The Second Season

We may hear the phrase today, we may not. Charlie Weis might use it with his team, and he might not. The "new" or "second" season is here, and whether Weis uses the term or not, he'll have to treat these last four games like a "new" or "second" season.

When I used to hear coaches use the term, I always thought it was a copout. You only needed a "new" or "second" season because your "first" season was a disappointment. But that's the reality of this Notre Dame team, and amongst all the negativity, they're going to have to find something to hang their hat on.

Like it or not the Irish are 1-7, and the only way to put that ugly first season behind them is to have an outstanding second season.

The mountain doesn't seem so tall for this second season. The Irish will face the No. 105, 53, 101 and 94-ranked defenses in the country in Navy, Air Force, Duke and Stanford.

Navy has a great offense ranked No. 16 it total offense and No. 19 in scoring offense, averaging over 35 points per game. But their defense is giving up over 38 points a game, and teams like Rutgers, Duke, Pittsburgh, Wake Forrest and Delaware have all scored over 40 on the Midshipmen.

Air Force can run the ball well averaging 254 yards per game, but they don't throw the ball well, ranked No. 118 in the country. They also don't score a lot of points, averaging 25 points per game. And, they play one of their rival games, Army, right before the Irish. The Nov. 10th matchup against Notre Dame will also be their 11th straight game without a week off. The Irish will also have the advantage of having just faced Navy, a similar offense to Air Force, so they should be able to defend the Falcons well on defense.

Duke currently is also 1-7, and in most cases when they've played good teams, they've surrendered over 40 points. They did score 43 against Navy, and 36 against Wake Forrest, but they also managed to score 14 or fewer points in five games. They also play Clemson (6-2) and Ga. Tech (5-3) before playing the Irish, so the odds are Notre Dame will be facing a 1-9 Blue Devil team with very little left in the tank.

Stanford has the one signature win over USC, but then followed with a loss to TCU. The Cardinal do allow 30 points per game, but they've been playing much better defense as the season has gone on. They have held USC (23), Arizona (21) and Oregon State (23) all under 24 points per game. Stanford also has a bye week the week before playing the Irish. This will be a very difficult game for Notre Dame to win. Stanford is banged up right now, but should be a healthier team when the Irish travel to Palo Alto on Nov. 24.

All four games are winnable games for Notre Dame. None of these teams have more talent than Notre Dame. A few might be playing better football currently, but these certainly are games Notre Dame can win.

But will they win them?

This is where the Irish coaching staff and the Irish leadership has to step up.

A 1-7 team usually doesn't have a lot left in the emotional tank to play for. Players that come to Notre Dame want to play in BCS games--not for a 5-7 season--but that is the prize at the end of this season. Four straight wins would be the prize. The opportunity to build some momentum for next season is the prize.

For players like Trevor Laws, John Carlson, Tom Zbikowski and John Sullivan, there is no next season, at least with the Irish, and these are your leaders of the team. How do you motivate them? Fun. That's all you have left. The pressure is off. They can go out and play with reckless abandon and have some fun, and I think you'll see that the rest of the way—this team will be loose, and they'll be having fun.

Head coach Charlie Weis and his staff are going to have a difficult challenge of trying to make the rest of this season fun. A win against Navy would give them an opportunity to have a lot of fun. A loss against Navy would be catastrophic most likely.

They should win the next two if they beat Navy, and then it comes down to the finale against Stanford. But the players are going to have to buy into the second season.

Weis has done an excellent job selling the future of his program in recruiting. The future is now, and this game against Navy might be one of the biggest of his career. A win on Saturday should mean a chance to end the season on a very high note. It's a four-game season for the Irish and Weis at this point, but the first game is always the most critical, and this week is no different.

Note: This is also a second season for Irish fans. We can also look at it as our second season. Are you going to dump your tickets and go shopping for furniture or are you going to stand behind this team and get up and cheer? How can we expect these players to not quit if we're going to quit? Are you in or out for building for the future? We, as fans, demand so much from these players but seem to only want to bask in the glory and disassociate ourselves when times are tough. We can't expect the team to buy in when we don't buy in ourselves. I'm hoping we hear the stadium as loud as it's ever been on Saturday. This is the beginning of what could a wonderful ride. Hopefully the fans are also on board starting on Saturday.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories