Notre Dame tries on role of also-ran

January 02, 1995|By Chicago Tribune

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The New Year has an unfamiliar ring for Notre Dame.

Sure, the Irish are in a major bowl, but only because of their drawing power in the stands and on TV. Instead of fighting for a national championship, they are unranked at 6-4-1 and still wobbly from their worst season since Lou Holtz began Notre Dame's rebuilding process back in 1986.

"It was a humbling season, not a humiliating season," said Holtz, who will be going after his 200th career victory today against Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl.

He believes his Fighting Irish are ready and willing to take on the fourth-ranked Buffaloes. But the question he can't answer until three hours after the kickoff is whether they are able.

"I feel we got as much done this week as we possibly could," Holtz said. "I think we've improved a lot, but it may not be good enough because Colorado is an awfully good football team."

The Buffaloes are everything Notre Dame wanted to be before injuries, inexperience in the offensive line and the lack of a kicking game did the Irish in. Colorado turned a last-second win against Michigan into a successful 10-1 season. Its only blemish was a loss to top-rated Nebraska at Lincoln.

In contrast, the Irish seemingly came back to beat Michigan, only to lose on a field goal with two seconds left, a setback Holtz said was the turning point in the downward spiral.

Colorado has the Heisman Trophy winner in running back Rashaan Salaam, the Jim Thorpe Trophy winner in defensive back Chris Hudson, a quarterback in Kordell Stewart who is a threat at running or throwing, and a deep receiving sensation in Michael Westbrook.

Notre Dame averages more than 100 fewer yards per game (384) and 1 1/2 fewer yards per play (5.59).

Lee Becton, who had finished last season with seven straight 100-yard rushing games and was a preseason candidate for the Heisman, opened this year with only 16 yards in 10 carries, missed four complete games because of a groin injury and played hurt in another.

He is back to face Colorado, but not 100 percent. Holtz is unsure how long and how hard he can go. His backup, Randy Kinder, who had four 100-yard rushing games, will not play because of a knee injury. Holtz will use regular starting fullback Ray Zellars, who missed three games with an ankle injury, to spell Becton.

FIESTA BOWL

No. 4 COLORADO (10-1)

vs. NOTRE DAME (6-4-1)

Site: Tempe, Ariz.

Time: 4:30 p.m. today

TV: Chs. 11, 4

BOutlook: Bill McCartney will coach his last game for the Buffaloes after announcing his resignation last month. Quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel will succeed McCartney. One of the reasons Colorado chose Neuheisel is because he is a favorite of Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam. Salaam, a junior who leads the nation in rushing and scoring, has rushed for 2,055 yards. Marcus Allen, Mike Rozier and Barry Sanders -- all Heisman Trophy winners -- are the only other Division I-A players to gain 2,000. Colorado's only loss was to top-ranked Nebraska. Notre Dame barely reached the Bowl Coalition requirements of six wins. Ron Powlus has struggled through his first season at quarterback, throwing for 1,792 yards with nine interceptions. Notre Dame has suspended star CB Bobby Taylor and DE Germaine Holden for today's game for trying to sell their complimentary tickets to a Nov. 26 game against Southern Cal. Notre Dame's leading rusher, sophomore Randy Kinder, will miss the game because of an injured right knee suffered in practice Monday. Kinder led the Irish with 702 yards. Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz seeks his 200th career victory. The Colorado defense features Chris Hudson, winner of the Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back. Notre Dame and Colorado met in the Orange Bowl after the 1989 and 1990 seasons. The Buffaloes won the second meeting, 10-9, and clinched a share of the national title when Raghib Ismail's punt return for a TD was called back by a penalty.

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