Sept. 6, 2000
By TOM COYNE
SOUTH BEND, Ind.- Notre Dame coach Bob Davie talked to his friend, Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum, after beating the Aggies last week and got some advice about playing top-ranked Nebraska, another Big 12 school.
"He said, 'Get them off your schedule next season,"' Davie said Tuesday.
Too late for that now, though. The No. 23 Irish play host to the top-ranked Cornhuskers on Saturday, marking only the seventh time a top-ranked team other than the Irish will play in South Bend. Notre Dame is 3-3 in those games including winning their last two, beating Miami 31-30 in 1988 and Florida State 31-24 in 1993.
Despite Slocum's friendly advice, Davie said now is the best time for the Irish to face Nebraska.
"We're pretty healthy. Our confidence is pretty high. Our kids are excited. So now's the time," he said.
The Irish weren't healthy last November when they were ranked 24th in the country and traveled to Knoxville to face fourth-ranked Tennessee. The Volunteers beat the Irish 38-14, Notre Dame's worst loss in 13 years. It triggered a four-game losing streak that gave the Irish their first losing record (5-7) since 1986.
Davie said there's no comparison to last year's game with the Volunteers and this year's game with the Cornhuskers.
"When I say that 21 people couldn't play at the end of last season, I don't think people really listen to that. I mean by that point in that season, with the football team we put on the field in Tennessee compared to the one that we put out there with those nine draft picks, it wasn't close," he said. "We're a lot better football team right now than the one we took to Tennessee."
They'd better be. The Volunteer squad that manhandled the Irish were overpowered by Nebraska 31-21 in the Fiesta Bowl.
"What Nebraska did to Tennessee with Tennessee's football team intact was really impressive because I know what kind of athleticism Tennessee has," Davie said.
Many fans are comparing Saturday's game to the Irish's opening game two years ago against Michigan when the Wolverines were coming off their national championship season. The Irish were coming off a disappointing 7-6 season and were ranked 22nd at the time. They beat No. 5 Michigan in that season-opening game 36-20.
"In that game we got stronger as the game went on, and the crowd really became a factor. You sensed the momentum and you sensed the confidence," he said.
Davie said for the Irish to pull off such an upset again, they are going to have to keep it close early. That will allow the crowd, and hopefully the Irish mystique, to become factors.
"We can all sit back and say it's a tremendous atmosphere. What a great
opportunity," he said. "That's just talk."