2007 Sugar Bowl Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 01/03/2007
Man, Notre Dame sure has gotten a lot of mileage out of that loss to USC.
No, I wasn't talking about this year's 44-24 beat down that the Trojans dealt the Irish in November. I'm referencing last year's thrilling 34-31 win for USC in South Bend. That was one of the best games of 2005 and, so far, has been the defining moment of Charlie Weis' reign with the Golden Domers. I bring it up because, erasing that game from the memory banks, what else has Notre Dame done over the past two year's to make you think that they can stay within two touchdowns of LSU tonight?
Notre Dame (10-2) squares off with LSU (10-2) at 8 p.m. tonight at the Louisiana Superdome in the Sugar Bowl. This will be the final BCS bowl game before the National Championship Game. The Tigers opened as an eight-point favorite and were bet up to a 10-point chalk as recently as last weekend. However, a late rush of Irish money has drawn the line back down to eight.
The late movement was likely spurred on by the recent success of underdogs in bowl games. Puppies are a remarkable 14-2 against the spread since Dec. 29.
Of course, it could also be the public making a late play on their Darlings. Notre Dame is The Public Team in college football, much like Duke in college basketball and the Yankees in baseball. That level of public adoration drives betting and sucks the value out of the Irish as squares attribute a sort of mystical power to their program. This type of magical thinking could actually convince someone that Notre Dame can beat LSU tonight though all of the signs point to the contrary.
Notre Dame hasn't won a bowl game since beating Texas A&M in the 1994 Cotton Bowl. There have been eight consecutive humiliating defeats in the 12 seasons since then. LSU is 4-2 SU and ATS in its last six bowl games, all played since the start of the 2000 season. They hammered Miami 40-3 last year in the Peach Bowl while Notre Dame was dropping a 34-20 decision to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Irish enter this game ranked No. 11 in the nation in both the USA Today and Associated Press polls while LSU finished the regular season as the No. 4 team in the land. The Tigers earned their position amongst the elite by winning their last six games and only losing at Auburn and at Florida by a combined 17 points. On the other hand, the Irish finished 2-5 ATS against the bowl eligible teams they faced and where hammered by the only two other Top 10 teams they faced, 47-21 at home by Michigan and 44-24 at USC.
The Irish faltered against the country's elite and struggled against the fast, physical defenses of Michigan, Georgia Tech, and UCLA. My theory is that they're a soft, patty-cake football team that is all flash and no fight. Well, the bad news is that they'll be matched up against a Tigers D that finished second in the land in yards per game (238.8). I have a feeling that by the end of the game tonight the Irish quarterback will be pretty familiar with LSU defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey, one of the top DT's in the country.
Speaking of Brady Quinn, everyone's All-American may not be the best quarterback on the field. LSU's JaMarcus Russell is a 6-feet-6, 260-pound monster with a rocket arm and plenty of athletic receivers. All season pundits and prognosticators have ceded the No. 1 overall slot in April's NFL draft to Mr. Quinn, but I may not be the only one that thinks that Russell is a better pro prospect. While I expect both quarterbacks to produce, I think that Notre Dame's weak secondary and lax pass rush will provide Russell with more of an opportunity to make plays.
Interestingly, I feel like this quarterback match-up is also a microcosm of a key dynamic in this game. Even though the Tigers are ranked higher and favored by Las Vegas they will still mentally approach this contest as if they were a disrespected underdog. Of course, Charlie Weis is trying to play the Us-Against-The-World Card with his charges, but it is kind of tough to do when you're America's Sweethearts.
Finally, the elephant in the room is that because this is being played in the Superdome it is essentially a home game for the Tigers. Given all the emotion that still lingers around the stadium and this football program because of the shared experience of Hurricane Katrina, it's difficult to imagine a scenario where LSU doesn't come out fired up and playing its best ball of the season.
That's bad news for the Irish. And their backers. It will be interesting to see of the underdog trend continues but I would have to say that any bet on Notre Dame should be accompanied by a pint of whiskey. It could be a long night.
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