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Notre Dame unranked at 4-1 for first time ever

Sunday, October 5, 2008

By TOM COYNE

AP Sports Writer

SOUTH BEND -- Notre Dame's 4-1 start doesn't measure up to the 27 other seasons in which the Irish had one loss in the first five games.

The difference: This time they're unranked.

Every other season in which the Fighting Irish were either 4-1 or 3-1-1, they were ranked. The Irish were rated as high as No. 4 in 1942 and 1965, as low as No. 18 in 1998, and had an average ranking of No. 10 during those seasons.

On Sunday, Regis Philbin's alma mater got six votes in The Associated Press poll, 91 votes fewer than No. 25 Ball State, the fellow Indiana school best known for being David Letterman's alma mater.

Irish coach Charlie Weis isn't worried, though. He believes his team, which started last year 0-5, is on the cusp of being ranked.

"You're one of the team that's in the mix in that conversation piece," he said.

It's not difficult to understand why the Irish didn't crack the Top 25. None of the previous ranked Notre Dame teams averaged as few as the 103 yards a game rushing, as this year's squad is. En route to a 28-21 win Saturday over Stanford, the Irish gave the Cardinal a last chance to tie the score, when they failed on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 in the final minute.

Weis acknowledged Sunday the Irish need to run the ball better.

"If you become a one-dimensional team, eventually you're going to get hurt. Especially when you're ineffective on third-and-1," he said. "You have to be able to run the football and you definitely need to be more productive on third-and-1 than we've been."

The Irish are ranked 84th nationally in total defense. The only ranked Irish team that rated lower five games into the season was the 2005 squad that ranked 95th. But that team averaged 504 yards a game in total offense through five games, 151 yards a game more than this year's squad.

The key for the Irish defensively is to play well more consistently, Weis said.

The Irish also are just 1-of-7 on field goals. They will try to come up with a solution this week, although Weis said they've already tried just about everything.

"We're fortunate it hasn't cost us more than what it's cost us already," Weis said.

In years past, Weis would say he wasn't worried about the rankings. But on Sunday he conceded being ranked is important to his players because they're eager to earn respect back after finishing an embarrassing 3-9 last season.

"I think this year one of the big things is we want to put Notre Dame back on the map in a positive vein, not in a negative vein," he said. "I think that would be one message that you earned your way back into the picture."

Irish players aren't concerned.

"If we keep doing what we do and do it well, it's going to be hard to keep ignoring it," offensive tackle Sam Young said.

Safety David Bruton believes the Irish have proven they are much improved.

"We've shown we can compete with anybody," Bruton said. "We haven't earned our respect entirely. We're still fighting for it."

The good news is they can earn some respect a win Saturday at No. 22 North Carolina (4-1).

"I think you go beat North Carolina at North Carolina, I'd say the odds are you'll be in the Top 25 next week," Weis said.



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