Even after the Notre Dame Fighting Irish's disappointing loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl, great things are on the horizon for the young team.
Next season, many of the players on the Irish roster will get a chance to grow up without the weight of lofty expectations on their shoulders.
First, there is the quarterback position. After being the starter for the better part of two seasons, it is doubtful that Tommy Rees won't see the field a bit. Rees will be a junior, and he will have far and away the most experience of any quarterback on the roster.
In fact, the only other quarterback with any in-game experience will be Andrew Hendrix, but even he has only seen a handful of plays in his college career.
Rees' playing time will be sprinkled in with increased snaps for Hendrix and redshirt freshman Everett Golson.
Coach Brian Kelly is obviously going to have a quarterback competition to see who is most fit for the job, but as he found out in the first game of the 2011-2012 season, it is difficult to determine a starter from practice alone. Coach Kelly will likely need to see more of Hendrix and Golson under pressure situations to determine who is most apt to run his system.
After getting a contract extension, Coach Kelly can relax his approach and will not be forced to start a quarterback who will simply provide immediate gratification with an extra win or two while damaging the program's long-term goals of being a perennial BCS contender.
Therefore, Rees, Hendrix and Golson will compete for playing time until Coach Kelly is sure of who is the best fit for the starting quarterback role.
Whatever the quarterback rotation, each player will get time to throw the ball behind a veteran offensive line that returns three of its starters (all expectations are that Braxton Cave returns).
The skill positions will grow up before fan's eyes, too.
Wide receiver, tight end and running back have had an infusion of young talent recently, and each unit will see younger players get an opportunity to contribute.
One thing that will be exciting to watch next is the development of the pass-rush. With Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt, the pass rush could become the strong point of the Irish defense, and Kapron Lewis-Moore will likely be back for a fifth year to impart his knowledge on the youngsters.
Manti Te'o is returning next season as well. He will hold down a strong linebacker corps, and like Lewis-Moore, mentor the younger players on the team's defense.
The secondary will have the most growing to do, and it has been an area that Coach Kelly has focused in on recently.
In both of his classes (including those expected to commit or already committed this season), Kelly has brought in a combined eight players with the possibility to play in the secondary, and safety Chris Badger is expected to return from his religious mission next year as well.
The schedule for next season is tough, though.
After playing in Dublin, Ireland against Navy in the season opener, the Irish will be tested against Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Stanford, Oklahoma, BYU and USC.
I'm not saying that a BCS appearance is impossible next season, but with a difficult schedule and a large amount of players likely to see the field for the first time, it would be unlikely.
In the 2013-2014 season, the schedule might look similar, but it will provide the Irish will a great pathway to a BCS game. Coach Kelly will have the team ready for a BCS run.
Notre Dame should have either a set rotation that works well at quarterback or the best player getting every snap by the first game of the 2013-2014 season
The Irish will be losing key players like Braxton Cave, Zach Martin, Manti Te'o, Zeke Motta, Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta, but fans can bet that Brian Kelly will slowly be working in their replacements during the 2012-2013 season so there will be continuity.
At the skill positions, Cierre Wood will still be on the team (unless he decides to leave). The then fifth-year player will bring in his veteran savvy. And even if doesn't return, Kelly has been building up a stable of running backs who will have gained experience in the 2012-2013 season.
The wide receivers and tight end will be firmly established, and Coach Kelly will have built a unit that is perfect for his spread system.
The cornerbacks will be in their second year, whoever the starters are.
Lynch and Tuitt will remain staples along the defensive line, and Louis Nix will still be plugging up the middle (Jarron Jones and Sheldon Day may already be a huge part of the rotation by 2013).
The team will have a fantastic mix of experience and talent to be in contention for a BCS bowl, and when looking at the 2013-2014 schedule, it isn't as intimidating as it seems at first glance.
An opening game against an easier opponent in Temple could give the team momentum (although no team should be taken lightly).
Michigan State loses Kirk Cousins this year, so it will be a second-year starter at best for the team.
Stanford is losing Andrew Luck to the NFL draft this year as well. Stanford might still be solid team in 2013-2014, but they will have a second-year quarterback, and it's unlikely that he will be a sure-fire NFL professional like Luck was.
Matt Barkley, Denard Robinson and Landry Jones will have have exhausted their eligibility by 2013, and there will be new faces running each of their teams.
The schedule will still be tough, but Irish fans can hope to face a number of teams in transition.
Notre Dame has a chance to be a very solid team next year, but the 2013-2014 season will be a perfect time for a BCS bowl run.