CHICAGO – Notre Dame’s 38-31 come-from-behind victory over Stanford last Saturday was stomach-churning, heart-stopping and, most of all, character-building, Irish coach Charlie Weis said at Thursday’s weekly news conference.

“Something critical happened in that game Saturday night,” Weis said. “In a close game, they won. There’s definitely a lesson that can be learned in every game. The fact that now all of a sudden something bad happened at the end of the game and the team comes back and wins the game, that’s just as important as any other lesson that can be taught because a team doesn’t start winning those close games until they experience it.

“Now that they know they can do it, it’ll make it a little easier next time.”

Notre Dame’s next opportunity to win a game, close or otherwise, won’t come until after the new year, when the Irish will face a yet-to-be-determined opponent in a Bowl Championship Series game, likely the Fiesta Bowl.

But if their just completed regular season is any guide, the 9-2 Irish are on solid footing as they seek the school’s first postseason victory since Jan. 1, 1994, when Notre Dame beat Texas A&M 24-21 in the Cotton Bowl.

Weis used a wealth of statistical material to explain the Irish’s improvement from 6-6 last season to this year’s 9-2.

“When you outscore your opponents by about 15 points a game, you rush 35 yards a game more than they do, you have 112 yards of total offense a game more than they do, you win in the second and fourth quarters, which are the key quarters in the game …

“We outscored them in the second quarter by 112 points and the fourth quarter by 33,” Weis said.

“We converted 40 percent of third downs and our opponents converted 33 percent. So there are a lot of positives as far as team stats go.”

Weis also singled out some standout performers on the defensive side, such as senior linebackers Brandon Hoyte and Corey Mays, who combined for 150 tackles, and defensive end Victor Abiamiri, who had four sacks and four other tackles-for-loss against Stanford.

And he cited safety Tom Zbikowski for his five interceptions and his work as a punt returner – Zbikowski averaged 14.6 yards per return and brought back three for touchdowns, including one against top-ranked USC.

But Weis is known as an offensive coach, and it was on offense that the Irish made their most significant impact.

“When you look at (receivers) Maurice Stovall and Jeff Samardzija … between the two they have 26 touchdown catches and over 1,000 yards of receptions apiece. Darius Walker rushed for over 1,000 and (quarterback) Brady Quinn throws for 3,600.

Obviously there’s some pretty good production, and hopefully our best is yet to come,” Weis said.

Does Quinn, who threw for 32 touchdowns against just seven interceptions, deserve Heisman Trophy consideration?

“I’ve said all along, it would be tough for me to pick against that No. 5 from USC,” Weis said, referring to tailback Reggie Bush.

“I’ve seen all three of these quarterbacks play, and (USC’s) Matt Leinart is pretty good, real good, and (Texas’) Vince Young is real good, but I wouldn’t trade my guy for either one of them.”

The only thing that remains to be seen is if his guy can lead Weis’ Irish to a bowl victory for the first time in a dozen years.

“You’re either going to be 9-3 having lost a bowl game, or 10-2 having won a bowl game,” Weis said.

“It’s going to leave a good taste or a bad taste. I’m hoping for the former.”

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