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Zero percent Cotton?

Pat Leonard | Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Notre Dame’s win over Tennessee was not just an upset of a Top-10 team. The Irish walked away from Knoxville with the magic number six attached to their name. Six wins.

And those wins made Notre Dame bowl eligible with two games remaining on the schedule.

But the Irish also gained control of that bowl destiny with its win over the Volunteers. Notre Dame enters its second bye week of the season knowing some of the control slipped away in a loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday.

“What we do know: we are bowl eligible,” Willingham said after the Tennessee victory. “We do know with every win we have a chance to increase, in most cases, what bowl we can go to. So that is my focus for our team. Every win creates another level.”

Willingham and the coaches knew a win over Pittsburgh was crucial to keeping their hopes alive to playing in higher bowls, like the Cotton Bowl bid that Notre Dame seemed poised to receive had it beaten the Panthers.

“We have two remaining games,” Willingham said leading up to the Pittsburgh game. “So if we can win those two, not putting the second game in front of the first game … hopefully it will establish a certain level of Bowl game we can go to.”

But Pittsburgh also needed the magic number six for its bowl hopes, and the Panthers pulled off an upset much like the Irish did the week before.

As the bye week begins, Notre Dame is projected by CBS.Sportsline to meet Georgia Tech in the Continental Tire Bowl on Dec. 30, a heavy step down from the Jan. 1 Cotton Bowl. CBSSportsline.com now has Texas and LSU penciled in to play in Dallas instead of the Irish.

Notre Dame has a week off, then, to prepare for its final test against No. 1 Coaches/No. 1 AP Southern California, a team loaded with talent and confidence and a record of 10-0.

The Irish, whose coaches and players worry about the inconsistency displayed in losses to Brigham Young, Boston College and now Pittsburgh, enter the game desperate for win.

“I think frustration for a coach comes moment by moment, there are so many things you can put in there,” Willingham said. “But … the one thing I know about this game, I know that every coach is talking about inconsistency. There’s not one [that isn’t], whether they’re the No. 1 team in the country or they’re the No. 117 team. They’re all talking about inconsistency.

“Usually what happens is the team that is most consistent makes a few more plays that given day than the other team and they win,” Willingham said. “And in some cases, they make a lot more plays.”

USC has made a lot more plays than its opponents this season.

Running back Reggie Bush – a former Notre Dame recruit – and quarterback Matt Leinart are both Heisman candidates who have helped the Trojans outscore opponents 371-116.

While Pittsburgh’s Tyler Palko threw for 334 yards and five touchdowns against the Irish secondary last Saturday, Leinart brings more impressive numbers into the match-up. The southpaw has a 64.0 completion percentage, with 21 touchdowns and four interceptions.