Notre Dame Football: 3 Reasons to Appreciate the Irish's Senior Class

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst INovember 21, 2013

Notre Dame Football: 3 Reasons to Appreciate the Irish's Senior Class

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    On Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame's senior class will play its final game at Notre Dame Stadium.

    As a class, it has experienced, perhaps, one of the most tumultuous four-year periods in the history of the program, making it one of the most memorable classes by default. 

    While Irish fans haven't always been consistent in their praise of these current seniors, Saturday marks the final time to display an affinity and appreciation for Tommy Rees, Zack Martin, Chris Watt and Co.

     

The Class Helped Bridge the Gap Between the Charlie Weis and Brian Kelly Eras

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    The transition between the Charlie Weis regime and the arrival of current head coach Brian Kelly was anything but easy.

    But the group that served as the link between the two eras was the current senior class, a majority of which was recruited by Weis and his staff.

    From receiver T.J. Jones to offensive linemen Chris Watt and Zack Martin to quarterback Tommy Rees, the current seniors were directly in the line of fire of one, if not, the most visible and celebrated head coaching changes in program history.

    Seeing the coach who recruited you be fired can't be easy to stomach, which, on its own standing, should earn this class the respect it deserves.

The Class Helped Return the Irish to Glory

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    When Kelly was hired in Dec. 2009, any mention of Notre Dame and national championships in the same breath was often mocked and scoffed at.

    But in the third year of his tenure, Kelly elevated the program to heights not reached since 1988, as his Irish team earned the program's first trip to the national title game in 24 seasons. While the end result wasn't ideal—the Irish were defeated handily by Alabama—the appearance itself returned Notre Dame to "relevance."

    That in itself, should be satisfying for fans, who spent countless hours arguing Notre Dame's perceived "relevance" on message boards, watering holes and various other places since Lou Holtz departed following the 1996 season.

     

The Class Defeated USC Three out of Four Years

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    There's no debate as to who Notre Dame's most hated rival is.

    Each and every season, the intensity level is ratcheted up when the Irish and USC do battle. Thus, defeating the Trojans possesses an added significance.

    And the current senior class did an excellent job delivering positive results in the rivalry, as it won three of its four matchups against USC. Beginning in 2010, the Irish traveled to Los Angeles and earned a hard-fought 20-16 victory that was, essentially, Tommy Rees' first memorable victory of his career.

    The following season's meeting didn't exactly go as planned, as Notre Dame stumbled out of the gates en route to a disheartening 31-17 loss in front of a packed house of elite prospects.

    Following the embarrassing loss, Kelly nearly divided the team by drawing a line between the players he had recruited and those who were recruited by Weis.

    However, the teams' meeting in 2012 will live on in Irish lore, as then-No. 1 Notre Dame defeated USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to advance to the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.

    And while this season's 14-10 victory against the Trojans didn't have the same type of fanfare, the victory, at the time, kept the Irish's BCS hopes alive.