STANFORD, Calif. — Toby Gerhart plans to spend a few extra minutes soaking it all in before walking off the field in what could be his final game at Stanford Stadium today against Notre Dame.
“I don’t think it will really sink in until after the game is over,” Gerhart said. “Hopefully it’s a win, we’re happy and celebrating and it will be a sweet ending.”
Gerhart will be far from the only participant with those sorts of emotions today when the Cardinal (7-4) host the Fighting Irish (6-5) in the regular-season finale for both teams.
The game could well be the last at Notre Dame for Irish coach Charlie Weis and star quarterback Jimmy Clausen, too.
Though he’d presumably play in a bowl game, Clausen is widely expected to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. That’s a decision Gerhart is weighing as well, deciding whether to apply for a medical redshirt or head to the NFL.
Weis’ fate is out of his hands. He will fly back with the team to meet with athletic director Jack Swarbrick instead of going on a recruiting trip as originally planned.
Weis said Sunday that he “would have a tough time arguing” if the school decided to fire him after five seasons. Weis led the Irish to BCS bowls in his first two years but has struggled since then.
His 35-26 record gives him a .573 winning percentage, which is worse than the .583 winning percentage that got Notre Dame’s two previous coaches, Tyrone Willingham and Bob Davie, fired.
Weis refused to talk about his job status after Sunday, saying his focus was entirely on winning this week’s game.
“I’m ready to go,” he said. “I’m fired up. I really am. I’m fired up to go out and play Stanford. I’m really looking forward to it.”
It has been a tumultuous week at Notre Dame with talk about Weis’ job status and Clausen getting a black eye after being punched outside a bar early Sunday. The Notre Dame players were off limits to reporters this week. The Irish also will be without leading rusher Armando Allen, who is out with a cracked bone in his right hand.
The Stanford players are trying not to pay too much attention to all the hubbub around Notre Dame.
“We just don’t let it affect us at all,” Cardinal center Chase Beeler said. “No matter what the conditions are there, we will prepare like they are anyone else.”
Notre Dame has lost three straight heading into this game and is trying to avoid losing the final four regular- season games for just the third time in school history. The Irish dropped the final four contests in 1999 under Bob Davie and in lost five in a row to end the 1963 season under Hugh Devore.
But the Irish have won seven straight games against Stanford, the only team the Cardinal seniors have played each year without beating. A win this week would take some of the sting out of last week’s 34-28 loss in the Big Game to California.
“This is a big one for us,” Gerhart said. “They’re a traditional power, the legacy, the history of Notre Dame. Thankfully last week wasn’t the last game of our season. We have a chance to go out and win this week and go out on a good note heading into the bowl game.”
Gerhart is the biggest reason why the Cardinal are headed to a bowl for the first time in eight years. He is wrapping up a splendid senior season for the Cardinal, having set school records for yards rushing (1,531) and touchdowns (23) while leading Stanford back to prominence.
“He’s special,” Weis said. “He’s a hard north-south runner. Not that he can’t bounce it outside, but you have to gang-tackle him, and we’ve had a few problems with tackling now.”
Gerhart still could decide to return for a fifth season, because he played only one game in 2007 because of a knee injury. After the bowl game, he will get an evaluation from the NFL about where he would be projected to be drafted and then make his decision.
“If it’s a pretty promising projection, I’ll get ready to train for the combine and devote myself to football,” said Gerhart, who also could be drafted in baseball. “Ideally, I have a couple more big games, go and do well at the combine and am a first-round pick.”
There also figures to be speculation in the coming weeks about whether Harbaugh will stick around for a fourth year at Stanford.
Even though Harbaugh is close to signing a contract extension, there is sure to be talk linking his name with job openings in the NFL and college football in the coming weeks, including at Notre Dame.
“I’m only interested in the one I have and I’m not going to talk about any job other than my own,” he said.
8 p.m., ABC