SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis smiled when a reporter asked him Tuesday his thoughts about predictions that the Fighting Irish could be in for a rough season.
``Who says that?'' he asked.
Weis didn't wait for an answer. He is well aware that some college football experts are predicting the young Irish to struggle this season after losing players like Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija and Darius Walker.
Weis seems quietly confident that the unproven Irish are ready to surprise people heading into Saturday's season-opening game against Georgia Tech, and is enjoying the position the Irish are in.
``This is more exciting than the first two years for me,'' Weis said. ``This is also more challenging.''
In his first year, Weis was faced with changing the attitude of a team that had grown complacent and turned them into a Top 10 team. Last year, the challenge was to get the players to adjust from being the underdogs to being the favorites.
Now, after back-to-back Bowl Championship Series appearances, Weis is back to where he started. There are questions about the offense, and for the first time since his opening-game victory at Pittsburgh two years ago the Irish enter a game unranked under Weis.
These Irish have a lot to prove, but there was no need for Weis to change the team's attitude - he's ingrained the team with his attitude the past two seasons. Which is why Weis has had a change of attitude himself this season.
``I think part of your job as a coach is you can't stay the same if your team has changed,'' he said. ``You have to figure out what is going to be the best approach to get the most out of your team.''
The approach Weis adopted was patience.
``That doesn't mean I haven't been tough on them,'' Weis said. ``It just means I've bit my tongue much more often than I ever have in my entire coaching career, to make sure I don't send somebody deep into the tank too quickly.''
Players have noticed. Tight end John Carlson said Weis has at times allowed the seniors to step in and help the younger players, instead of taking over himself.
``For example, he allows me to step in with the other tight ends and maybe give them a pointer or get after them a little bit when I feel like they are not doing their job,'' Carlson said. ``That doesn't mean he's not coaching. But he's been real patient.''
Tailback Travis Thomas said Weis also has let some of his assistants have more say this season.
``Not to say he's not coaching, but I think he's given more freedom to us as players, us as captains and the rest of his coaches to really go out there and do a little bit extra,'' Thomas said.
Weis concedes the Irish have questions heading into the season. But he thinks they could have answers, such as with freshmen Armando Allen and Golden Tate as the top two kick returners.
``When they get the ball, something is going to happen - something big is going to happen,'' Weis said. ``And I'm rooting on that something big being something good.''
Weis has constantly talked about how much deeper the Irish are this season than the past two years, saying in past years he was afraid to make certain calls based on who was in the game.
``We're getting closer to the point where you don't have to worry if one guy goes in and another guy goes out - you can keep calling the same game plan and you don't have to think as much,'' he said.
The biggest question heading into Saturday's game against Georgia Tech is who will start at quarterback for the Irish: Evan Sharpley, Demetrius Jones or Jimmy Clausen? Weis says he has known the answer for more than a week but has kept it secret to try to make Georgia Tech prepare for three different styles of quarterback.
Weis planned to officially make the announcement to the team Tuesday night, after offensive players meet with the media for the final time before Saturday's game.
``Five seconds after you're done talking to them everyone will know exactly what they're doing, so they don't have to lie to you,'' Weis said.
Then all that's left is to put the finishing touches on the game plan.
Asked whether he thought the Irish might surprise the naysayers, Weis said simply: ``Well, they better.''

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