Should a Rivalry Dictate a Season?
A year ago, I wrote an article discussing who Notre Dame’s true rival is. It was an open and shut case and nobody can deny that throughout their respective histories, Southern California is Notre Dame’s biggest rival. However, with the instability of Weis’ tenure at Notre Dame, most people are pegging Charlie’s success this season on two things: total wins and losses and the team’s performance against USC.
I live in north-central Ohio. Here, either you’re an Ohio State fan or a Michigan fan. Luckily, I’m neither. I’ve talked to many Ohio State fans that just care about one game at the end of the season against the Wolverines. The same is true for Michigan fans and some might claim that one of the reasons Lloyd Carr was fired from Michigan was his poor performance against Ohio State in recent history. But, is it fair to judge a coach or a coaching staff on their performance against a rival? Most Notre Dame fans are more concerned about the season as a whole rather than just the Irish’s performance against the Trojans. However, I think it is important how Notre Dame does against USC for several reasons.
In recent history, it’s been common knowledge how dominant the Trojans have been in college football. Whether Notre Dame fans care to admit it or not, basing your team’s performances against top football powers like USC, Florida, Ohio State, Texas, or other notable teams is a solid depiction of where your program rates against theirs. However, the bad thing about college football, or good thing, depending on your opinion, is that on any given Saturday, any team can beat any team. Because of this, some losses to weaker teams could make your team look worse than they really are (see Notre Dame vs. Syracuse in 2008). In the same respect, even if Notre Dame does beat USC, it doesn’t mean that the programs are equal or Notre Dame is better than USC.
Since Charlie Weis has come to Notre Dame, he has established himself as a powerful recruiter who can give Notre Dame at least a decent shot of signing the majority of most blue-chip recruits. Pete Carroll is also a coach who has had success in recruiting. Often times, Weis and Carroll find themselves battling over some of the same recruits. If Notre Dame can beat USC, it will aid Weis’ recruiting efforts for those players who are deciding between South Bend and California.
Perhaps the biggest concern for Notre Dame fans is if Charlie Weis is done learning on the job and is ready to become the leader that a head coach needs to be. He has established himself as a recruiter and he’s established himself as a fine-tuner of talent, but can he establish himself as a leader of an entire football team and a football program? Notre Dame’s performance against USC this season should be an accurate depiction of how close Notre Dame is to being a perennial power in the national scene once again. It’s undeniable how successful Pete Carroll has been at USC and a competitive game against USC should show, among other things, how well Weis is doing as a head coach.
While I don’t think it’s fair to judge a coach on one game, the USC game has extra weight this season. Not only is it a rivalry game for the Irish, but it will carry several indicators of how close, or how far, Charlie Weis and Notre Dame are to returning to the state in which the program should be. If the Irish should lose to Southern Cal it does not automatically mean that Charlie Weis should be fired. Conversely, if the Irish should win, it does not mean that Charlie Weis should remain at Notre Dame. The 2009 season is bigger than the date with Southern California and Charlie Weis’ future at Notre Dame after 2009 should be as well.