It's why you always hear coaches talk about seeing how the "young kids" are progressing during bye weeks -- it's really their only time to focus on the development of younger players. The extra Bowl game practices extend the opportunity to take a look at the up-and-comers and give them some firsthand gridiron grit.

It's Football. Football players love to play football, and we love to watch any football game is better than no football game. Right?

But if you think about it, this bowl game is a bad idea -- for all sorts of reasons.

Injury Risk. This goes without saying -- any time spent on the practice field or in the game is simply more opportunity to get hurt. And unfortunately for us, the injury bug has already bitten: Shelton (knee) and Stovall (hamstring) both got hurt and both are listed as "doubtful" for the game. Justin Tuck also tweaked a lingering knee problem and might not play.

Holidays on Ice. Playing in a Dec. 28 game meant that players had to spend Christmas away from their families and required them to practice during finals week. These problems don't arise when we play in the only bowls to which we should ever accept invitations.

Poor Matchups. BGI points out that
"Strictly rating this game on paper, Notre Dame doesn't match up well. Oregon State quarterback Derek Anderson averages nearly 300 yards passing per game. The Irish rank No. 114 in pass defense and No. 91 in pass efficiency defense. The Notre Dame secondary hasn't recorded an interception in seven games."

Lame Ducks. This might be simply a point of etiquette or outward appearance, but it's incredibly awkward to have the old staff still hanging around a month after the new coach has been announced. While it's nice of Baer and Diedrick and the other coaches to stick around to coach the bowl game -- especially from a player's point of view -- their presence delays the building of the new regime, which should be well underway (assistants named, offices turned over, a base of operations established) and casts a pall over what should be a new beginning. Moreover, it leads to things like...

Conflict of Interest. The spectre of Greg Mattison operating out of ND's offices and practice fields while recruiting for Florida really raises the bile. And ever since he joined Urban Meyer's staff, rumors abound that Mattison has been contacting ND's recruiting list (committed or otherwise), trying to entice them to go to Florida. If you get fired off a job, I'm pretty sure your old company wouldn't let you use their office and phone lines to steal away clients to your new employer. I'm not sure why Greg hasn't been walked to the edge of campus by security yet.

Breaking Even, maybe. The bowl boon is a measley $750,000, and the cost of travel and expenses potentially outweigh the payout. We're transporting the team, coaches, the staff, school officials, and the entire band, putting them up, feeding them -- and we're not even making our money back. Think about that -- we're actually paying to play this thing.

It's All for Nothing. Overshadowing everything else discussed thus far is one simple fact: this game is completely meaningless. A win would be nice, but it really wouldn't help us. There's no recruiting edge to speak of, nobody to impress, no sportswriters to sway for the polls, not even a sense of redemption or public reckoning (see the '92 Sugar Bowl, where even though ND was out of the national title hunt, we still figured we needed to 'prove' to ourselves and to the world that we were a good team, and went out and took the wood to a highly-favored Gator squad. Sweet vindication). As for "playing for Ty", I think it's a nice, but misguided sentiment, and not a reason to mobilize all the effort it takes to pull off a bowl campaign. To me, it sounds more like an after-the-fact rationalization than an a priori catalyst.

In short, it's a polished turd of a game with a cheapskate payout against an anonymous Pac-10 player (with a decent passing attack) in a crappy wannabe bowl sponsored by a garden-variety dot-com, played in a baseball stadium right in the middle of the Christmas holidays, coached by lame ducks and traitors, and having absolutely no impact whatsoever in the rankings, standings, or national picture, nor at the very least holding any personal ties of competition or vindication against say, a long-standing rival or another historical Irish opponent. It's devoid of meaning, interest, and purpose.

But hey, it's football.