Nov. 12, 2004

Seems like just yesterday – doesn’t it? — that this Notre Dame football team was kicking off the 2004 campaign and heading for Provo – and now three months later the home season winds to a close this afternoon.

And, if you think it’s been a whirlwind, imagine what it’s been like for the players and coaches involved. In any event, here are some thoughts to consider as the Irish head into the home stretch:

There were 13 head coaches who started anew with NCAA Division I-A programs in 2002, one of those being Notre Dame’s Tyrone Willingham. Interestingly enough, the top four records in nearly three full seasons among those 13 belong to California’s Jeff Tedford at 22-12, Willingham at 21-13, Florida’s Ron Zook at 21-14 and Georgia Tech’s Chan Gailey at 19-15.

Over the course of the 2004 season, there have been only 14 games all fall in which teams ranked in the current Associated Press poll’s top 10 have been beaten. Notre Dame accounted for two of those wins – defeating then-#8 Michigan back in September and knocking off then-#9 Tennessee last weekend in Knoxville. The only other teams that have accounted for two of those wins are #3 Auburn – thanks to a Sept. 18 win over then-#5 LSU and an Oct. 2 triumph over then-#10 Tennessee – and #4 Wisconsin (an Oct. 9 winner over #7 Ohio State and an Oct. 16 winner over #5 Purdue. The eight other wins over AP top 10 teams have been provided by North Carolina (Oct. 30 over #4 Miami), Miami (Sept. 10 over #4 Florida State), Maryland (Oct. 30 over #5 Florida State), Tennessee (Oct. 9 over #3 Georgia), Oklahoma (Oct. 9 over #5 Texas), USC (Oct. 9 over #7 California), Florida State (Oct. 16 over #6 Virginia) and Virginia Tech (Oct. 2 over #6 West Virginia). Another one is assured today with #3 Auburn facing #8 Georgia at Auburn.

Admittedly, the glut of televised college football games every Saturday (much less the rest of the days of the week) means everybody’s games are now being shown. Still, Notre Dame’s current string of 146 consecutive games (including today) on NBC, ABC, CBS or ESPN remains one of the remarkable streaks in college sports.

Some applause, please, for Westwood One’s Tony Roberts. This is his 25th season as the play-by-play voice of Notre Dame football on radio.

Wondering what to make of Notre Dame’s win at Tennessee last week? It was the first time the Irish had gone on the road in the month of November and beaten a ranked opponent (AP poll) since defeating #11 LSU in Baton Rouge in 1997. And how about this? It was the first time the Irish had gone on the road in November and defeated a top 10 foe since a 1990 win over those same Tennessee Volunteers, then ranked #9. Maybe the Irish should schedule more of those Southeastern Conference opponents?

Notre Dame had nine current or former athletes (including four who won gold medals) participate in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games held in Athens. All nine are here this weekend and are being honored in conjunction with today’s game. With the explosion of Notre Dame’s own Olympic sports programs of late, how many do you think will make it to Beijing in 2008?

Of all the seniors making their final home appearance this afternoon, who are the most veteran of the veterans? They are linebacker Derek Curry with 33 career starts, defensive end Kyle Budinscak with 31 and then Ryan Grant and Carlyle Holiday with 24 each.

Did you remember that exactly 11 years ago today #2 Notre Dame defeated #1 Florida State 31-24 here in Notre Dame Stadium?

The most recent standard at Notre Dame for rushing defense excellence came in 2002 when the Irish held eight of 13 opponents to 100 ground yards or less. So far in ’04, the Irish have pulled that trick six times in nine outings.

Wondering what that so-called West Coast offense had in mind in terms of balance? Check out the list of pass receivers for the Irish in 2004 – there are 20 different names on the list (including Brady Quinn who has caught a pair). Notre Dame hasn’t had 20 different players catch passes in one season since hitting that same mark in 1962.

The Irish dropped to fifth overall this week in the NCAA strength of schedule ratings, based strictly on the won-lost record of opponents. But the Irish have spent most of the fall ranked number one, in terms of either the overall schedule, the remaining schedule or both. Eight of Notre Dame’s 2004 opponents played in bowl games in 2003 – only Oklahoma and Colorado with nine each played more.