Here Come The Irish: Brian Kelly Era Officially Underway

Ed LeiserCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2010

SOUTH BEND, IN - DECEMBER 11: Brian Kelly attends a press conference where he was named new football head coach at Notre Dame University on December 11, 2009 in South Bend, Indiana.  Kelly most recently led the University of Cincinnati to two consecutive Bowl Championship Series appearances including a perfect 12-0 record this past season. (Photo by Frank Polich/Getty Images)
Frank Polich/Getty Images

It's finally here.

Saturday.  South Bend, In., Notre Dame vs. Purdue.

Thank you, (Touchdown) Jesus, football is back.

If you're anything like me, you look forward to fall Saturdays more than any other day of the week—including Sundays.

College athletes laying it all on the line while marching bands perform their hearts out; all the while college students drink their livers away. There is nothing like college football, and fall Saturdays in the Hoosier state are special, special days.

Generations of Notre Dame fans will be flocking to the tiny town of South Bend, In., in four days to watch their beloved Fighting Irish open up another football season—against hated, in-state rival Purdue no less.

It's the debut of another head coach to the Fighting Irish family, as Brian Kelly brings his impressive resume and dynamic spread-offense to a team that is still trying to adapt to football in the 21st century. There won't be any triple-options or power-I backfields this season—just a lot of play-making athletes playing under the Golden Dome.

Brian Kelly, so far, has done everything right as the leader of the Irish.  Press conferences, guest appearances, media barrage after media barrage.

Now comes the hard part: scoring more points than the opposition; some might call this "winning."

Because, in the end, that is all that matters to Brian Kelly and his mostly brand-new coaching staff.

Tyrone Willingham was a stand-up guy who graduated his players through the prestigious classes at the University of Notre Dame.

But he didn't win.

Charlie Weis was a confident, well-spoken, Super Bowl-champion who led his team to BCS-bowl berths in his first two seasons in South Bend. He coached Willingham's guys to those games, mind you, not his own recruits.  He then suffered disappointing season after disappointing season.

He represented the university very well.

But he didn't win.

Coach Kelly needs to do what Willingham and Weis did (make the school look good), but also what they didn't do (win BCS bowls).

That's the job standing in front of Kelly, who a year ago at this time was hidden among college football's elite coaches while biding his time at the University of Cincinnati.

Cincinnati, Oh., is a decidedly bigger market than South Bend, In.,but Kelly has never experienced anything like he will this season, where Notre Dame football is king among everything else.

Win in Ohio and you're a great coach.

Win at Notre Dame and you're a candidate for a bronze sculpture in front of the stadium, a legend that will never die.

Kelly has the horses to make 2010 interesting, and there's no reason why the Irish can't post double-digit victories.

The schedule is forgiving, as only two teams (Pittsburgh and Southern California) have more pound-for-pound talent than the Irish do.

And even then, neither team is invincible.

Pitt has to come to Notre Dame Stadium, and USC has a new head coach in the middle of an ugly NCAA-led investigation into the entire athletics program.

Notre Dame can win both games, if things break right.

The Fighting Irish could be favored in every other game.

Kelly has three returning offensive linemen, a senior-laden backfield, two pre-season All-America candidates in wide receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph, and a former blue-chip quarterback in Dayne Crist.

The offense will score, and probably in bunches.

The scoreboard operator will be working overtime—but unfortunately will be busy putting up points for the opponent, too.

Defensively, Notre Dame has a long way to go to reach NCAA respectability.

Though eight starters are back from the 2009 squad, the Fighting Irish have been unable to limit opponent's attacks and have surrendered more points than anyone in South Bend would like to admit.

Kelly might fix this thing, but it will certainly be a four or five-year process—not four or five months.

If Notre Dame flies out of the gate and climbs the polls, the Brian Kelly-for-Mayor talk will reign down from on high, but the fan base must give him time—either to sustain winning, or build up a winning program after losing in the beginning.

It's an exciting time any way you look at it.

It's a re-birth for the program that has had too many over the last 15 years.

Bob Davie, Willingham, Weis—no one will miss them on Saturday.

But the magic of a new season means anything is possible.

Will we look back at Saturday's opener vs. the Boilermakers in ten years and say, "This is where things changed?"

Will Saturday begin what every Notre Dame fan across the nation has been waiting for since 1988?

We'll see, but the ball is rolling in South Bend right now.

Fall Saturdays in South Bend, Indiana can be the best experiences—but they can crush your soul just as easily.

Bring on football, I say, and let's get this thing going in the right direction.

Thank you, (Touchdown) Jesus, football is back.

I hope the Fighting Irish are, too.