On the night before Christmas, Brian Kelly and his football team are tucked tight in their beds in Manhattan. With dreams of pummeling Rutgers likely more vivid than any sugar plums, the Irish will wake up Christmas morning hoping for Santa to fulfill a few of their wishes.
It's mostly too late for this season, even if the Irish handle business in the Pinstripe Bowl the way many expect.
So consider this a last-minute Christmas list for the future, kick-starting the Irish into 2014 after a rough 12 months.
Pulling out a win against a 6-6 Rutgers team isn't a season-changer, but it's a game that Notre Dame simply can't lose. They might not climb the polls or get style points for winning a game where they're favored by more than two touchdowns, but getting to 9-4 is key.
The last time the Irish went to a bowl game 8-4, Notre Dame lost in the Champs Sports Bowl to Florida State, blowing a second-half lead and finishing a second straight season with five losses. That made for a mighty long offseason for Brian Kelly and company.
Nobody's going to confuse the Scarlet Knights with the Seminoles. So taking care of business is crucial.
Get Stephon Tuitt to Return for His Senior Season
The Irish's star defensive end hasn't decided what he wants to do next season. But Brian Kelly revealed Tuesday that Tuitt received a second-round grade back from the NFL advisory committee, news that should make Irish fans very happy.
Many thought Tuitt was a lock to be a first-rounder. This makes the decision to stay and get his degree a lot tougher.
This wasn't an easy season for Tuitt, who started the year slowly after offseason hernia surgery. His six sacks led the team but were just half of the 12 he had last season. Still, Tuitt battled back, playing some of his best football down the stretch, logging a ton of snaps on an Irish defensive line decimated with injuries.
Tuitt is expected to discuss his NFL future with his mother and Kelly after the bowl game. It shouldn't be hard for Kelly to lay out a plan that lets Tuitt graduate and improve his draft status. It's a scenario that worked well for Michael Floyd, Tyler Eifert and Manti Te'o.
It'd work out great for the Irish if he followed their path.
Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt received a 2nd Round grade from the NFL's Underclassmen Advisory Panel according to Brian Kelly.— Scott Wright (@DraftCountdown) December 24, 2013
Hire Two Good Coordinators
With the recruiting dead period running through the new year, Kelly has time to zero in on his replacements for Chuck Martin and Bob Diaco before focusing on recruiting. And whether he decides to promote an internal candidate or reach outside the program, these are critical hires for Kelly.
We've already walked through some of the options available. But Kelly needs to do as well as he did the last time he tweaked his staff, changes that saw Martin move to offense, Harry Hiestand come in from Tennessee and Scott Booker get promoted from the graduate assistant pool.
Finish Recruiting Strong
The Irish coaching staff already pulled off one of the dead period's few recruiting coups, getting a lot of buzz for their "Pot of Gold," organized mass mailings that saw the Irish send their remaining targets 477 letters each.
The Irish sit at 22 verbal commitments right now, with Florida prospect Isaiah McKenzie still waiting for a test score to make his pledge more concrete.
But with the finish line coming the first Wednesday in February, this is the time of year when something crazy usually happens, with big names jumping in and out of classes every cycle.
Notre Dame is still looking at a select group of playmakers that could bump this group up from the No. 8 class, according to 247 Sports. If the Irish staff can hook a few more recruits—and hold on to the ones they have—they could be looking at another elite class.
Brian Kelly said that Notre Dame’s recruiting class could go up to 27 commitments. Kelly not sure Notre Dame will get there or even want to.— Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals) December 21, 2013
Have Everett Golson Make Up for Lost Time
Regardless of how the Irish recruiting class finishes up, Notre Dame welcomed back the top recruit on its board already when Everett Golson was accepted back into the university.
His return couldn't have come at a better time.
Senior Andrew Hendrix has made it clear that he plans on spending his fifth year elsewhere, knowing that Golson and redshirt freshman Malik Zaire will be in front of him come spring. But the job is essentially Golson's or bust, with the quarterback a perfect fit for Kelly's system.
That's not to say that there won't be rust. Even after spending 10 weeks with Steve Clarkson in San Diego, it's been a calendar year since Golson last played in a game, and getting back in the swing of things during offseason workouts and spring practice will be key.