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2003 PREVIEW: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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Even in hindsight, the performance by last season's team was miraculous. Forget about the ugly way the offense played and the brutal performances against , USC and NC State, there's a new buzz about football and all signs are pointing to a return to glory for the program ... next year. Tyrone Willingham pulled off a magic act getting his defense to force turnovers and make big plays while the conservative offense made sure not to screw up. It's not that doesn't have good players to rely on, it's that the overall team is still trying to undergo a facelift from the Bob Davie era. While all credit is due for pulling off ten wins, it can't be lost that the Irish needed divine inspiration to pull off wins against , Michigan and . Once the big defensive plays slowed down and the offense went completely into the tank, the season stalled. This season, Willingham has to identify who the players are going to be that can help the team get to the national title level that he's envisioning. Even though Willingham always thinks his teams should win, this team doesn't have BCS talent when compared to the top programs in the country. While the Irish can certainly play with the big boys, they're still a couple of big recruiting classes away from being one of the elite teams. With that said, funky things tend to happen around this program and anything can happen. will go to a bowl game and will win a game or three it shouldn't, but it's asking too much for the same lightning to strike two years in a row.

Team Information
Head coach: Tyrone Willingham
2nd season: 10-3
9th season overall: 54-39-1
Returning O Lettermen: 24
Returning D Lettermen: 19
Lettermen Lost: 37
Ten Best Players
1. LB , Sr.
2. RB , Jr.
3. FS , Sr.
4. CB , Sr.
5. WR Maurice Stovall, Soph.
6. DT , Sr.
7. LB , Sr.
8. QB , Sr.
9 .TE , Sr.
10. NG , Sr.
2003 Schedule
9/6 St.
9/13 at
9/20 St.
9/27 at
10/11 at
10/18 USC
10/25 at Boston Coll
11/1
11/8
11/15 BYU
11/29 at
12/6 at
The Schedule: 's schedule is always tough, but this is a nightmare of a beginning. Michigan, and are far better than they were last year when the Irish squeaked by them in South Bend. Now these are road games. To hope for a good bowl game, the Irish need to get through the brutal first part with four wins in the first eight games and that won't be easy. The schedule lightens up with , BYU, at and at Stanford to close out the year. Best Offensive Player: Junior RB . If the rest of the offense can start to perform and the passing game can take the heat off, Grant should have another huge year. He could also use some help from the other running backs so he can stay fresh. Best Defensive Player: Senior LB . Watson is one of the best returning linebackers in America with great all-around skills and a wonderful nose for the ball. He isn't a superior pro prospect, but he does a little of everything extremely well. Key player to a successful season: There's enough overall talent at every position to hope for another ten-win season, but it's not going to happen unless the offensive line plays well. The biggest key with be for center Zach Giles to fill-in for first round draft pick at center. With only one returning starter and no depth, the Irish will hope the line can immediately come together. The season will be a success if: wins eight games. Irish fans don't want to set the bar so low after the success of last year, but, if it's possible, last year's team wasn't nearly as good as the 10-3 record would indicate. The Irish didn't make mistakes early, took advantage of opportunities and simply played smarter than the teams it faced. You can never underestimate what Willingham can do, but eight wins with this schedule would be a success. Key game: Sept. 13 at Michigan. Confidence was everything for the Irish program last season. If they can pull off a win in the opener against and can beat on September 20th, then all that stands between the Irish and a 3-0 start is a win in Ann Arbor against one of the top ten teams in the country. If they can beat the Wolverines, the magical buzz will start allover again. 2002 Fun Stats:
  • Average yards per rush: ND 3.4 - Opponents 2.8
  • played in front of 1,008,693 people
  • Turnovers: Opponents 33 - 28
    2003 Recruiting Class
    Star of the Class
    Greg Olsen TE 6-6 245 Wayne, NJ (Wayne Hills)
    One of three finalists for Gatorade National Player of the Year, after earning Gatorade Player of the Year honors for New Jersey ... helped team to 12-0 mark in 2002 and New Jersey Group 3 state title ... caught 38 passes for 703 yards and 14 touchdowns as senior in 2002 at Wayne Hills High School in Wayne, N.J... . also rushed six times for 116 yards ... made 87 tackles to go with 25 tackles for loss and 15 sacks and four fumbles caused as defensive end ... named defensive player of the year for '02 by Newark Star-Ledger ... two-time first-team New Jersey all-state pick ... as junior had 89 tackles, 35 for loss ... also has experience as long snapper ... averaged 16 points and eight rebounds per game as power forward in basketball ... has thrown javelin 161 1/2 feet. *Abiamiri, Victor DL 6-5 245 Randallstown, MD (Gilman)
    Anastasio, Chase WR 6-2 190 Burke, VA (Robinson)
    Borseti, Nick LB 6-1 205 Saugus, MA (St. John's Prep)
    Brockington, Joe LB 6-1 215 Palmyra, PA (Palmyra)
    Carlson, John TE 6-6 230 Litchfield, MN (Litchfield)
    Gardner, Isaiah DB/RB 5-10 190 Beach, VA (Salem)
    Harris, Ryan OL 6-5 255 St. Paul, MN (Cretin-Derham Hall)
    Hedgmon, LaBrose DB 5-10 180 Hoover, AL (Hoover)
    Laws, Trevor DL 6-2 290 Burnsville, MN (Apple Valley)
    McConnell, Ashley FB 6-0 240 Adairsville, GA (Adairsville)
    Ndukwe, Chinedum WR 6-3 190 Powell, OH (Coffman)
    Parish, Freddie, Jr. DB 6-1 195 Redondo Beach, CA (Long Beach Poly)
    Price, Geoffrey P 6-3 180 Hurst, TX (Colleyville Heritage)
    Quinn, Brady QB 6-4 210 Dublin, OH (Coffman)
    Samardzija, Jeff WR 6-4 190 Valparaiso, IN (Valparaiso)
    Stephenson, Dwight, Jr. LB 6-3 237 Delray Beach, FL (Pope John Paul II)
    Sullivan, John C 6-4 280 Old Greenwich, CT (Greenwich)
    Thomas, Mitchell LB 6-3 210 Opelika, AL (Smiths Station)
    Thomas, Travis RB 6-1 200 Washington, PA (Washington)
    Wooden, Ambrose WR 6-1 190 Baltimore, MD (Gilman)
    Zbikowski, Tom DB 6-0 185 Arlington Heights, IL (Buffalo Grove)
    *Potential Instant Impact Players

  • Tagged: Florida State, Virginia, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Purdue, Michigan State, Stanford, Washington State, Navy, Notre Dame

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