Mike Berardino, USA TODAY
Published 1:48 a.m. ET Sept. 2, 2019
SportsPulse: In what’s sure to spark a debate amongst die-hard college football fans, USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg gives his opinion on the top five individual teams of all time.
USA TODAYTim Brown is the last Notre Dame player to win the Heisman Trophy, but he missed out on the school’s last national championship by one year.Did Brown, a member of both the college and pro football halls of fame, suspect a perfect season was in the offing for his alma mater as he headed to the NFL in the spring of 1988?“We knew they were going to be better,” Brown said in a telephone interview this week. “When Lou (Holtz) got there in ’86, he said in three years he would win a championship. Being that we had played good football my junior year (5-6) and my senior year (8-4) we’d played really good football, we knew the team was going to be better. It was just a matter of could they replace me because they had replaced a couple other key folks who had (graduated).”Brown, the sixth overall pick of the 1988 draft by the Raiders, watched from afar as junior quarterback Tony Rice ran the option to perfection in a 12-0 season that began with a No. 12 national ranking in the coaches poll. With Rice passing for nearly 1,200 yards and rushing for another 700, the Fighting Irish knocked off four top-10 opponents along the way, including an epic 31-30 home win over top-ranked Miami, the defending national champion.“With Rocket (Ismail) coming in and doing what he did, Tim Brown was hardly talked about anymore,” Brown said. “Tony was better because he had a full year under his belt. They had a lot of great things going. I don’t think we probably thought, because it was probably too big for our minds, they were going to win the national championship. But, certainly, we thought they’d be a better football team.”MISERY INDEX: As Tennessee reaches new low, how did it get here?WINNERS AND LOSERS: Highs and lows from Week 1 in college footballWEEK 1 OBSERVATIONS: Georgia State, Boise State have big wins In 1987, Brown was responsible for a vast majority of the Irish production in the passing game as well as special teams, where he returned kickoffs and punts.“I think everybody realized I was a major part of what was going on in the offense and special teams,” Brown said. “How can you replace that guy? That year you had Ricky Watters and you had some guys that just really, really stepped up and just played incredible football, the type of football you thought they could play. But I think we were all surprised to see the team go 12-0 and win the championship.”Brown will be in attendance Monday night when ninth-ranked Notre Dame opens its season with a road test at rebuilding Louisville at Cardinal Stadium. As part of the Amway Coaches Poll Trophy Tour, Brown will hold a meet and greet prior to kickoff with the trophy given to the team that wins the College Football Playoff.Former Louisville wide receiver Deion Branch will do the same from 6:30-7:30 p.m.“Anytime you have an award like that, it’s always special,” Brown said. “To have this opportunity to be hanging out with the trophy and playing my little part, it’s going to be fun for me. It should be a good night.”After falling 30-3 to Clemson in last year’s national semifinal at the Cotton Bowl, Notre Dame enters this season determined to go further. With road tests scheduled at Georgia, Michigan and Stanford, a return to the College Football Playoff won’t be easy. “They got three or four really big games during the year,” Brown said. “The one thing about Notre Dame you always have to be careful about as a player is you’re playing a Virginia, you’re playing some of these other teams who get a shot at you once every blue moon and they’re going to be jacked up for it and you’ve got to be prepared because it could be the biggest game on their schedule that year.”But there’s no denying where the meat of the schedule lies. “Certainly, playing Michigan on the road and Georgia on the road,” Brown said, “if this team is ever able to get to the playoffs, I don’t think there will be any question that they deserve to be there. They would have to beat some pretty good football teams to make that happen.”AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext Slide
Mike Berardino, USA TODAY