Everybody knew Penn State had a ridiculously soft non-conference schedule this season with games against Florida International, Buffalo and Temple, likely the three worst programs in major college football. But who could have guessed the Nittany Lions' easiest game will be against Notre Dame Saturday night at Beaver Stadium? Is it really so crazy to think they will beat the Irish by more than the 59-point licking they put on Florida International Saturday?
What? You think I'm kidding?
It's almost incomprehensible, the rotten state of Notre Dame football. One game doesn't ruin a season, but the 33-3 beating the Irish took from Georgia Tech Saturday -- their worst season-opening loss in their 120-year history and at home, no less -- is a pretty good indication more lopsided losses are on the way. It was Notre Dame's third consecutive defeat by at least 20 points, going back to games last season against Southern California (44-24) and Louisiana State (41-14) in the Sugar Bowl, its ninth bowl loss in a row. Looking at its typically difficult schedule, it's not all that hard to imagine Notre Dame at 0-8 going into its home game against Navy Nov. 3. It's a good thing it has beaten Navy an NCAA-record 43 consecutive times or it could lose that game, too.
How does this happen?
How does America's glamour football school fall so far?
How does a program with its own television network and unlimited resources become so mediocre even for a short period of time?
It's unconscionable, if you ask me.
Sure, the academics are rough at Notre Dame, the admission standards more unyielding than at most major colleges. Notre Dame legend Paul Hornung -- the Golden Boy, himself -- lost his job as a team broadcaster in 2004 after he said publicly, not to mention indelicately, "We can't stay as strict as we are as far as the academic structure is concerned because we've got to get the black athletes. We must get the black athletes if we're going to compete."
It's also true Notre Dame doesn't have the same allure in this ESPN era. Kids used to get up Sunday morning, watch the Notre Dame football highlights show and dream of playing under Touchdown Jesus. Now, everybody's games are on national television. The great players dream of playing at Florida and Southern Cal and Ohio State.
But, really, still?
A 30-point home loss in the first game of a new season? When the Irish are outplayed in every phase? When their offense allows nine sacks, rushes for minus-8 yards and has 122 total yards? When 28 of their 64 offensive plays go for no gain or a loss? When their defense allows Georgia Tech running back Tashard Choice to rush for almost 200 yards?
It's a good thing Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis kept his starting quarterback a secret until game time or the Irish really would have been in trouble.
It's funny, Weis played the respect card Friday night at the Notre Dame pep rally in an attempt to motivate his players, telling the assembled students, "Everyone doesn't think we're gonna be worth a damn. We're really tired of listening to everybody."
Tired of it, maybe.
Good enough to do something about it, I don't think so.
These really are tough times for Notre Dame. It's even being criticized by one of its more famous alums. You've heard of Jerome Bettis? In his new book, which is in stores today, he writes about Notre Dame treating former coach Tyrone Willingham "shamefully and with disrespect" by firing him in '04, just three years into his six-year contract. "As an African-American who attended Notre Dame and loves what it stands for, I'll always be embarrassed by that decision. In my opinion, race was part of the equation."
Weis won't be treated as rudely as Willingham -- he was given a rich new 10-year contract through the 2015 season in '05 after just seven games on the job -- but he surely will get plenty of heat if Notre Dame loses by three touchdowns at Penn State (OK, that 59-point talk earlier was a bit of an exaggeration) and goes on to start 0-8 or even 2-6. That's not accepted in South Bend. It should never be accepted there.
"We need to rally the troops, circle the wagons," Weis said this week.
Sounds like a plan, doesn't it?
At this point, though, Weis and the Irish probably will screw that up, too.
Ron Cook can be reached at email@example.com .