Bob Davie's squad
is primed for a
Football Prepares for 1998 Season
No. 24 Irish return 14 starters.
August 12, 1998
The New Attendance Figure:
Recognize the familiar 59,075 capacity for football at Notre Dame in the old version of Notre Dame Stadium? The new figure to remember beginning in 1998 is 80,012. That's down slightly from the '97 capacity of 80,225, a figure that represented a computerized projection of seating prior to completion of construction of the nearly 21,000-seat addition to the Stadium. The adjusted 80,012 number represents a refined seating manifest that includes changes that weren't apparent until construction was finished and the '97 season actually began.
The New Bowl Alignment:
While Notre Dame remains an independent in football, the '98 football season brings with it a noteworthy tie between the Irish and the BIG EAST Conference. The '98 season features the inauguration of the Bowl Championship Series, a four-game package that includes the Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and Rose Bowls -- and for the first time includes the Big Ten and Pacific-10 Conferences in the attempt to create the ultimate national championship game. Also beginning in '98, in years in which Notre Dame is not selected for one of those top four bowl games, the Irish can be selected as part of the BIG EAST rotation of bowl options, specifically involving the Gator Bowl and the Insight. com Bowl, with the possibility a third contest may yet be added to the BIG EAST list. The Gator Bowl may select Notre Dame twice in a four-year period. The Insight.com Bowl may select the Irish once over that four-year period. Both bowls will adhere to the BIG EAST one-win rule, in which a team selected for a particular game must be within one win of all other bowl eligible teams. In other words, a team with a 7-4 record cannot be selected over a team that is 9-2.
MacAfee To Be Enshrined:
Former Irish All-America tight end Ken MacAfee will be enshrined with other new members in the College Football Hall of Fame on Friday night at the National Football Foundation's dinner and ceremonies here in South Bend. MacAfee was a three-time, first-team All-American in 1975-77, finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting as a senior in '77 and was the first lineman to win the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, also in '77. Also a first-team Academic All-American, he caught 128 career passes for 1,759 yards and 15 TDs.
The Head Coach:
Bob Davie finished 7-6 (.538) in his first season as a collegiate head coach in 1997. His squad's victories over #11 LSU and #22 West Virginia marked the first time a Notre Dame team had beaten ranked foes on two straight Saturdays since November '92 (54-7 over #9 Boston College, then 17-16 over #22 Penn State). It marked Davie's fourth year at Notre Dame overall after serving as the Irish defensive coordinator and inside linebacker coach from 1994-96.
Davie previously coached nine seasons at Texas A&M (1985-93), two at Tulane (1983-84), four overall at Pittsburgh (1977, 1980-82) and two at Arizona (1978-79). He spent both seasons at Tulane as defensive coordinator and the last five seasons at Texas A&M in that role before coming to Notre Dame. Davie, hired as Irish head coach on Nov. 24, 1996, did gain particular insight into that position in '95 when he filled in briefly for Lou Holtz after Holtz underwent neck surgery.
The Denson List:
Senior TB Autry Denson has 11 regular-season games remaining in his Notre Dame career and he needs to average 90.0 yards per game in those contests to surpass all-time Irish rushing leader Allen Pinkett (4131 yards). He ranks sixth in NCAA career yards among currently active backs in Division I.
With his 1,268 rushing yards in 1997, Denson ranked as the sixth player in Notre Dame history to reach the 1,000-yard mark in a season - and he now ranks third on the Irish all-time groundgaining list. He's the third Irish player to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons (joining Vagas Ferguson in 1978-79 and Allen Pinkett in 1983-85). His '97 total marked the fourth-highest single-season total in Irish annals (he was voted MVP of the '97 Irish squad by his teammates) - and his '96 total ranked sixth.
His 143 yards vs. Hawaii marked his seventh overall 100-yard effort in '97 (he also had seven in '96) and the 17th of his career (Pinkett holds the career mark with 21). Those figures don't include his 101 yards vs. LSU in the '97 Independence Bowl since bowl games aren't included in NCAA season or career statistics.
Denson's 30 receptions in '97 marked the most by an Irish running back since Bob Gladieux caught 37 in 1968.
The '98 Butkus Award Candidates:
Notre Dame boasts three preliminary candidates among 68 overall for the '98 Butkus Award (presented to the nation's outstanding collegiate linebacker by the Downtown Athletic Club of Orlando) in OLB Kory Minor, ILB Bobbie Howard and ILB Jimmy Friday, all seniors.
Minor, Notre Dame's top returning sacker from 1997, also was a preliminary candidate in 1996 and 1997. Minor in '97 finished with 85 total tackles, eight tackles for losses and led the Irish with three and a half sacks. Howard averaged 13 tackles per game in '97 despite missing much of the first half of the season due to injury -- while Friday finished as the overall team leader in tackles with 109.
The three Irish candidates for '98 mark the most ever for Notre Dame in a season (the record is four by North Carolina in '97). Kansas State, Florida and Michigan also have three nominees in '98.
The '98 Schedule:
Notre Dame in '98 begins its schedule in daunting fashion by playing host to defending national champion Michigan in the season opener, followed by contests against Michigan State, Purdue and Stanford, all of whom defeated the Irish in '97. The fifth game comes on the road against an Arizona State team ranked ninth in the USA Today/ESPN preseason poll (Michigan was fifth, Michigan State 23rd).
Five of Notre Dame's '98 opponents played in bowl games in '97 -- Michigan (Rose winner), Michigan State (Aloha), Purdue (Alamo winner), Arizona State (Sun winner) and LSU (Independence winner).
Notre Dame played six ranked opponents during the '97 season, the first time that happened since 1992 (defeated #9 Boston College, #22 Penn State, #19 USC and #4 Texas A&M that year, lost to #19 Stanford, tied #6 Michigan). Here's the ranked results from '97:
#17 Michigan State L 7-23
at #6 Michigan L 14-21
at #19 Stanford L 15-33
at #11 LSU W 24-6
#22 West Virginia W 21-14
#15 LSU (Independence Bowl) L 9-27
The Irish played eight games vs. teams that ended up in bowl games for '97:
Georgia Tech (7-5) defeated West Virginia 35-30 in Carquest
Michigan (12-0) defeated Washington State 21-16 in Rose
Michigan State (7-5) lost to Washington 51-23 in Aloha
Purdue (9-3) defeated Oklahoma State 33-20 in Alamo
Pittsburgh (6-6) lost to Southern Mississippi 41-7 in Liberty
LSU (9-3) defeated Notre Dame 27-9 in Independence
West Virginia (7-5) lost to Georgia Tech 35-30 in Carquest
That's the most opponents to end up in bowls on an Irish schedule since '89 when eight of Notre Dame's foes qualified for postseason contests.
The '97 Highlights:
Here are some of the highlights of Notre Dame's 1997 football season, the first under head coach Bob Davie:
* Notre Dame produced the biggest in-season turnaround in Irish football history, becoming the first team to start 1-4 and finish with a winning record.
* The Irish played in a postseason bowl game for the 10th time in 11 seasons, thanks to their 11th consecutive winning season.
* The Irish won five straight games to end the regular season (all on a sudden-death basis, since one more loss would have kept the Irish from being bowl eligible), the sixth time that happened in the 1970s, '80s and '90s.
* Notre Dame played a schedule ranked 15th nationally in difficulty, including six games against teams then ranked in the Associated Press top 25 (#17 Michigan State, #6 Michigan, #19 Stanford, #11 LSU, #22 West Virginia and #15 LSU in the Independence Bowl). The Irish played five games vs. teams that ended up in the final AP poll (#1 Michigan, #13 LSU, #15 Purdue, #25 Georgia Tech) and played eight games vs. teams that participated in bowl games (Michigan in Rose, Michigan State in Aloha, Purdue in Alamo, Georgia Tech and West Virginia in Carquest, Pittsburgh in Liberty, LSU in Independence), the most since eight opponents qualified in 1989.
* The Irish defeated ranked opponents on successive Saturdays (#11 LSU, then #22 West Virginia) for the first time since 1992.
* Notre Dame set a single-season record by claiming four victories (Georgia Tech, Navy, West Virginia, Hawaii) on fourth-period game-winning drives, coming from behind in three of the games.
* The Irish attempted (317) and completed (190) more passes than any team in Notre Dame history, with quarterback Ron Powlus also setting individual single-season marks in those categories. Powlus finished his Notre Dame career as the all-time leader in passing yards (7602), attempts, completions and TD passes (52), as well as total offense attempts and yards. Wide receivers Malcolm Johnson (42 catches) and Bobby Brown (45) combined to give Notre Dame its first-ever pair of pass-catchers with 40 or more receptions each to their credit in a season.
* Notre Dame for the first time in its history played a game (24-6 win vs. #11 LSU in Baton Rouge) without either a turnover or a penalty.
* Senior Allen Rossum set an NCAA record for career returns for touchdowns with nine (three each on interceptions, punt returns and kickoff returns). He finished as Notre Dame's all-time leader in kick return average (punts and kickoffs).
* Junior tailback Autry Denson rushed for 1,268 yards in '97 to become only the third Irish player to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons (also Vagas Ferguson in 1978-79 and Allen Pinkett in 1983-85). Denson had eight 100-yard games in '97, including a season-high 144 vs. West Virginia and 101 vs. LSU in the Independence Bowl) -- and he needs to average 90.0 yards per game in his 11 1998 regular-season games to pass Pinkett and become Notre Dame's all-time leading groundgainer. His 30 receptions in '97 marked the most by an Irish running back in 29 seasons.
* Notre Dame opened the doors in '97 to an enlarged and refurbished Notre Dame Stadium, with its 80,225 seats (the old capacity was 59,075) enabling Notre Dame to finish eighth nationally in attendance. The Irish saw each of their home games sold out for the 33rd straight year.
The '97 Finish:
Notre Dame's win over Hawaii in its '97 regular-season finale meant the Irish won five straight games to finish the regular season. It marked the first time that happened since '95 (six straight to end the year) and only the sixth time that happened in the 1970s, '80s and '90s.
Injuries Caused Multiple Games Missed:
Notre Dame is hoping for better news on the health front in 1998. The Irish had to deal with a glut of injuries in '97, especially early in the year. Starters and other key reserves missed a cumulative total of 59 games. Heres a list of the key Notre Dame players with number of missed games:
Starting OT Chris Clevenger 11
Starting FB Joey Goodspeed 10
ILB Ronnie Nicks 9
Starting TE Dan OLeary 6
DE Jason Ching 6
FL Joey Getherall 5
Starting ILB Bobbie Howard 5
Starting NG Corey Bennett 4
Starting FS Jarvis Edison 3
On offense, the Irish were hurt early by the extended losses of starters Dan O'Leary at TE (he missed six straight games after the Georgia Tech opener) and Joey Goodspeed at FB (he was hurt vs. Michigan State and missed the final 10 games), at positions where they were working to replace graduated starters Pete Chryplewicz and Marc Edwards, respectively, both of whom played in he NFL in '97. On defense, Notre Dame benefitted tremendously from the return of ILB Bobbie Howard and NG Corey Bennett, both of whom were lost early and missed most of the first half of the season. In fact, the Irish were 6-2 with Howard in the starting lineup, 1-4 without him.
The Last Games:
The '97 season marked the third straight year the Irish came into a must-win situation in their final regular-season contest, with postseason bowl hopes hanging in the balance:
* 1995 -- The Irish took an 8-2 record into their regular-season finale at Air Force, needing a victory to reach the nine-win mark that guaranteed them an Alliance Bowl position, eventually against Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Notre Dame accomplished that by defeating Air Force 44-14.
* 1996 -- The Irish took an 8-2 record into their regular-season finale at USC, apparently needing a victory to have a chance for an Alliance Bowl invitation. Their 27-20 overtime loss to the Trojans, combined with the Lou Holtz-to-Bob Davie coaching change, ended up leaving them entirely out of the bowl scene.
* 1997 -- Rebounding from a 1-4 start, the Irish took a 6-5 record into their regular-season finale at Hawaii, needing a victory to make them bowl eligible. NCAA rules stipulate that bowl games are played between "deserving winning teams" that are required to have more wins than losses. Thus, a 7-5 record earned the Irish a chance to play in a bowl game, and the 23-22 victory over Hawaii provided that opportunity.
The Big Comeback:
The 1997 season qualified as the biggest in-season turnaround in the history of Notre Dame football. Never before had a Notre Dame team been 1-4 and finished with a winning season. Here's a look at what happened to other Irish teams that opened at 1-4:
* 1933 -- started 1-4-1, finished 3-5-1
* 1956 -- started 1-4, finished 2-8
* 1960 -- started 1-4, finished 2-8
* 1962 -- started 1-4, finished 5-5
* 1986 -- started 1-4, finished 5-6
There were 43 Division I-A teams that started the '97 season either 0-4, 1-4 or 2-4, only two of those finished above the .500 mark and only two (Notre Dame and Utah State in Humanitarian Bowl) played in bowl games:
* Notre Dame (7-6 after a 1-4 start; won five straight to finish regular season)
* SMU (6-5 after a 1-4 start; won five straight before a 21-18 loss to TCU in its finale)
* Utah State (6-6 after a 2-4 start; won five straight to finish regular season; lost 35-19 to Cincinnati in Humanitarian Bowl)
The season most similar to '97 in Notre Dame annals probably was the 1962 campaign in which the Irish won their opener against Oklahoma, then dropped four straight (exactly as in '97). Then, the '62 Irish won four straight games before falling to USC in the finale to end up 5-5.
The '97 NCAA Stats:
Here were final NCAA statistical rankings for the Irish team and individuals in 1997:
Team Rankings Notre Dame
Rushing Offense 36th at 174.92
Passing Offense 75th at 185.33
Total Offense 63rd at 36025
Scoring Offense 67th at 22.75
Rushing Defense 83rd at 184.75
Pass Efficiency Defense 24th at 107.77
Total Defense 60th at 365.0
Scoring Defense 31st at 19.83
Punt Returns 75th at 7.95
Kickoff Returns 24th at 22.23
Net Punting 53rd at 36.27
Turnover Margin 40th at Plus-5
Individual Rankings Notre Dame
Rushing Autry Denson 19th at 105.67
Kickoff Returns Allen Rossum 6th at 28.5
Punting Hunter Smith 32nd at 42.64
All-Purpose Runners Autry Denson 37th at 133.67
The LSU Win:
Notre Dame's '97 victory in Baton Rouge vs. 11th-rated LSU proved significant for several reasons. It marked the first time in Notre Dame history that the Irish played a game without either a penalty or a turnover. It also marked only the fourth time in history the Irish were not penalized in a game (others were vs. Ohio State in '35 and vs. USC and Miami in '81). After meeting the Irish twice in '97 (also in the Independence Bowl), LSU in '98 plays in Notre Dame Stadium on November 21.
The '97 Comeback Wins:
1997 marked the first season in Notre Dame history that the Irish had four game-winning drives in a single campaign, enabling the Irish to post home wins vs. Georgia Tech, Navy, West Virginia and Hawaii. Here are details:
* Georgia Tech - Trailing 13-10, the Irish took over on their own 30 with 7:42 left after a 47-yard missed field goal by Tech. Ron Powlus led them 70 yards in 11 plays, with Autry Denson scoring the gamewinner on a one-yard run with 2:37 remaining.
* Navy - Trailing 17-14, the Irish took over on their own seven at the 13:29 mark after a Benny Guilbeaux interception. Powlus led them 93 yards in 11 plays, with Denson scoring from the five at the 5:48 mark.
* West Virginia - With the score tied at 14, the Irish took over at their own 22 at the 7:32 mark after an Ivory Covington interception. Powlus led them 78 yards in six plays, throwing an 11-yard TD pass to Bobby Brown at the 4:56 mark for the winning points.
* Hawaii - Trailing 22-14 with 13:34 left in the game, the Irish pulled within 22-20 on a four-yard Autry Denson TD run at the 11:36 mark. Then, the Irish took over at the Hawaii 49 at the 1:50 mark after a Rainbow punt. Powlus led Notre Dame 40 yards in seven plays (including a 47-yard completion to Raki Nelson on third and 17), with Scott Cengia kicking the game-winning 20-yard field goal at the :05 mark.
Vs. the Top 25:
Notre Dame has gone 16-9-1 in Notre Dame Stadium in games played against Associated Press top 25 opponents during the past 11 years (compared to 19-15-1 away - including 5-5 in bowls - for 35-24-2 overall from '86 through '97). The '97 season marked the third straight year the Irish played a streak of three consecutive ranked opponents - with Notre Dame going 2-1 in both '95 and '96 against the run of Texas, Ohio State and Washington. In '97 it was consecutive Saturday dates against #17 Michigan State, #6 Michigan and #19 Stanford.
The Numbers Game:
Notre Dame hopes to build in '98 off the productivity it displayed on both sides of the ball in the second half of '97. The Irish offense and defense proved as productive in the last eight games of 1997 as they were all season:
First 5 Games (1-4) Last 8 Games (6-2)
Rushing Offense 129.8 197.2
Passing Offense 214.6 156.8
Total Offense 344.4 354.0
Scoring Offense 14.0 26.5
Rushing Defense 204.4 182.4
Passing Defense 194.0 156.8
Total Defense 398.4 339.2
Scoring Defense 23.6 18.3
Brown Anchors '98 Receiving Corps:
Senior Bobby Brown, impressive at flanker as the starter throughout '97, caught seven passes in each of his first three games in 1997 and led the Irish with 45 receptions overall. Brown's feat of catching seven passes in three consecutive contests marked the first time that happened since Tom Gatewood opened the '70 season by catching seven or more in his first five games (7 vs. Northwestern, 12 vs. Purdue, 9 vs. Michigan State, 8 vs. Army, 8 vs. Missouri). Brown joined SE Malcolm Johnson to give the Irish two 40-catch receivers in '97 for the first time in Notre Dame history -- and the return of those two for '98 promises both talent and experience for the Irish passing game this fall.
Smith Moving Up
Here's where senior punter Hunter Smith stands on the Irish career punting chart heading into the '98 season:
Rk. Name, Yr. No. Yards Avg.
1. Craig Hentrich, 1989-92 118 5204 44.1
2. Hunter Smith, 1995-97 132 5420 41.0
3. Vince Phelan, 1987 50 2044 40.9
4. Bill Shakespeare, 1933-35 91 3705 40.71
5. Blair Kiel, 1980-83 259 10534 40.67
6. Joe Restic, 1975-78 209 8409 40.2
* - Notre Dame for the third straight season in 1997 had more of its former players on opening-day rosters in the National Football League than any other school. The Irish had 44 former players on those rosters, compared to Miami (37), Penn State (36), Ohio State (35) and Tennessee (35). Here's where the Irish currently are playing, based on '98 preseason rosters:
ARIZONA -- LB Lyron Cobbins, OL Ryan Leahy; BUFFALO -- OL Dusty Zeigler; CAROLINA -- QB Steve Beuerlein, FL Raghib Ismail, RB Anthony Johnson, LB Kinnon Tatum, DB Rod Smith; CHICAGO -- CB Tom Carter, DT Jim Flanigan, DT Paul Grasmanis, T Andy Heck, QB Rick Mirer; CINCINNATI -- OL Mike Doughty; DETROIT -- TE Pete Chryplewicz, LB Scott Kowalkowski; GREEN BAY -- SE Derrick Mayes; INDIANAPOLIS -- LB Bert Berry, CB Jeff Burris; JACKSONVILLE -- S Travis Davis, DT Renaldo Wynn; KANSAS CITY -- C Tim Grunhard; MIAMI -- C Tim Ruddy, CB Shawn Wooden; MINNESOTA -- LB Pete Bercich; NEW ORLEANS -- RB Ray Zellars; OAKLAND -- WR Tim Brown, TE Derek Brown; PHILADELPHIA -- CB Willie Clark, RB Randy Kinder, CB Bobby Taylor, CB Allen Rossum; PITTSBURGH -- DT Oliver Gibson, FB Jerome Bettis; ST. LOUIS -- CB Todd Lyght; SAN DIEGO -- K John Carney, G Aaron Taylor; SAN FRANCISCO -- TE Irv Smith, DT Bryant Young, DT Junior Bryant, LB Anthony Peterson, FB Marc Edwards; SEATTLE -- RB Ricky Watters; TENNESSEE -- P Craig Hentrich, QB Ron Powlus; WASHINGTON -- OL Bob Dahl.
* -Notre Dame has played in front of capacity crowds in 97 of its last 113 games. The crowd at Independence Stadium in '97 for the Independence Bowl between Notre Dame and LSU marked a record for that facility. Those figures are bound to improve in '98, with a minimum of six sellouts assured based on Notre Dame's half-dozen home games.
* -Notre Dame has held 25 of its last 65 opponents to 100 or less rushing yards, including Boston College (83 yards) in '97 -- and Vanderbilt (2), Purdue (44), Rutgers (minus-6) and USC (92) in 1996.
* -Notre Dames rushing attack has ranked 20th or better nationally 10 of the last 11 years:
Year Rushing Avg. NCAA Rank Rushing TDs
1987 252.1 14th 33
1988 258.0 11th 30
1989 287.7 8th 42
1990 250.3 12th 33
1991 268.0 5th 31
1992 280.9 3rd 34
1993 260.7 6th 36
1994 215.6 20th 18
1995 233.5 6th 29
1996 269.5 8th 34
1997 174.9 36th 22
* -Since 1986, Notre Dame has returned 15 kickoffs, 16 punts (two blocked), 15 interceptions and five fumbles for touchdowns (total of 51) -- compared to only one punt (in '86), one fumble and three interceptions for opponents.
The '98 Pass Defense:
Notre Dame's pass defense in 1997 allowed only five combined touchdown receptions by opponents all season long (regular-season games only), the best by a Notre Dame defense since the 1973 team gave up four. Though the Irish graduated veteran cornerbacks Allen Rossum and Ivory Covington off that unit, '98 returnees include senior SS Benny Guilbeaux (he led the Irish in interceptions in both '96 and '97 with four each year), junior CB Deveron Harper (he started most of '97 at free safety but switches to cornerback for '98), sophomore FS Tony Driver (he moved from TB last spring), fifth-year CB Ty Goode (he'll hold down the other starting CB slot) and veteran FSs A'Jani Sanders and Deke Cooper. Overall, eight lettermen return to the '98 secondary.