In his first-year as head coach, Charlie Weis has taken the Notre Dame team from a .500 squad in 2004 to 9-2 this year. Weis's creative offensive thinking helped quarterback Brady Quinn and others flourish into a top-10 unit nationally. The drastic change for the Irish football program from Insight Bowl to Fiesta Bowl in less than a year is an aspect Weis realizes.
"The fact that they have picked us as one of the top eight teams in the country is a very rewarding feeling for those players," Weis said during a teleconference for the head coaches on Sunday night. "They definitely have come a long way from where they were last year. I do know that as rewarding as this year has been, they realize they have a formidable opponent ahead of them. It's going to be a tough task but I think they are really looking forward to playing someone of the caliber of Ohio State."
The head coach on the opposite sideline will be Jim Tressel. This year, Ohio State is 9-2 and have won six straight games since a loss to #3 Penn State. Tempe, Arizona was the site of one of his biggest career accomplishments. In the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, Tressel led his underdog Buckeyes to an overtime upset victory over the defending national champions, Miami. It gave Ohio State their first national title in decades and vaulted Tressel to god-like status in the football-rich state. This will be the Buckeyes third trip to the Fiesta Bowl in four years.
"We're excited to be a part of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl," Tressel said. "It's a pleasure to be back out there. The treatment for our players, coaches and fans is always first class and top-notch. It's the last Fiesta Bowl in Sun Devil Stadium and what a way to end it with Ohio State and Notre Dame getting together. Our congratulations go out to Coach Weis and his staff and players."
Weis and the Irish will have about a month to break down the Buckeyes and install a game plan to overcome a defense that is ranked 4th in the nation, including 1st against the run. Ohio State's offense has been kicking it into high gear lately under the direction of athletic quarterback Troy Smith. The Buckeyes have scored 35 points or more in five of their last six games. Weis has seen them from time to time this season and is familiar with some of their more explosive players, including Ted Ginn, Jr.
"I've had the fortune to watch them several times this year," Weis said. "I've seen them on TV but haven't watched them on videotape yet. The things that obviously stick out are a dominant defense. They definitely have a few dynamic players, especially that #7."
One of the major subplots of the game will be about Quinn and his Ohio background. The Notre Dame quarterback is from Dublin, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, home of the Buckeyes. Tressel and Ohio State tried to recruit Quinn but he chose the Irish instead. It's paying great dividends this season for Notre Dame as Quinn has thrown for over 3,600 yards and 32 touchdowns as a junior and is a finalist for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.
"He's one of those guys who is very motivated and studies the game hard," Tressel said. "He does a terrific job and is very passionate about being a great quarterback. He's becoming everything we all thought he would be."