Notre Dame Football Season Outlook: Is All Lost After 1-2 Start?

Dan ScofieldAnalyst ISeptember 22, 2010

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 11: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (center) watches as his team takes on the Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium on September 11, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Michigan defeated Notre Dame 28-24. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Notre Dame fans have been used to it for the past few years.

Inconsistent, flashes-of-brilliance play leading only to yet another end of the game meltdown for a heart-breaking loss. And yet, even with a new coach standing with the clipboard on the sidelines, the Irish found a way to lose another last-second thriller.

The question for Kelly has been clearly outlined in the past week: is all lost sitting at 1-2 and heading into the "meatiest" part of the schedule?

Many would say yes, based on preseason predictions. Anywhere between 8-10 wins were being predicted for Kelly's new squad, and with many question marks and stiff competition facing them in the coming weeks, it's easy to say yes.

However, for those level-headed Irish fans, what is the true measure of success in Kelly's first year? 

After seasons of 3, 6, and 6 wins under Weis for the past three years running, it was easy to expect a dramatic improvement from this team. But then again, all Irish fans knew the strengths and weaknesses of this team before the kickoff of Purdue.

In hindsight, all is not lost.

Kelly must win at least one of the next three big games in order to have a chance at finishing with a winning record. If they accomplish this feat, the Irish will have to take care of the rest of their schedule in a winning way, which consists of Western Michigan, Tulsa, Army, Navy, Utah, and USC. Getting to the seven-win plateau will be huge for Kelly. 

Here are some optimistic stats for you. That Holtz guy that lead Notre Dame back to prominence? His first year in South Bend ended at 5-6, his second year finished with an 8-4 record, and his third year on the job ended in perfection at 13-0.

Everyone knows how skilled of a coach Kelly really is. Without a doubt, this Irish team will only get better. It's just a matter of how quickly that improvement occurs.

The running game has improved, the offensive line looks good, and the cornerbacks are playing at their highest levels. However, on the other hand, the receivers (ahem, Michael Floyd) have taken a step back, the linebackers (besides All-World Manti Te'o) have all been inconsistent, and the depth chart situation at quarterback poses just a few problems for this team.

Let's face it: the Irish failed in the past two games and those were two games that they should have won on paper. But much like the "slogan" of the Weis era, they just didn't get it done. 

Now, they face a challenge. Will this team bounce back or will they succumb to the criticism, negativity, and down-playing by the rest of the country? Over the course of the next nine games, the biggest difference between Kelly and Weis will be readily visible.

Which will it be?