Last year was the rookie season for Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis, and to say the least it was a very impressive showing. The Fighting Irish made it to their first ever Bowl Championship Series game which they eventually ended up losing to a strong Ohio State Buckeye team. It was a disappointing end to the 2005-2006 season but could have been just what the Irish and Weis needed to start the 2006-2007 season. With that loss still fresh in the minds of the Notre Dame players it will be easier for Coach Weis to convince them to work harder inorder to achieve a shot at a National Championship.
While it would definitely be premature to say the the Irish are the team to look out for this season, it is not too big a leap to say that they have the potential to compete for that crystal football this year. The one major factor that must be considered is the return of quarterback Brady Quinn to the team. While he could have gone pro Quinn chose to stay another year at Notre Dame. This in my opinion was a wise choice because it will give him another year of experience operating a pro style offense under the tutelage of Charlie Weis, which will definitely increase Quinn's NFL potential. Further, having Brady back gives Weis the confidence in a proven leader who can take charge on the field during a game allowing the coach to open up the play book as they did last season.
The final thing to consider is the 2006 Fighting Irish schedule. While they play Penn State and Michigan early in the season (Septermber 9th and 16th respectively) both games are at home where the Irish are under the protection of "Touchdown Jesus" and the normal home field advantage. Michigan State could pose a threat but not critical enough for me to believe they will defeat the Irish. The two other worries are UCLA and USC. UCLA no longer has Drew Olsen and USC's depletion of players has been well documented (just look over the first two rounds of the NFL draft).
Overall, the Fighting Irish will be more comfortable with Charlie Weis's system this year with a year of experience under their belts and have a favorable schedule to make a run at the championship. Along with a strong recruiting class the Fighting Irish are poised to give teams like Penn State and Ohio State a challenge for the BCS Championship.