The sun has begun to set on the 2009 Notre Dame season, but not before the storm clouds set in this past week over the futures of Charlie Weis, Jack Swarbrick, Jimmy Clausen, and Golden Tate.
Weis could be fired, Tate and Clausen could choose the NFL, and Swarbrick could have the unenviable task of choosing the next hybrid head coach with all the required qualities of Holtz, Ara, and Knute.
And the rest of the story isn't much better.
A defeat at Stanford will be a 6-6 season of epic disappointment. Notre Dame will be accused of no longer being a true national player. Experts will claim that the Irish will start from scratch, and that the echoes will be little more than faint murmurs as the long road to revival begins anew in 2010.
News of the Irish demise will be everywhere. And the vaunted expertise of Mark May, Tony Barnhart, and Chris Fowler must be right, right?
Wrong. Dead wrong.
We can spend the next few weeks and months lamenting the Weis "coaching internship," the buyout numbers, NFL draft futures, and all the national fallout that ESPN and other relevant media outlets can use to promote the next segment, show, or talking head showdown.
But that’s not what Irish fans, and ND haters, need to hear. They need to hear that the future of Notre Dame is bright. They need to hear that the Irish will win nine games next year. They need to hear that the spirit, tradition, and current talent pool of the University of Notre Dame football program is too great to falter.
Let’s start with the presumption that Weis, Clausen, and Tate are gone for 2010. Let’s go as far as assuming the worst on the defense and that uber-linebacker Manti Te’o heads out on his Mormon mission.
Thanks to Coach Weis, there’s still plenty in the cupboard.
A new coach who comes in with either a pro-style attack, or a basic functional college offense will have a five-star, nationally renowned quarterback in Dayne Crist.
Now effectively a junior, and rapidly recovering from a knee injury suffered four weeks ago, the talented Mr. Crist will be full-go for spring ball and locked in on the mission of proving that there is life after Jimmy. ND's new No. 10 completed his last pass of significance with a laser-beam touchdown pass to John Goodman against Washington State that covered 64-yards and gave thousands of Irish fans a glimpse of the future.
From Crist it gets better. Michael Floyd, another five-star recruit, is one of the most diverse and talented receiving threats in the college game today averaging more yards per game than Golden Tate and nearly one touchdown for every five catches.
Shaquelle Evans, Deon Walker, and Goodman bring four-star status and plenty of depth to the receiver position. Add in Kyle Rudolph, another highly regarded threat from the storied Notre Dame tightend tradition, and you have as deep a pass-catching group as you will find in college football.
The entire rushing attack will be back in 2010, including everybody’s everything man Armando Allen and his perennial 1000-plus yards of total offense. Theo Riddick is the speed guy, Robert Hughes is the power guy, and the offensive prize of the class of 2009, redshirt freshman Cierre Wood, is the most talented guy.
The offensive line will lose three big names, but Coach Weis has done a remarkable job adding depth and talent. The 2010 line will have returning starters Dan Wenger, Trevor Robinson, and Chris Stewart (if he chooses to use his fifth year of eligibility) and legitimate depth.
Defensively the Irish have been, at times, brutal. But they’ll return at least nine starters who have all shown flashes of brilliance in the five losses of 2009, all by less than seven points.
Ian Williams, a freshman All-American, will anchor the front four and continue to grow into the role of respected run-stopper. The rest of the front will bring back their 9.5 combined sacks led by junior power-rusher Ethan Johnson and resident Adonis Kapron Lewis-Moore, along with rush-end Darius Fleming.
Despite their troubles in applying constant pressure to the quarterback, the aforementioned foursome did combine for 31 tackles-for-a-loss in 2009 and have shown the ability to make big plays.
Sans Te’o, the 2010 linebacker corps will have emotional leader (and third leading tackler) Brian Smith and everybody’s favorite wild Tennessean, the ever-blitzing Harrison Smith. Add in late-blooming five-star recruit Steve Filer and three other four-star recruits from the last two recruiting classes and you have the depth that manifests itself into the type of daily competition that drives very good players to find greatness.
The defensive backfield could return the likes of Gary Gray, Robert Blanton, Jamoris Slaughter, and Zeke Motta. The talent is above average, the game experience is great, and the potential is real.
In short, the Herculean recruiting efforts of Coach Weis and his staff have left a spread of talent that covers all four classes and most position groups. There is experience at defensive back, linebacker, the defensive front, the receiving corps, and the offensive backfield, and in college football experience is gold.
Notre Dame is not going to start from scratch in 2010.
The success of next season will be predicated on an efficient and dramaless hire, a smooth transition to the new dynamic coach, few (if any) significant transfers, and all the positivity and energy a new coach can bring to the talented depth chart of the current Notre Dame roster.
Yes, there will be a transition period but the Irish have been known for quick turnarounds over the past nine years with a 10-1 2002 start under then new man Ty Willingham and a 9-3 season (and a BCS bowl) in 2005 under Coach Weis.
Add in a 2010 schedule that may have no more than three teams that will finish 2009 in the Top 25 and you have all the potential for success that any optimistic ND fan could dream of.
All is well in South Bend. Notre Dame will recover in 2010 and approach a 10-win season. There is plenty of optimism for the blue and gold. The Irish will be fine.
2010 could be another chapter in the novel known as The Notre Dame Return To Glory...as long as they get the next Urban Meyer and not the last Rich Rodriguez.