Notre Dame has developed a reputation for playing a tough schedule and this year was no different. But Oregon State's schedule this season was anything but a pushover.
The five teams that claim wins over the Beavers (6-5) — Louisiana State, Boise State, Arizona State, Southern California and California — are all ranked in the Top 25 and have a combined 50-6 record. Four of those Beavers losses came during a brutal five-week stretch at the beginning of the season, which was capped by a 49-7 home loss to Cal.
"We started out the season pretty tough, but we turned things around after that," defensive end Bill Swancutt said. "We had a bye week (after the Cal loss) and we just kind of refocused ourselves and realized we had to turn things around."
If one player has been the catalyst for the turnaround, it has been Swancutt. The senior has tallied all 11 1/2 of his sacks since the bye week and was named the Pac-10’s co-defensive player of the year last week. With Swancutt turning on the pressure, opponents averaged just 19 points per game over the final six games of the season — down from 31 during the first five contests — and the Beavers became bowl eligible with a 50-21 win in their regular season finale against Oregon.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, backed into its Insight Bowl berth. After starting the season 5-2, the Irish lost three of their final four games. Notre Dame's victories over Michigan, Michigan State and Tennessee have made Oregon State coach Mike Riley uneasy.
“They’ve had some major wins,” Riley said. “When you look at their game film and watch them beat Michigan and Michigan State and Tennessee, you can’t help but notice that this is a good football team. We expect them to bring their best stuff so we have to bring ours.”
CAN'T BEAT THE WEATHER
Count Notre Dame's Derek Curry among those impressed with Arizona's weather.
"We've been able to wear short sleeves and not sweats in practice. It's been unbelievable," the senior linebacker and native Texan said.
Interim Notre Dame coach Kent Baer should be familiar to Arizona State fans.
Baer was the Sun Devils' defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach from 1992 to 1994. Led by Shante Carver and Brett Wallerstedt, ASU’s 1992 defense was ranked seventh nationally.
Baer got his college coaching start under former ASU coach Bruce Snyder at Utah State in 1977 and followed Snyder to Cal in 1987 and ASU in 1992 before joining Tyrone Willingham’s staff at Stanford in 1995. He then followed Willingham from Stanford to Notre Dame in 2002.
Baer said his status for next season is "completely undecided," but he added that the vacant defensive coordinator position at ASU piques his interest. He said he has not been formally contacted about the position.