Brian Kelly and Co. have high hopes for 2011.
The 2010 Notre Dame Football season was similar to a roller coaster ride. There were a few high points and a few very low points. The season began with intrigue with the promising hire of Brian Kelly as head coach.
But after two devastating losses to Navy and Tulsa, the Irish stood at 4-5. However, they managed to win their last four games in convincing fashion. A 33-17 stomping of Miami in the Hyundai Sun Bowl capped the season.
2011 begins with even more promise.
The Irish are looking at a relatively light regular season schedule, which includes a neutral-site game against Maryland at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C. The toughest matchup will most likely be against Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal in Palo Alto to end the season.
Notre Dame also faces four teams with first-year head coaches: Michigan, Maryland, Pittsburgh and Stanford. Those four games have to be considered "must-wins" by the coaching staff, administration and fans.
The rest of the schedule contains home games against Air Force, Boston College, Michigan State, Navy, and South Florida, along with road games against Purdue and Wake Forest.
Another big reason for optimism heading into 2011 is the familiarity with the coaching staff and players. Each coach and player now knows his role on the team. Also, the quarterback situation is much different than one year ago. Four quarterbacks—Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson—will be competing for the starting job. All four will possess the capability to win football games.
Will Notre Dame play in a BCS bowl game this season?
Next, the defense looks to be much improved. In their last four games of 2010, the Irish defense yielded a total of 39 points. With the addition of three much heralded defensive recruits—Ishaq Williams, Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch—the defense will continue its streak of rock solid play.
While "Year One," as termed by Brian Kelly, might have been a rebuilding year, "Year Two" must be considered a season to contend for a BCS bowl game.
All of the Notre Dame bashers out there will disregard this prediction, but there is no reason for Brian Kelly's squad to finish any worse than 11-1 (the lone loss coming at the hands of Stanford on the road) or 10-2 (losses coming to Stanford and Michigan State).
Irish fans will have to wait and see.