Win or lose, the Fiesta Bowl will be Colorado coach Bill McCartney’s last game. On the other hand, Lou Holtz of Notre Dame is trying to make sure he’s still around for the next training camp.
McCartney said Holtz called him after their teams accepted bids to play each other in today’s game.
“I said, ‘What a great thrill to coach my last game against you.”’ McCartney said. “He said, without hesitation, ‘As well as you coach, it will probably be my last.”’
McCartney (92-55-5), who will turn over control to assistant Rick Neuheisel, said in an interview Saturday with the Rocky Mountain News that he will take three months off before going to work at the CU Foundation, the university’s primary fund-raising arm.
The No. 4 Buffaloes (10-1) have a breathtaking array of offensive talent, featuring Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam. He scored 24 touchdowns and ran for 2,055 yards, complementing 62-percent passer Kordell Stewart.
Colorado was third nationally in total offense (495.3) and rushing (291.5).
The Fighting Irish (6-4-1), No. 2 in the preseason, have been unranked in eight straight polls since Brigham Young beat them 21-14 on Oct. 15. That has allowed Holtz to style his team as an underdog.
It also has forced him to defend Notre Dame’s right to be in a major bowl.
Holtz (199-88-7) talks as if he has little chance this season to become the 15th college coach with 200 victories. But his irritation over the question of bowl worthiness provides a clue how he really feels.
“I was in a restaurant, and a waiter recognized me and said, ‘What’s the difference between Notre Dame and Cheerios?”’ Holtz said. “I didn’t know, and he said, ‘Cheerios belong in a bowl.’
“So I said, ‘What’s the difference between Lou Holtz and a golf pro?’ He said, ‘What?’ and I said, ‘A golf pro gives tips.”’
McCartney has made sure his players haven’t been taken in by the idea that an unranked opponent means an easy game.
“They’ve got great athletes,” said Colorado defensive tackle Shannon Clavelle. “They’ve got everybody from the first string to the third string that was All-Americans out of high school. They can play at any bowl.”
This will be the teams’ rubber match in bowl games. Notre Dame beat the Buffs 21-6 in the 1990 Orange Bowl, and Colorado won its only national crown the next year in Miami with a 10-9 victory over Notre Dame.
That was Notre Dame’s last bowl loss - secured when Rocket Ismail’s kickoff return for an apparent game-winning score was nullified by a clip. Colorado dropped a 26-22 decision to Syracuse in the 1993 Fiesta Bowl.
Clavelle plays on the left side and may face Notre Dame right guard Ryan Leahy, who said five weeks of practice have helped.
“Without a doubt, I think we can come in and play out of our minds,” Leahy said. “We’ve had a month to prepare, and we’ve gotten it done.”
What the Irish needed to do was two-fold - get more consistent on offense, and get key players healthy.
Leahy had knee surgery in April, sprained a knee in practice in September and appeared in nine games. Other injuries along the line led to five different starters at left guard, four at left tackle and three each at right guard and right tackle.
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