Willingham keeps believing in struggling Irish

Updated: October 28, 2003, 4:37 PM ET

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- All but one of the seven opponents Notre Dame has played this season is now ranked in the Top 25. And his next opponent, Florida State, is ranked No. 5.

Some coaches might complain about scheduling. Not Tyrone Willingham.

He prefers to dwell on the positive -- even while many Notre Dame fans won't. That's why he sees Saturday's game against the Seminoles as a "heck of an opportunity to upset one of the best teams in the country."

"We're lucky that our schedule at this time of the year gives us that opportunity," he said. "We've got a great football team coming in here that gives us an opportunity to be the spoiler."

At 2-5, being a spoiler is just about all Notre Dame can hope to be.

The Irish could still finish with a winning record if they win their final five games, but have given no reason to believe they are capable of doing that.

The Irish are ranked 103rd in the nation in total offense, 73rd in scoring defense, 106th in net punting and 90th in turnover margin. So why does Willingham continue to believe?

He has no choice.

"It starts with what do you believe in and what do you believe you ultimately can accomplish? I think myself and our coaching staff believe that we can have a good football team," he said. "The only way to get to that level of expectation is to keep pressing forward, to keep working, to keep driving our young men and to keep very positive with them."

Despite losing 27-25 to unranked Boston College last week, Willingham sees reason to believe. He said Notre Dame's comeback against the Eagles shows that the players still believe.

"I think is always a part of human nature that sometimes when things aren't going well you can very easily feel down. But I like our football team, I like the way they fought back this past ball game," he said.

Florida State (7-1) provides quite an obstacle. This will mark the third time this season the Irish have faced a team ranked No. 5. The Irish lost 38-0 at Michigan on Sept. 13 and lost at home to USC 45-14 two weeks ago.

Despite those two routs, Willingham remains confident even though the Irish haven't beaten a top five team since 1998.

"We can knock off Florida State," he said. "We've got to play consistent, we've got to execute. We can't have lulls because Florida State, from what I've seen, doesn't have lulls."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index