Notre Dame Football: 5 Potential Hurdles for a Great Season
Conventional wisdom seems to indicate that Notre Dame football will return to the top 20 this season.
However, where exactly do they check in? Are the Irish BCS bound as some fans and analysts insist?
Notre Dame certainly has the talent and coaching to turn in an excellent season. Nevertheless, in order for Notre Dame to return to the top 10 and/or BCS, they must clear a number of hurdles, which we will discuss.
This is likely the weakest point in my argument but a valid one nonetheless.
It is a commonly known fact that some years you get those key breaks and some years you don’t.
Look at last season: The Irish were an ill-advised interception vs. Tulsa and some trickeration in “Little Giants” away from being 10-3. On the other hand, they were a Ronald Johnson-dropped TD pass away from being 7-6 or worse.
Many can recall 1993, when David Gordon, who had converted only 63 percent of his field-goal attempts, successfully booted a 41-yarder as time expired, ending Notre Dame’s national championship aspirations.
Untimely fumbles, key interceptions, and stupid penalties often turn a 10-plus win season into seven or eight victories. Notre Dame must take advantage of opportunities that are presented to them, all the while avoiding self-inflicted errors.
4. High Expectations
Expectations in South Bend are higher than they have been since 2006 and the start of Charlie Weis’s second season.
Remember back to 2006 at the start of the season; the Irish were ranked No. 2 in the AP and No. 3 in the coaches poll. They would not remain there long as Michigan blew the Irish out in Week 3.
When it was all said and done, following a blowout loss in the Sugar Bowl to LSU, the Irish finished just 17th in the AP and 19th in the coaches poll.
High expectations are often weighty, especially on a team that hasn’t experienced a great deal of success. A slow start or an early loss could greatly damage the psyche of this team, and it will be important for Brian Kelly to use his experience to keep the Irish even-keeled, regardless of how they start.
Given the end of last season, I’m optimistic he can successfully perform this important task.
3. Special Teams
This is an area of great concern as the Irish get ready to begin the 2011 campaign.
It has long been said that special teams can directly win or lose 2-3 ballgames a year for you. I can certainly think of one that comes to mind from last season.
Returning punter Ben Turk averaged under 40 yards per kick last season as he has for his career. Those numbers ranked him 105th in the nation last season in punting average. This is certainly an area that needs to improve.
Another issue is the return game, on both punts and kickoffs. Brian Kelly demonstrated this by neglecting to list anyone on the depth chart prior to the start of fall camp and has even mentioned possibly using Michael Floyd and highly touted quarterback Everett Golson to fill gaps in these areas.
One bright spot appears to be the return of David Ruffer, who is arguably one of the best kickers in America.
Continued inconsistency and poor play in some special-teams areas could greatly decrease the likelihood that the Irish return to BCS this season.
I recently read an article in which someone had the audacity to say that Notre Dame played an “easy schedule.”
This schedule is brutal!
The Irish will play 10 teams that were bowl eligible (nine if you don’t count USC) last season. In addition, they face two of the top teams in the Pac-12 (Standford and USC), traditional powers Michigan and Michigan State out of the Big Ten, and two of the better teams in the Big East in Pitt and South Florida.
They will also have to navigate around Air Force and Navy, coming off nine wins apiece, and a Maryland team that also won nine games last season.
Finally, at least four of the games at this point are slated for Saturday nights, which is a departure from the norm for Notre Dame.
Looking at this particular schedule, there are no easy stretches for the Irish or even easy games for that matter. It will be imperative that Notre Dame can focus week in and week out, avoid injuries, and come ready to play on Saturdays.
This is the single biggest concern heading into 2011.
As Brian Kelly is at Notre Dame longer, this should become less of an issue as he continues to recruit “RKGs” to fit his system.
However, Notre Dame is not currently at that point; several positions this year are relatively thin in South Bend. Brian Kelly highlighted this point recently when he mentioned that as many as 10 freshmen could see action this season.
A particular area of concern is the running back position, where there are few options behind Cierre Wood. Wide Receiver and the secondary are also areas in which the Irish appear thin beyond the starting group.
As a result, it will be imperative the Irish avoid major injuries if they want to turn in a great season.