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Game against Cougars is not just a tune up for Wolverines

Pat Leonard | Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Notre Dame looks to its game against BYU Saturday night as the season opener. Many fans view it as one week until Michigan.

But coach Tyrone Willingham said in Tuesday’s media teleconference that Friday’s trip to Provo, Utah is not intended to pad the Irish schedule.

“The thing that you find out in college football is that everybody has got players,” Willingham said, “and that’s the thing that’s changed over the years. If this were 20 years ago, there might be some programs that … don’t have any players. But right now, with the way the balance is in college football, you’ve got to be ready to play every weekend, and if not, you’ll get beat.”

BYU finished 4-8 last season, just one game worse than the 5-7 Irish. Furthermore, the Cougars boast three players on top preseason watch lists for their respective positions.

Sophomore tight end Daniel Coats is one of 26 candidates for the 2004 John Mackey Award. All-America candidate and kicker Matt Payne has been selected as a candidate for the Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award, and senior safety Aaron Francisco is a top-29 candidate for the Jim Thorpe Award. Francisco led the Cougars in tackles last season with 116.

BYU’s retaining Francisco would be the equivalent of the Irish getting Courtney Watson at linebacker for one more year.

The Irish had the Cougars scheduled to host a game Oct. 30 anyway, but a schedule change during the summer placed Notre Dame and BYU at the beginning of their respective schedules.

Though Julius Jones and the Irish offense pounded BYU for 33 points, a different and more experienced Cougar team returns. Just as the Irish will seek revenge on teams like USC and Michigan, BYU will be out to prove last year’s loss to Notre Dame a fluke.

“BYU is a far better team at home than they were on the road … last year,” Willingham said. “I don’t think there’s any question in our minds that this is a very dangerous and very explosive team when they are playing football the way they can play it.”

In the preseason so far, BYU has had some trouble with consistency. In one team scrimmage, the Cougars defense surrendered 580 total yards to the team’s offense. But a scrimmage is just that: a practice game. Notre Dame knows BYU will distinguish between practice and the real thing.

“What we have to do is go in that stadium, be off to a quick start, get control of the game and then play our football,” Willingham said.