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The Road to Relevance Begins Anew Again

Posted By Jordan Lauterbach On Aug 30 2010 @ 1:45 am In Notre Dame | 1 Comment

It’s almost remarkable to think about where Notre Dame was this time last year. Late summer 2009 was all about desperation. It was a hopeful time, but also a time of urgency. Charlie Weis had one more year. He had the offense to put together a BCS run and, if he failed, there was no doubt he’d be gone. Three months and only six wins later, Weis was history and notorious program builder Brian Kelly was knocking at the door. A team that had a semi – realistic BCS shot in August was starting over.

            As a final word on Weis, it’s retrospectively clear that he was an awful hire. Sure, his name was a hot one, but the demand of the Notre Dame job is far too much for any rookie coach – no matter the NFL or college assistant pedigree.

            Now it’s a new era; the third one in far too short an amount of time. Brian Kelly is  almost the polar opposite of Weis. He is a seasoned veteran who has two successful building projects on his resume. (Notice it doesn’t say rebuilding)

 Central Michigan was a dead program that Kelly turned into an offensive power – house and consistent bowl game contender. He turned a similarly struggling Cincinnati program into not only a consistent bowl contender, but a member of the ultra – exclusive national title conversation. Keep in mind, Bearcat football had been a joke prior to Kelly.

            Project number three is far more daunting then any of the previous two. Say what you will about Notre Dame’s current national relevance, but how many books have been written and movies made about Central Michigan and Cincinnati football?  Not many. (Until, of course, someone writes Underrated Chip: The Dan Lefevor Story) The rebuilding of those two programs made Kelly well known and well thought of. The successful rebuilding of Notre Dame would make Kelly a College Football legend. A failure would not only dig the Notre Dame grave a bit deeper, it may put a tombstone on the program.  

            Bur fret not, alumni and subway alumni alike! This isn’t as hard as it looks. Kelly’s got the pieces on offense to make giant strides, even in his first year. After all, he can’t really be judged until he has players exclusively recruited by him on the team. But  whenever a rebuilding process is thrust upon a coach, it’s always good to have two of the most talented players on his side.

If he could ever stay healthy, Michael Floyd is a top five receiver in the country. In a sophomore season in which Floyd only suited up for seven games, he caught nine touchdown passes and racked up 795 yards. He is a game changing receiver whose mere presence can lead to a win. Last season’s crushing loss at Michigan (a loss that, in retrospect, was probably the beginning of the end for Weis and company) turned on a dime when Floyd left with an injury. The Wolverines couldn’t cover him with anybody. It came as no surprise that the Michigan defense started making plays when Floyd left the game.  

Kyle Rudolph is regarded as one of the better tight ends in the nation. Rudolph had 33 catches and three touchdowns last season. He’s expected to have a huge impact this year. Rudolph appears to be the player that is most talked about on the preview shows that have aired during the last two weeks, not Floyd. This is most likely because the general assumption is that Floyd will have a gigantic year, if he’s on the field. He is exciting because of what he is. Rudolph is exciting because of what he can be.

The most interesting sub plot surrounding the Notre Dame offense will be how the passing game will adapt without Golden Tate. It was thought that Tate’s production was, at least in part, helped by Michael Floyd being on the field. That theory was tested when Floyd went down the past two years and wasn’t proven to be wrong. Now, the converse will be tested.

Golden Tate’s loss is a huge one. It’s far and away the biggest non – Jimmy Clausen loss of the off season. Two receivers will be looked upon to fill the void the Golden Tate left.

One is Duval Kamara. Kamara has a very good freshman season, but has been inconsistent, if not disappointing, since then. He showed flashes with Clausen last season, but needs to be more of a presence in the offense.

The other is Shaquille Evans. A Weis recruit, Evans caught seven balls for 61 yards in his first season. With Tate gone, Evans should be targeted a lot more in his second year. Last season’s sample size was far too small to make any kind of glaring statement about him.

Theo Riddick is also supposed to make tremendous strides. A converted running back, Riddick was moved to slot receiver to free up space at the running back position.

The receiving core has the potential to be a very good one if the man throwing to them makes tremendous strides. Dayne Crist was unimpressive last season. His season was cut short on Halloween against Washington State. Prior to that, he was ineffective in spelling Jimmy Clausen, giving him time off to rest his hurt toe. The most glaring example of this weakness came in Purdue mid – way through the year. Clausen left the game once the Irish had built a large lead. Crist came in and Notre Dame played uninspired football, leading to a Purdue come – back. Notre Dame ended up winning the game, but Clausen had to re – enter the game to lead a game – winning drive.

Blaming the offensive deficiencies entirely on Crist would be irresponsible, but the fact that he showed nothing to make a Golden Domer believe in the post – Jimmy era of Irish quarterbacking is concerning.

However, the buzz about Crist in the month leading up to the season has been surprisingly enthusiastic. Pundits seam to believe that Brian Kelly can use Crist in similar ways that he used Tony Pike and Zach Collaros at Cincinnati last season. If there is a coach who knows quarterbacks, it’s Kelly. The idea that he can turn Crist into something productive can be looked at as nothing but optimistic speculation at this point. Nothing Crist did last season showed he can make consistent plays at the quarterback position at the division one level.

            It’s easy to gloss over the run game on a team that’s been known for its aerial attack in the recent past. In the case of the 2010 Irish, that would be a gigantic mistake. Despite being plagued by injuries for most of 2009, Armando Allen made tremendous strides.

            Although he only found the end zone three times, Allen averaged nearly 5 yards a carry ( 4.9….so close!) This would have been unheard of two seasons ago. Allen got stronger in the 2009 off season and didn’t go down as easily. A guy who went down on windy days was suddenly breaking tackles and making contributions. He missed four games and had three games of under 15 carries and still ran for more then 100 extra yards then he did in 2008. If he stays healthy and continues of a pretty obvious incline of improvement, Armando Allen could be the sleeper of the offense.

            The team will put up points. How could it not with so many weapons? But the question is, as always, can they stop anybody? Yet again, defense is where this team will struggle most. Linebacker Manti Te’o will be one of the better players at his position by the end of his college career. However, past Te’o, the defense is nothing but suspect.

            They aren’t fast enough. They aren’t athletic enough. Simply put, they just don’t have enough pound for pound talent to compete defensively with the nations top teams. Look for the annual USC passing camp on November 27th. Watch Pittsburgh’s dynamic running game find its way into the second level far too often and get ready to bite some nails late in the game against a Navy offense that Notre Dame hasn’t really figured out yet.

            Luckily, the schedule, although harder then most conference bound schools, is tame by Irish standards. Western Michigan, Tulsa, and the two service academies are most likely wins. Purdue, Michigan, and Boston College are experiencing down periods as well. Throw in one “inspired by hip new coach, everyone hated Charlie anyway” win and seven wins is not out of the question. Even eight is reachable.

            If this team wins more then eight, Kelly has them on a faster track then anticipated.

Ceiling: 8 – 4

Basement: 5 – 7

Prediction: 7 – 5 , bowl game loss (They are Notre Dame. They get picked for a good Christmas week bowl against a strong opponent on name value and the aforementioned “big win”)  

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