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Irish Insider: Game shows BCS potential

Sam Werner | Monday, September 7, 2009

As the clock wound down on Notre Dame’s dominant season-opening win over Nevada, Irish Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick could be seen mingling on the sidelines with Orange Bowl representatives, clad in distinct orange blazers.

Hopefully Swarbrick will be hearing from them, or another BCS bowl, later this season.

The mere fact that the Orange Bowl deemed it necessary to send representatives to this game says a lot about the state of the Notre Dame program, and the Irish certainly didn’t disappoint.

“Overall, I thought the operation, especially in the first half how everything went, it went pretty much like clockwork,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said.

Clockwork, indeed. The Irish did Saturday what a good team – a team with legitimate BCS aspirations – should do in their opening game. They went up against a less talented team and walked away with a business-like victory.

Florida beat Charleston Southern 62-3, Texas downed Louisiana-Monroe 59-20 and USC beat San Jose State 56-3. The Irish want to prove they belong in that mix of teams, and they certainly took a step in doing so Saturday.

“How do you keep momentum rolling from a game that was so long ago?” Weis said, referring to Notre Dame’s big Hawaii Bowl win in December. “And a lot of it has to do with hunger. You know, these guys are hungry.”

For the first time in way too long, Notre Dame didn’t play down to its competition. The theme of 2008 seemed to be that no matter how bad the opponent was, the Irish always played poorly enough to make it a game. San Diego State and Syracuse leap prominently to mind.

The thing is, the Irish could have struggled slightly on Saturday and no one would have been the least bit surprised. They would have chalked it up to opening game jitters, inexperience, and, hey, Nevada is supposed to be a pretty good football team.

“I’m sorry we didn’t give [Charlie Weis] a better game so we could see what his ballclub is like,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said after the game.

Nevada is a better team than they showed on Saturday, and will win their share of games this season, but Notre Dame can’t control how the opponent plays. All the Irish can do is take advantage of it – and they certainly did.

The most noticeable difference isn’t even in Jimmy Clausen and Michael Floyd’s video game stats or the defense’s first shutout since 2002. The difference was noticeable as soon as the teams took the field.

After last year’s loss to Syracuse, receiver Golden Tate described the sideline emotion as “Eh.” Against Nevada, nothing could be further from an accurate description. This team has swagger, confidence, and plays with a boatload of emotion.

The telling play was a 4th-and-1 stop in the first half. Last year, Nevada would have converted the first down. In 2007, the Wolf Pack probably would have scored a touchdown. This year, Notre Dame had three guys in the backfield before you could say “Kaepernick.”

Now, one game does not a whole season make. It’s easy to play with poise when you score on five of your first six possessions. It will be interesting to see how this newfound strut changes when the Irish find themselves trailing. A trip to the Big House could be a better litmus test for this team.

“It was just a good start,” Weis said. “That’s what today was, it’s a good start.”

A good start towards, hopefully, seeing those guys in orange blazers again soon.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Sam Werner at swerner@nd.edu