- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 26, 2009

As Michigan ponders its bowl ineligibility for the second straight year and Notre Dame considers launching another search for the Next Knute, TCU and Boise State are jockeying for a spot in a BCS bowl.

Then there’s Temple, which will be going for its 10th straight win this weekend. There have been entire decades when Temple hasn’t won 10 games, haven’t there?

TCU, Boise State and Temple up, Notre Dame and Michigan hurtling down an elevator shaft. What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing, really. It’s what makes college football one of the greatest sports ever devised by primates - unless, of course, you happen to root for the Irish or Wolverines. Then it just gives you a morning-after-Thanksgiving kind of headache.

It’s gotten so bad in South Bend that quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who has little to apologize for, was awarded a black eye for his efforts in ND’s 33-30 double-overtime loss to Connecticut last weekend. According to reports, a fan unleashed the fightin’ part of his Irish on Clausen outside a bar - but only, I’m guessing, because coach Charlie Weis wasn’t around to take a swing at.

And Weis, it seems, won’t be around much longer, despite having six years and many millions left on his contract. Even he sounds resigned to his fate. “If they decide to make a change,” he said after the UConn-tastrophe, “I’d have to say I’d have a hard time arguing with that… because 6-5 is not good enough.”

Not when it follows 7-6 and 3-9. And not when those lost seasons include two defeats at the hands of Navy, which hadn’t beaten Notre Dame since the days of black-and-white television.

At Michigan, meanwhile, the Wolverines tied for last in the Big Ten - and the NCAA is investigating whether Rich Rodriguez might have broken a few rules with his offseason workouts. That kinda says it all, doesn’t it? A school with a 100,000-seat stadium has to work overtime to keep up with The Team With The Blue Field.

And it’s not like happy days are here again at Nebraska, either. Sure, the Cornhuskers are in the Big 12 title game - thanks to a division that has only two teams with a winning record - but they aren’t nearly the bully boys they were when they were rolling to national championships under Tom Osborne.

In recent years, college football has been turned on its head - like a receiver who goes up for a ball over the middle. Almost all the Sure Things have shown themselves to be, at one time or another, as susceptible to the game’s vagaries as anybody else.

Let’s face it, no program is inoculated against a bad coaching hire or a couple of regrettable recruiting classes. Everybody’s susceptible to the occasional down season - or in Notre Dame’s case, down century (so far). It doesn’t matter that Knute Rockne used to coach there… or how teeming the trophy case is… or how many members the booster club has. The law of gravity still applies.

Not so long ago, Southern Cal and Alabama were in the same sorry state ND and Michigan are in now. But then Pete Carroll and Nick Saban came along and rescued them from their unaccustomed irrelevance. It was a tough slog for a while, though.

SC sorted through the unexceptional Ted Tollner, Larry Smith and Paul Hackett looking for another John Robinson. At one desperate point, the Trojans brought back Robinson - who had gone to the NFL - for a second term, and even he couldn’t be John Robinson.

As for Alabama, its frenzied search for Bear Bryant II has brought one national title (courtesy of Gene Stallings in 1992) and three run-ins with the NCAA, the last of which has spilled over into the Saban era. Such are the hazards of trying to fill an extra-large houndstooth hat.

But the Tide are closing in on their second consecutive undefeated regular season, and the Trojans have had a stunning run under Carroll, so there’s hope for Notre Dame and Michigan - and Nebraska, too - as they continue their search for Paradise Lost.

It just goes to show, though, that it’s not the school that makes the football program, it’s the coach. That’s why he gets paid more than the school president.

Or to put it another way: If Charlie Weis can’t put a team on the field that can beat Navy, there’s nothing “Touchdown Jesus” can do to help him.

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