The 2010 Notre Dame football team will have a much different look than last years team with an entirely different coaching staff (with the exception of Tony Alford), different playbook and the heavily recruited sophmore and junior class ready to make its mark. Heading into opening day there are several areas of this team that are in question:
1. Brian Kelly
Positive: Brian Kelly, a highly successful football coach everywhere he has gone, will bring his winning formula to a team in dire need. He knows how to motivate college athletes and there is no question he gets the most out of his players. With this roster it is scary to see Michael Floyd, Dayne Crist, Manti Teo, Brian Smith, Kyle Rudolph and a host of others at their very best. There has also been a recent trend that coaches at Notre Dame have great success in their first season (Willingham & Weis).
Negatives: A few miles away at University of Michigan they made a coaching move and brought in the Big East Coach of the Year and hottest young coach in the game at the time. The project failed dramatically (to date) proving that either a new system or a Big East coach does not bode well for success in this area. Also, the absurd amount of pressure Kelly is getting to perform right away is unlike anything he has experienced as a coach.
Who is Notre Dame's most important player in 2010?
2. Dayne Crist
Positives: Crist was highly recruited from California and listed among several recruiting sites as the No. 2 quarterback in his recruiting class. He spent two years under Jimmy Clausen and quarterback guru Charlie Weis and is as ready as any first year starting quarterback in the game. Several scouts said when he showed up to South Bend his freshman year that he had more upside than Jimmy Clausen and a skill set that seperates him from other great quarterbacks (size, speed, arm strength, accuracy, leadership, competitiveness).
Negatives: He is taking over an entirely new offensive scheme of which he is not acustom to. Dayne is a NFL prototype, three to five step drop pocket passer and now he will be operating out of a shotgun and rolling out to the left and right on nearly every play. With his athleticism this is well within his capabilities but adding in that this is his first year starting for the most scrutinized college football team in the country and he is learning a new offense on top of that. Not an easy task for anyone.
Positives: John Tenuta and Corwin Brown have left the building ladies and gentlemen! No more confused, lack luster, can't tackle defense and in comes a new regime with a scheme that works better for this team. The Irish have great strength at the linebacker position so the move to a 3-4 formation. Diaco and Kelly have a track record of getting the most out their players and there are a great deal of them on this side of the ball that are "a work in progress."
Negatives: Cincinatti's defense was not much better than Notre Dame's. More alarming than the numbers was that their strength of schedule was so low playing in the Big East and they still let up over 40 points to teams like UCONN and Pitt and allowed over 50 points in a BCS Bowl Game. The defense under Diaco was not a sure thing by any means at Cincy last year and he will need to overcome that type of performance if he plans on staying in South Bend for the long term.
Positives: Easiest schedule Notre Dame has faced in a long time! This could be a blessing in disguise as Coach Kelly will have the oppertunity to implement his new schemes without having to play forces like Penn State (2006, 2007), Tennessee (2005) and the middle weights like UCLA and Georgia Tech. Not only is the schedule manageable for a first year coach and first year quarterback, but their toughest opponent USC is the last game of the season which gives them time to figure out what kind of team they are going to be before playing a top ranked opponent.
Negatives: Winning 9 games with this schedule will not give them BCS berth and if it does than it is completely illegitamate. One could argue that Stanford is the second best team they are going to play in 2010 or Pittsburgh which might look good in the win loss category but they compete in the Big East. Also the hardest stretch of this schedule occurs in the first four games when they play Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State and Stanford. Although none of those teams are Juggernauts by any means, they are all respectable opponents that could give the Irish a tough game.
Positives: We are sitting here in August, the 2010 season has not even started officially and the Irish already have 16 commitments! A lot of these players address immediate needs like Aaron Lynch at Defensive End and Matthew Haggerty at Offensive Line.
Negatives: Of the 16 recruits (using Rivals.com) they have no five-star recruits and only 5 four-star recruits. That means that 11 of the 16, nearly 70% of this class is below four-star ranking. Although these rankings are far from a science it is a bit troubling that Kelly and Co. are filling up their scholarships with medium grade players instead of the most elite.
I think that Kelly will bring the energy and motivation that this team has lacked in the past three seasons. He has a more talented team than I have seen at Notre Dame in my lifetime with a schedule where they will only play one team (USC) with equal talent. My prediction is that Notre Dame's positives outwiegh its negatives and this could be an exciting group to watch over the next few years. We should expect an upgrade on the defensive side of the ball, not too much if any falloff from the offensive dominance Notre Dame has grown acustom to under Charlie Weis (his teams hold the majority of offensive records in Notre Dame history) and players like Michael Floyd, Manti Teo, Kyle Rudolph and Dayne Crist to show the nation that they're worthy of the hype.