POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Is Notre Dame Back?

 Brian Curtis and Eric Sorenson offer their sides to the most pressing college football questions

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    Brian Curtis, CSTV Senior Editor Eric Sorenson, CSTV.com Analyst
    NO. The 42-21 win on the road at Pittsburgh was a stunning way to begin the Charlie Weis era at Notre Dame, but let’s not go overboard by putting the Irish in the BCS title game and anointing Weis the next great thing. There are a few reasons to be cautious:
     

    Room for Improvement

    Like any good football coach, Weis and his staff are certainly picking apart the game film from Pittsburgh and finding things to work on. They let Tyler Palko pass for 220 yards and, oh yea, the Irish committed ten penalties. That may get you by a decent team like Pittsburgh (who, by the way, I thought could be one of the nation’s sleepers) but it won’t win you games down the road.

     

    The Emotions

    I remember the 2000 USC football season, Paul Hackett’s last year. There was talent there but they needed a bit more. A bit more came in the form of Pete Carroll, who, by simply being somebody different, convinced the players to play harder. Taking nothing away from Weis, but no matter who was coaching the Irish Saturday, the team would have come out fired up to make a point. But can they do that week after week? I have my doubts.

     

    The Schedule

    Yes, Pittsburgh was a BCS team from last year and a football team that I think could still win the Big East but…Let’s peek ahead to next week, when Notre Dame travels to Michigan to play a Top 5 team. Or how about the games against Michigan State, Washington and Purdue for the three consecutive weeks after Michigan? And that’s before they must play the best team in college football in October, USC. Throw in the Tennessee game and potential challenges from BYU, Stanford, Syracuse and Navy, and things won’t get easier. My point? Notre Dame may well indeed be better than last year but are they good enough to beat the likes of Michigan, USC and Tennessee?

     

    The Bandwagon

    The wheels are breaking now that the entire world is on board. But beware—the bandwagon can be a distraction. I know, Charlie Weis has faced distractions before in the NFL and he is all business. But the media attention and the fickle Irish faithful can change in a snap. Bob Stoops delivered a national title to Oklahoma yet today, there are many questioning his job.

     

    Experience

    How many of the Irish starters have positive big game experiences? Their win over Tennessee last year was big, granted. But on a week-to-week basis, this team over the past few seasons has not proved that it can regularly win the big ones.

     

    I think you will see Michigan run and pass their way over Notre Dame this weekend. Michigan 35, Irish 17.

     

    Of course, I could be wrong and Notre Dame will be in the Rose Bowl ...

    YES. You could see it right away. Not just Saturday night’s onslaught of Pittsburgh, but also the minute Charlie Weis walked into the press conference that announced him as the new hope for the sagging Irish faithful back in December of last year.

     

    Most people expected him to come in talking about his offensive pedigree or how he’ll expose these penny-ante college defenses. Here instead was a man wearing all those Super Bowl titles on his sleeve, saying that 6-5 was unacceptable and rambling on about how his teams were going to be “mean and nasty.” You know, the kind of words you haven’t heard ringing off the golden dome in – well – ever.

     

    The First Testament

    Last Saturday night, they did play mean and nasty, along with efficient, effective, dominating and -- most of all -- confident. Weis’ boys beat the Panthers in a form more reminiscent of a blunt instrument than a simple out-foxing. Which recent history tells us is very non-Notre Dame-like. In the previous five seasons combined, the Irish had scored a total of one touchdown in the first half of their opening games. This time, they scored five. Talk about instant influence.

     

    How do you know ND is back? Look at the first two-and-a-half quarters. They could not have been scripted or executed in a more dominating fashion. Behind the crafty work of junior Brady Quinn, they took precision swipes and wide-cutting swaths at the Pitt defense to the tune of 502 yards of offense. Those are impressive numbers against a decent Panther defense that returned eight starters. And don’t you know this has the rest of those D-Coordinators on the Irish schedule shaking in their shoes.

     

    The Schedule

    Which brings me to my next point: the schedule. While those fishwrap pundits and Gameday talking heads were warning us that the Irish were headed for an 0-6 start, they’re all doing the crab-crawl retraction now. See, had they beat Pitt 21-20 on a missed field goal or a dropped two-point conversion pass, that would be different. But they trucked over the Panthers. So now, wins over Michigan State, Washington, Purdue, BYU, Navy, Syracuse and Stanford are more than plausible. That’s eight wins right there. Will they beat Michigan? USC? Tennessee? Probably not. But don’t be shocked if they do.

     

    The Future

    When I say they’re back, I don’t mean they’re going to gingerly hand the crystal football to each other 11 games from now. No, that’s not until January of 2008. I mean that the days of pushing them around like weak sisters of the poor are over. The Irish nation has taken its lumps for quite a while now. Their teams have been out-muscled, out-quicked and out-determined since 1993. But those days are numbered. Better players will sign on and better records will come with it. Weis knows how to get players to the next level and that’s what the top high-schoolers will once again get from going to Notre Dame.

     

    The Groundwork

    Make no mistake, this is a different Notre Dame. Charles the Great has seen to that. Nothing turns a program around quicker than the confidence level of a new coach and how it permeates into his team. That’s what the Golden Domers showed on Saturday. And that’s what they’ll continue to show as long as Weis is king.

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