Dec. 28, 2000
TEMPE, Ariz. – No one ever thought Oregon State would be mentioned in the same sentence as Notre Dame, but thanks to coach Dennis Erickson, the Beavers are ready to take on the Irish in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day.
“When I first took this job at Oregon State, to be in a great, prestigious bowl was a goal of ours, but we thought it was probably a long way away,” said Erickson, in his second season at OSU. “Now we’re able to play against one of the great, historic programs in the country, and we’re very excited about it.”
The fifth-ranked Beavers (10-1) endured an NCAA-record 28 consecutive losing seasons until they hired Erickson in 1999. His first team went 7-5, including a loss in the Oahu Bowl. Now the Beavers are playing in a bowl in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history.
It has been a season of many firsts for Oregon State, which won a share of the Pac-10 title for the first time. The No. 5 ranking in the AP Top 25 is the highest in Beavers history.
Still, there was talk that no BCS bowl would invite the Beavers, who are riding a six-game winning streak. Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen then threatened to pull out of the BCS if the Beavers were ignored.
“Ten and one speaks for itself,” said OSU tailback Ken Simonton, who leads the Beavers attack with 1,474 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. “We earned great respect. We took respect. We went and took that position.”
Reaching the Fiesta Bowl was also a surprise achievement for No. 10 Notre Dame (9-2), which like Oregon State, was not ranked in the preseason poll.
It is the first postseason appearance for the Irish since the 1998 Gator Bowl, and it comes in the wake of an NCAA probation period last season when Notre Dame was cited for a major violation involving booster money being used to purchase gifts and trips for players.
Irish coach Bob Davie takes the most pride in winning with a talent pool that overachieved.
“We don’t have to have a Heisman Trophy winner. We don’t have to have a first team All-American every year,” said Davie, who recently signed a five-year contract extension. “We don’t have a guy on the cover of The Sporting News or Sports Illustrated. We can win here with a bunch of unselfish guys who play as a team.”
One of those players is freshman quarterback Matt LoVecchio. After starter Arnaz Battle broke his wrist in the second game of the season, Davie went with Gary Godsey for two games, but the offense lacked consistency. So Davie gambled on the freshman, and all LoVecchio has done is win seven straight games since being named the starter.
LoVecchio put up strong but unspectacular numbers, going 73-of-125 for 980 yards with 11 touchdowns and one interception for a sparkling quarterback rating of 109.4. The offense definitely produced with LoVecchio at the helm, averaging 36.0 points during the win streak.
The Irish have lost four straight bowl games, so simply getting back to the postseason isn’t enough to restore the reputation of Notre Dame.
“We didn’t come here to be 9-2,” defensive end Anthony Weaver said. “We definitely didn’t come here to be 5-7 like last year. You come to Notre Dame to win championships.”