Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Third year crucial for Notre Dame

Which way will Irish go?

By Tom Coyne
The Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Will Tyrone Willingham be the next Ara Parseghian or the next Bob Davie?

That's what the Notre Dame faithful are wondering as Willingham enters his third season as coach of perhaps the most high-profile college football program in America.

In his first season, Willingham reminded many of Parseghian, taking over a losing squad and turning things around immediately. The Irish won eight straight to start the season before finishing 10-3, leading some to believe they were ready to return to the top of the sport.

But in year two, the Irish fell back to the ways of Davie, following a good season with a bad one for a seventh straight year. Not only did the Irish go 5-7, four of their losses were by 26 points or more.

It's bad enough to lose seven games at Notre Dame - posting the third losing record in five seasons for the first time in 115 years of Irish football. But the 38-0 loss to Michigan was the eighth-most lopsided loss in school history, while the 37-0 loss to Florida State ranks ninth.

"That's not our character. We don't play ball like that," linebacker Mike Goolsby said. "The way we played my junior year is the way the game is supposed to be played at Notre Dame."

Willingham hopes that's true. Because if history is any indication, this year could be pivotal.

Parseghian, Frank Leahy, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all won national championships in their third seasons. Knute Rockne had his second straight undefeated season.

Terry Brennan was 2-8 in his third season at Notre Dame. Joe Kuharich was 5-5. Gerry Faust was 7-5. Davie was 5-7. All four lasted just five years as Notre Dame.

Willingham doesn't see this year as being any more crucial.

"Ever year at Notre Dame is important," he said.

Willingham says last season's losses have motivated the Irish. He also believes experience at key positions will help.

Last season the Irish returned one starting offensive lineman. This year the line returns four starters. The Irish also have their quarterback of the future for the fourth time in five years.

The future is now in the hands of sophomore Brady Quinn. He showed promise last season in starting nine games. He set school freshmen records for completions and yards, going 157-for-332 for 1,831 yards.

The defense, which led Notre Dame's turnaround two seasons ago, returns some key players. Goolsby, who sat out last season with a broken collarbone after finishing third in tackles in 2002, is back. Linebacker Brandon Hoyte, second in tackles last season, and defensive end Justin Tuck, who was third, also return.

The Irish need to regain the poise they played with in 2002. Whereas that squad never got rattled when things were going poorly, last year's team seemed to easily lose confidence. When things started going badly, the Irish played worse.

To avoid that, a strong start is needed, Willingham said.

Notre Dame's schedule opens with a game at BYU and a home game against Michigan.

2004 schedule

Sept. 4at BYU9:15 p.m.
Sept. 11Michigan3:30 p.m.
Sept. 18at Michigan State7 p.m.
Sept. 25Washington3:30 p.m.
Oct. 2Purdue2:30 p.m.
Oct. 9Stanford2:30 p.m.
Oct. 16NavyNoon
Oct. 23Boston College2:30 p.m.
Nov. 6at TennesseeTBA
Nov. 13Pittsburgh2:30 p.m.
Nov. 27at Southern Cal8 p.m.

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