Heading into the 2011 season there are many reasons to be optimistic about Notre Dame Football, but there are also reasons to be pessimistic.
There are a variety of things to be excited about with this team, but there are also a slew of things that are worrisome in the eyes of the fans.
It is typical for there to be good and bad things surrounding most college football teams heading into a new season and the best teams are able to turn bad into good.
As a Notre Dame fan, what should you be optimistic about? What should you be pessimistic about?
Follow along and find out!
We'll start out with reasons to be optimistic followed by reasons to be pessimistic.
Cierre Wood relieved former Irish running back Armando Allen of his starting duties after he went down with a season-ending injury.
All Cierre Wood did after that was accumulate 603 yards on 119 carries to go along with three scores. Despite only starting six games, he led the team in rushing yards.
When asked which player has stood out in fall camp, Brian Kelly said it would be Cierre Wood. Kelly stated that Wood has "really been complete."
The offense will be relying on him to shoulder the rushing load this season, so it's exciting to hear Coach Kelly singing his praises.
It is clear through a week of training camp that the front runners for the starting quarterback job are Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees.
That's good news for Irish fans as each has starting experience.
Brian Kelly has stated that Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees are "neck and neck" when it comes to the race for starting duties.
However, Kelly has also stated that he feels confident in each quarterback and that each has the ability to win football games.
Anyone who has been worrying about this quarterback "battle" needs to re-read the previous sentence.
The Irish offense will be at full speed with either quarterback calling the shots.
There's no doubt that defense wins championships and elite defenses start with the line.
Notre Dame finally has a fearsome defensive line.
It all started with the coaching staff reeling in two blue-chip defensive ends in Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch.
Combine those two guys with incumbent starters Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson along with nose guard Louis Nix and you have a championship-caliber line.
The unit also has enviable depth, which will be a large benefit in late game situations when the team is relying on the defense to get a stop.
What happened the last time Notre Dame had a dominant defensive line?
Under former head coach Charlie Weis, defense was an afterthought. Despite that philosophy, the coaching staff was still able to recruit great talent on defense.
Brian Kelly knew coming into this job that defense had to be a priority and he proved that down the stretch last season.
The defense yielded a mere 39 points during the last four games of the season.
That outstanding defensive play must continue this season if the Irish wish to earn an invitation to a BCS game.
Following a loss to Tulsa at home the day before Halloween, the Irish sat at 4-5. The program was also dealing with the tragic death Declan Sullivan. There didn't seem to any hope left.
However, the team refused to quit.
The team came together and finished 4-0 down the stretch to finish with an 8-5 record.
Those last four games have brought a certain swagger and confidence to the program that will surely carry over into this season.
Brian Kelly will have his team walking onto the field knowing that they are going to win, no matter the opponent.
Over the off-season, Brian Kelly moved former wide receiver Bennett Jackson to cornerback due to the lack of depth at the position.
Top tier programs typically don't have to make those kinds of moves because they have depth at each position.
Notre Dame is just the opposite with paper-thin depth at defensive back.
The team will be relying on cornerbacks Gary Gray and Robert Blanton to shut down opposing passing games, but if one or both are injured, the Irish defense will take a major blow in pass defense.
Many of you will surely disagree with me on this thought, but it needs to be addressed.
While the defense was outstanding in the last four games of last season, the unit might not play at that same level this season.
Let's start with Utah.
The Utes were coming off a 47-7 demoralizing at the hands of TCU the week before. The team figured still to be stinging from that loss and that they were.
Next was Army. No offense to the Black Knights, but they aren't exactly a difficult offense to shut down.
The following week featured a showdown with USC in Los Angeles. The Trojans came in at a pedestrian 7-4 and Matt Barkley was forced to sit out with an injury. Obviously the Trojan offense wasn't at full strength.
The last game of the season was in the Sun Bowl against Miami. The Hurricanes' head coach, Randy Shannon, had just been fired and quarterback Jacory Harris had been a huge disappointment all season.
A team in flux is never going to have a solid offense.
The point is that Notre Dame's defense may have played four games in which the defense looked tremendous against average offenses.
Until the unit shuts down a high-profile offense, I won't be a believer.
Brian Kelly's high-octane, spread offense typically requires a mobile quarterback. The Irish have two of those in Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson, but it's assumed that neither will play a significant role this season.
Instead, Brian Kelly has narrowed it down to Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees who are both pro-style, pocket-passing quarterbacks.
While both players have the ability to win football games, there's a chance that the offense may stall more than expected due to their lack of wheels.
However, Kelly was able to will his team to the 2009 Orange Bowl with a pro-style quarterback in Tony Pike.
Only time will tell.
I've stated this before, but no team will reach its BCS dreams without a steady running game.
Brian Kelly learned that the hard way last season.
He's obviously a pass-first oriented coach, but he now knows that the run game must be a part of the offense if the Irish are to reach the BCS.
The Irish should be understandably nervous, as the only two running backs on the roster with any experience are Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray.
Freshmen Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson will likely compete for third string snaps.
If Wood or Gray suffers an injury this season, the run game will take a major hit.
However, if each of those players can avoid injury, the offense will be fine.
As I wrote in an article on Monday, Notre Dame faces a difficult schedule this season.
Nine teams on the schedule played in bowl games last season, and that number would be 10 had USC been eligible to play in a post-season game.
The Irish open the season against a feisty South Florida team coached by former Notre Dame player and assistant coach Skip Holtz.
The team then heads north to take on Michigan in the Big House in the first night game in Michigan Stadium history.
Week three features a showdown with Michigan State following last season's epic match up.
Throw in games against Stanford and USC and you can see that there's no reason to believe that the Irish don't face a formidable schedule.