Notre Dame-Washington has lost its luster

October, 22, 2008
10/22/08
4:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Notre Dame's visit to Washington on Saturday is a train wreck for Tyrone Willingham without a doubt, but it's a train wreck that won't satisfy most rubberneckers because the ruins and carnage are no longer mysterious or resonant.

The plot lines may be worthy of a raised national eyebrow but are entirely lacking the buzz they once promised.

Notre Dame is on the rise in Year 4 of the Charlie Weis era. Conversely, Washington's decline under Willingham has reached a breakneck pace to the tune of a winless season and an 11-31 record.

So this game, circled in red ink in 2005 as a potential final measure of the wisdom of Notre Dame's controversial firing of Willingham -- and the Huskies decision to then hire him -- no longer possesses intrigue.

Notre Dame is 4-2 and has once again become a national recruiting power. Washington is 0-6 and is on its way to its worst recruiting class in recent program history. Chances of Willingham coaching the Huskies next year fall somewhere between zero and none at all.

Still, the questions must be asked, even though reporters expected to gain no insight from Willingham concerning what must be going on inside him.

"I think what I always try to do is take the Tyrone Willingham out of things," he said.

Asked how that could be possible, he replied, "That's something that everybody else will dwell on. After we finish [the Monday news conference], I will be simply focused on our football game and try to move our football team in that direction. And at some point, some of you will tire of that and move on to something else.

Willingham, though growing grimmer and grimmer after every defeat, continues to profess hope for a turnaround.

He insisted "there are some positives with how our guys are fighting." Later, he talked of "hoping that the breakthrough comes this year."

As for the game, there are plenty of reasons to believe the Huskies could make things competitive, even without quarterback Jake Locker.

Notre Dame is young and hardly dominant on either line. The Irish rank 108th in the country in rushing offense, so it's obvious that Jimmy Clausen and company will attack the Huskies' woeful pass defense, which allows foes to complete nearly 73 percent of their passes.

But if Clausen, a true sophomore, is a little off, things could get interesting.

Moreover, both teams played host to Stanford -- Notre Dame winning a competitive game, the Huskies losing one.

But the long trip to the West Coast is typically difficult for teams, and it's possible the Irish will struggle to take the only winless BCS conference team seriously.

And maybe the Huskies play with extra verve for their coach, though Willingham rejected the subplot involving himself as a motivating factor.

"It's about what they see and what they read and how much they get locked in," he said. "Hopefully, our guys have seen enough this year -- heard enough -- that they can lock in and focus on playing football and keep all the other stuff out of it.

That might not be much of a problem. All that "other stuff" is no longer as interesting as it once appeared it would be.

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