Pete DiPrimio, sports columnist and college beat writer for The News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne, Ind., takes his best shots on the world of Notre Dame football.

Saturday, September 30

Thomas Doesn't Play

Sure, there’s no mystery that Notre Dame won its second straight game by beating previously unbeaten Purdue 35-21 today.

But there was a mystery at Notre Dame Stadium and it centered on what was up with senior linebacker Travis Thomas. He looked good walking onto the field for the pre-game coin toss. He looked good standing on the sidelines. But he didn’t play.

The reason, coach Charlie Weis said, was that Thomas was hurt. He suffered a rib injury in the last play of the game last Saturday against Michigan State. He was sore all week and when the ribs continued to bother him in pre-game warm-ups, Weis decided to rest him and play backup Joe Brockington.

Brockington had three tackles and broke up a pass.

So ends the mystery.

Lymon Shows Potential

Imagine how good Selwyn Lymon is going to be once he gets some experience.

The Purdue freshman and former Harding standout is still learning the nuances of the college game after having to sit out last season because of academics. His potential is obvious.

For one, he is 6-4 and 210 pounds, which gives coach Joe Tiller the kind of big receiver he’s been seeking since arriving in West Lafayette 10 years ago.

For another, he is a stud athlete and if you don’t believe it, you missed the two big-time catches he had in the first half of today’s game at Notre Dame. The first catch went for 39 yards and a first down. The second went 88 yards for a touchdown just before halftime that gave the Boilers life. That gave him four catches for 167 yards.

Notre Dame had just scored to go ahead 28-7. Purdue was stuck deep in its own territory. The Irish called a blitz and the Boilers picked it up, giving quarterback Curtis Painter time to hit Lymon, who busted free for the kind of big-time score that can turn games around.

It likely won’t be the last time he does that.

The Running Game Is Back

Charlie Weis wasn’t kidding when he said he wanted to get the running game going. Tailback Darius Walker rushed on five of Notre Dame’s first seven plays today against Purdue. He had 58 yards in the first quarter alone. The Irish surpassed 100 rushing games before halftime.

That was part of a balanced offensive attack that spurred the Irish to a 28-7 lead and showed the benefits of playing against a vulnerable defense. Believe me, Purdue’s defense is vulnerable. Still, the Boilers can move the ball and the Irish have their own defensive liabilities, most of which don’t involve hard-hitting cornerback Terrail Lambert, who again showed his knack for making big plays by forcing and then recovering a fumble in the second quarter.

That wound up as a Notre Dame touchdown when Jeff Samardzija scored on a 6-yard run off a fake field goal attempt.

Yes, Weis is sneaky.

A Little Trivia For You

OK, you probably know that Notre Dame and Purdue play for the Shillelagh Trophy, but do you know why?

Sure, some wise guy will say he doesn’t care, stick to something important, but who worries about what wise guy thinks.

Anyway, the Shillelagh Trophy started in 1957. The trophy was donated by Joe McLaughlin, a merchant seaman and Notre Dame fan who brought the club from Ireland.

Notre Dame has won it 31 times to Purdue’s 18.

And now you know.

Friday, September 29

Quinn Has Come a Long Way

It’s not true that quarterback Brady Quinn was one of the original Four Horseman, although he’s started so long for the Irish it can seem that way.

Quinn became a starter four years ago against Purdue and never gave up the position. He wasn’t an instant superstar (he threw three interceptions), but he did throw 59 times for 297 yards, not bad for a guy who didn’t know he was starting until just before kickoff. Coach Ty Willingham, you see, was just as secretive with his players as he was with the media.

That didn’t mean Quinn didn’t have a clue that it could happen. In practice during the week leading up to the game, Quinn got the most reps with the No. 1 unit. Still, no one said anything to him.

“No one said, Hey, this is the direction we want to go, you're going to be starting this game, you're our guy, we're going to stay with you,” Quinn said.

“It was kind of weird going through the whole week of practice, being like, wow, this is basically ‑‑ I'm going to be starting. This isn't just like practice. This is actually going to happen.”

Still, he wasn’t sure, although he did call his parents about his prospects.

“I was like, Wow, I guess I'm starting. You guys should probably come to this game if you can.”

Quinn’s parents did and while Purdue won the game, Quinn won Willingham’s confidence. Now he has Charlie Weis’ confidence.

Confidence alone won’t produce a second straight victory over the Boilermakers. Quinn’s timing with receivers Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight has been off, so they worked on specific routs in practice. Expect to see the payoff on Saturday.

The bottom line -– Purdue won’t stop the Irish receivers, which means they won’t stop the Irish. For more on this, check out my column.

Want Some ND Tickets?

Hey, if you think just because Notre Dame has, in effect, its own TV network (NBC), gets ABC announcer Brent Musburger and his secret-revealing ways more than the law should allow, even gets a crack on CBS (Navy game) and something called CSTV (Air Force game), and doesn’t have to share bowl money with anybody, that the Irish are rolling in dough, well, you’re right.

OK, school officials aren’t rolling because there’s always something else to pay for and this time it’s 76-year-old Notre Dame Stadium. Yes, officials completed a major renovation to the house that Knute built in the late 1990s, but now that there’s $40 million in repairs do, it’s time to dig deep and help.

Thus, school officials are making 5,000 season tickets available to help pay for it. Each ticket will cost $413, plus an annual fee of $2,000 per ticket for sideline seats, $1,500 for corner seats and $1,250 for end zone seats.

Tickets will be offered first to alumni, donors and those named Regis Philbin. Sorry, it’s really alumni, donors and those affiliated with the university. After that, it’s the general public.

So on Saturday, when you’re watching Notre Dame host Purdue, check out the stadium and look for the defects your money will help repair.

If you want more information, check out this Indianapolis Star story.

Thursday, September 28

Oh, That Darn Gauntlet Drill

Remember the old, my-way-or-the-highway power coaches once had over players, who obeyed as if the commands had come from God.

OK, maybe it never really happened that way except in Disney movies starring Kurt Russell. Still, the little spat between Notre Dame tailback Darius Walker and running backs coach Mike Haywood Wednesday provided some entertainment for sports writers numbed by watching guys stretch.

On Tuesday Walker had tweaked his right calf doing the gauntlet drill. That’s a machine with pads running backs run through to simulate running through tacklers. It’s not Walker’s favorite drill or machine.

You figure Haywood knows this. In fact, you could tell he wasn't happy when Walker took himself out of Tuesday's drill. So when Walker wanted to skip the drill on Wednesday, saying the trainer told him not to do it, the two got into a rather intense conversation about it before Haywood told Walker, in so many words, to shut up and do it.

For more on this, check out Eric Hansen’s story in the South Bend Tribune.

Wednesday, September 27

You Can Sleep Now

Do you ever stay up at night wondering how popular Notre Dame football is?

Of course you don’t, unless you have the same issues that cause grown men to dress up as, say, pillaging raiders.

Anyway, for those who do wonder, the Irish remain very, very popular and as proof we offer the ratings for their season-opening victory over Georgia Tech on Sept. 2. That game earned a 5.4 rating and an 11 share, which likely makes an astute observer say, what the heck does that mean? In truth, we don’t know, but we do know that the game was the most watched sporting event of the entire week.

It beat out NBC’s NASCAR race (5.0 rating, 10 share) and everything else. In fact, just over six million households watched the game on ABC. That’s a 77.2 percent increase compared to the same time slot the previous year, when Notre Dame-Pittsburgh and Clemson-Texas A&M split the national slot.

What does this mean in the big picture? Well, for one thing, you can sleep now. For another, you can check out my column today.

Tuesday, September 26

Lambert Reaps Honors

It’s been quite a couple of days for Notre Dame defensive back Terrail Lambert. First he took a couple of big hits after being burned for a pair of Mario Manningham touchdowns in the loss to Michigan, although, to be fair, a lot of defensive backs will take a lot of hits from Manningham.

Was he shaken? Perhaps. Was he ticked off? Certainly. Did he respond the way you need a key player to respond? Absolutely.

Lambert’s two fourth quarter interceptions against Michigan State -- the first he returned for the winning touchdown, the second clinched the victory with 14 seconds left -- was enough to earn him Bronko Nagurski defensive player of the week honors by the Football Writer’s Association of America.

That’s big, but now Lambert and the rest of the secondary will be tested again by pass-happy Purdue, which would like nothing better than to stun the Irish at Notre Dame Stadium for the second straight time.

Don’t be surprised if Lambert gets matched up with former Harding standout Selwyn Lymon, who has caught nine passes and is starting to get acclimated to the Boiler way. It should make for an interesting matchup.

Slap-Happy Thoughts

Oh that silly John L. Smith. You'd think the Michigan State coach would be focused on blowing a sure victory -- don't you love it Notre Dame fans -- and bouncing back with a strong Big Ten showing that could very well save his job.

Instead, he's worried about Irish coach Charlie Weis' comments that he was "slapped" during a second-quarter altercation Saturday night.

It occurred after Notre Dame safety Chinedum Ndukwe was penalized for hitting Michigan State quarterback Drew Stanton out of bounds. Spartan receiver Matt Trannon got involved and was penalized as well.

Smith showed a tape of the incident to reporters during his Monday press conference, saying that Weis wasn't strucked by anyone from Michigan State. In fact, Weis never said who hit him. He said on Sunday that he might have been hit by someone on his own team.

The Spartans are sending the tape to the Big Ten office. You figure Weis doesn't care, although he wouldn't address it at all during today's press conference. He's too busy focuing on the next game -- Saturday against Purdue.

Sunday, September 24

Basking in the Irish Glow

Are you still basking in the glow of Notre Dame’s most memorable rally since Joe Montana was strutting his Irish stuff?

Of course you are, and why not? For the first time Notre Dame showed the resiliency champions are made of. If they can overcome a hostile environment and huge deficits, as they did in Saturday’s 40-37 win at Michigan State, they can overcome almost anything, including really bad first quarter offense.

Notre Dame has scored just 10 first-quarter points all season, which is unheard of for Charlie Weis-directed teams. His opening script was so ineffective against Michigan State, it was as if Spartan coach John L. Smith had given it to him.

“Go ahead, Charlie, use this. I promise I won’t tell my defense.”

Weis got it turned around by going to the two-minute, no-huddle offense, something he’d just as soon not have to do. He wants to run more often and more effectively. He wants to dictate play. And, for goodness sakes, he wants to stop with all these 3-and-out possessions.

Notre Dame gets its next chance on Saturday against unbeaten Purdue. In the mean time, if you want more insight into the Irish victory, check out this South Bend Tribune story.

Saturday, September 23

Explain This -- ND Stuns MSU

How do you explain this? How do you explain Notre Dame’s improbable rally from the brink of a humiliating loss?

You don’t. You see the Irish rally from a series of 17-point deficits, get five touchdown passes from Brady Quinn, an interception return for a TD from Terrail Lambert and somehow survive Michigan State Saturday night, 40-37.

It has to rank as one of the biggest comebacks in school history and it just might turn the season around.

It also might be the beginning of the end for Spartan coach John L. Smith, but that’s a debate for another day.

For now, know this -- Notre Dame (3-1) just might have a magical season after all.

Friday, September 22

First Down Woes

If you’re looking for reasons for Notre Dame’s sluggish offensive start, blame first down.

The Irish have consistently put themselves in a hole and against the good defenses they’ve faced in Georgia Tech, Penn State and Michigan, that won’t work.

For instance, Notre Dame averaged second-and-8.2 yards against Georgia Tech, 9.2 against Penn State and 8.1 against Michigan. In fact, in almost half of its 78 second-down snaps, it’s needed to get at least 10 yards for a first down. On 48 percent of its third downs it’s needed at least 10 yards.

As a result, the Irish are converting third downs at a 31.8 percent clip, well off the 49 percent of a year ago. They rank 96th in third-down conversion among the 119 Division I-A teams.

What’s a coach to do? Start with fundamentals and drills and back-to-basics intensity. You cut down the play book and run the plays more to produce, you hope, the desired consistency. And then you tell the line and running backs that they have to do better than average 2.7 yards a rush.

Will it work? It had better, starting with Saturday night’s game at Michigan State. The Irish can’t afford to lose that game. They need a long winning streak, say about eight straight, to position themselves for a BCS bowl.

And it all starts with first down.

For more on the Irish, check out my column.

Thursday, September 21

Stanton On Irish Minds

If you’re a Notre Dame defensive player, you have Drew Stanton on your mind. If not, why not? This senior quarterback is the heart of Michigan State’s potent offense. If you don’t stop him, you don’t stop the Spartans, and if you don’t stop the Spartans, you don’t win Saturday and if you don’t win Saturday, Irish civilization as we know it ends.

Because that would be really bad for NBC, Notre Dame is pushing the preparation pace. That includes using freshman Demetrius Jones as Stanton’s stand-in during practice. Jones is athletic and swift and can mimic Stanton’s ability to run and pass.

To find out how that preparation is going, let’s turn to linebacker Travis Thomas.

“We’ve got a big challenge on our hands with Stanton. He’s a dual threat with his arms and legs. They also have a great receiver and good backs. It’s an all-around challenge for the defense once again.”

The Irish stumbled against the Michigan challenge, but at least having Jones to go against improves the chances against Michigan State.

“He’s been challenging us every day,” Thomas said. “He’s real athletic, real shifty. He’s like (Stanton), maybe a little faster. It’s helping us out.”

Of course, we’ll know on Saturday night how much help it really was.

Tuesday, September 19

Reading With Care

Charlie Weis is not a Web surfer by preference. And with the Michigan debacle still fresh in the Irish memory (despite attempts to move on) he’s not about to tempt his fate. So he will avoid newspapers and Internet fan chat sites and anything that won’t help the cause -- which is beat Michigan State on Saturday.

“If things go well, I don’t ready the newspapers and have people say you’re the best thing since sliced bread,” he says. “And I don’t read them if things go poorly and people tell you you’re a dummy. I’ve gone two weeks in a row where newspapers and I have not gotten along.”

So what does the Notre Dame coach read? Mostly stuff about the weather and his daughter, Hannah, and their non-profit organization for special needs children and adults.

“Other than that,” he says, “it’s been a very poor week for me on the Web.”

Irish Get Commitment

Maybe the Michigan loss didn’t look good to you, but it apparently didn’t bother recruit Gary Gary.

The South Carolina cornerback, ranted No. 3 at the position and No. 29 overall nationally by, has orally committed to Notre Dame. He chose the Irish over South Carolina and expects to enroll in college in the second semester.

Gary is the ninth recruit to commit to the Irish. The most heralded is quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who also was at Saturday’s game. Other commitments are from receiver Duval Kamara, offensive lineman Andrew Nuss, linebacker Aaron Nagel, athlete Steve Paskorz, defensive ends Justin Trattou and Kerry Neal, and tight end Mike Ragone.

Imagine how well the Irish will do when they win again -– perhaps Saturday at Michigan State.

Monday, September 18

Finding That Irish Rhythm

You get the feeling that Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn has just about had it with talk of national championships and Heisman Trophies. Of course, when you’re coming off the kind of performance that pretty much squashes both possibilities, as Quinn and the Irish are courtesy of Michigan, you can understand it.

“The ranking and the other stuff doesn’t matter until the end of the season,” Quinn said. “You guys (the evil media) can talk about that all you want, but right now we’re looking at a week-to-week basis. We’re working on getting a win at Michigan State.”

So Notre Dame falls from second to 12th or 13th depending on the poll, Quinn falls off the Heisman radar and surely it has to get better, although playing late Saturday night at dangerous Michigan State isn’t going to help the team sleep at night.

What will help is the kind of explosive offense everybody was expecting, not the self-destructive mess that bumbled against Michigan.

“I wouldn’t call it inconsistency,” Quinn said. “It’s about the offense getting a rhythm.”

Call it rhythm or inconsistency or karma, Notre Dame might need 50 points to win this game. So brace yourself. And then check out my column for more on this.

Sunday, September 17

Bright Spots Amidst Depression

Okay, say you’re really, really depressed right now -– which puts you in synch with the one billion Notre Dame fans world-wide. You’re looking for something positive from the Michigan debacle, which likely cost the Irish any chance of a national title –- losing that bad at home almost certainly negates any advantage you get from an early loss –- and cost Brady Quinn a chance to win the Heisman.

Now, if Ohio State’s Troy Smith throws four interceptions in a loss to Michigan or Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson fumbles four times in a loss to Nebraska, Quinn might slip back into the picture. But, realistically, that ain’t happening.

Anyway, there were two bright spots in Saturday’s game. First, and most obvious, was punter Geoff Price averaging 51.9 yards on his seven punts. He had a long of 59 yards. He nailed two punts inside the 20-yard line.

This was no surprise considering he entered the game averaging 48.0 yards a punt. What was surprising was that he punted almost as many times against Michigan and he did total in the first two games (eight). That’s indicative of the Wolverines’ stout defense and Notre Dame’s surprising offensive inconsistency.

That brings us to left tackle Ryan Harris, who coach Charlie Weis praised today as having a good game against Michigan. Not a perfect game, but good enough that, if his teammates had duplicated his effort, the Irish would have rushed for more than four yards, done better than 2-for-14 on third-down conversions and, in short, actually had a chance against the Wolverines.

They get to redeem themselves Saturday night at Michigan State in a game that probably will end around midnight. No matter. Notre Dame has to win. If it doesn’t, well, no sense in depressing you any more than you already are.

Saturday, September 16

ND Loses In Every Way

Are you over your shock yet? Of course you’re not. Notre Dame’s thank-you-sir-may-I-have-another meltdown today against Michigan -- which included the likely end of quarterback Brady Quinn’s Heisman consideration -- was as bad as it could be.

Hey, at least the Irish looked good in the crowd-pleasing pre-game walk from Mass to Notre Dame Stadium. After that, it was a disaster of national-title-wrecking proportions.

Attacking defense turned offensive early. Michigan linebacker Prescott Burgess returned an interception 31 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. A few minutes later Notre Dame safety Chinedum Ndukwe returned an interception 51 yards to set up Quinn’s 3-yard TD pass to fullback Ashley McConnell. The score was tied at 7-7 and all things were still possible.

If you figured the No. 2 Irish were poised to take over the game and left to cut the grass, congratulate yourself. You saved yourself three hours of misery.

The No. 11 Wolverines (3-0) dominated in all phases and seem likely to move into the top-five in this week’s polls. As for Notre Dame (2-1), well, in its biggest test of the year it flopped big-time. It can redeem itself in two months at USC, but that’s small consolation. If you get hammered in your own stadium, well, there's still a lot to play for -- just not, more than likely, a national championship.

Yes, Brady Is Important

If you seek clarity in the importance of Notre Dame football in the world order, consider last week quarterback Brady Quinn was Google’s ninth-most requested search item. He trailed the late Steve Irwin, Suri Cruise (Tom’s baby) and William Shatner Star Trek (greatest TV show ever), but let’s not quibble about priorities (or the definition of the best TV show).

We’re an hour before kickoff between Notre Dame and Michigan, and the weather is perfect and the crowd is feisty (students wearing t-shirts that say, “Much, Fichigan” are everywhere).

That feistiness is the opposite of Irish players’ demeanor toward Michigan this week. They barely mentioned the Wolverines’ name, instead talking about focusing on themselves and fundamentals, no matter the question. So much for getting any dynamic quotes.

How important is the weather in this rivalry? Consider the Irish are 5-0 against Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium when the sun is shinning. And, yes, the sun is shinning.

Friday, September 15

Lot At Stake For Irish

Hey, if you think Notre Dame-Michigan is the center of the college football world, brace yourself. This game is huge, but it’s not the only one generating national attention. In fact, by late Saturday night we should have a pretty good idea of who most of the national title contenders are.

Of course, the No. 2 Irish and the No. 11 Wolverines will make for compelling drama, even if no one wants to stir up anything with inflammatory comments. Notre Dame is favored by more than a touchdown and if it wins decisively, it might start pulling some No. 1 votes away from top-ranked Ohio State.

As far as the other huge games, you have No. 6 LSU at No. 3 Auburn, No. 17 Miami at No. 12 Louisville, No. 15 Oklahoma at No. 18 Oregon, No. 24 Texas Tech at No. 20 TCU, No. 19 Nebraska at No. 4 USC and No. 7 Florida at No. 13 Tennessee. Just missing is a very good Clemson team at No. 9 Florida State.

What impact will this have on the Irish? Not much if they keep on winning. An impressive performance against Michigan will help them hold off the likely voter enthusiasm slippage expected to come with games such as Navy, North Carolina, Air Force and Army.

This is a chance for Notre Dame to make a major, major national title statement. It won’t blow it.

Thursday, September 14

Heisman Opportunity

Brady Quinn's Heisman Trophy prospects will be greatly influenced by Saturday's national televised epic against Michigan. Figure the world will be watching -- at least as much of the world that cares about college football -- and that includes Heisman voters. A big game in a big game, especially if you're the quarterback at Notre Dame, goes a long, long way.

So what has Quinn done against Michigan in his career? To be blunt, not much. Last year he was 19-for-30 for 140 yards and two touchdowns. In 2004, he was 10-for-20 for 178 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. In 2003, he was 3-for-10 for 36 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. In short, he has thrown for four touchdowns and four interceptions against Michigan. He has to do better if the Irish are to win, and he has to dominate if he is to impress Heisman voters (and, yes, I am one of those).

For more on Quinn, check out this South Bend Tribune story by Eric Hansen.

All Quiet Before ND-Michigan Storm

Do you like trash talk? Do you love it when football players bad-mouth each other before big games and make for compelling bulletin board material? Well, then stay far away from Notre Dame players. Michigan is coming to South Bend on Saturday and these guys are so bland it makes you yearn for a Joey Porter moment.

Who’s Joey Porter? He’s the Pittsburgh Steelers’ colorful-talking All-Pro linebacker, but that’s not the point here. The point is this is what Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn had to say when asked about Michigan.

“Every game right now is just the same to us. We look at this game like we did all the others.”

Here’s what wide receiver Jeff Samardzija had to say about the Wolverines defense.

“We’re just thinking about getting ourselves better and improving our play.”

And then, when pressed, Samardzija offered this nugget.

“I really haven’t had time to watch the tape of Michigan yet. Ask me that question in a couple of days and I can give you an answer.”

The problem, as Samardzija and all the media knew, was that offensive players are only allowed to talk on Tuesdays of game weeks. Thus, he would not be available and there would be no answer.

Looks like we’ll have to wait for the game to get all the color.

Tuesday, September 12

Saturday Stakes Are High

Sure, Notre Dame has Michigan this weekend in a game ripe with national title implications. And, yes, the Irish seem focused and disciplined enough not to let that distract them.

Still, they're human and when you consider the big Notre Dame Stadium crowd and national TV audience and title possibilities, distraction can enter the picture.

Then there's the NFL element. Notre Dame could have as many as eight players drafted and because NFL thoughts are never far from a talented player's mind, even the disciplined ones, you might think coach Charlie Weis would be concerned.

You'd be wrong. Why? Because he knows what NFL scouts are looking for.

"They get judged by how they play," Weis said. "They don't get judged by reputation or who you are. It's a very simple motivational tool. They know I'll always tell them the truth. They might not always want to hear it, but I'll tell them the truth."

The truth is a big game against Michigan could make a big impression with NFL scouts. Come Saturday, we'll know how big.

Monday, September 11

Naughty Promoting

It looks like a little overzealous promoting by some South Bend media have stirred up the powers that be at Notre Dame –- and, perhaps, the NCAA.

First, South Bend TV station WSBT used images of football and basketball players to promote its local sports talk shows. School officials investigated and turned in a report to the NCAA. No sanctions followed, but Notre Dame officials told the media not to do it again because it could result in sanctions.

Then, the South Bend Tribune produced posters with images of current Irish student-athletes that were to be sold in the South Bend area. This, too, was an apparent violation of NCAA rules and could result in sanctions for Notre Dame.

Both times, by the way, the university was unaware of the promotion and did not give permission.

As you might imagine, this did not please Irish officials. They have just sent out notice via the school’s Athletic Compliance Office that if any future action results in a violation of any NCAA bylaws, the offending media outlet will have its credentials revoked indefinitely. Basically, any use of a photograph from a game or practice, or a photograph of any athlete, without university consent, is not permitted. No calendars, no cups, no shirts, no DVDs, nothing.

And now you know.

Nobody Draws Like Notre Dame

Sure, you know Notre Dame is a hit with NBC, which speeds mega bucks to have the rights on televising all Irish home games. And you certainly must be aware of the national scope or the Notre Dame fan base. But do you ever wonder where most of those fans are?

We can’t tell you that for certain, although figure the East probably can claim the most support. But we can tell you that Saturday’s victory over Penn State was the highest rated for an Irish home opener in eight years, when they played Michigan.

Viewers for the Penn State game were up 12 percent over last year’s home opener against Michigan State.

The top rated markets were No. 1 Pittsburgh; No. 2 Philadelphia; No. 3 Dayton, Ohio; No. 4 West Palm Beach, Fla.; No. 5 Tampa; No. 6 Cleveland; No. 7 Fort Myers, Fla. and Las Vegas; No. 9 Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Jacksonville and Buffalo.

Notre Dame’s wide spread fan base explains the wide variety of license plates at Saturday’s game. The ones we saw included Pennsylvania (this car had Notre Dame decals, so Penn State couldn’t take credit), North Carolina, Minnesota, Florida and Texas.

Because Saturday’s Michigan game will have more major national implications, ratings could really soar.

Weis Looks For More

Today you would think Charlie Weis would be a happy coach. His Notre Dame Irish are 2-0 and rose two spots back to No. 2 in the AP Poll, behind Ohio State. They're No. 3 in the coaches' poll, behind Ohio State and USC. They are coming off an impressive win over then No. 19 Penn State.

But Weis has looked at the game film and he has seen much to displease him. A lot of it centers on punt return. A lot also centers on the coaching mindset in which you are never satisfied; in which you are always pushing for more.

For more on this, check out this South Bend Tribune story by Eric Hansen.

Notre Dame will have to do more this Saturday if it is to beat Michigan, which is done thrashing Mid-American Conference teams and ready to take on a powerhouse. The Wolverines are the best team the Irish have faced so far. In fact, they might be the best team they'll face all year after USC.

To ensure another jacked up crowd, Notre Dame officials are once again moving Friday's pep rally into Notre Dame Stadium. Last Friday about 35,000 showed up, or about 5,000 than attended Indiana's season opener.

All this should make for another memorable weekend in South Bend. And that should, at least for a few hours, make Weis a happy guy.

Sunday, September 10

Buyer Beware

Maybe this goes into the you-can’t-blame-a-guy-for-trying department. Maybe it’s just mean, mean-spirited and stupid. But a guy was arrested before Saturday’s Notre Dame-Penn State game for allegedly selling counterfeit tickets.

School officials indicated at least 100 people were turned away with counterfeit tickets, which must have produced a lot of interesting comments at the Notre Dame Stadium gates.

With demand at an all-time high, Penn State game tickets were being sold on the Internet for more than $1,000. That price is likely to climb for Saturday’s battle with No. 10 Michigan.

So what’s a high roller to do? Either be very careful with your disposable income or become Charlie Weis’ new best friend. Otherwise, you could be very disappointed come Saturday.

Saturday, September 9

How's This For Intimidating

Maybe Notre Dame Stadium is a visitors’ house of horrors after all. Maybe all that talk of a recent 10-8 home record is as relevant as Nick and Jessica.

So No. 4 Notre Dame whips Penn State today in the kind of season home opener senior safety Tom Zbikowski was seekiing when he fired up Friday’s pep rally crowd with a vow to show the Nittany Lions how intimidating a place the stadium could be.

He returned a fumble for a touchdown, one of a bunch of Irish big plays as they produced the kind of victory sure to boost them back up the polls -- and tick off Penn State Joe Paterno, who isn’t used to getting humiliated like this.

OK, maybe No. 19 Penn State was way over-rated. This is not a Big Ten title contender. Still, Notre Dame was solid enough -- why quibble about the sacks and penalties when we can do that in Monday’s column -- to show that it would contend if it was in the Big Ten, which it would be if league officials had their way, but that’s another issue for another day. For now, the Irish are unbeaten and ready to host unbeaten Michigan next Saturday. If you bleed Blue & Gold, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Too Good To Miss

It’s a big recruiting weekend for Notre Dame, which is hosting a number of standouts. Can you blame them? They get a sun-splashed day and a big-time opponent (No. 19 Penn State) and all the season-opening hoopla you could ask for.

The highest rated recruit was wide receiver Arrelious Benn, rated No. 8 nationally by recruiting expert Tom Lemming.

Also on hand was defensive tackle Joe Barksdale, rated No. 20 by Lemming, offensive lineman Chris Little (No. 33), safety Harrison Smith (No. 89) and offensive lineman Trinton Sturdivant.

Little and Barksdale are huge. Little is 6-6 and 327 pounds. Barksdale is 6-6 and 310. Barksdale, who is from Detroit, is actually on campus for an unofficial visit. He’ll officially visit during next Saturday’s Michigan game.

Also expected for the Michigan game is super-heralded quarterback Jimmy Clausen (who committed in the spring), plus wide receiver Greg Little (No. 38 rating), running back Armando Allen (No. 40), linebacker Lorenzo Edwards (No. 51), cornerback Gary Gray (No. 54) and athlete Malcolm Smith (No. 58).

Overall, Notre Dame hopes to sign 25 players. It has oral commitments from eight.

Looking Good in Green

OK, so they didn’t fill Notre Dame Stadium. Still, the 35,000 or so who showed up for Friday night’s pep rally -- many wearing green body paint, togas and Viking helmets -- was indicative of the enthusiasm building for today’s Notre Dame-Penn State game.

A couple of hours before kickoff and the parking lots were jammed, mostly with Irish fans, and boy were they pumped. One guy had a big screen TV in the back his fan, a small satellite dish on the roof, tuned into Rutgers-Illinois (why, you might ask, but that’s a mystery that might never get answered) while next to him three college-age guys shot cans of beer, which basically means they drank it really, really fast.

Such festive actions didn’t keep fans from doing what’s really important before a game -- cheering the players as they walked from Mass to the stadium a couple of hours before kickoff.

The players seemed ready. Were the fans? Do you really need to ask?

Friday, September 8

Figure On Irish Win

If you're going to tonight's Notre Dame football pep rally, you'd better get there early. School officials are expecting a big crowd and lots of traffic issues. How big a crowd? Consider that pep rallies are usually held inside the Joyce Center and draw about 11,000 people. Tonight the rally is at Notre Dame Stadium and officials think it could draw more than 40,000.

Of course, the big draw is tomorrow's Notre Dame-Penn State game and to win the Irish will need more offense than they displayed against Georgia Tech last week. They've heard that message a lot this week, and no players heard it as much as the offensive linemen. They committed far too many penalties against Georgia Tech and if you want to blame it on nerves or the Yellow Jacket defense or bad luck, stay far away from coach Charlie Weis. He wants more disciplined play from the line and he figures to get it.

How do we know this? Deep insight, for one. Center John Sullivan, for another.

"We're a very confident group," Sullivan said. "We're a veteran offense and we never expected to have those penalties. We've moved on. We're fixing it in practice. It's attention to detail, everything from stretching to individual drills.

"Penn State has a great defense. We know it's going to be a big test for us."

Big, perhaps, but nothing these Irish can't handle. And, on Saturday, they will.


Thursday, September 7

One Posluszny Too Many

Forgive Notre Dame wide receiver Jeff Samardzija if he’s had enough of the Posluszny family for a while.

On Saturday, he might get a jarring reception by Paul Posluszny, Penn State’s hard-hitting All-America linebacker. That would be a couple of months after Samardzija faced Posluszny’s brother, Stan, during last spring’s Big East baseball tourney.

Samardzija pitched for Notre Dame. He was good enough to be drafted by the Chicago Cubs. He played in their Class A affiliate over the summer.

That didn’t mean anything to Stan, who was a senior outfielder for West Virginia. He smacked a two-run home run against Samardzija in that Big East tourney game, which Notre Dame won 12-4.

Samardzija, however, got his revenge.

“I struck him out,” he said. “You have to get both sides of the story. Home runs are great, but strikeouts are cool, too.”

It would be cooler from Notre Dame’s perspective to beat the Nittany Lions and impress all the pollsters who weren’t impressed with the Georgia Tech victory.

Expect Samardzija and Posluszny to have key roles. While they likely won’t be matched up against each other, you never know what might happen on the field. That should just add to the interest in a game that, after Texas-Ohio State, ranks as the nation’s most intriguing this weekend.

Paterno just keeps going

According to Pete's column in today's News-Sentinel, although Peen State coach Joe Paterno is about to turn 80, he gets a little cranky when reporters ask if he plans to retire.
Ask Paterno how long he’ll coach, and he mentions Alabama legend Bear Bryant, who died about a month after retiring in 1982. Paterno doesn’t play golf or tennis. What else would he do? So he coaches and defies time and those who wish he wouldn’t.
You can discuss the story here on Pete's blog.

Wednesday, September 6

Bet On The Irish Saturday

So what do you think the odds are of Notre Dame losing to Penn State Saturday in its home opener?

Well, a cynic could point out the Irish are 10-8 at home over the last three years, or that they lost last season’s home opener to Michigan State in overtime.

But that doesn’t take into account long-term history, during which Notre Dame has owned all who enter Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish are 291-89-5 in the house that Knute Rockne built. That’s a .762 winning percentage. They are 98-18-5 in home openers overall.

If this was last year’s Penn State team, Notre Dame would be in trouble. But it’s not. These Nittany Lions are talented but young and likely not yet ready to win in such a hostile environment. Dominating Akron at home isn’t quite the same as taking on an Irish squad with national title aspirations

Plus, Notre Dame is plenty inspired after struggling last Saturday at Georgia Tech.

Figure a 10-point Notre Dame victory. Just don’t bet the house on it.

Block or else

Check out Pete's column in today's News-Sentinel:

Block or else: ND line faces challenging week

Tuesday, September 5

Irish Look to Pep Up

If you’re looking to get to South Bend early to do a little celebrating (and with many hotels now demanding three-night minimums at $600 a night, celebration might help ease the financial pain), you might want to swing by Notre Dame Stadium Friday evening.

Because of the huge interest in Saturday’s home opener with Penn State, Notre Dame officials have decided to move the pep rally from the Joyce Center to the stadium on Friday, weather permitting. There will be no admission. Gates will open by 5:30.

The last time the Irish tried this, before last year’s USC game, 40,000 or so people showed up. Irish officials are anticipating another big crowd. Coach Charlie Weis said the goal is to not turn anybody away.

It didn’t help last year, when then No. 1 USC won on a last-second touchdown. But No. 19 Penn State is not as good as that Trojan team. The Irish, it seems, are better than last year. That just might mean the celebration won’t be limited to Friday.

Just don't hold us to that.

ND Braces for Penn State "Event"

Let’s make this perfectly clear. Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis has no intention of matching Joe Paterno’s longevity.

“I’ll be dead by then,” he said

Consider the 79-year-old Paterno has been Penn State’s head coach for 41 years. The 50-year-old Weis has run the Irish for just over a year. New math suggests Weis would have to coach until he was 90 to tie Paterno. Of course, by then, Paterno will be in his 82nd season, and if you think we are joking, well, don't underestimate Paterno's will to coach.

Paterno still has no intention of retiring. He has four years left on his contract. He survived a rough few years to return to prominence with last season’s 11-1 Big Ten championship squad.

Weis, for one, can appreciate the accomplishment.

“He took the job in 1966. Think of all that’s happened since then, The Vietnam War, everything. You go through all those cultural changes and you’re still dealing with 18 to 19 year olds and you keep on winning. That’s not by chance. That’s by design.”

So Paterno will show up at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday for the most anticipated home game in school history if you base it on ticket requests. He will stalk the sidelines and yell at players, yell at officials and maybe, when it’s over, yell at the media.

Weis, meanwhile, tries to do what he didn’t do in last year’s home-opening loss to Michigan State. He does not refer to the huge crowd and surrounding hoopla as “a circus.” Instead, he calls it an “event.” He wants the Irish focused and ready. He wants them playing to their potential as they didn’t in the Georgia Tech win.

Will he get it? We’ll have to wait for Saturday to find out.

Monday, September 4

Don't Sell Your Tickets

If you’re a Notre Dame ticket holder looking to earn a little extra cash by selling your tickets, then you’d better look elsewhere. Irish officials are cracking down on people who try that stunt and if you think we’re kidding, well, we never kid.

OK, we do, but never about money.

Anyway, Notre Dame officials already have revoked 600 tickets and suspended the privileges of the owners of those tickets. In fact, if you believe Notre Dame’s sports information office, 400 of those tickets were revoked before being sent to the customer. And who were those customers? Try alumni who lost in the ticket lottery.

Officials also are cracking down on ticket holders who sell tickets to opposing team fans. So if you see people during, say, Saturday’s home opener against Penn State, wearing Nittany Lion attire, you’ll know somebody done something wrong.

Why all the fuss? Ticket demand is off the charts. It’s the greatest in school history, which makes you wonder why officials didn’t boost Notre Dame Stadium seating capacity beyond 100,000, instead of the 80,000-plus it’s had since 1997. But this isn’t the time for second guessing. Not when JoPa is coming and the nation will be watching and Charlie and the guys are pushing to put Saturday’s shaky offensive show behind them.

And now you know.

Tough, or struggling?

Pete explores the question in his new column in the Monday News-Sentinel:

Irish acquiring mental toughness

Discuss here.

UPDATE: And check out Reggie Hayes' column, Bruised now, bask later.

Sunday, September 3

Recruits Are Coming

Hey, there’s nothing like a huge, huge home football opener to add a little recruiting luster to what is shaping up as a big Notre Dame weekend.

Penn State is coming to South Bend on Saturday and among the 80,000-plus interested spectators will be four of the nation’s top high school recruits. So there’s no confusion, they will be there to see Notre Dame and coach Charlie Weis and not the Nittany Lions and forever coach Joe Paterno.

The best recruit is wide receiver Arrelious Benn. He is ranked as the No. 8 overall prospect by national recruiting expert Tom Lemming. Benn is 6-2 and 210 pounds and is very, very fast.

Also coming are safety Harrison Smith from Tennessee, offensive lineman Trinton Sturdivant from North Carolina and offensive lineman Chris Little from Georgia.

Lemming rates Smith as the No. 89 prospect, Little at No. 33 and Sturdivant at No. 99.

Sturdivant is already orally committed to Georgia, but in the cutthroat world of recruiting, you take you best shot unless the player tells you to back off. Considering that the second-ranked Irish (1-0) are aiming for perennial national title contending status, backing off isn't an option.

How’s that for huge.

Saturday, September 2

Notre Dame Toughs Out Victory

It wasn't supposed to be this tough, was it? Yes, we knew all about Georgia Tech and its upset history and fierce defense and game-breaking offense (can you name a better college receiver than Calvin Johnson?) But did anyone expect to see a Charlie Weis offense throttled so effectively as it was for most of Saturday's season-opening first half? Of course they didn't, just as few would have predicted the Irish defense -- yes, the defense -- would be so decisive in the 14-10 victory.

But let's get back to the offense. Notre Dame gained just 54 yards on its first 26 plays. In three earlypossessions it lost five yards, gained zero yards, lost five yards. Yellow Jacket blitzes turned quarterback Brady Quinn into Peter Brady. It was the same formula that the Pittsburgh Steelers used so effectively against Peyton Manning last year -- pressure, harrass, frustrate.

So Weis adjusted, Quinn settled down and the result was the kind of tough-minded victory you expect from a national title contender. Of course, there's a long way to go before contender becomes champion and if you saw how impressive powerhouses such as USC, Texas and, perhaps, even Tennessee were in their debuts, you know how much drama awaits.

But for now, the No. 2 Irish are right where they want to be -- undefeated.

Friday, September 1

Chew on this

Here's the subhead on Pete's column in today's college football preview, in The News-Sentinel:
Brady Quinn knows how to take criticism and run with it – long before Charlie Weis came on the scene, his mom was toughening up her future Heisman contender of a son.
Pete mentions a bit about the hype surrounding Quinn:
Of course, by the time the season ends, Quinn might actually be the Heisman Trophy winner. The hype already is in overdrive, and that includes the dreaded Sports Illustrated cover curse (see its college preview issue). It’s enough to make a coach worry about bloated egos, fractured concentration and ruined team chemistry.

Not this coach. Weis has that covered.
Click here for the story.

Also by Pete in today's paper: Irish defenders challenged to get their minds in gear