Notre Dame Football: The Quest to Return to College Football's Elite

Gregory WayneContributor ISeptember 21, 2011

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 17:  Head Coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish leaves the field after playing the Michigan State Spartans September 17, 2011at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Michigan State 31-13. (Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)
John Gress/Getty Images

There were many questions coming into this season as to whether or not this would be the year Notre Dame turned things around.

It has been several years since the Irish were considered in the elite group of college football.  Although virtually every team has transitional stages, it seems that it has taken ND much longer to get back to that road to redemption than most.  

In two turnover- and miscue-laden losses, the men of South Bend seemed to have extended that road even further. Although the team showed signs of improvement from a year ago, they couldn’t overcome themselves with turnovers on offense and poor play on defense when it counted most.

The hope, however, is that their performance last week in a 31-13 demolition of previously 15th-ranked Michigan State showed some signs of the team that the 2011 Irish could become.

Notre Dame's next test comes in the form of a Pittsburgh team that just suffered a heartbreaking loss in a fashion all too familiar to Irish fans. With victory in their sights, Pittsburgh let a fourth quarter lead slip away as Iowa rallied to give the Panthers their first loss of the season.

Now, they have the challenge of welcoming a ND team fresh off of their first win. Certainly Pitt will come out to play on Saturday trying to avoid the possibility of a three-game losing streak with South Florida coming up the following week. 

The destiny of the Irish starts this weekend and will have a huge deciding factor on the possibility of them returning to college football’s elite any time in the near future. With two losses already, the odds are stacking up against them for any BCS bids this year.

This may not be a return to dominance, but it can still be a year of continued growth and improvement for a new system and a resurgence of recruits.  If the miscues and turnovers are limited, this team could be something to watch out for. 

The question still remains as to what mark this team will make on Irish history, and if their amount of talent will ever play to their true potential.  There have been glimpses of what can be, but it is still unknown what will be.

If they are ever to return to the elite and be mentioned in the same breath as the Alabamas and Oklahomas of today, then it all starts on Saturday. Notre Dame can't let the season get away from them like it did last year.

The Irish need to show that this team can improve and know what it takes to be a contender once again.