A game between Oregon State and Notre Dame may not hold any special significance for the average college football fan.
But for fans of the Beavers and Fighting Irish, a matchup of the two schools drums up memories of the 2001 Fiesta Bowl — a game viewed as the jewel of one program’s modern era and the beginning of a dark age for the other.
Both programs seemed to be on the upswing heading into that game, until Oregon State danced its way to a dominating 41-9 victory that vaulted it into the top five of the national rankings.
A year after playing in their first bowl game since 1965, the Beavers left Sun Devil Stadium as a program on the rise. They were even featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s 2001 season preview.
Even after the beating it took, Notre Dame didn’t have it all bad. It finished the season 16th in the nation — its highest final ranking since 1995 — after posting its second nine-win regular season in three years.
Things seemed rosy indeed for the two programs. Then 2001 happened.
Despite high expectations, both teams posted 5-6 records and neither has returned to the heights it reached in 2000.
For Oregon State — a program that didn’t post a winning record between 1970 and 1999 — that hasn’t been so bad.
The Beavers will play in their third straight bowl game and go for their second straight bowl win tonight. Sure, there was a minor hiccup when coach Dennis Erickson left for the NFL following the 2002 season. But he was replaced by Mike Riley, who had coached at Oregon State in 1997 and 1998 and is widely considered the man who resuscitated the program.
"We definitely came in with a lot of success," said free safety Mitch Meeuwsen, one of seven Oregon State seniors who watched the 2001 Fiesta Bowl from the sideline as a freshman.
"We thought it’d be pretty easy (to reach major bowl games). We realize a couple years later that it’s not that easy. . . . (The program has) definitely come a long way and it has felt great being a part of it. It was up and coming in the beginning but it feels established now."
That kind of stability is a thing of the past at Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish have had four coaches since the 2001 Fiesta Bowl. Bob Davie was fired after the 2001 season and replaced briefly by George O’Leary, who was fired after it was discovered that he lied on his resumé. Then Notre Dame hired Tyrone Willingham away from Stanford.
Willingham was given three seasons before he was jettisoned in November. That firing led to a highly scrutinized search that started with Utah coach Urban Meyer — who chose Florida over Notre Dame — and ended with New England Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
Defensive coordinator Kent Baer has served as the interim coach this month.
"There’s been a lot of turmoil," said senior linebacker Mike Goolsby, the only player on either roster to play in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl — or any BCS game. "College football goes up and down."
"There’s been a lot of turmoil. College football goes up and down."