ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -Charlie Weis stood outside the door of the visiting locker room at Michigan Stadium and tried to look into the eyes of every player and assistant coach who filed past and stepped inside. Few lifted their gaze off the floor long enough to return his.
``I was looking to see if any of them had thrown in the towel,'' Weis said.
If you want to see for yourself what a team looks like when it hits rock bottom, go visit Notre Dame on Sunday. Weis walked into the interview room 15 minutes after Michigan humiliated his squad 38-0 in the Consolation Bowl and announced training camp begins in South Bend not long after the bus crosses the city line.
He didn't mean a few hours of stressing basics in the next practice, or the one after that.
He meant starting all over again.
``We're not worried about Michigan and we're not worried about Michigan State,'' Weis said about the next trap door on the Fighting Irish schedule. ``I've got to worry about Notre Dame. We're 0-3 with three lopsided losses, so it doesn't really matter who we are playing until we get good at something.''
That could be a long time coming.
``All you can do is really start from the beginning and go back to work and hopefully the next product that comes out is better than the product we started with,'' linebacker Anthony Vernaglia said.
There are so many numbers that illustrate how systemic the failure is at Notre Dame that you can take your pick. The defense has outscored the offense 7-6 (two field goals). The rushing game has minus-14 yards total. The line has allowed 23 sacks. Opponents are averaging 34 points per game.
To his credit, Weis took the blame for all of it, refusing help from his public-relations staff to limit the number of questions.
``I'm going to stay here,'' he said, ``and take it.''
The most damning number, though, at least as far as the coach is concerned, could be three.
This is Weis' third season in charge of the Fighting Irish, the one where his predecessors defined themselves. Lou Holtz, Dan Devine and Ara Parseghian each won a national title. On the other hand, Tyrone Willingham, the man Weis replaced, was dumped in Year 3.
As if Weis needed reminding of that, the student section at Michigan was only too happy to comply. When the scoreboard showed Washington - Willingham's new team - leading Ohio State 7-3 early in that game, a rhythmic chant rocked the Big House: ``Tyrone's better! Tyrone's better!''
Maybe, maybe not, but at least one Wolverine was inclined to agree with the smart-aleck sentiment as it applied to recruiting.
``In his first two years,'' Michigan linebacker Shawn Crable said, ``he had players that could execute.''
Given a contract extension worth as much as $40 million, Weis brought in a class led by quarterback Jimmy Clausen, that most recruiting services ranked somewhere between Nos. 5 and 10.
Right now, Weis would probably trade any or all of them for their press clippings. The best of the lot appears to be freshman kick returner Golden Tate, but that may be because he gets plenty of practice.
No sooner had Tate carried the opening kickoff out to the Notre Dame 18-yard line than the offense promptly gave 17 of those yards back. The center snap sailed over the head of running back Armando Allen, who lined up behind center in the first bit of trickery Weis had planned for the afternoon.
Then came another gamble, an end around that gained four yards.
``Maybe I was nuts to call it inside the 5,'' Weis said, ``but I figured what the hell.''
His next call - a screen pass from Clausen that was batted to the ground - was more conventional, but by then the afternoon was already in a freefall.
For some reason, Weis came out thinking he could attack Michigan's defense the same way Appalachian State and Oregon sliced and diced it.
What he didn't realize is nowadays, the fast, skillful players who bring the Xs and Os to life are as likely to choose those two schools as they are to pick Notre Dame.
Tradition counts for something, but kids now are more interested in playing time and grooming for the NFL than they are about waking up echoes.
Speaking of that, Notre Dame's starting quarterback in the opener, Demetrius Jones, reportedly quit the school and transferred to Northern Illinois overnight. Clausen was going to start anyway, but Weis admitted it came as a surprise
``I didn't find out until 2:15, when the buses were going to pull out (of the hotel) at 2:30,'' he said. ``But I'm not going to use it as an excuse and say our team was distracted.''
Best call he made all day.
---
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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