Brian Kelly and Notre Dame on the Road to Success Despite Recent Losses

Ed LeiserCorrespondent ISeptember 24, 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

To the untrained eye, it might appear that Notre Dame's football situation is very bleak with their 1-2 record, but this Saturday in South Bend can be the necessary U-turn to restore life into the Fighting Irish football program—not that it needs such an injection.

The Stanford Cardinal bring Heisman hopeful and future NFL signal caller Andrew Luck to the Golden Dome in their annual rivalry game—but the roles have been reversed this season.

Stanford enters as the clear favorite, while Notre Dame is once again behind the nation's elite and looking for the elusive "signature win" still.

Brian Kelly's squad could very easily be 3-0 and ranked in the nation's Top 25 had a few things bounced their way in 2010's first month of action.

Had quarterback Dayne Crist remained healthy in the first half of their loss to Michigan, you'd have a hard time not picking the Irish to beat the Wolverines.

After all, a healthy Crist chewed up Michigan's secondary, while his replacements (Tommy Rees and Nate Montana) led uninspiring drive after uninspiring drive to complete the first half.

There's no use playing the "What if?" game, but there's evidence to support a Fighting Irish victory with Dayne Crist on the field.

Last week in East Lansing, the Fighting Irish played very poorly at times (mainly on defense) yet were in the game until the clock hit zero—literally.

Had the referees and game officials noticed that the Spartans' play clock had indeed expired, then their incredible fake field goal touchdown would have never existed—or would have had to happen from five yards away.

Nevertheless, it's useless to complain about something that will never be reconciled, especially on such a gutsy, all-or-nothing play call that will go on in Spartan lore for years.

Either way though, Notre Dame could be heading into Stanford week with a 3-0 record and hope to reach 10 or 11 victories.

The defense has been awful but will improve after a few years of learning how to operate in a 3-4 system and with 3-4 personnel—not a collection of used pieces from previous schemes.

Their safety play will improve after a few minutes Saturday with the return of Jamoris Slaughter, who sat out losses to the Michigan schools with an injury.

Zeke Motta and Harrison Smith are not good enough to play safety at Notre Dame, and Slaughter's return will help Notre Dame make the best out of a bad situation.

But the signs of life on offense suggest Notre Dame can make this season (and many others under Brian Kelly) special.

The schedule will lighten up eventually, and USC remains a vulnerable opponent with the chance to earn a victory over the men of Troy still appearing very possible.

A loss Saturday and subsequent 1-3 record will sting many Notre Dame fans but won't be the end of the world—it will just be the end of September.

They'll have plenty of chances left this season to make a run at a January bowl game and give Kelly a good base to begin his operations.

But if they can somehow take down Luck and the Cardinal, then no one will have concerns about the program's direction.

Expect a passionate Irish game plan tomorrow in South Bend against a very talented team.

But also expect good things on the horizon for the Fighting Irish, win or lose tomorrow.

It's not quite a "return to glory," but Brian Kelly and his staff have the program headed in the right direction.