Focus Present for Irish

This week was going to be a challenge for Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis. The Irish, ranked No. 5 in the BCS rankings, are set to face No. 3 USC two Saturdays from now out in Los Angeles. It's a possibility that the winner of the contest could slot themselves into the national championship game. First, the Irish have to take care of 3-7 Army.

That's where the challenge comes into play. The Black Knights have lost four in a row, all by 14 points or more. Here are some more stats on the Army team: 111th in rushing defense, 109th in scoring offense, 112th in passing offense, 117th in sacks and dead last in Division 1A in turnovers lost and turnover margin. The Black Knights will try for the upset of the college football season on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. Kickoff is at 2:43 p.m. and NBC will have the national television coverage. How could the Irish not be looking ahead to the Trojans on Thanksgiving Day weekend? Weis has seen no signs of his team with a forward thinking mentality.

"I thought it was pretty good," Weis said after practice on Thursday about his team's focus. "I spent a little extra time here at the end reiterating what's taking place from now until 2:44 on Saturday. I've been very pleased with how practice went on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. My major focus, as the head coach, is to make sure they stay focused until kickoff. If they play the way they practiced, we'll be in pretty good shape."

In today's edition of the South Bend Tribune, it was reported that representatives from the Cotton and Gator Bowls are already planning their games without Notre Dame. These bowls would be options for the Irish if they did not go to a BCS contest. But with a No. 5 ranking as of now and Army next on the schedule, they are already writing Notre Dame off to one of the five big money games. For the Irish not to make a BCS contest, they would have to lose to both Army and USC. A win this weekend would make them almost a lock. Weis first wants to take care of business this weekend before mentioning the sacred three little letters.

"That's based on the premise of us beating Army," Weis said about the BCS possibilities. "I don't have to guard against that yet. They are already assuming something that I'm not assuming. When they say that, they're assuming that like a lot of other people do of us beating Army. We got to play the game first. If we beat Army, maybe I'll listen to those things but first we got to beat them. Let's wait until we play the game."

This will be Weis's second Senior Day. Last season, Notre Dame beat Syracuse 34-10. It wasn't all easy at first. The Irish actually trailed 3-0 after the first quarter and only led 14-3 against an Orange team with just one win on the season. Weis, who always goes back and revaluates situations, couldn't put a finger on the slow start.

"I thought we played good on defense but the offense came out a little flat," Weis said. "I always have to look for a reason why you came out flat. Sometimes, it's subjective and I don't know the answer to that for sure. But in hindsight, maybe Senior Night/Senior Day was part of it. I don't know for sure. As you're sitting back reflecting after the season, that's one of the things that goes through your mind. I'm not expecting that this Saturday."

For this game, Weis likes the vibe he's getting from the team heading into the home finale.

"They have it in the correct perspective," Weis said about his players. "You know how I said earlier about last year making the opener a big distraction versus this season embracing it. We've tried to embrace this Senior Night/Senior Week and the pep rally. We try to use that as a rallying cry for this week. I think it's been a big positive."

This will be the last chance for not only the seniors but for this team to play at home together. Saturday's contest is all about the seniors and their going away party to Irish fans. There might be a few tears shed by players and the crowd alike when the seconds tick off the clock. The bonds have been built up over the years and the head coach can tell how tight this bunch is on and off the field.

"There are a lot of close relationships on this team," Weis said. "This is a good group of guys now. Forget about them as football players for a second. They are a good group of guys. They are the type of guys that when I went to school I surrounded myself with guys like this. They are going to be great representatives of Notre Dame when they go on from here.


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