Sunday, July 16, 2006

Wojciechowski: Irish Eyes Can Smile Again [J. Mark English]

Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN --

Charlie Weis wasn't available. Vacation. The players? Not accessible until Aug. 6. And yet, you didn't need Mr. Buzzcut or anybody on the two-deep roster to tell you the differences between the Notre Dame football program of July 2005 and July 2006.
In one year so much has changed, except the expectations. That's why Bob Davie now works for ABC, why Tyrone Willingham works for the University of Washington, and why I'm mildly surprised Touchdown Jesus isn't sporting a crewcut.
Weis is the reason for the ND football renaissance -- that, and the fact Willingham was a better recruiter than anybody wants to acknowledge. If it's possible to quantify an attitude, a confidence, then this program feels different. It is more sure of itself. It has its swagger back, which figures, since Weis could write the definition of the word in your Webster's.
A year ago the Irish were unranked and unnoticed. They were no-shows in every meaningful Top 25 preseason poll. If you looked hard in the agate you could find them under, "Others Receiving Votes." But that was it. Notre Dame was reduced to mercy votes.
Now the Irish will be ranked in the top five, easy. And if they aren't, you have my permission to wet-towel snap the butts of any voters who stuck them lower.
A year ago the South Bend Marriott required a two-night minimum stay during a Notre Dame football weekend. I know, because my company credit card was billed $299 per night.

Now for the Sept. 9 home opener against Penn State the Marriott is requiring a three-night minimum for -- are you sitting down? -- $649 (plus tax) per night. By the way, the 298-room hotel is sold out. The Marriott loves Weis.