The burden of proof lies with Notre Dame
PITTSBURGH-Pressure? What pressure!
Charlie Weis stared in the face of adversity Thursday night-or at least at the thought of the adversity the Irish will face Saturday night in Heinz Field against No. 8-ranked Pittsburgh-and shrugged with nonchalance.
Will the Irish, fighting for their post-season life-and quite possibly their head coach's future in the program-be a bundle of emotions and play hampered by their own anxiety?
"I think the (Notre Dame) team will be loose," Weis said. "(We're) going in as an underdog playing on the road. (We) have more reason to be loose than the other team.
"The other team is a BCS contender, playing at the top of their game. They're 8-1, 5-0 at home, sold out stadium, raucous crowd, night game, national TV…We've been on national TV plenty of times before. This isn't our first rodeo."
No, this isn't Notre Dame's first rodeo. But in this rodeo, the cowboy will throw his lasso, and if he catches it just right, he will pull the noose tight around the head of the Fighting Irish and tie up Notre Dame's chance of salvaging a season that turned precarious with one simple loss to Navy last weekend.
To be sure, there is a lot at stake for Dave Wannstedt's Panthers, who are playing at a level not seen around these parts in nearly three decades. Their defense suffocates teams at the line of scrimmage. Their offense has balance and quick-strike ability in the running and passing games. Wannstedt's teams are always a threat to block a kick.
Pittsburgh's BCS bid, however, doesn't hinge on the outcome of this game. That is connected to the next two games against West Virginia and Cincinnati. The Panthers could lose by four touchdowns to Notre Dame, yet still would land the Big East's BCS bid with victories over the Mountaineers and the Bearcats. All that would be lost is its quest for a national title, which wasn't a realistic expectation anyway.
As for the hoopla inside Heinz Field Saturday night, that's not likely to disturb Pittsburgh's focus on the matter at hand. No, they're not accustomed to playing in front of a full house. But the difference between 45,000 fans and 60,000 fans shouldn't have any bearing on the Panthers. A national television audience? This is 2009. Ho hum.
No, the heat is on the Fighting Irish. If either team is feeling the pressure of the noose around its neck, it is Notre Dame, which is battling to live another day and trying to give their head coach a sixth year in the program.