First, a moment of silence for Declan Sullivan, the student who died in the tragic accident last week. Rest in peace.
Notre Dame stands at 4-5, coming off embarrassing losses to Navy and Tulsa. Only weeks into his first season, coach Brian Kelly is already coming under fire. Each game is now described as a must-win, and failing to make a bowl game might mean getting terminated, at least as far as his critics are concerned.
Still, while times are tough, Notre Dame has a few things going for it. Undoubtedly, the buyout of Charlie Weis drained the coffers of the program and boosters alike. There might be mounting pressure on Kelly, but there is not enough money to buy out his five-year contract.
Alienated fans might rant about this, but it's a blessing in disguise. Notre Dame can't afford to fire Kelly, and Kelly is one tough cookie who will be able to withstand a year or two of ranting from the rabid Irish fan base.
Despite the best efforts of naysayers, Kelly will be able to roll on, and that is the key to Notre Dame's future. The football program needs to be rebuilt, and it will not be rebuilt within one season. What is important right now is not a perfect season, but instead progress. Despite what critics say, Notre Dame is moving in the right direction, drawing in high-level recruits and playing with more ferocity.
Most people outside of the South Bend circles knew that Kelly was walking into a dire situation. Weis has a brilliant offensive mind, and he drew in some of the best offensive weapons in the country. Learning under a brilliant ex-NFL offensive coordinator was practically a golden ticket for anyone who performed well on the offensive side of the line.
Yet many of his best players have already left, and there are noticeable gaps on the defensive side of the ball. The defense was never good under Weis, and expecting Kelly to wave a magic wand and suddenly conjure a good defense is ludicrous.
Even after years of defensive woes, there have been some noticeable improvements. There are flashes of brilliance, and the players seem to be playing with more heart and effort. With another year of training, this may be a respectable defense. And with the astonishing number of highly skilled defensive recruits being brought in by Kelly, it is only a matter of time before Notre Dame will be skilled on both sides of the ball.
Furthermore, anyone who pays attention to college football and coaching changes could have guessed that it would take more than a season to install Kelly's high-octane spread offense. Notre Dame is putting up respectable offensive stats in Kelly's first season, but those stats are just a shadow of what's to come.
It has taken Rich Rodriguez three years to get his offense up and running—no news on when an actual defense will be installed—and while Notre Dame fans have reason to expect quicker progress (and are in fact already seeing just that), this offense will not be clicking on all cylinders until next season at the earliest. In two years time, Notre Dame may well have the most explosive offense in college football.
Is this an excuse for mediocrity? No.
Kelly needs to learn from his play-calling mistakes when passing the ball is not a good idea. He might make the excuse that it is because he has to be both the offensive coordinator and the head coach, but that is just an excuse. If that is the problem, then train an offensive coordinator. Enough said.
Still, with a few more years of Kelly's hard work, Notre Dame faithful have reason to believe that their football team will be bringing home more championships.