Barry Alvarez

Jonathan Daniel/Allsport

The last time the Notre Dame Fighting Irish won the national championship…

7 Comments

Notre Dame played in its first College Football Playoff game last year and hope to make playoff appearances a regular occurrence in the years moving forward. But the search for a national championship continues on into its third decade in South Bend. The last time Notre Dame was crowned champion of the college football world was 1988 with Lou Holtz in his third season as head coach of the Fighting Irish.

Of course, the highlight of Notre Dame’s national championship season was their matchup with No. 1 Miami. Catholics vs. Convicts in South Bend was the ultimate clash of college football’s old school history and tradition against the new brash ways of the dominant Hurricanes. It became a game that inspired documentaries about it and took the college football world by storm. It was a magical time for the sport of college football with two national powers colliding with the stakes as high as they can get.

Only a couple of teams were capable of going toe-to-toe with Miami that season. No. 1 Florida State was dismantled in the opener, 31-0. No. 15 Michigan (after losing to the Irish, lost by one in Ann Arbor. No. 8 Arkansas kept it within two points. But only Notre Dame could send Miami home with a loss, even if it was with some controversy that is disputed to this day.

Notre Dame went on to take down No. 3 West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl to put a cap on their national title run. With Barry Alvarez as the defensive coordinator, Tony Rice at quarterback, Ricky Waters at running back, Michael Stonebreaker at linebacker, Chris Zordich at defensive tackle, the Irish had a memorable run. Little did anyone know it would be the last time Notre Dame won it all.

Here’s what else was going down in 1988 as the Irish were on their way to their most recent national title…

Last National Championship: 1988 (31 years and counting)

Who was President?

Ronald Reagan was in his final year in the White House, wrapping up the last full year of his second term in office as President of the United States. His Vice President, George H.W. Bush would run for president and win the 1988 election with Dan Quayle as his running mate.

In 1988, current President Donald J. Trump was watching his first wife, Ivana Winklmayr become a naturalized United States citizen.

What was on TV?

There were some big debuts on the various networks in 1988. Roseanne, The Wonder Years, and Murphy Brown all made their debuts. Another show that made its debut on Disney Channel was Good Morning, Miss Bliss. That show would go on to evolve into Saved By The Bell, a fan favorite for a generation.

The year also saw some iconic shows come to an end, including St. Elsewhere, Magnum P.I. and The Facts of Life.

What movies were hot?

The big winner at the box office in 1988 wasn’t “Big” (that was No. 4 in the box office earnings), but “Rain Man” starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. The Academy Award-winning film beat out “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” for the top spot in the box office charts that year, with Eddie Murphy and “Coming to America” coming in third.

But 1988 was also the year one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time was released in theaters, with Bruce Willis starring in “Die Hard.”

Tim Burton also directed one of his more iconic films, “Beetlejuice.” Meanwhile, Ron Howard bombed with “Willow.”

Baseball fans also got a couple of movies to soak in with “Bull Durham” and “Eight Men Out.”

What else happened in 1988?

Notre Dame defeated two conference champions in the 1988 season with victories over Michigan (Big Ten) and USC (Pac-10) book-ending the regular season. Other conference champions in 1988 included Clemson (ACC), Nebraska (Big Eight), Arkansas (Southwest), and Auburn and LSU splitting the SEC title in the pre-SEC Championship Game era.

Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders ran away with the Heisman Trophy after rushing for 2,628 yards and scoring 37 rushing touchdowns in just 11 games (bowl game stats were not included in official records at this time). Current Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy was the starting quarterback for the Cowboys that season.

Current Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was just a few years into his coaching career that would eventually lead him to South Bend. In 1988, Kelly was a graduate assistant and defensive backs coach for Grand Valley State. In just a few more years he would become the head coach of the program and lead them to Division 2 dominance as a national title contender.

For the first time ever, a night game is played in Wrigley Field between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets. Kirk Gibson and the Los Angeles Dodgers push past Jose Conseco and the Oakland Athletics in the World Series later that season.

The San Francisco 49ers would go 10-6 in the regular season but go on to win the first of back-to-back Super Bowls with a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Former Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana continued to be among the best players in the NFL you did not want to bet against.

The Bad Boy Detroit Pistons won the first of back-to-back NBA titles a couple of years before Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls finally broke through for their title runs. The Calgary Flames would go on to defeat the Montreal Canadiens in the 1988-89 season. It remains the most recent time two teams from Canada played for the Stanley Cup.

How close are the Irish to a title now?

Notre Dame has had their chances to grab another national championship over the past three decades. Most recently, the Irish played in the College Football Playoff last season, only to be run over by eventual national champion Clemson. And the Irish played in one of the final BCS championship games, getting steamrolled by Alabama at the end of the 2012 season. But you have to go back to the years closer to the last national title in 1988 to find when Notre Dame had a shot at the national championship.

The Irish ended the 1989 season ranked No. 2 after ending the season with a 21-6 victory over No. 1 Colorado in the Orange Bowl. As fate would have it, Miami ended the year ranked No. 1 with an 11-1 record that included a regular season-ending victory over the previously No. 1 Irish. A promising 1990 season saw the Irish start at No. 2 in the AP poll and move to No. 1 before a home loss to Penn State in November brought a run to a possible national title to a halt. A bumpy end to the 1991 season ensured a national title shot for the Irish, who had been no higher than No. 5, would remain out of reach. In 1992, a 33-16 loss to Stanford would be enough to prevent Notre Dame from sniffing a national title shot.

The 1993 season had promise as the Irish climbed to No. 2 going down the stretch of the regular season. A major showdown with No. 1 Florida State in Notre Dame Stadium was dubbed the Game of the Centruty. It was so big at the time that ESPN took its signature College GameDay show on the road for the very first time.

A wild 31-24 victory over the Seminoles bumped the Irish to No. 1 in the AP poll with just one final regular season game to be played.

Unfortunately for Notre Dame, that one game came against No. 17 Boston College, and the Eagles clipped the Irish in South Bend by a final score of 41-39.

Notre Dame could do nothing but watch as Florida State claimed the national championship with a victory over No. 2 Nebraska.

Today, Notre Dame is in a good situation even with all of the craziness that has happened through the realignment changes. The Irish are a program that will flirt with a national title shot every now and then, so winning one shouldn’t be out of the question. But their two most recent national title shots have left a stain that is impossible for many to forget about. But how much should Notre Dame be at fault for going up against two programs in Alabama and Clemson during times when they have been two of the most dominant programs the sport has seen in some time?

Notre Dame may one day celebrate a national championship, and it may even happen in the next few years. But this is certainly not the 1980s and 1990s anymore for Notre Dame. There are challenges that exist today that were not as inhibiting decades ago.

Big Ten ADs chirping for College Football Playoff expansion

Getty Images
18 Comments

The Big Ten has seen its champion left out of the College Football Playoff three times overall and twice in the past two seasons. Now, as the Big Ten powers gather for spring meetings, the talk about potential changes to the College Football Playoff are picking up some steam among Big Ten athletic directors.

Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez has previously been outspoken about the idea of expanding the playoff format beyond four teams. As a member of the selection committee, Alvarez has one of the most prominent voices in the game when it comes to playoff expansion, even if the company line from the College Football Playoff is that four teams is the best possible number right now. But the Big Ten is in the midst of changing the discussion as best it possibly can as Jim Delany has begun speaking more favorably for discussing potential expansion, and other Big Ten ADs are beginning to step up to the plate as well.

“I’m open to the consideration and to looking at it and to thinking about it,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said this week, according to MLive.com. “Anytime our Big Ten champion is left out of the playoff … that’s something that needs to be discussed. Because I obviously believe that you go through and you win the Big Ten championship in this league, you’ve accomplished something that deserves to put you in position to play for the national championship.”

Of course, maybe the Big Ten champion just has to avoid having one major bad loss on its schedule at the end of the season. That has been the biggest setback for Ohio State the past two seasons and was at least a part of the reason why Penn State didn’t make the cut a few years ago too.

Even if the Big Ten takes a hard stance in favor of playoff expansion, there is no guarantee that will be nearly enough to lead to any imminent changes to the system. The ACC and SEC remain confident in the current structure, for example, which would seem to make it difficult to pass any proposed changes to the format at this current time. The current contract for the College Football Playoff runs through the 2025 season, the 12th and final year of the initial 12-year TV and media contract for the playoff format with ESPN. Executive director Bill Hancock has said on multiple occasions no changes to the playoff model as far as how many teams may be involved would happen until at least the end of the current contract. As we creep closer and closer to the current contract’s expiration date, the discussions about the future of the playoff will begin to be heavily scrutinized. Contracts can always be adjusted at any time, of course, but the standard response from the College Football Playoff representatives has stayed true to the idea no changes would happen during the current 12-year deal.

Whether you like the current four-team model or not, history in sports has shown the trend is for playoff fields to expand at some point in time. They have expanded in pretty much every sport for as long as postseason sports have been in existence. And it wasn’t really all that long ago the powers that be in charge of the BCS were adamant a playoff would never happen. Now, those same people are running a four-team playoff field that is likely to be inevitable to succumb to the idea of expansion, for better or worse. Right now, the Big Ten is showing its hand in favor of expansion, or at least opening up a dialogue about the future of the College Football Playoff. If you are in favor of expansion, this is your battle cry.

Wisconsin rewards AD Barry Alvarez with contract extension

Leave a comment

Former Wisconsin football coach and current athletics director Barry Alvarez will be sticking around to guide the Badgers’ athletic program a little while longer. The school announced on Wednesday the contract for Alvarez has been extended through January 2021.

Alvarez has been the athletics director in Madison since stepping down from his post as head football coach in 2004, although he has stepped back on the sideline to coach the Badgers as an interim coach twice since his retirement from coaching. The new contract was effective on September 1. Wisconsin athletics have enjoyed a solid run all around under his leadership. In addition to a Big Ten championship victory in football, the Badgers have ben a strong basketball program and continue to be a force in the world of hockey, which continues to improve as part of the new Big Ten hockey conference. Off the field, Wisconsin student-athletes have continued to represent the school well.

Things are looking up on the football field for the Badgers this season as well. Wisconsin just skyrocketed up the polls after knocking off LSU in Green Bay. The neutral site game was the third the Badgers have played in recent years under Alvarez’ leadership. The neutral site games tend to bring in a substantial amount of money to the schools playing in them, which is why Wisconsin’s involvement in game sin Arlington (vs. Alabama), Houston (vs. LSU) and this past weekend in Green Bay are sought by schools.

Alvarez has served as a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee each of the past two seasons.

Report: CFB Playoff clause could lead to extension for Kirby Hocutt

AP Photo/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Zach Long
Leave a comment

Texas Tech athletics director Kirby Hocutt is taking over as the chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee this year. Although his term on the selection committee is scheduled to expire at the end of the 2016 season, a clause in the selection committee protocol could lead to a one-year extension for Hocutt, according to a report from Heather Dinich of ESPN.com.

“Members will not be eligible for re-appointment, but a member’s term may be extended one year if the member would serve as chair in what otherwise would be his/her final year,” College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock told ESPN.com. This being Hocutt’s final year on his term qualifies Hocutt for the one-year extension, which would allow him to fill that role again in 2017. Selection committee members typically serve three-year contracts, which means the bulk of the selection committee is entering their final year on their respective contracts, but Hocutt was not a founding selection committee member. This will be just his second season on the committee.

Hocutt fills the vacancy on the committee left by West Virginia’s Oliver Luck and succeeds Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, who served as the chair of the selection committee for the first two seasons of the College Football Playoff. In addition to being the top head of the selection committee, the chair must also be the public face of the committee. Long had appeared on the weekly rankings show aired by ESPN to answer questions about the most recent rankings and attempt to shed some light on the logic behind the rankings as discussed by the selection committee. It was a job that came with plenty of criticism, although this was not always the direct fault of Long the past two years. He was just there to take the brunt of the attacks from critics, as any chairperson might.

There is no deadline for the College Football Playoff and selection committee to decide the fate of Hocutt’s term, although Hancock notes the discussion will be held later this year. There is no real rush to make a final judgement either. This is a decision that could even linger into the 2017 calendar year, although it would be expected to be cemented in place before the start of the 2017 college football season and could come much earlier than that. The future of other selection committee members with expiring contracts — Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez, Bobby Johnson and Condoleezza Rice — remains unknown at this time as well.

Again, there is plenty of time to piece together the 2017 College Football Playoff selection committee, so don’t expect much clarity on the situation in the near future.

Sportswriter says Wisconsin hiring Gary Andersen was “colossal mistake”

9 Comments

With Wisconsin on a bye week this weekend, it was a good time to reflect on the Badgers through the first 10 games of the season. There have been some close calls for Wisconsin, including a 23-21 win at Nebraska and a 31-24 victory at Maryland, but the Badgers have lost just twice and those losses have come against a surging Alabama Crimson Tide and surprisingly undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes squad on pace to appear in the Big Ten Championship Game. One sportswriter in Wisconsin says the first year under Paul Chryst already helps show the program is on more solid ground than it was under his predecessor, Gary Andersen. He’s not wrong.

“While understandable given how UW has generally steamrolled lesser opponents in recent years, such concern is unfounded,” Tom Oates of Madison.com says of Wisconsin’s season to date. “If anything, people should be encouraged about the future because the program is headed in a better direction today than it was a year ago at this time.”

When Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas, athletics director Barry Alvarez opted to bring in Andersen from Utah State to take over the program. Andersen was coming off a 11-2 season with the Aggies, with one of those losses coming at Wisconsin (16-14) and a victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. By most accounts, it was a solid hire for the Badgers, and in fact it was. Wisconsin went 9-4 in Andersen’s first season in Madison and 10-3 the following season, which ended in a 59-0 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game. Between the Big Ten title game blowout loss and the bowl season, Andersen skipped town and headed west to take over at Oregon State after Mike Riley accepted a job offer from Nebraska. That led Wisconsin to bringing Chryst home after the former Badgers player and assistant coach got some head coaching experience at Pittsburgh. The benefit of hindsight has allowed Oates to suggest the entire hiring of Andersen was an error.

“Instead of laughing derisively as Andersen’s losses pile up, they should be thanking him profusely for realizing what has become apparent in the 11 months since he left: His hiring at UW was a colossal mistake.

Please, don’t misunderstand that. UW athletic director Barry Alvarez hired a good coach in Andersen, he just hired the wrong coach. Andersen has solid credentials and is a great guy, but he was a bad fit for UW. It’s as simple as that.”

Some programs benefit from having a coach in place that truly understands the program and what it takes to lead it on and off the field. Chryst is about as close to home as Wisconsin could have gotten from the start, and perhaps the wait was worth it as Chryst got seasoned as a head coach at Pitt before returning to Wisconsin. Chryst may not be a flashy guy that will serve up a handful of quotes to fill sportswriters’ columns, but he gets Wisconsin from top to bottom and is a very good fit for the program.