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:
The Irish played eight games vs. teams that ended up in bowl games for '97:
The '97 Highlights:
Here are some of the highlights of Notre Dame's 1997 football season, the first under head coach Bob Davie:
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
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
Rushing Defense 204.4 182.4
Passing Defense 194.0 156.8
Total Defense 398.4 339.2
Scoring Defense 23.6 18.3
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:
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.
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
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.