Like most of the Irish faithful out there today, my devotion towards the team tended to decline every season that Charlie Weis put on that hideous pull-over and marched onto the Notre Dame field. This feeling of ignorance towards peaked last year as they lost four games in a row to end a terrible 6-6 season that did not see the Irish in a bowl game. Meanwhile, the usually average Cincinnati Bearcats were able to find a way to win every game, and saw themselves as the #3 team in the country at 12-0. Our coach game from the NFL dynasty New England Patriots, while there's came from the MAC, and was making significantly less money. That being said, Cincinnati was obviously a much better coached team than the Irish.
So, when Notre Dame pulled the trigger and signed Boston Catholic Brian Kelly to a big contract after his incredible season with the Bearcats, it was completely normal to jump in excitement. I did; and a solid, but unspectacular win over Purdue helped aid that excitement, Notre Dame football was back on the map.
But after the team lost on it's home turf to an unranked team from Michigan this Saturday it could be quite easy to sulk and just assume this is "just another year". That's completely understandable considering the torture that Irish fans had to put up with during the Weis era. I'm writing to say that deep down Irish fans should be a little disappointed in the game on Saturday, but more good came out of the game than bad.
Nobody, even the most unrealistic and optimistic fans, had any anticipation of the Irish running the table this year and making it to the National Championship game. Not with a first year coach, or a first year quarterback, or the fact that they were coming off a 6-6 season playing an average schedule. A loss was going to happen, probably more than one, this year, and Michigan is arguably the strongest opponent on the Notre Dame schedule.
People are already campaigning for Denard Robinson winning the Heisman Trophy, an idea that may not be too far-fech'd. And while I'm sure he wouldn't be as lethal against Alabama or Ohio State, the Irish did a pretty decent job stopping "Shoelace" and the Michigan offense, much better than UConn a week before them. Kapron Lewis-Moore and Manti Te'o looked like two elite defenders, and there's a good chance both will return next year. Except for the ridiculous 90+ run Robinson had in the 2nd quarter and the great game-winning drive he had in the 4th quarter, Notre Dame did a solid job containing his attack. It didn't help that Michigan had the ball the majority of the 1st half due to numerous unimpressive drives for the Irish.
That brings me to the quarterback situation. Saturday, Dayne Crist proved that he potentially can be an elite college football quarterback, who will probably see time in the NFL at some point. Nate Montana, on the other hand, looked like he, well, had been coming straight off of a very mediocre season at a Junior College. If Crist plays that whole game, there's no doubt that the Irish win that game comfortably. Again, the good news, Crist will be back next year, and possibly 2012 as well.
All in all, Brian Kelly and the Irish deserve to be proud of their performance, and comeback, against the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday. Obviously there are some things the team needs to work on, but realistically Irish fans should have expected that going into the season. Judging by the fact that the back-up quarterback struggled through almost a whole half, and Michigan is playing arguably the best football out of the entire Notre Dame schedule, the Irish should be encouraged as to what is coming. Next weeks game at Michigan will be crucial in determining the character of this team as they face a small challenge on the road, against a team they are much more talented than.