When Notre Dame started 0-2, it seems like their BcS hopes were dead. They came into the season ranked #16, but the slow start in back-to-back losses to USF and the Michigan Wolverines had 2011 looking like a lost year.
And then all the talk about “what’s wrong with ND?” began. And the temperature readings on Coach Brian Kelly‘s hot seat skyrocketed.
But then a funny thing happened when they upset the nationally ranked Michigan State Spartans. Then they skated by at Pittsburgh; and then they crushed the Purdue Boilermakers and Air Force back to back. It’s a brand new season, but there are still some issues beneath the surface.
At 4-2, the Irish are finally starting to live up to the hype, and they are in great shape for a New Year’s Day bowl. At a bye week today, the only two tough games left on the schedule appear to be USC and at Stanford. Also, an upset alert in their trip to Wake Forest. The rest seem very winnable. So 9-3 or 8-4 looks likely. Which would place them in a slight improvement over 7-5 (and then a bowl win) in 2010.
Like last season, the Irish had their struggles early, and got it together later. But that doesn’t mean all is right in South Bend. And Brian Kelly’s seat could warm again in a hurry.
ND has been recruiting nationally. And their recruiting classes have been very good, just not up to national top 5 standards; what ND was in the 1980s. Recruiting hasn’t been very good by pre-1980s Notre Dame standards, and it’s because they’re not the only team to have all their games on national television anymore. That was a perfect sell to recruits, and that competitive advantage is now gone.
Had they joined the Big Ten and then become part of the Big Ten Network, it would have meant an 8 figure increase in revenue from their television deal. Instead, they remained obstinate about retaining their independent from conference, and only team with their own single television deal. I get it, I see the prestige of all of standing with the cards you have. However, getting a new deal means more money, and that trumps that “prestige.”
Considering where they’re located, and the fact that 1/3-1/4 of their scheduled opponents every year are Big Ten, maybe it’s time. When you haven’t won a national title since 1988, and the last time you competed for one was 1993, it may be time to go conferencing. They’d fit well in the Big East too. Basically, the Irish are running out of reasons to cling to a past that has long escaped them, and regard themselves as in a different class than the rest of college football.
As for Kelly, regardless of how this year turns out, I think everyone deserves 3-4 years to get all your own recruits/players in and play with your system- that’s only fair. Considering all the upperclassmen he starts, he’s still coaching with mostly Charlie Weis’ players. The expectations at ND are much higher and immediate than anywhere else because of their historic past, and Kelly has handled it poorly at times.
He’s made three critical mistakes that have put him on the hot seat if/when the Irish start losing again.
1.) Declan Sullivan incident- how often does someone gets to keep their job when someone dies under their watch at work?
2.) Losing it on national television and screaming viciously at T.J. Jones in week one, he looked like someone desperate, and insecure about it all slipping away. Even after that Jones walked away, Kelly hunted him down to swear at him more
3.) T.J.’s father is Andre Jones who died a few weeks before the incident; Andre was a member of the last national title team. Bad timing. Catholic media outlets condemned Kelly and called for his head due to his outburst, and worst of all, Kelly did not immediately apologize.
And these are all things to remember in 2012 because….the Irish lose pretty much their entire starting offensive line, and their team MVP to graduation next year. And…7/11 starters on defense, 8 if their best NFL prospect, LB Manti Te’o declares early for the draft. So 2011 HAS to be their year!
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site that generates millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports
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