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Irish need win to prove true talent

Dan Murphy | Friday, October 31, 2008

Wisconsin, Oregon St., Arizona, Miami (OH), Washington, San Jose State, Northern Colorado, Central Michigan and Idaho.

What do all these teams have in common – other than the fact that you can probably count the players you know on their rosters with less than one hand?

These are the teams that schools that have lost to Notre Dame have beaten – all of them.

The Irish have taken down five teams thus far this season, more than most may have expected, but let’s put that into perspective. Those five teams are currently a combined 9-21. Four of those wins belong to Stanford and none of the other teams have more than two.

From that list it sounds like the grounds crew should be spray painting the turf blue. For a school that normally prides itself on its strength of schedule, this year’s could use a little spinach.

Notre Dame’s two losses in 2008 have come on the road against No. 22 North Carolina and No. 21 Michigan State, both ranked with 6-2 records.

So where does that leave Charlie Weis and his apparently revitalized football team?

They have without a doubt proved that they can win football games, which is an improvement from last year. But so far, they have yet to prove they can win a game that hasn’t been decided before the coin toss. It appears Notre Dame still has a lot of questions to answer.

Questions that kept pollsters from ranking the team when it started 4-1 for the first time in program history.

However, take away a pick six to start the second half in Chapel Hill or a freshman fumble to start the second half in East Lansing and this could be a very different tune. Those plays didn’t doom the Irish, but they certainly could have made a difference. Even Ball State can get ranked without a loss.

Don’t get me wrong, Notre Dame doesn’t deserve to be 7-0 or ranked at this point in the season. Finding a way to close out tough wins is a big part of being a good team, something that a very young Irish team has yet to learn to do.

These next two weeks are a huge opportunity for the Irish to make the next jump. Both Pittsburgh and Boston College are quality teams in the same pack as Notre Dame, right at the fringe of cracking the Top 25.

“[The players] want to be a top 25 team. You’ve got to beat the good teams that are on your schedule. I mean, it’s really pretty simple. So you’ve got a team like this coming in here that’s a nice solid team that’s coming in and playing at home. You’ve got to beat them,” Charlie Weis said.

The Irish players said they were just trying to take things one game at a time, and would worry about polls and bowls when that bridge needed to be crossed. The response is generic, but it is the right one.

The Panthers should be the only team on their minds, because right now it is the biggest game of most of the young player’s collegiate careers.

All season long the nation has watched a youthful team and its youthful players maturing right in from their eyes. The team has learned to win, how to create offense, and how to finish a game. This Saturday against Pittsburgh is another major step in that progression. The Irish need to learn how to beat a quality opponent.

Doing that is not quite as simple as, well, play a little bit better. The psyche of facing a team that has national superstars – like Michigan State’s Javon Ringer or Pitt’s LeSean McCoy – or that is favored to beat you is different.

It is the type of difference that can let an early second-half turnover take the wind out of your sails. When a team is supposed to beat you, it is much easier to accept it when it starts to happen.

Notre Dame has the talent to compete with teams like Pitt and Boston College, so these games will come down to whether or not the team has the confidence and maturity to assert themselves.

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

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