Graziano: Legendary programs reborn

Christopher A. Smith

Two of college football’s traditional powerhouse programs have endured some of the most disappointing seasons in their school’s histories the past few years. But thus far in 2002, both teams and their fans have plenty to cheer about.

Their successes no longer lie solely in the past.

The main reasons behind each program’s rebirth are quality coaching and a change in offensive philosophy.

The two teams that I speak of are Notre Dame and Penn State.

The Fighting Irish have won their first four games, a feat many thought would be impossible against Maryland, Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State.

Currently, Notre Dame is ranked 10th in the AP Poll.

Not once did Notre Dame experience such a successful start under the embarrassing tenure of Bob Davie.

The improvement in coaching is most visible at Notre Dame, thanks to Tyrone Willingham’s new regime. Willingham comes from Stanford, a situation similar to his current one in that academics play a major role in the recruiting process.

Willingham seems to be making the adjustment to the Golden Dome, and his players have taken a liking to him. Willingham’s hands-on style goes as far as him participating in practice drills.

He has brought a swagger back to South Bend, partly because he chooses to deny opponents any type of advantage.

For the first time in history, Notre Dame’s spring game was closed to cameras.

Penn State has a familiar face on the sidelines in long-time coach Joe Paterno.

But the play on the field suggests otherwise.

The Nittany Lions own a No. 12 ranking and a 3-0 record, including a nationally-televised drubbing of Nebraska two weeks ago in a Happy Valley that is a little happier these days.

Paterno is one of college football’s most successful coaches of all time. However, he came under fire with two consecutive losing seasons.

This year, a more aggressive approach has proved valuable to his team’s success.

Penn State has shown a willingness to play younger athletes this year like never before.

Many of Notre Dame’s recent problems have come because of its Stone Age offense that had difficulty scoring in double digits on Saturdays. But Willingham has installed a West Coast-style system at Notre Dame, and as quarterback Carlyle Holiday continues to improve, andso will the Irish.

The professional-style offense will not only give Notre Dame an opportunity to win more games and improve on the lowly offensive statistics of Davie’s tenure, but more recruits will be interested in joining the system.

Notre Dame’s offense is aided by an influx of highly talented skill players, most noticeably in their wide receiving corps. Converted quarterback Arnaz Battle has teamed with Omar Jenkins and freshman Maurice Stovall to give the Irish legitimate downfield threats.

The Notre Dame’s stingy defense makes their offense an even more valuable weapon this season.

Penn State is in a similar situation, and has also shown a desire to open up their offense. A major reason this is possible is the resurgence of the offensive line.

In State College, the trio of Zack Mills at quarterback, Larry Johnson at running back and Brian Johnson at receiver have provided Penn State with plenty of offensive firepower.

Both teams have tough schedules remaining, but with new offenses and outstanding coaches, it is reasonable for Notre Dame and Penn State fans to dream of New Year’s Day bowl games again.