Head coach Charlie Weis said a few weeks back that him and his assistant spend a few hours a week preparing their vote for the coaches poll. They take great care in how they rank teams. On Sunday, Weis irritatingly responded to a question from a reporter who mentioned the fact that some voters still had Virginia Tech ranked higher than Georgia Tech, even though the Yellow Jackets, a team Notre Dame beat on the road, went to Blacksburg and won by double digits.
"I don't understand how Virginia Tech could be rated higher than Georgia Tech in the polls," Weis said. "I don't get it. I spend a lot on the things. After the beating that Georgia Tech put on Virginia Tech, how couldn't they be rated higher than them? I just don't get it."
It would be interesting to see what he has to say if Michigan loses a contest later in the year and falls behind the Irish. But the major point is that the polls are a tricky business. By stacking win after win, Notre Dame will continue to rise and more than likely be an attractive candidate for a BCS bowl game.
The Stanford victory was not without it's faults. Weis pointed out a deficient return unit on special teams as an area where they need to get better. Overall, Brady Quinn was his usual productive self with three touchdown passes. Darius Walker accumulated 153 yards on the ground, the second best effort of his career. The defense, despite playing without starters Tom Zbikowski, Travis Thomas and Ambrose Wooden, held the Cardinal to just 10 points and 226 yards of total offense.
"It was a nice, solid day but not without holes," Weis said. "It's always good to play a solid game and have enough things to critique the players about but at the same time you come out of the game healthy with a nice solid win. I had a Plan A and a Plan B for this week. It allows me to do Plan A this week. Plan B would have set me back in the long range."
The Irish now have a bye week before welcoming in UCLA to Notre Dame Stadium two Saturday's from now. On Tuesday, Weis will address the media on three subjects: self-scouting, the layout for the week and recruiting. For the players, the extra week allows them to rest their bodies. In addition to the three defensive starters held out of the Stanford game, kickoff specialist Bobby Renkes and backup offensive lineman Paul Duncan also did not play. It was nice that Notre Dame was playing 0-5 Stanford.
"With a bye week, it would still be a tough decision," Weis said if they were playing a team the caliber of Michigan instead of Stanford. "I would probably error on the side of safety again. I know it's a subjective question. It would put a lot more pressure on me. But at the same time, I'm concerned about the next season. I'm concerned about two weeks from now when we kick it off against UCLA. I have to look at the big picture and carry this out all the way until November."
In Renkes's place, freshman Ryan Burkhart got a few chances to try his craft as kickoff specialist. He made the most of the opportunity by totaling two touchbacks in five attempts. It was expected Burkhart and his powerful right leg would see action, either as place kicker or on kickoffs, the minute he stepped onto campus. This wasn't the case as he struggled with some consistency problems. Now, halfway through the year, it appears that Burkhart finally will get his shot.
"I think he's settled into the guy we're going to use," Weis said of Burkhart on kickoffs. "To quote an old mentor of mine, I reserve the right to change my mind. His confidence is starting to come along. It's never been a question with Ryan with leg strength. It's been confidence. He can kick it a long way. It's getting him to kick it consistently a long way."
Zbikowski did not play on Saturday because of some pain in his shoulder. The senior defensive captain sustained the injury on a helmet-to-helmet hit in the Purdue contest. Weis said he made the decision to sit him because the tough guy in Zbikowski would have made the effort to play. Sophomore Ray Herring filled in admirably, registering a team-high nine tackles at the safety position. The chance for Herring to see alot more time on the playing field was closer than some might have imagined.
"We really felt that Ray was on the verge of challenging to be a starter," Weis said. "Then Nedu (Chinedum Ndukwe) drops a bunch of weight and pulled away from him because the Nedu we had last year and the Ray we had in the spring was pretty close. But we got a new Nedu, which helped separate the two guys. We've been in a position of confidence that he can play. He stepped in and had a nice game. It's good to have another young guy that you can play in a game that'll be here for awhile. You can get him in the mix and it bodes well for the future."
One final quick note: Weis will sign copies of his new autobiography, No Excuses: One Man's Incredible Rise Through the NFL to Head Coach of Notre Dame, on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. at Notre Dame's Hammes Bookstore. He'll sign 200 copies of the book and line numbers will be distributed with the purchase of the book beginning at 5 p.m. One copy per line number is the limit that will be signed.