The upcoming Notre Dame football season will feature a few familiar faces but the majority of the preseason discussion has revolved around those you won’t be seeing in 2010. All American quarterback Jimmy Clausen and Biletnikoff award winner Golden Tate both declared themselves eligible for the NFL Draft after their junior seasons and were selected in the 2nd round. Head Coach Charlie Weis was fired and replaced by former Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly. Kelly brings with him an impressive resume and an even more impressive high powered spread offense; a far cry from Weis’s NFL pro-style attack. Kelly has made it clear that the success of his football teams in the past rests squarely on the shoulders of the quarterback and his ability to execute his up-tempo, no huddle style of play.
Enter Dayne Crist, a junior with 3 years of eligibility remaining. Not only is Crist an inexperienced quarterback, (he attempted just 20 passes least season) he is still recovering from major knee surgery. Crist tore his right ACL vs Washington St during the 4th quarter of a 40-14 Irish blowout last year. Dealing with an inexperienced quarterback like Crist is something new for Kelly who has had the benefit of coaching veteran signal callers in the past. While Crist may be lacking big game experience, he certainly will not be short on offensive weapons. 6 ft 3 junior and preseason All American candidate Michael Floyd leads the way. Floyd, a projected first round draft pick, played in just 16 games his first two seasons due to injury but still managed to total 92 catches for 1,514 yds and 16 TD’s. Kyle Rudolph, another junior preseason All-American candidate returns as well. Rudolph is projected by many as the best tight end in the country as well as a first round draft pick. Sophomore Theo Riddick has successfully transitioned into the starting slot WR from running back and there are whispers that he may be the most dynamic player on the Irish. Add in a stable of talented running backs led by senior Armando Allen and explosive sophomore Cierre Wood; and you have a group of skill position players that rival any team in the nation. The question remains, will Crist be able to utilize all the talent around him and lead Notre Dame back to where their fans think they belong?
On the defensive side of the ball, Kelly will introduce a 3-4 defense in favor of the 4-3 defense that was used under Weis. The defense is led by Sophomore middle linebacker Manti Te’o. Many experts agree that Te’o is the most athletically gifted defensive player in the sophomore class and a great deal of pressure will be placed on him to help turn around a defense that has been the subject of constant criticism for the better part of 3 seasons. It’s an experienced group on the defensive line led by junior defensive ends Kapron Lewis-More and Ethan Johnson. The linebacking corps should get a boost from junior Darius Fleming, who will consistently be put in the best position to make plays in the 3-4 scheme. The secondary will once again be under the microscope after continuing to allow career days from nearly every quarterback they faced last season. It’s an experienced group, for better of for worse, led by seniors Darrin Walls, Gary Gray and Harrison Smith, as well as juniors Jamoris Slaughter and Robert Blanton.
The overall outlook for the Fighting Irish next year is a fairly positive one. A new head coach with a history of success will have plenty of weapons at his disposal and a manageable schedule that includes 7 games in South Bend and 1 neutral site game in Yankee stadium vs Army. The first 6 games of the season represent the most difficult stretch on the schedule and a 4-2 start will be mandatory in order to keep their long-shot BCS hopes alive. Anything short of 8-4 will have Irish nation feeling restless once again and left wondering how much longer will it take to turn this once dominant program back around?
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Written by Tim Lewis