Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The first two seasons of Brian Kelly's tenure at Notre Dame could be summed up as more frustrating than encouraging. The Irish went 8-5 and made it to the postseason in both years. But outside of a big win over Michigan State early in 2011, there were no notable victories for fans to get excited about.
That's why expectations in South Bend for the 2012 season were tempered, to say the least. Mainly it had to do with the fact that Kelly's squad had to face a grueling schedule that included five teams ranked in the preseason Top 25—USC, Oklahoma, Michigan, Michigan State and Stanford.
It also didn't help that the Irish lost star receiver Michael Floyd and were breaking in a new starting quarterback, sophomore Everett Golson.
This year, however, Kelly was able to get his team to step up on the biggest stages. The Irish handled their business against all the big-name teams on their schedule. Ultimately, they put together a magical 12-0 season that no one saw coming.
Kelly deserves a great deal of the credit for the team's surprising success.
After successful stops at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati, the 51-year-old coach has proven that he can handle coaching a big-time national power, and he's also shown that he can revive one of college football's most prestigious programs.