Dec. 19, 2008

(AP) - At some programs, bowl eligibility and a postseason trip to Hawaii would be cause for celebration. At Notre Dame, it nearly got the coach fired.

With his job secure for 2009, Charlie Weis leads the Fighting Irish into Aloha Stadium on Dec. 24 to face Hawaii on its home field in the Hawaii Bowl.

Formerly the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, Weis enjoyed a successful first two years at Notre Dame, leading the Irish to 9-3 and 10-3 records in 2005 and 2006, respectively. They played in a BCS bowl following each season.

In the last two years the program has struggled, as Notre Dame followed a 3-9 record in 2007 with a 6-6 mark this season. Despite the improvement in 2008, the 15 losses over two seasons were the most in Notre Dame history, and led to rampant speculation Weis would be fired with seven years remaining on his contract.

Fighting Irish head into Aloha Stadium on Dec. 24 to face Hawaii on its home field in the Hawaii Bowl.

Even after the Irish concluded the regular season with a defeat to Syracuse - an eight-loss team - and an embarrassing 38-3 loss at then-No. 5 USC, athletic director Jack Swarbrick opted to give Weis another chance in 2009.

"The question you're ultimately asking yourself is: Is he in a position to help direct the changes in the program, to help steer it back to where he and I really want it to be?" Swarbrick said. "That really focused on a discussion about a series of very specific things that constitute the plan going forward."

Despite the fact that his team dropped four of its final five games after opening the season 5-2, Weis believes the Irish were much improved from 2007, and sees reason for optimism.

"Last year we were a crummy team that very often was noncompetitive," Weis said. "This year I thought we were a decent football team that blew three double-digit leads in games. You are what you are, as Bill (Parcells) always said. But the difference between 6-6 and 9-3 is blowing three double-digit leads."

Earning the program's first bowl win in nearly 15 years would give Notre Dame more reason for optimism. The Irish have dropped an NCAA-record nine consecutive bowl games since beating Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day in 1994. The five most recent losses in that streak have all come by two touchdowns or more.

Notre Dame's offense will look to bounce back after it mustered only 91 total yards in the regular-season finale. Sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen completed 59.4 percent of his passes this season for 2,771 yards, 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Fourteen of his TD passes went to sophomore wideout Golden Tate or freshman Michael Floyd, who had sevens scores apiece.

The ground game had no dominant rusher this season, with sophomore Armando Allen's 576 yards tops on the team.

Notre Dame held seven of its 12 opponents below 200 passing yards, but yielded 27.2 points over its final five games. It will be challenged by the perennially potent Hawaii offense, which topped 30 points in five of its seven victories.

The Irish are 2-0 against the Warriors (7-6), with both meetings coming in Hawaii. Notre Dame won 48-42 in 1991 and 23-22 in 1997. The Irish also visited Aloha Stadium for the 1984 Aloha Bowl, which they lost 27-20 to SMU.

Though Hawaii will be playing in a bowl for the third straight year, this season was somewhat of a letdown after the Warriors made their first BCS bowl appearance following the 2007 campaign, falling 41-10 to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

The Warriors had a chance to end their regular season with four straight wins, as they held a two-touchdown lead early in the fourth quarter against then-No. 13 Cincinnati on Dec. 6. However, they allowed the Bearcats to score 19 straight points and fell 29-24.

"They're a top football team and that's what great football teams do," Hawaii coach Greg McMackin said of Cincinnati, which will play in the Orange Bowl after earning the Big East's BCS berth. "We're a good football team. But not good enough to finish."

Warriors starting quarterback Greg Alexander threw a costly interception in the fourth quarter against the Bearcats, but also threw multiple touchdown passes for the fourth consecutive game. The junior has thrown for 1,142 yards, nine TDs and completed 65.9 percent of his passes over his last four contests.

The Warriors are 3-1 in the Hawaii Bowl, defeating Arizona State 41-24 in their most recent appearance in 2006.