The ninth-ranked Irish (8-1) were in control the entire time in a 45-26 victory over lowly North Carolina (1-8), Saturday, but the team still left more to be desired and certainly failed to score style points with the poll voters. Nine games into the season, it doesn't seem like the team is much better, if any, than they were back in September.
For the most part, the offense is good, and they were again this afternoon rolling up 452 yards of offense, but that could be more of a few NFL players covering up the messes of guys that would be second team at a lot of other schools. The defense is improved from last season, but obviously still susceptible to the big play. It's a different thing every game regarding special teams.
Head coach Charlie Weis has to be concerned that his team isn't clicking on all cylinders yet, or he knows with the guys lining up, this is the best they can do. Being a top-10 team is nothing to be ashamed of, but this was a program with National Championship aspirations at the start of the season. The guys in the locker room truly believed before losing to Michigan, and still believe they are the best team in the country.
"Well, I think that I'm concerned about tying together a string of games-well, right now to be honest with you, the biggest thing I'm concerned about is Air Force," said Weis, who appeared to almost go into detail about the problems of his football team.
"I hate to be so practical, but, you know, I sat there and watched them win 100-0 last night," Weis continued, talking about next Saturday's opponent. "Things are going bad for them in the first drive and all of a sudden the guy takes a kickoff 99 to the house, I don't know what the final was, 44-7.
"Right now more than anything else, I'm worried about getting any bumps and bruises healed and getting ready to play Air Force and really not worrying about any crescendo or fever pitch or anything like that, you know as far as a team on the rise. I'm more concerned with just continuing to get better and let's go make that trip out to Air Force and see if we can't beat Air Force."
The Irish will beat the Falcons. Just how dominant will it be?
Overmatched Air Force (4-4) is another opportunity for the Irish to put together a perfect game. The team has had chances against Stanford, Navy and now North Carolina, teams they were heavily favored over, but has failed to keep red flags from raising. Today it was much of the same, the offensive line not being physical on every play and quarterback Brady Quinn having to pick himself up off the turf (sacked three times and hit on many other occasions). Mental errors and dumb penalties prevented the Irish from maybe scoring 60. Take out three plays and the defense was outstanding. Of course, those are the three plays that are most remembered. Then there is special teams, where this week it was kickoff return as usual and kickoff coverage that plagued the Irish.
There is plenty to be excited about, but those issues above are the reasons why the team is rightfully ranked where it should be.
Brady Quinn showed that he was the best player in the country, carving up the Tar Heels for a season-high 346 yards and four touchdowns. It could have been more but a few drops prevented the senior from even better stats. The second Ohio State's Troy Smith slips up, Quinn will be right there to cloud the Heisman picture.
It also doesn't get any better than the receiver combination of Jeff Samardzija (6 catches 177 yards, one touchdown) and Rhema McKnight (6-56-2). It doesn't matter what defense they are facing, one if not both, like today, are going to get open. The key is, will the offensive line give Quinn enough time to deliver these seniors the ball.
None of these skill players are perfect, but they typically play well. The problem with the team not looking consistently dominant stands with the consistency of the offensive line. The experienced unit can't seem to put it together for a full 60 minutes. They play well for most of the game, but shoot themselves in the foot a few times a ball game. If the line was consistent, with Weis at the controls, the Irish would score nine-out-of-10 times.
If Notre Dame was a person and someone asked how they were doing, the answer would be same ole, same ole. That answer shouldn't be the same in November that it was in September. They should be better. With two more light contests against Air Force and Army, the Irish are on track to be a very deceiving 10-1 team heading out to Los Angeles.
Against No. 8 USC in the finale, Notre Dame will find out if they are a good football team that plays down to the level of its competition, or if they are an over-ranked team mooching off a preseason No. 2 ranking.
After the win over North Carolina, it's still not clear which team the Irish are.