Notre Dame, Mich. State: what might have been

The Baltimore Sun

Michigan State's inexplicable come-from-ahead 40-37 home loss to Notre Dame on Saturday night leaves the Fighting Irish - and Bowl Championship Series administrators - breathing easier and the Spartans - once again - scratching their heads.

A 2-2 start by Notre Dame would have ended the Irish's national-title hopes and would have made getting to a BCS bowl mighty difficult. Now, though, given the rest of their schedule, you have to figure the Irish will be 10-2 at worst.

Before their regular-season finale Nov. 25 at Southern California, the Irish get all three service academies, an awful North Carolina team, an awful Stanford team, a mediocre UCLA team and a Purdue team that can move the ball but can't stop anybody.

"I think that at halftime, the guys realized the season was starting to fall away for us," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said.

Instead, the Irish - who trailed 31-14 at halftime after allowing Michigan State to roll up 260 yards - rallied in the fourth quarter, scoring three touchdowns to overcome a 37-21 Spartans lead to start the period.

It was Notre Dame's biggest fourth-quarter comeback since - oh, my - the Joe Montana-led Irish rallied from 22 down in the 1979 Cotton Bowl against Houston. Last season, the Irish scored the final 21 points of regulation before losing to Michigan State, 44-41, in overtime.

Michigan State had its way with the Irish's mediocre defense in the first half, then dialed back the offense in the second half, managing just 128 yards.

"Yeah, we got conservative and probably should have come out and come back and started throwing it," said Spartans coach John L. Smith, whose team could have taken a huge step toward regaining some national respectability after back-to-back losing seasons.

Instead, the Spartans need to make sure the aftershocks of the loss don't affect them this weekend when they host woeful Illinois.

And all in all, at the end of the season, when the Spartans are preparing for a trip to the likes of the Champs Sports or Insight bowls and the Irish are readying for a spot in the Orange Bowl, both teams can look back to Saturday night's game and wonder what could have been.

Rebels without cause

The worst team in the Southeastern Conference resides in Mississippi.

No, we're not talking about Mississippi State. Instead, we're talking about Ole Miss (1-3).

For the third week in a row, the Rebels lost, this week falling, 27-3, at home to a Wake Forest team missing its leading rusher and using its backup quarterback. Wake ran 58 plays - 53 runs, five passes. Being one-dimensional is supposed to hurt, but not against Ole Miss, which has been outscored 92-24 in its three losses.

Ole Miss' only win came in the opener, 28-25, over Memphis. And Memphis coach Tommy West showed how happy he was with defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn when he fired him last Monday.

It's going to get worse before it gets better for the Rebels, who look to have one winnable game (at home vs. Vanderbilt) in the next five (there also are home games against Georgia and Auburn and road games against Alabama and Arkansas).

Grid bits

You think Johnny Evans was happy Saturday night? The former North Carolina State star now is part of the NCSU radio broadcast team, and the host Wolfpack rallied to shock Boston College, 17-15. The winning touchdown came on a pass to John Dunlap from Daniel Evans with eight seconds left. It was the first career start for Evans, a sophomore - and Johnny's son. "This is certainly a fairy-tale ending. For a quarterback to get his first start and to finish like this ... it's unbelievable," Johnny Evans told The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. ...

Baylor has rushed for 119 total yards. Nine players are averaging more than 119.0 rushing yards per game. ...

Texas Tech rolled up 509 yards of offense in routing Division I-AA Southeastern Louisiana, 62-0. (For some reason, the performance was enough to get Tech into the coaches poll, at No. 24.) The rout was no surprise, right? Coach Mike Leach's pass-happy offense always rolls up big numbers - except when it plays legit opponents. In its past four games against Big 12 or Top 25 foes, Tech's offense has scored five touchdowns. That may change this week: Tech is at Texas A&M;, which, though it is a Big 12 team, has a shoddy defense. ...

Poor Florida International. The Golden Panthers are 0-4 after Saturday's loss at Maryland, and the losses have come by a combined 11 points. ...

North Dakota State beat host Ball State in the Divison I-AA Bison's first-ever game against a I-A team. It also was the sixth I-AA victory over a I-A team this season.

Wake Forest is 4-0 for the first time since 1987, and the Demon Deacons get an awful I-AA team (Liberty) this week. Rutgers is 4-0 for the first time since 1980 and plays at South Florida on Friday. Missouri is 4-0 for the second time in four seasons but just the fifth time since 1925, and winless Colorado is next for the Tigers. Houston is 4-0 for the first time since 1990, and the Cougars play at Miami this weekend.

Mike Huguenin writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

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