Fiesta Bowl Preview II
Dec. 31, 2000
TEMPE, Ariz. - Notre Dame IS college football - the Four Horsemen,Knute Rockne, the Gipper, classic autumn confrontations, and Touchdown Jesuslooking on.
Oregon State's biggest claim to football fame is the longest string oflosing seasons in NCAA Division I history, 28 years of rain-soaked misery thatfinally came to an end in 1999.
So Monday night's Fiesta Bowl is David vs. Goliath - except David is favoredto win by three points.
Don't expect any humility from Oregon State in its second bowl appearance in36 years. Tenth-ranked Notre Dame (9-2) is nothing more than a good team theNo. 5 Beavers (10-1) expect to beat.
'We're not playing the name 'Notre Dame.' We're playing the footballplayers that are on that football team, just players like anybody else,'Oregon State coach Dennis Erickson said. 'That's how our football team isapproaching it.'
Ken Simonton, the 5-foot-7 second-team all-America tailback, said during theweek that the New Orleans Saints couldn't stop the Beavers' wide-open offense.
Big-play wide receiver Chad Johnson said he doesn't think anybody can coverhim one-on-one.
The confident talk has irritated some Notre Dame players.
'They are trying to get their name on a national stage,' wide receiverJoey Getherall said. 'We can't let that happen, not with the rich traditionNotre Dame has. We can't let a team come over and think they're going to stepall over us.'
When the season began, Notre Dame was almost as much of a long shot to makea major bowl game as Oregon State was. After last season's 5-7 showing, coachBob Davie was under heat.
He lost his starting quarterback, Arnaz Battle, and standout defensivelineman Brant Irons in the second game of the season, an overtime loss toNebraska. Notre Dame started 2-2 and Davie seemed on his way out.
But the Irish came fighting back to go 7-0 with poised freshman quarterbackMatt LoVecchio.
Even though they were ranked 11th in the Bowl Championship Series standings,the Irish were chosen by the Fiesta Bowl selection committee because of theprogram's national following.
Based on history, Notre Dame-Oregon State would seem a mismatch.
But Oregon State led the Pac-10 in total offense and defense. The Beavers'lone loss was 33-30 at Washington, a game Oregon State would have sent toovertime had Ryan Cesca not missed a 46-yard field goal with 14 seconds toplay.
They've won six in a row since.
'The way I look at it, they're a team that's the Pac-10 co-champion,they're coached by a coach who's won national championships and has been an NFLcoach, they're No. 1 in the Pac-10 in all of those statistics,' Davie saidSunday. 'You know they're fifth in the country. They're favored to win thisgame.
'To me it's kind of silly to say that Notre Dame would not take OregonState seriously or give them the respect that they would give other teams. Imean, this is about survival for us.'
The biggest advantage for Oregon State is team speed, especially at widereceiver and on defense.
Notre Dame's best hope is to control the ball on offense. Davie saidtailback Julius Jones, younger brother of Arizona Cardinals running back ThomasJones, is as healthy as he's been in an injury-plagued season.
Oregon State's junior quarterback Jonathan Smith, just 5-foot-10, already isthe school's No. 2 career passer. Simonton has run for more than 1,000 yards ineach of his first three seasons.
Oregon State has 49 plays of 25 yards or more this season.
Erickson, who grew up in the Northwest, knows that just getting to this gamewas an achievement.
'There were times when you mentioned 'I played at Oregon State or I'm anOregon State alumni,' they were crawling underneath a table,' Erickson said.'Now they have a lot of pride in it. That's been created before we ever playedthis football game. The outcome of the game obviously is important ... butgetting here is probably the most important thing.'
Not to Davie. The Irish have lost four consecutive bowl games, and theirfans aren't pleased.
'We're proud as heck to be one of the eight BCS teams, but it does comedown to winning,' he said. 'It's been a long time since we won a bowl game.What happens in the last game stays with you for such a long time that we needto win this game.'
By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer