Here it was about a year ago when Notre Dame fans were anticipating the start of another season.
South Florida came to South Bend, and the Irish were excited about the opportunity to possibly get back to the BCS. The first drive started strong as starting quarterback Dayne Crist moved the Irish right down the field only to see Jonas Gray fumble at the goal line and South Florida take it back 99 yards for a touchdown.
The stadium got quiet, and then Crist became so ineffective that he was replaced at half time by Tommy Rees. Rees' first drive was just like Crist's—right down the field only to end in a turnover. Rees did respond and nearly brought the Irish back, and while Notre Dame dominated in every statistical category, the turnovers made all the difference.
It was more of the same the following week when they traveled to Ann Arbor. The Irish outgained Michigan, but turnovers again came back to haunt them. For the third straight year, The Wolverines got a last-second miracle victory against Notre Dame.
The Irish responded with four straight dominant wins over Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Purdue and Air Force. The train appeared to be back on track until USC came to town and won handily.
The Irish regrouped and put together another four-game winning streak against Navy, Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College. But with an opportunity to salvage the season, Notre Dame instead the 2011 campaign ended with disappointing losses to Stanford and then to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.
That 0-2 start really haunted the Irish all year. If not for that, it would have been a different season altogether. Notre Dame instead could have been 10-2 and contemplating a BCS bowl invitation.
Needless to say, Notre Dame can't afford an 0-2 start this year. They start the year with two games they should win against Navy and Purdue. Then the schedule gets really tough. They play Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Stanford, Brigham Young and Oklahoma. That is a brutal stretch on paper and one that is not conducive to recovering from a disappointing 0-2 start.
Then the schedule gets a little lighter for two weeks with Pittsburgh and Boston College before ending in Los Angelos against arch-rival and National title contender USC.
Based on all that, Notre Dame obviously needs a better start this year. Not only do they need to win against Navy and Purdue, but they need to beat them impressively. Another 0-2 start will be a disaster and put Brian Kelly's job in jeopardy. This is year three and it is time to start showing why he was hired.
Unfortunately for Notre Dame, off-the-field turmoil has resulted in player suspensions, including one handed down to Rees, who will miss this weekend's opener. Rees' suspension might actually be a blessing in disguise, because Kelly had been wanting to get Everett Golson into the game. Now is that chance.
Cierre Wood was also suspended for two games for violating team rules. That one is a huge blow because the senior was the team's leading rusher last year. It especially hurts this weekend with a young quarterback at the helm.
That will put a lot of pressure on a defense led by Manti Te'o, who could be a top-five pick in the NFL draft with a great year.
The bottom line is that Notre Dame has to win this year for Kelly to solidify his place as coach. With a tough schedule, another 0-2 start against beatable opponents will spell certain doom.
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