Willingham, Fighting Irish focusing on first game
By By DAN WEISS / Niles Daily Star
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Tyrone Willingham is sure of one thing already.
Less than a week in to the 2003 season, Willingham has his Notre Dame football team focused on just one thing: the first game.
Expectations are high for the Fighting Irish, already ranked No. 18 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' preseason poll.
Oklahoma, Ohio State and Miami, in that order, make up the top three teams in the same poll.
Notre Dame opens its season on Saturday, Sept. 6, at home against Washington State.
The Cougars did not make the ESPN/USA Today Top 25, but did receive votes in the poll.
The second week of the season will mark the first of five games against Top 25 teams.
Notre Dame travels to No. 7 Michigan on Saturday, Sept. 13, then hosts Michigan State on Saturday, Sept. 20. The Irish travel to No. 22 Purdue on Saturday, Sept. 27.
Things don't get any easier for Notre Dame in October as they open the month with a game at No. 11 Pittsburgh on Saturday, Oct. 11. The Irish then return home to face No. 8 USC on Saturday, Oct. 18.
Notre Dame travels to Boston College on Saturday, Oct. 25, and wraps up the season with a home contest against No. 12 Florida State on Saturday, Nov. 1.
Heading into his second season as the leader of the Fighting Irish, Willingham sees a bit of progress made in terms of instilling a new system.
When asked if that progress and experience in his system would allow the Irish to dip deeper into the offensive playbook, Willingham offered more of his philosophy.
Notre Dame finished 10-3 last season after being unranked in the preseason.
The Irish gained 313.5 total yards on offense last season while holding opponents to 300 yards per game.
Many criticized Notre Dame's offense and, when asked if the offense must improve for the Irish to be more successful this season, Willingham was quick to add one last bit of football philosophy.