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It's not that Ryan Leahy tires of talking about his ancestry, about how his grandfather was legendary Irish coach Frank Leahy or even about how his father, Jim, played for Notre Dame. "My problem," says Ryan, a senior offensive tackle, "is that they both won national championships and I haven't."

True enough. There hasn't been a national title in South Bend in six whole years. Another won't come easily. Fourteen first-stringers are gone from a team that finished at No. 2. But such departures are no excuse at Notre Dame. "I don't think the word rebuilding has ever been mentioned around here," says senior linebacker Justin Goheen.

Complicating matters are the usual tough schedule (including Michigan, Boston College, Florida State and Southern Cal), a green offensive line and a greener quarterback. Leahy and guard Mark Zataveski are the only starters back on the line, and the missing include All-America Aaron Taylor and second-team All-America Tim Ruddy. "Big shoes to fill," says senior tailback Lee Becton, who had six straight 100-yard games running behind Taylor, Ruddy & Co.

The new line will have a fragile quarterback to protect too. Sophomore Ron Powlus's first pass has been like Michael Jordan's first at bat, so hotly has it been anticipated. Powlus twice broke his right collarbone last fall, and he has yet to take a snap in college. But coach Lou Holtz continues to praise him.

For the Irish to succeed, they'll need to forget about '93 and their season-marring last-second loss to Boston College. Holtz has a method for that. In a team meeting following Notre Dame's 24-21 win over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, Holtz thanked the seniors and then excused them from their front-row seats. The juniors stood and moved up, followed by the sophomores and freshmen. "That's the end of the 1993 season," Holtz said. "This is 1994."

Yes, and when it's over, the record might look a lot like 1993's.