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Can Irish continue ascent?



Published: Sat, September 2, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Notre Dame's last nine-win season was followed by one with just five.

ATLANTA (AP) -- Is Notre Dame really back this time?

For those with short memories, the Fighting Irish thrilled the gold-clad faithful in 2002 by winning nine games in Tyrone Willingham's debut season. He was fired just two years later when the program slumped badly after that promising start.

Enter Charlie Weis, whose rookie season as coach followed much the same script as Willingham's: nine wins, a surge into the top 10, a disappointing finish. This time, Notre Dame is convinced that it won't have to endure the same sort of dropoff.

The Fighting Irish are ranked No. 2 going into tonight's opener against Georgia Tech, their highest preseason mark since 1990. With a high-powered offense led by quarterback Brady Quinn, the folks in South Bend are expecting this team to contend for the school's ninth national title -- not fall off to 5-7, which is what happened in Year 2 of the brief Willingham era.

Even though Notre Dame is a solid touchdown favorite, Weis has used some familiar motivational tactics to keep his players from feeling too good about themselves.

"We have a whole bunch of press clippings from down in Atlanta that seem to differ with that opinion," he said. "I happened to read a whole bunch of them, highlight a whole bunch of them, lay them in their lockers. There's a lot of people on that other team that think just the opposite."

Tech has history of upsets

Indeed, Georgia Tech has plenty of experience at pulling off major upsets. Just last year, the Yellow Jackets defeated both Auburn and Miami on the road.

"The biggest thing is they get up for those games," Quinn said. "You can tell by watching film the way they played against teams like Miami and Auburn. Obviously they're excited, and they seem to be up for the challenge."

For Georgia Tech, the biggest problem is finding a way to stop Notre Dame's dynamic offense.

Quinn finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting after breaking virtually every school passing record. Flourishing under Weis, the quarterback completed nearly 65 percent of his throws for 3,919 yards and 32 touchdowns, with only seven interceptions.

So, is Georgia Tech a bit intimidated by Notre Dame's myriad options? It sure doesn't sound like it.

"Some people consider them the best offense in the nation," defensive tackle Joe Anoai said. "Well, we consider ourselves the best defense in the country. You've got to play the best to be the best. Our mind-set is to beat the best. If we can do that, we will show everyone that we're the best."

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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