Sept. 30, 2006

By John Heisler

Just when you thought you’d gleaned every possible nugget from every Notre Dame football-related Web site, we offer up the answers to an even dozen burning questions that you absolutely need to know prior to kickoff today between Notre Dame and Purdue:

What’s the deal with these rivalry trophies?
If you didn’t catch at least one sound bite about the megaphone from someone at Michigan State or Notre Dame last week, you must have spent the week on Pluto. While the megaphone (the winner of the Irish-Spartan clash each year gets to keep it for the next year) issue appeared to be on everyone’s front burner in East Lansing, truth be told, rivalry trophies generally have existed in the background at Notre Dame. You probably haven’t heard a Notre Dame coach suggest that his team needs to win a game to keep the (fill in the blank) in the Irish trophy case. There are no known photos of Notre Dame football teams celebrating with any of these trophies.

How many of these trophies exist?
There’s the megaphone (Michigan State), two shillelaghs (Purdue and USC), one traditional trophy with Irish crystal atop a redwood base (Stanford), and a pair of other traditional trophies (both with Boston College). When Notre Dame is in possession of any of these items, you can generally find them on display on the concourse of the Joyce Center in the Sports Heritage collection.

How much consistency has there been of late for the Irish?
Check this out. Notre Dame stands 3-1 heading into action today, the third straight year the Irish have been 3-1 (or better) at this point in the season (including Tyrone Willingham’s final year in 2004). The last time that happened was in Lou Holtz’s final 10 seasons as head coach (1987 through 1996).

Has Notre Dame’s team found its identity as yet?
Probably not. The four Irish games so far all have been a little bit different in terms of what went well and what didn’t go quite so well. It was tough to argue with the Irish defense against Georgia Tech and Penn State – but 84 combined points by Michigan and Michigan State (and Charlie Weis) kept Irish fans from sleeping well. The offense got it together against Penn State and late against Michigan State, but it’s obvious opposing teams are doing what they can to keep Brady Quinn and his receivers from reaching a comfort zone.

Is there a way to gauge Notre Dame’s schedule so far?
Put it this way – this is the fifth straight September Saturday Notre Dame is facing an unbeaten opponent. Has any other team in the country done that (Colorado this year)? Has that ever happened at Notre Dame before (last time was ’99)?

How about Notre Dame’s first five foes? Combined they are 16-1 when not playing the Irish (and the only loss was Penn State’s on the road against top-rated Ohio State).Will a Charlie Weis-coached Irish team ever lose a game in somebody else’s stadium?
It’s bound to happen. But, so far, so good – 7-0. The next chance for that to change is Nov. 11 at Air Force, then two weeks later at USC. The last time Notre Dame won seven straight in opponent arenas was in 1991 (last one)-1992 (all three)-1993 (all four)-1994 (first one).

What did Rudy Ruettiger’s Notre Dame athletics career include, in addition to football?
He boxed in the Bengal Bouts (Notre Dame’s club boxing tournament) in 1974, ’75 and ’76 – losing his first match in ’74, losing the 190-pound title bout in ’75 and then winning the 175-pound title in ’76.

What’s up with the Irish rushing attack?
With tailback Darius Walker and a veteran offensive line, there are plenty of reasons to think the Irish should be able to run the football. Even Weis suggested that, in a perfect world, he’d love to run the football 40 times a week. But, that hasn’t been an option either of the last two Saturdays when the Irish had to dive out of their game plans after facing big early deficits.

What’s the Notre Dame theme this week?
Play consistently for 60 minutes. Get off to a quicker start than the Irish have in their first four games when they’ve been outscored 44-10 in the opening 15 minutes.

What’s the most noteworthy change in Notre Dame’s future schedules?
In addition to playing seven home games routinely plus an off-site home game starting late in this decade, the Irish will play three BIG EAST Conference opponents per season beginning in 2011.

How many former Notre Dame football players made NFL opening day rosters for 2006?
Notre Dame’s 1966 national championship is in town this weekend celebrating its 40th reunion. How many total points did that team give up in its 10-game season?