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Why aren’t the Irish winning?

| Friday, April 23, 2004

Andrew Soukup, Senior Staff Writer

Say what you want about Notre Dame’s last decade (and there’s plenty you can say). But we haven’t seen a true Tyrone Willingham Irish team. In his first year, everything that could go right did go right as the Irish won their first eight games en route to a 10-3 season. Last year, everything that could go wrong did go wrong in a 5-7 season.Academics aren’t keeping the Irish from winning. Neither is recruiting, especially since the Irish have 40 alumni in the NFL – the most of any school. Instead, the Irish are victims of an insanely tough schedule in a more equal college football environment against which any team in the nation would be bound to lose at least once.Those who say football doesn’t matter to administrators are crazy. Beginning with the Bob Davie firing, Kevin White has devoted an incredible amount of resources to make sure Willingham has what he needs. The rest is up to the coaches and the players.

Heather Van Hoegarden, Sports Editor

Notre Dame football is far from the dominating program that it used to be. But the fact is, the parity in college football has increased immensely and the Irish played the toughest schedule in the nation last year. The list of “problems” could go on – the Irish played with a true freshman under center, they are still learning a new offense, it’s hard to get players to play for Notre Dame that are smart and good at football. So don’t worry – at least not yet. The current Irish team is talented. The Class of 2007, with the likes of Brady Quinn and Victor Abiamiri, has the potential to be great. And if these players live up to expectations, Notre Dame will win under Tyrone Willingham. If Notre Dame wins, smart, talented athletes will come. And if Notre Dame gets the talent, they will continue to win. Athletes come to Notre Dame to win, and no one wants the program to be successful more than the guys in the blue and gold. Now is the time for the Irish to win. They have the tools and the coaching. They just need to believe.

Pat Leonard, Associate Sports Editor

Watching the Irish take down No. 6 Michigan in 2002 was thrilling. Watching them lose by a combined score of 82-14 to USC and Florida State in 2003 was not.The Irish had a mediocre season at best this past fall as players still try to grasp the offensive, and a mid-season quarterback switch and one of the most difficult schedules in the country put the Irish backs against the wall. Still, these factors do not even begin to describe or explain what has happened to the Notre Dame football program.The recruiting class this winter barely made the top 30 nationally. And the teams beating the Irish out – USC, Michigan, Tennessee – are all on the schedule next season.There’s nothing wrong with playing the best and most competitive teams, but next season Tyrone Willingham will have his work cut out for him.This spring, injuries have kept many starters out of action, but the practices have been no less intense.Next season will be as important as any in determining the direction the Irish could be headed in, if any at all.