Every program has its ups and downs. This season, without question, Notre Dame has seen its fair share of peaks and valleys.
Looking back at the first nine weeks, we will examine some of the biggest surprises of the 2011-2012 college football season for the Fighting Irish.
Nostradamus himself would have had trouble predicting a few of the twists and turns that have happened thus far.
Fans shouldn't be taken aback that Michael Floyd leads the team in receptions and yards. However, everything from a quarterback change to a few surprising losses have had fans wondering, "What if?"
But the season hasn't been all doom and gloom. Some players have showed resilience and battled through adversity, and a few guys have even surpassed remarkably high expectations.
Dayne Crist battled back from a devastating knee injury, his second in as many years, to win the starting quarterback role this season.
Unfortunately for Crist, he didn't stay at the position very long.
After just one half of football in the season-opener versus the University of South Florida, Crist lost the starting quarterback job.
Crist's first drive of the South Florida game ended with a fumble on the goal line by Jonas Gray, which was returned the length of the field for a touchdown. After the terrible start, Crist and the team couldn't get back on track, which led to the replacement by Tommy Rees in the second half.
Crist ended the game with just 95 yards on seven completions and a costly interception in the red zone.
Coach Brian Kelly has been adamant that Rees will remain as the team's starting quarterback the rest of the season, and other than a quick drive that ended with a fumbled snap on the goal line during the University of Southern California game, Crist has been relegated to playing in garbage time of blowout victories.
The Irish offensive line has played extraordinarily well this season.
Tommy Rees has only been sacked four times so far and rarely is forced into bad throws from hurries.Through eight games, the line's five overall sacks allowed is tied for sixth-best in the nation.
The offensive line isn't one-dimensional either. The men up front are as effective at run-blocking as they are in pass protection.
The offensive line has led the way for Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray to have stupendous seasons, and look for the line to continue opening running lanes. While Gray and Wood have done their parts, the line has helped the two to a combined 6.3 yards per carry average.
The line is also tied for fifth in the nation in allowing tackles for loss with four per game.
The offensive line wasn't bad last season and a lot was expected out of it, but few knew it would turn out to be among college football's elite.
Jonas Gray has been on a campaign for atonement ever since his goal-line fumble on the first drive of the Notre Dame's 2011 season.
You can imagine how Gray didn't want to be defined by his early season mistake, and let's just say he's done a fairly good job of winning over Irish fans.
Gray has 63 carries to Cierre Wood's 126 on the season, but Gray's attempts have been increasing throughout the season. He even managed one more carry than Wood did in their last game against Navy.
In fact, Gray has outproduced Wood. He is averaging 8.3 yards per carry to Wood's 5.3 average (although Wood has 721 yards and Gray has 502 on the season).
Wood and Gray are both immensely talented, but most fans expected Wood to have a stellar season. On the other hand, Gray was a big question mark before the season started and has been a pleasant surprise.
In the three seasons prior to 2011-2012, Gray had only 309 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per attempt without scoring a touchdown. Now with eight touchdowns on the season and a tough, aggressive running style, you can bet NFL scouts are taking notice.
While the loss to the University of South Florida raised some eyebrows around the college football world, Brian Kelly's demeanor on the sideline during the game did as well. A series of mistakes made the coach completely lose his composure on the sideline, and Kelly's face turned beat red as he spewed expletives at his players.
It was a little disconcerting, even to those who don't mind a coach getting after his team from time to time, to see how upset coach Kelly was.
After Kelly's sideline tirade against USF and a heartbreaking loss to Michigan, things were going smoothly as the Irish reeled off four straight victories.
But just as the Irish's BCS hopes were looking bright, those hopes were dashed when Notre Dame was walloped by the University of Southern California in South Bend. After the loss, Brian Kelly made a cardinal sin—a divisive comment directed at his own team.
When coach Kelly's quote drawing a line between the players he recruited and the ones he inherited came out, a number of guys took to Twitter to show their disgust—including star linebacker Manti Te'o.
When asked by Alex Flanagan about the incident and a subsequent apology to his team during the Navy game Saturday, Kelly commented that it would stay in-house.
Coach Kelly has had a rough start in his stint as the coach of the Fighting Irish, but there is no debating that he has a proven track record of improving the football programs he has overseen. Although things haven't gone exactly as planned, most fans still expect coach Kelly to take Notre Dame to the heights of football greatness.
So, is it just a matter of time?
At the end of last season, Brian Kelly analyzed the subpar punt return game of the Irish and made a change.
Coach Kelly decided upon Theo Riddick thinking he would bring some dynamism to the position.
The switch didn't work very well.
Not including fair catches, Riddick had a total of negative two yards on two attempts. His first chance at a return in the season-opener was fumbled and gave the University of South Florida field position inside the red zone.
After Riddick, coach Kelly was then content to go back to the sure-handed John Goodman. Goodman has returned eight punts on the season for a grand total of five yards (he also fumbled one late in the game against Michigan State).
Throughout the season Kelly has tried options other than Goodman, too—including Michael Floyd, who has yet to do anything but call fair catches (which is not even remotely his fault).
Well, just how bad is it for the Irish?
Notre Dame's punt return game is the worst in the nation. The Irish are 120th out of as many teams, averaging a meager 0.3 yards per return.
The kickoff return game wasn't much better until George Atkinson III took over return duties. The freshman has already run back two touchdowns on the season, and the Irish are 19th in the nation.
With fans imagining a high-powered punt return game with Riddick in the forefront, it has been a major disappointment that, once again, the punt return game is dreadful.
The season-opener against the University of South Florida was an unwanted dose of reality. While the Irish outplayed USF in nearly every area of the game, the one stat that counts the most went to USF—wins and losses.
The loss was attributed to red-zone turnovers and an uninspired first-half performance, but that didn't do much to console an Irish team with BCS aspirations.
As the Irish traveled to Ann Arbor in search of redemption. the team didn't find any in the Big House. After dominating the University of Michigan for three quarters, a 28-point fourth quarter by the Wolverines had Irish fans shocked once again. The game slipped away, and Michigan took the contest 35-31.
The game against the University of Southern California was a surprise as well. The loss to USC wasn't a shock, as the Irish have often gone down in defeat against the Trojans in recent years.
The surprise was how badly USC beat the Irish after Notre Dame was considered a heavy favorite. The Notre Dame defense had no answer for the Trojans' running attack or Matt Barkley, and the Irish offense sputtered.