Chris Dufresne's preseason top 25: No. 23 Notre Dame

The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time:

No. 23 Notre Dame

The echoes of Notre Dame's famous fight song have phoned the front desk at the South Bend Marriott and requested a Sept. 5 wake-up call for Nevada.

It's the same hotel that charges the equivalent of a house payment in the Hamptons for a football weekend stay -- but this is neither the time nor place to whine about football price-gouging during a recession.

The downturn Irish fans want reversed involves a storied program that is missing chapters since the last national title in 1988 -- 10 years before the formation of the Bowl Championship Series.

Why it happened and who is to blame has been hashed over on talk radio for years and usually involves the names Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham.

One more 7-6 season and you can add Charlie Weis to the list.

This is Year 5 of the Weis era, otherwise known as the possible endgame.

No more arguments about whether Weis won big early with Willingham's recruits and then didn't win because Willingham didn't recruit.

The time to win is, well, we thought it was last year, when Notre Dame was No. 25 in our preseason poll and then we had to explain why it wasn't a joke.

Last year we looked at the schedule and envisioned eight or nine wins -- and it could have very well ended that way.

Notre Dame got to 5-2 after a wipeout win against Willingham's Washington and still had Pittsburgh and Syracuse to play at home.

But the Irish squandered a lead to Pitt and lost in overtime, and three games later suffered an insufferable loss to lousy Syracuse, prompting chatter about Weis not making it to Year 5.

Only a 49-21 win over Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl, Notre Dame's first postseason victory since the 1993 season, salvaged a 7-6 season and this year's ongoing redemption campaign.

Once again, the schedule suggests nine wins and a BCS bowl berth. Some are talking an outside chance at the national title, but that seems nuts unless USC and Boston College drop off the schedule.

What Weis finally has are his own players in place, with some experience between the ear holes.

The offensive line is a chorus line of seniors, stretching left tackle to right. The point producers are juniors: quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who looked terrific against Hawaii, receiver Golden Tate and tailback Armando Allen.

The Irish offense averaged only 24.7 points a game last year -- 67th out of 119 major-college teams -- but should be more dynamic.

The defense, coordinated by highly respected Jon Tenuta, will be in constant attack mode -- that was Tenuta's tenacious style at Georgia Tech.

The Irish have three returning starters in the secondary and are led at linebacker by junior Brian Smith, with prized incoming freshman Manti Te'o looking to earn early-season playing time.

If the Irish can paste together a defensive line and remember that players win games -- not uniforms, tradition, fight songs, leprechauns or Regis Philbin -- then it is realistic to think Notre Dame football can rebound in some respectable way, shape or form.

This could be the season the school finally breaks through to win a bowl game . . . in the continental U.S.


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