The Irish defense should be tough up the middle, where a quartet of fifth-year seniors — tackles Darrell Campbell and Cedric Hilliard, inside linebacker Courtney Watson and strong safety Glenn Earl — are stationed. Cornerback Vontez Duff became the first player in school history to return an interception, a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in the same season.
Three of Notre Dame's 2003 opponents were BCS participants last season. Five are coming off bowl victories. Six of the first eight on the schedule won nine or more games. Florida State and USC both will visit South Bend.
Progress report: The 2002 Irish offense failed to find the end zone in either of its first two games or its last two games.
Ty Tallies Ten: Ty Willingham's ten victories were the most ever by a first-year Notre Dame coach.
Collapse: The Irish lost their last two games by a combined score of 72–19.
2002 results: 10–3
Bowl: Lost to NC State 28-6 in the Gator Bowl
Returning starters: 5 offense, 8 defense, placekicker
S. 6 Washington State
S. 13 at Michigan
S. 20 Michigan State
S. 27 at Purdue
O. 11 at Pittsburgh
O. 18 USC
O. 25 at Boston College
N. 1 Florida State
N. 8 Navy
N. 15 BYU
N. 29 at Stanford
D. 6 at Syracuse
Schedule Analysis: In a word, brutal. Notre Dame faces three BCS participants and six teams that won at least nine games last season. Washington State will not be as good as last year, but the Irish will be heavy underdogs in Week 2 at Michigan. After very tough road trips to Purdue and Pittsburgh, ND faces two teams it lost to last year – USC and Boston College. Then Florida State comes calling in South Bend. If the Irish can open the season 5-3 against that competition, it should finish 9-3 with Navy, BYU, Stanford and Syracuse closing out the year.
Final Word: That young offensive line better grow up in a hurry. There are no tune-ups, as the Irish take on BCS conference teams for the first eight games of the season. The key for the Irish will be quarterback Carlyle Holiday. When he struggled last season, Notre Dame's offense was anemic. The special teams and defensive touchdowns may not be there this year if that happens again. Still, reports are Holiday had a good spring and the offense in general will have another year in Willingham's system. Defensively, the Irish look strong, and they will have to be, especially early in the season.