South Bend, Ind. — Notre Dame looks like Notre Dame again.
This is not the good news for you Fighting Irish football fans. This is the bad.
Only a lucky fumble - or a lucky referee's call, depending on your vantage point - kept Notre Dame Stadium's 200th consecutive sellout crowd from sitting through yet another embarrassing and mortifying defeat Saturday.
Charlie Weis understood how unimpressive a 21-13 survival over San Diego State looked to everybody in the house, including Joe Montana, watching from the sidelines. The Irish coach nevertheless walked away satisfied, saying, "I'll take an ugly win every day of the week."
If you feel the 2008 Irish can't possibly look as weak as the 2007 ones did, don't bet on it.
San Diego State is a team that has lost 19 of its last 26 games. The "sons of Montezuma," as the Aztecs call themselves in their fight song, lost last week to a school Knute Rockne could have defeated with 11 South Bend grade-schoolers, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.
Their coach, Chuck Long, went from his Wheaton hometown to being the 1985 Heisman Trophy runner-up for Iowa to being the offensive coordinator for Oklahoma, but he never had set foot on Notre Dame's field before.
A few days ago, Long said, "I'm going to have to give my team the old Gene Hackman speech from 'Hoosiers' and get out the tape measure and show them it's just a football field, 100 yards like everybody else's."
Turned out to be 100 yards and 1 inch.
He and the Aztecs were about to go up 20-7 in the fourth quarter and dig a hole Weis could have crawled into.
The coach was on the brink of losing back-to-back season openers and of being beaten by yet another unranked, clearly inferior opponent.
"Everybody in the Notre Dame world went, 'Here we go again,"' Weis said.
That's when he and the Irish caught a fluke of a break.
Brandon Sullivan crossed the goal line for San Diego State but lost the ball. Officials very easily could have ruled that he had possession when he broke the invisible plane. They did not.
It was judged a touchback, not a touchdown. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen then took Notre Dame straight down the field 80 yards on his first decent drive of the game. Rather than trail by 13 points, the Irish led by one.
Notre Dame's players dropped snaps on kicks, committed roughing-the-passer penalties on third downs and went offsides on a punt.
Name something you could do wrong on a big play and, for three quarters, they did it.
Clausen did not have a dream game either. His first half was as ordinary as can be. As soon as Notre Dame came up with a key interception at one point, Clausen threw one right back on the next play.
Notre Dame had difficulty moving the ball against a San Diego State team with seven injured defensive starters, including three linemen who didn't play.
"The jury's still out," Weis said, "because, you know, obviously utopia would be you come in here, go up and down the field and you win 100 to nothing."
That's pretty much what was impressive about Notre Dame yet again, even in a victory - nothing.