3:30 PM ET, November 24, 2007
Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) -- When Notre Dame last visited Stanford Stadium two years ago the stakes couldn't have been much higher.
The Irish were seeking to secure a berth in the Bowl Championship Series, while the Cardinal needed a win to become bowl eligible.
Two years later, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis had to dig a little deeper. At his news conference earlier this week, Weis dug up the obscure note that Notre Dame had not finished the season with back-to-back wins since beating Southern California and winning the Cotton Bowl over Texas A&M to close out the 1992 season.
"That's a stat that I want to attain," Weis said.
After a pair of 38-0 losses to rivals Michigan and Southern California, a school-record six-game home losing streak and the first loss to Navy in 44 years, there's not much else for the Irish (2-9) to play for this season.
Following up last week's win over Duke with a victory in the season finale at Stanford (3-7) on Saturday would provide a rare bright spot to what has been perhaps the worst season ever for college football's most storied program.
"You always want to go out with a good taste in your mouth," running back Travis Thomas said. "We found out that in the last 15 years we haven't won two games in a row. That's obviously something that we would like to accomplish and help to move this program forward because we still have a duty to do so.
Stanford has only one more win than the Irish, but it also has the opportunity to make this a somewhat successful season with season-ending wins over Notre Dame and arch rival California next week.
That mostly can be attributed to the diminished expectations at Stanford compared to Notre Dame, especially following last year's 1-11 campaign.
The Cardinal have a 19-47 record since Willingham left to coach the Irish following the 2001 season, losing all five meetings against the Irish and Golden Bears.
"The goal was to get to a bowl game, and we're not going to accomplish that," cornerback Nick Sanchez said. "But if we win the last two games, we'll get The Axe back from Cal and the Legends Trophy from Notre Dame that we haven't had in a while and have five wins which is a lot better than one last year. It would be a way for our seniors to leave the program on an upswing."
Stanford's last home loss to Notre Dame was especially painful. With a chance to become bowl eligible in the final game of the 2005 season, the Cardinal took a 31-30 with 1:46 left. But Darius Walker scored on a 6-yard run with 55 seconds remaining to lead the Irish to the 38-31 victory.
A win Saturday would give the Cardinal players some bragging rights, even if it is against one of the worst Notre Dame teams ever.
"They are still the guys you're going to see on TV every single week," receiver Mark Bradford said. "They are still the guys you are going to hear about and the guys people are going to remember you for playing. When you get a win against Notre Dame, you want to talk to people 10, 20 years from now and want to be able to say you got a win against the Fighting Irish."
A 10th loss this season would be yet another mark against Weis. After taking the Irish to BCS bowls his first two seasons, he enters his final game of the year with the same 21-15 record that got Willingham fired after three seasons and the same .583 winning percentage that cost Bob Davie his job after five seasons.
Weis' job appears safe as his contract runs through 2015. But he's ready to do some serious self-evaluation as soon as Saturday's game is over. He has talked about getting critiques from his former New England Patriots colleagues as he tries to figure out what went so wrong.
One positive has been the progress of freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen since he returned to the starting lineup three weeks ago.
Benched after struggling against Boston College on Oct. 13, Clausen has thrown three touchdown passes in each of his past two games, giving life to Notre Dame's struggling offense.
"Any time you have a quarterback in there that the team believes can make plays, it makes the whole team more excited," Weis said. "Not just the offensive players, because now the defensive players don't feel they have to get a shutout to win a game."
|Avg Points Allowed||28.8||29.6|