NCAA Talk

Reconciling BCS loss with 2012 season no easy task for Irish

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Reconciling BCS loss with 2012 season no easy task for Irish

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Notre Dame made major strides in 2012, vaulting the program from the ranks of mediocrity to earning a chance to win a title for the first time since 1988. But that chance materialized into an embarrassing 42-14 loss at the hands of an Alabama team that exposed a wide gap between the two teams on Monday night.

"It's a season that not a lot of people thought we were going to have," offensive lineman Chris Watt said. "Being 12-0 and being No. 1 for a while here was great, but it's hard, too, especially at Notre Dame when that's the expectation, to win a National Championship. It's hard to reconcile a season when you lose."

As Watt explained the loss in that context, his teammates coped with various stages of grief. There was shock, frustration, acceptance -- and then there was Theo Riddick, who couldn't contain his emotions, weeping at his locker next to roommate and close friend Cierre Wood.

"You put so much work in with all your best friends," Riddick said between sobs, "and all you envision is to win, and it just kinda hurts right now.

"I wasn't really prepared to be sad," he added.

For Riddick, the sting of such a thorough loss wasn't mitigated by the gains Notre Dame made in its previous 12 games. His college career is over, as is the case for a dozen other seniors along with tight end Tyler Eifert and possibly Wood.

"We came in here, a bunch of us seniors shed some tears," wide receiver Robby Toma said. "It's been a great four years. Although this really hurts, one day we'll be able to look back on it and be proud of what we did. I have a lot of great memories here, and something that I'll always take with me. I'm just so blessed to be part of this whole experience."

Toma was on the end of the spectrum already looking at the big picture, one in which a single game didn't diminish how he viewed his time at Notre Dame. That's not easy to do, especially with the way Notre Dame lost to Alabama.

"It's a group of seniors who have taken this program to the next level," center Braxston Cave said. "Obviously we didn't finish the way we wanted, but these guys coming back are going to be here to take the next step and finish the right way next year."

There was a positive outlook on 2013 running through the Notre Dame locker room in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, too. Getting to Alabama's level is the goal, although more realistically, establishing a baseline of year-to-year success -- much like Oregon has done under Chip Kelly -- is the next step.

That's a big-picture analysis, though. For now, Notre Dame players are figuring out how a four-touchdown loss in the BCS Championship will look in the face of everything they accomplished from Sept. 1 onward.

"At some point, once you get past the loss, once you can cope with it and learn from it, you gotta say hey, we made it to the National Championship," wide receiver T.J. Jones said. "No other team can say that since the '88 team. And even though we lost, we got the experience so if we go back next year, which will be the goal, we know how to play, we know how to prepare, we know what it's like."

Loyola, Valpo showdown in a big game early in the MVC schedule

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USA TODAY

Loyola, Valpo showdown in a big game early in the MVC schedule

Loyola battles Valparaiso in a Missouri Valley Conference clash that airs on NBC Sports Chicago Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

The Ramblers (10-7, 3-1) are fighting for the top spot in the Valley with the Crusaders (11-6, 4-0) as the top two teams in the conference play an important early league game.

Coming off of an important home win over Illinois State on Saturday, the Ramblers are hoping to make another move by taking a crack at the Valley's only unbeaten team. Veterans Marques Townes, Clayton Custer and Cameron Krutwig are all having strong seasons for Loyola as the Ramblers attempt to position themselves for another potential NCAA tournament bid.

Valparaiso has put together a strong five-game winning streak, including a good road win at Southern Illinois over the weekend. The Crusaders have a balanced group of scorers, led by forward Ryan Fazekas, and center Derrik Smits -- the son of former Indiana Pacers center Rik Smits.

These two teams will also play on Feb. 10 as the Ramblers will make a trip to Valpo for the rematch. For now, this matchup could provide an indication of the team to beat in the Valley.

Northwestern mounts huge comeback, beats Utah in Holiday Bowl; Thorson, Fitzgerald heading to NFL next?

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USA TODAY

Northwestern mounts huge comeback, beats Utah in Holiday Bowl; Thorson, Fitzgerald heading to NFL next?

It was a tale of two halves for Northwestern in Monday's Holiday Bowl.

After entering halftime trailing Utah 20-3, Northwestern mounted a huge second half comeback to knock off the Utes 31-20. Northwestern, which outscored Utah 28-0 in the third quarter, finishes the 2018 season 9-5 record.

Northwestern was just 3-of-14 on third down, though they forced six Utah turnovers (two interceptions) highlighted by an 82-yard fumble return for a touchdown by safety/linebacker Jared McGee.

Six turnovers forced is the most by Northwestern since Oct. 3, 2009 against Purdue, when the Wildcats also forced six turnovers.

Senior quarterback Clayton Thorson — who tore his right ACL on Dec. 29, 2017 in the Music City Bowl — finished 21-of-30 for 241 yards and two touchdowns. However, Thorson exited the game late in the fourth quarter after going down awkwardly near Utah's sideline.

Thorson is one of the top quarterback prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft. 

The win improves Northwestern's all-time bowl game record to 5-10. However, they have now three-straight bowl games; from the 1948-2012 seasons, they won two bowl games — the 1949 Rose Bowl and the 2013 Gator Bowl.

One of the biggest questions facing Northwestern is the future of head coach Pat Fitzgerald. According to a report, the Green Bay Packers are expected to request an interview with Fitzgerald for their head coaching vacancy.

Unlike Thorson, Fitzgerald leaving for the NFL is no guarantee. If he does leave, however, Fitzgerald would leave with the most all-time regular season wins (95) and bowl wins (4) in Northwestern history.

Fitzgerald's .576 winning percentage would also be best all-time by a Northwestern head coach, minimum five seasons. 

Fans likely will anxiously wait for news regarding Fitzgerald's future. Overall, though, fans should be appreciative of the job he has done into turning Northwestern into one of the better football programs in the Big Ten.

UPDATE: Here's what Fitzgerald said about his future after the game.