When you think about Notre Dame football in this past decade, thoughts of failure, disappointment, and let downs come to mind. I think about the Bush Push, the two worst years in program history, and getting killed in two straight BCS bowls.
The good thing about that, though, is that it's over. Saturday brings a new beginning to a new football season and a new head coach.
Brian Kelly brings a new system to the team, and his success everywhere he has been is making a lot of Notre Dame fans optimistic about not only this season, but the future as well.
However, the start of all this is on Saturday. The game against Purdue will be the tell-all indicator about the rest of the season. Will the Irish be great and win 10 games, or falter and win six? Then there's always the chance of somewhere in between.
Here are some of the key parts of the game on Saturday you need to watch for, as they will give a look into the future of this upcoming season.
Dayne Crist coming off the knee injury and new system
Crist has been thrown into a situation with huge shoes to fill. Jimmy Clausen and Brady Quinn have put up some of the best numbers that any quarterback in South Bend ever has, and Crist will be expected to do the same.
The bright spot to be pointed out is Brian Kelly's success with whatever quarterback he has. He did great with Tony Pike, but once he went down with an injury last season, Pike's replacement played extremely well in his absence.
If there's one thing that Kelly has proven, it's that he can win with what he has. So Crist should be developed to the best he can be and should be ready to play in this season opener. I'm anxious to see his chemistry with the wide receivers and how ready he really is.
When Charlie Weis recruited this offensive line, it was for his pro-style offense. Now, with Kelly, they're playing at a much more up tempo style. It's a huge change for these guys, and they'll have to adapt to as the season goes on.
The one thing that I remember from Clausen's first year is him always avoiding pressure and laying on the ground after a sack. If Dayne Crist is going to have any success this year, the offensive line will have to play well.
That being said, Dayne Crist's performance directly impacts the performance of the whole team, so the offensive line must be prepared. I can't reiterate it enough. The line will be key in Saturday's win and the success of the entire campaign.
Jamoris Slaughter and Harrison Smith
With all of the close games last season, I remember Kyle McCarthy always coming up with big plays on the defensive side of the ball to secure a victory. With him gone, Jamoris Slaughter and Harrison Smith will have to fill a big role.
With Robert Marve supposedly going to be a great quarterback this season, the secondary will have to play well to win. A lot of people out there are expecting Purdue to win because of this part of Notre Dame's team. If Marve can control the game through the air, the Boilermakers can come out of this with a win.
Slaughter and Smith, in my opinion, will be the biggest keys to winning the game. If they play poorly, Notre Dame fans should be worried.
Who will win the game? Point blank.
Now that I've though about it, if Notre Dame doesn't win on Saturday, Brian Kelly loses a lot of optimism from Notre Dame Country. With it being his first game, there's a lot that can go wrong with the new system or anything else, but he has to find a way to win this game.
There's people out there, a lot of them actually, who expect Notre Dame to compete for a nine or 10 win season. If they don't get the win on Saturday, all of that goes a way.
Like I mentioned earlier, it's a tell-all game for Irish fans. Only one thing is for sure: Anything can happen.
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