For 15 enduring, arduous years, the question facing Notre Dame remained stagnant, the undesired and repugnant elephant in the room.
"Is Notre Dame a program stuck in a bygone era?"
"Will the Irish ever again compete for national championships?"
Then, in a matter of months, the perception of college football's most recognizable brand regained a luster not seen since former head coach Lou Holtz walked out of his on-campus office for the final time in 1996.
Current head coach Brian Kelly led the program to its first appearance in the national title game in 24 years, effectively silencing the critics and doubters who, for more than a decade, swarmed like vultures around a carcass.
Despite losing by four touchdowns to an Alabama team on the grandest of stages, the Irish have re-established themselves as front-runners in the evolving world of college football, which is in its final season of the crooked BCS system (a four-team playoff for the national title begins in 2014).
So, approximately one-and-a-half months prior to the commencement of the 2013 season, Notre Dame finds itself ranked in the Top 10 of Bleacher Report's preseason Top 25, a distinction that remained despite incumbent starting quarterback Everett Golson's dismissal from the university.
And that's where the discussion begins surrounding the Irish's fortunes for the upcoming season.
When the news broke about Golson's mishap, the extremist statements from fans far and wide sprayed like ammunition in a firefight.
Proclamations about the 2013 season being a lost cause to Kelly needing to be fired were read and heard in the immediate aftermath, though a relative state of calmness and tranquility seems to have prevailed since.
And how strange is it that all this was theoretically caused by Kelly's announcement that Tommy Rees, the Irish's 2011 starting quarterback, would reprise that role in 2013?
Strange enough it seems, though not all hope is lost with the Lake Forest, Ill., native.
After all, Rees owns a 14-4 record as a starting quarterback at Notre Dame and will more than likely improve on that figure beginning with the Irish's season-opening contest against Temple on Aug. 31.
The key for the 6'2", 215-pound quarterback is to be judicious with the football in an effort to curtail turnovers, after accounting for 19 of the team's 29 total turnovers during the 2011 season. Rees was a sophomore then, and with the experience and growth since, the hope would be for mistakes to occur intermittently rather than consistently.
Rees' other glaring weakness—a lack of mobility—can't be hidden, though it can be avoided by the offense not putting itself in 3rd-and-long situations.
Also, if the rushing attack establishes itself early and often, Rees will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his passing skills in play action.
Because he is the key to the offense's success this season, Kelly will only request that Rees be a game manager rather than an explosive playmaker. If he can efficiently operate a clock-melting offense that puts just enough points on the scoreboard, more victories are in the forecast.
Should that scenario play out, the Irish defense, which, by all accounts, should be among the nation's best this season, will be the catalyst to a run at the final BCS National Championship Game of the era.
However, the formula presented closely resembles that of the 2012 season, which was also peppered with a bit of luck, which is paramount in any team's journey to a national championship.
Will Notre Dame advance to a BCS bowl this season?
The Irish experienced a number of fortunate bounces in their favor during close contests a season ago, a number that, to this day, is staggeringly high. A few of those calls are likely to go against Notre Dame this season, which may be the difference between a trip to Pasadena, Calif., for the BCS National Championship Game or a waiting period in bowl-game limbo due to Notre Dame's lack of a bowl tie-in this season.
Unfortunately, Notre Dame's fortunes hinge on the quarterback position, specifically the number of Rees' turnovers.
Even at his best, the blueprint is out on how to rattle him, leading to the belief that the Irish's best bet is on an invitation to one of the four BCS bowls—Sugar, Rose, Fiesta or Orange.