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Irish Insider: Irish remain underdog despite polls

Mike Gilloon | Friday, September 1, 2006

Hang up your “Herbstreit for President” T-shirt for just a minute.

Scrap the latest Las Vegas lines.

Don’t book a flight to Arizona just yet.

Notre Dame is still an underdog.

Not in the traditional sense. Even Mark May’s mother has the Irish at the top of her contender’s list this season.

Notre Dame is an underdog because it must be one.

Aside from his headset, Charlie Weis’ best tactic against the Yellow Jackets will be making the Irish believe they aren’t better than they really are.

For the Irish to win their season opener Saturday night, they don’t have to win with style.

Brady Quinn doesn’t have to be a Heisman finalist – he just needs to avoid interceptions.

Tom Zbikowski doesn’t need to knock anyone out in 49 seconds – he just needs to make sure Calvin Johnson doesn’t have any 49-yard touchdowns.

Sam Young doesn’t have to set a school record for pancakes – he just needs to give Darius Walker a little room to run.

A win over Georgia Tech won’t cause much celebration. The big victory parties are reserved for Penn State in a week.

The best way for the Irish to make headlines this Sunday is if they have read their headlines all summer long.

The Irish beat Pittsburgh in last year’s season opener because they weren’t sure just how good they were.

They fell behind big to Michigan State early in last year’s home opener because they knew how good they could be – they just didn’t play that way for three quarters.

The talent – and the home crowd – on Notre Dame’s side last September against the Spartans should have put the Irish over the top. But it didn’t take a miracle for John L. Smith to deprive Charlie Weis a win in his first game at Notre Dame Stadium.

It took one player – Matt Trannon.

Apologies to quarterback Drew Stanton, but without Trannon and his five receptions for 135 yards and two touchdowns, the Spartans didn’t have a chance.

Calvin Johnson is this year’s Matt Trannon.

If you haven’t seen the picture of the Tech wide receiver’s hands smothering a football on the cover of the Yellow Jackets media guide, check it out. The guy could palm a Volvo.

That’s why this game might rest in his hands.

The Notre Dame defensive backs must keep Johnson in front of them and out of the end zone. If not – and the Irish fall behind early – the self confidence that oozed out of every magazine cover from Sports Illustrated to ESPN The Magazine will plummet.

A fourth-quarter comeback attempt in front of an electrified Bobby Dodd Stadium crowd and against a suddenly confident Tech squad isn’t the easiest way to start a season.

Despite that kickoff is at 8 p.m. on the road – under the moonlight in front of a Southern crowd filled with moonshine – Notre Dame is expected to win.

Despite that Calvin Johnson is a second-year professional playing in college – Notre Dame is expected to win.

Despite that Georgia Tech has beaten a ranked team each season since 1995 – Notre Dame is expected to win.

The Irish are expected to do much more than beat Georgia Tech in 2006.

But the only way Notre Dame can meet those expectations is to ignore them.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Mike Gilloon at [email protected]