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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Gridiron: Top programs fall in recent years

Watching the clash of the titans that was Michigan at Notre Dame last weekend, I was deliriously happy to see the sad state of these two once-dominant programs. Two of the teams that frustrated me for my entire youth were toiling in a mistake-filled game — featuring eight combined turnovers — that will have zero effect on the BCS Bowl picture come January. But the Fighting Irish and Wolverines aren’t the only storied programs to have fallen on tough times. Florida State and Nebraska are also suffering a similar fall from the proverbial mountaintop. Let us examine what each program did wrong, and what these schools must do to obtain former glory:

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish have lost their last nine bowl games, a streak that dates back to 1994. While there were a few successful seasons during that streak, the overall result has left the Irish faithful wounded and whining.

What went wrong? They hired the wrong coaches. Hall of fame coach Lou Holtz retired after the 1996 season, and the following coaches proved to be one, big, unmitigated disaster. In college football more than any other sport, the coach controls all aspects of a program. He controls the recruiting, the schedule and the actual team itself. Bob Davie — the coach following Holtz’s departure — was incapable of handling the pressure that comes with the Notre Dame program. He posted a mediocre 35-25 record and failed to win a bowl game. Next in line, Tyrone Willingham didn’t have the personality to succeed at Notre Dame and was fired after three seasons.

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That brings us to incumbent Charlie Weis. Praised as a savior after two successful seasons — accomplished with Willingham’s recruits, by the way — Weis fell flat on his face last year, finishing with a dismal 3-9 record. After a successful stint in the NFL as the New England Patriots offensive coordinator, many are questioning whether Weiss can adjust to the challenges the college game brings.

How to fix it: Pray that Weiss proves last season was a fluke, because if not, Notre Dame is locked into a deal that runs through the 2015 season and is reportedly worth $30-$40 million. Despite a 2-0 start to this season, neither win was very impressive, and top QB Jimmy Clausen has yet to pan out. The prognosis: Outlook is bleak.

Michigan: Michigan — with the exception of this season — still has been a very successful program on the national level, but they have failed to live up to expectations of their fan base. The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry — the most storied in college football — defines the season for many Wolverine fans, and has caused the recent misery. UM has lost the last four games to the Buckeyes and six of the last seven. This rivalry is so important that it was likely the driving force in head coach Lloyd Carr’s departure. Despite his 6-7 record against the Buckeyes, Carr was 122-40 overall.

What went wrong? Ohio State hired Jim Tressel. Tressel, no matter what the circumstances, has absolutely owned Michigan in his eight-year career. The rivalry hasn’t been this lopsided since the late 1980s.

How to fix it: Have patience. The chance of Michigan beating Ohio State this year is slim due to a rough transition with new head coach Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a proven winner though and has shown the ability to recruit players ideal for his system. The prognosis: Good things come to those who wait.

Nebraska: Nebraska has tailed off to the point of irrelevance. After finishing No. 1 overall three times in the 1990s, the Cornhuskers have suffered an embarrassing six-year stretch, disappearing from the national spotlight. Since 2002, Nebraska has only recorded three winning seasons and hasn’t won the Big XII since 1999. For a team with 46 total conference titles, this drop off in production is startling.

What went wrong? They failed to adapt. Tom Osborne — the winningest coach in Nebraska history — built the program through tough defense and a smash-mouth running attack. After Osborne retired in 1997, his prot?g? Frank Solich continued in this tradition. The college game, however, began to emphasize speed and innovation on offense, neither of which the Cornhuskers had in large supply. Stubbornly sticking to the old ways drove the program into the ground, and the Cornhuskers have yet to recover.

How to fix it: Under new head coach Bo Pelini, the Cornhuskers have started the year 3-0, albeit against weak competition. The Big XII is a loaded conference this year, and to expect an immediate turn around is unrealistic. If the Cornhuskers, however, were to score an upset against either Missouri or Oklahoma, they could figure into the recruiting scene once again. Most importantly, the fans must lower their expectations. Despite the school’s storied past, it is unlikely that Nebraska will dominate as it once did. If fans would accept a Top 25 finish, as opposed to demanding finishing in the Top 10, the program could find success once again. Prognosis: not good. The Big XII figures to remain strong, and Nebraska is years away from competing for a title.

Florida State: The Seminoles finished in the top five for 14 straight years, dating from 1987 through 2000. In the past two seasons, however, Florida State has posted consecutive 7-6 records. While the program has not fallen flat on its face, the school must turn it around quickly to retain the recruiting clout it once boasted in the sunshine state.

What went wrong? The school continues to employ Bobby Bowden as its head coach. While clearly one of the best coaches of all time, it appears Bowden may have lost touch with the modern game. His recent recruiting classes have been average at best, and his team is predictable and stagnant. Florida State may rank No. 25 overall, but its two victories are against the tastiest of cupcakes.

How to fix it: If the Seminoles do not win or at least compete for the ACC title, it is time to let Bowden go. Most recruiting depends on recent success, and pointing to their dominance in the 1990s will do little to sway blue chip recruits. As tough as it may be, the future of the program depends on this decision. Prognosis: Does Athletic Director Randy Spetman have the courage to fire a legend?

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