Notre Dame Football: Game vs. Michigan State Is Last Chance to Salvage Season

Joseph HealyCorrespondent ISeptember 16, 2011

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 10: Quarterback Tommy Rees #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and head coach Brian Kelly exchange comments during the game against University of Michigan at Michigan Stadium on September 10, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Wolverines defeated the Irish 35-31. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

For the first time since Brady Quinn was on campus, there was legitimate optimism around the Notre Dame program coming into the season.

I'm not talking about optimism from the rabid Notre Dame fan that still views his team as the top football factory in the country. I'm talking about optimism from well-known, respected football minds and analysts.

As they have tended to do at Notre Dame in recent years, things have gone awry, and the Irish find themselves sitting at 0-2. Because of that, their upcoming game against Michigan State has the feel of a must-win game for the Irish if they want to come anywhere close to meeting expectations for this season.

A 1-2 start with a win over a ranked team like MSU wouldn't be so bad. The team might finally find some momentum, and they started off 1-3 last season, so it's not like they haven't been there before.

An 0-3 start, on the other hand, would cripple their season. If you think that's dramatic, consider where that would put them.

This team was expected to basically be a 9-3 team. They would already have that many losses, and there's no way that this team would go undefeated down the stretch with tough games against Pittsburgh, Air Force, USC, Navy, Maryland, Boston College and Stanford still to come.

On a team that was returning a ton of talent, nothing short of an improvement over the team that won seven games and the Sun Bowl last season would be tolerated.

If they start off 0-3, there's no way they can accomplish that.

If they lose to MSU on Saturday, the Fighting Irish might as well pack it up and start thinking about 2012, as they would be staring another 7-5 season right in the face.

Notre Dame fans are famous for being impatient. If this squad falls to 0-3 on Saturday, head coach Brian Kelly will see just how impatient they can be.