I get a real kick out of reading predictions for the upcoming Notre Dame season from fans and foes alike.
At first glance, this offseason doesn’t seem very different from any other.
There are those who think Notre Dame will be great, those who think the exact opposite, and opinions falling everywhere in between.
Despite such a variety of predictions, there is an issue that keeps coming up that needs to be discussed.
That issue is how the recent past has damaged Notre Dame fans' psyche and skewed their outlook on everything from the talented roster to predictions for the upcoming season.
You see, the past 15 years, and especially the past three years, have altered so many Irish fans’ mindsets that even a fairly loaded roster is no longer looked upon with tremendous anticipation.
Everyone knows there are fans out there looking at things objectively and believing that Notre Dame could be really good in the fall, yet some are so petrified to believe that there will be little more than a slight improvement upon the recent .500 seasons.
How many times have you come across the phrase, “After the last three years, I’m not getting my hopes up?”
I think I’m well into the hundreds.
And how many times have you heard someone exclaim that they cannot get excited about Brian Kelly because of what happened with the previous three coaches?
If someone wants to keep the expectations to a relative minimum, I guess that’s fine, but if the fans are not going to get excited for the 2010 season and beyond, then who will?
I’m talking about those fans (and you know who you are) that deep down are really excited and believe good things could happen starting on September 4th against Purdue, but who also steadfastly refuse to acknowledge anything greater than a seven-win season.
It goes something like this, “Well multiple preseason magazines and talking heads claimed Notre Dame would be good last year. And I thought they’d be good last year.
But they only won six games! Therefore, next year we should tone down the expectations, lest we have to deal with everyone telling us we’ll be good and still falling flat on our face again.”
Come on, we’re not anywhere near the level of “expected failure” like Cubs fans and Cleveland fans, are we?
I sure hope not.
One of the other main points I wanted to make is that a growing segment of people are not viewing the 2008 and 2009 Notre Dame seasons as underachieving, but rather results more in line with the talent of the program.
That is not true at all; there has been some serious underachieving in recent years.
Further, a lot of people probably don’t want to admit it, but Notre Dame has the talent to be a Top 10 team in 2010.
It’s not so much the questions about a new system or problems with the defense that are holding people back from embracing this notion, as much as the expected failure syndrome.
“It’s Notre Dame,” they cry. “They have been hyped for the past two years and never lived up to it. Why will next year be any different?”
What if we try to look at it another way?
What if we detach ourselves from the stigma associated with Notre Dame?
If we are to forget the past and simply judge Notre Dame by its roster, experience, and coaching, does a predicted 7-5 record seem reasonable at all?
Does it seem reasonable that Brian Kelly will have his worst coaching season of his entire career? For the record, I’d consider five losses in 2010 with Notre Dame’s talent much worse than Kelly’s 4-7 record in his first year at lowly Central Michigan.
Moreover, hypothetically move Notre Dame’s entire roster and coaching staff to a program like Georgia, Virginia Tech, or Nebraska…do you still think that program would only be average?
Would there be 50 teams still better than that collection of talent?
Notre Dame’s last two coaches won nine games in their first season in South Bend. Kelly won 10 games in his first season in Cincinnati (34-6 overall), so why is it so hard to think that 10 wins is achievable in 2010?
Does Brian Kelly lose nearly as many games in one year at Notre Dame as he did in three years at Cincinnati? Especially when he’s inheriting a plethora of talent and experience like he’s never had the chance to coach before in his entire career?
Don’t believe me that Notre Dame doesn’t have a lot of talent?
If you’ve ever read Phil Steele’s preseason magazine, as I’m sure many of you have, you’ll notice that he ranks players by their respective positions coming out of high school.
Now take a look at Notre Dame’s roster.
There are a whopping 32 players that came to Notre Dame ranked in the Top 20 nationally at their position.
That is more than Ohio State (23), Michigan (19), Penn State (16), and Iowa (eight).
We can recycle the old adage that recruiting rankings don’t mean much, but when Notre Dame has that many highly touted players, you know the roster is fairly loaded with premier talent.
Just look at Iowa’s roster in comparison to Notre Dame’s.
In a lot of ways, the Irish make the Hawkeyes look like a much inferior team.
Yet, the big difference is that Iowa is known to develop their talent (something that Notre Dame has famously struggled to do), and the Hawkeyes have had a recent amount of success as of late, culminating in a BCS bowl victory last season.
Add that all up and it equals Iowa being a clear favorite against Notre Dame if the teams met in 2010, even though the Irish have more talent at 80 percent of the positions on the field.
I’m not saying the past doesn’t matter, but you can’t be chained to it either.
And a lot of Notre Dame fans and haters are obsessed with that past (especially anything negative) and have come to expect two or three losses to inferior teams and underdog opponents every single season.
If we can’t fight back the demons of the past in the form of a 3-9 season, home losses to Syracuse and UConn, and multiple fourth quarter meltdowns, at least there should be hope in what Brian Kelly has to offer.
Every fan is afraid of being let down, but now is the perfect time to be optimistic about the future, specifically because of Kelly’s track record of quickly improving teams and molding them into champions.
If Kirk Ferentz can take an Iowa program that doesn’t sniff a quarter of the talent that Notre Dame does, and can build them into BCS bowl champions, then imagine what Brian Kelly could do in South Bend.
Notre Dame won six games and almost won a handful more in 2009, and that was with multiple coaching problems and a completely dysfunctional running of the program by Charlie Weis.
Are we really to expect the same problems to keep holding the Irish down for years to come?
Has an entire generation of fans forgot what it’s like to watch a dominant Notre Dame team that they are incapable of believing the Irish could ever truly rise to national prominence again?
I think there are a lot of fans who are very happy with the way things are coming together with the Notre Dame program and are ecstatic over the hiring of Brian Kelly, for sure.
My issue is with the fans that share the same sentiments, but refuse to vocalize that and instead, take the easy path of low expectations.
We can all worry about a new coach, a new system, a new quarterback, and take a “wait and see” approach if we want to. That is fine and quite right most of the time.
However, let’s be real. If Notre Dame plays up to its talent level and finally gets the proper coaching that has been lacking for the past 15 years, then nine or 10 wins should be easily attainable in 2010.
Some may find that quite the bold statement, especially the haters of the world, but that’s only because we’ve grown accustomed to Notre Dame not playing up to its potential.
Expecting seven wins at best is fine for schools like Texas A&M and South Carolina, but not with the amount of talent that Notre Dame has, and not with the past success of Brian Kelly, even if this will be his first season in South Bend.
I’m not saying it’s a lock for Notre Dame to win 10 games this fall, but rather, it is much more likely than the Irish losing five or six games again.
That is the important point to remember.
I think the faith in a greater future for Notre Dame needs to be embraced, especially from the wonderful people who make up the country’s best fanbase.
For there could be wonderful things in store for the Fighting Irish football team a lot sooner than some people think.