National college football

An easy call for the Irish? Don’t be silly

The front-runner
By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / December 4, 2009

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It is what Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly calls the “silly season’’ - the time of year when rumors and speculation overshadow the business on the field.

Kelly should know. He’s in the middle of the biggest disturbance of the 2009 silly season: the search for a new coach at Notre Dame.

Kelly, correctly, said his focus this week is on the Bearcats’ game at Pittsburgh, which will determine not only the Big East champion but the BCS Big East slot. And for Cincinnati, it is also the chance to finish the season unbeaten, with the slightest possibility of getting a spot in the BCS title game.

Oh yes, he is also the front-runner to replace Charlie Weis at Notre Dame.

“It’s absolutely irrelevant,’’ said Kelly. “We’re in lockdown mode. All that stuff is going to have to wait for another time.’’

Kelly gets points for honesty. Notice he did not say he wasn’t interested, as Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops did when his name was mentioned.

And he did not pull a Nick Saban, who three years ago flat-out lied to the Miami media and Dolphins fans by saying he had no intention of taking the Alabama job. Saban continued to say that right until the time he stepped off a plane in Tuscaloosa - and took the Alabama job.

Kelly might not be the next Irish coach - but don’t bet against it.

Before Notre Dame hired Weis five years ago, it made a run at Urban Meyer, then coaching Utah, who had said in the past that Notre Dame was his dream job.

Meyer, as he has proven at Florida, was a dream candidate - a Catholic coach who had worked his way up, building a program (Bowling Green) in the Mid-American Conference before moving up a level to post an undefeated season (Utah) and eventually win two national championships (Florida).

Look at Kelly’s résumé: Central Michigan (MAC) and now Cincinnati (Big East), where he is working on an unbeaten season. He also comes out of the Boston area (Everett) and went to St. John’s Prep in Danvers. He is media-friendly, a proven winner, a builder of programs.

Sounds like Notre Dame could have its man.

But with Notre Dame, the rule is that nothing is that simple, which means people such as Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and even North Carolina’s Butch Davis, Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh, and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald will be considered. And there are the obligatory checks to see whether Stoops or Meyer might want to come to South Bend.

The other turmoil this week was the retirement - forced, shoved, encouraged . . . take your pick - of Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.

Bowden will coach his last game in a bowl, either the Gator Bowl against West Virginia or the Champs Bowl against a Big Ten team such as Northwestern.

The Gator Bowl wants Bowden’s last game.

The key is the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, which has the first choice of non-BCS ACC teams. If the Chick-Fil-A takes 9-3 Virginia Tech, the Gator could take Florida State.

If the Chick-Fil-A passes on the Hokies - it would be Tech’s third trip to Atlanta this season - the Gator Bowl cannot choose Florida State since ACC rules say that a bowl cannot take a team that has two fewer conference wins than another team. Virginia Tech was 6-2 in the ACC, Florida State 4-4. Thus the Gator could pass on the Hokies in favor of 5-3 Boston College or 5-3 Miami but not FSU.

Bowden did not want to retire this way, with a 6-6 record. He wanted another year to finish with a bang, perhaps in the Orange Bowl.

It didn’t work out that way. A huge segment of the power base at FSU wanted coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher to take over now. Bowden was told he could stay a final season in a ceremonial role. Bowden thought it over and decided the fight wasn’t worth it. He will step aside after New Year’s Day.

Despite the critics who jumped on the series of off-field problems FSU has had over the last few years, as well as the mediocre records of the last few years, Bowden deserved to go on his own timeline. He will be missed.

The BCS bids will be announced Sunday. And it looks like either clear-cut or chaos. The game that will determine that is not the SEC title game between Florida and Alabama, it is the Big 12 championship game between Texas and Nebraska.

If Texas wins - as expected - it will be a Big 12-SEC showdown in the BCS title game. But if Nebraska can pull off the upset, you have all sorts of possibilities, including a possible rematch of Florida and Alabama.

Assuming a Texas win, the BCS lineup should look like this.

BCS title game: Florida-Alabama winner vs. Texas

Fiesta Bowl: TCU vs. Cincinnati or Boise State

Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech-Clemson winner vs. Iowa

Sugar Bowl: Alabama-Florida loser vs. Pittsbugh (if it beats Cincinnati) or Boise State.

The announcement of BC’s invitation to the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco will not come until Sunday, but right now it looks like Stanford is the most likely opponent, with a BC-USC game possible if USC loses to Arizona tomorrow.