Notre Dame Football: Brian Kelly's Holiday Wish List
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, like anyone who has experienced a rather tumultuous calendar year, could certainly benefit from some holiday cheer.
With Santa scheduled to make his earthly rounds late Tuesday evening into early Wednesday morning—including a stop in South Bend, Ind.—the jolly bearded fellow may fulfill Kelly's holiday wishlist. The fourth-year head coach may not even have to make a stop at nearby University Park Mall to purchase everyone's secretive "gift to myself," although I wouldn't blame him.
If such a list exists—heck, it might—what specific wishes would be scrawled on a spare sheet of paper in Kelly's office within the Guglielmino Athletics Complex?
Let's find out.
An Exclamatory Victory Against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl
The New Era Pinstripe Bowl isn't the grandest of consolation prizes for a season that fell short of expectations after the Irish reached last season's BCS National Championship Game.
So, too, did Notre Dame's opponent, as Rutgers was forced to win its regular-season finale against South Florida to become bowl eligible. That the Irish will play what is by all accounts an inferior opponent, they'll need to, at the very least, cover the 14-point spread from Vegas Insider.
While perception doesn't have a direct effect on final outcomes, Notre Dame's being viewed in a favorable light entering the offseason is paramount both for the Irish's recruiting efforts and, believe it or not, preseason poll placement.
If you don't believe preseason rankings matter, you're mistaken.
2014 will mark the first season of the inaugural College Football Playoff, which only includes the nation's top four teams. Thus, the closer Notre Dame can inch to a top-four ranking, the better off Kelly and Co. will be.
However, if the Irish struggle to defeat Rutgers on Dec. 28, or even lose to the Scarlet Knights, they'll be perpetually mocked during what would be a painfully long offseason.
A Quality Performance from Tommy Rees Against Rutgers
Perhaps the juiciest, sizzling narrative within the Notre Dame program during the Kelly era is his decision to stick with quarterback Tommy Rees.
Throughout his career, Rees has earned the unfortunate moniker of "Turnover Tommy" due to his penchant for turning the ball over at critical junctures. Even so, the Lake Forest, Ill., native hasn't always received a fair shake and should be noted for his immense football knowledge, even if it didn't always pay dividends.
While there's no way to know for certain whether Kelly knew prior to the 2013 season that former starting quarterback Everett Golson would eventually be readmitted to the university, it's worth pondering if he ever considered playing freshman Malik Zaire.
Yours truly called for Zaire to start early in the season, though as it became abundantly clear that Golson would, in fact, be readmitted, I backed off that opinion, though the majority of the Irish fanbase didn't seem to shift its collective stance.
With the Pinstripe Bowl being Rees' final game of his collegiate career, Kelly's decision to stick with Rees would be validated should the 6'2", 215-pound quarterback piece together an impressive performance against an outmatched Rutgers defense.
Defensive End Stephon Tuitt Remaining at Notre Dame for His Senior Season
A natural element of the collegiate game is replacing seniors and early NFL entrants on an annual basis, though Notre Dame has an added level of concern entering the upcoming offseason.
With nose guard Louis Nix already having signed with an agent—that effectively rendered him ineligible to return for a final season of eligibility—and Tuitt testing the NFL waters, the future of Notre Dame's defensive line is bleak, at best.
With only defensive linemen Isaac Rochell, Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones slated to return next season, depth will become a massive concern, even with the return of Chase Hounshell and Tony Springmann.
Thus, Tuitt deciding to return for his senior season and put the NFL on hold would be, perhaps, the most significant news of the Irish's offseason.
Bleacher Report NFL Draft Analyst Matt Miller doesn't have Tuitt slated as a first-round selection in his most recent first-round projection, which may turn out to be good news if you're a Notre Dame fan.
Quarterback Guru George Whitfield Having Improved Everett Golson
During Golson's time away from Notre Dame due to having been expelled for cheating in May, the 6'0", 188-pound quarterback chose to spend his time working with noted quarterback guru George Whitfield in San Diego.
No experience can match live-game reps, though Golson received the next-best option with Whitfield.
Whitfield, a noted quarterback guru, has trained Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, as well as current Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
That's quite an impressive clientele, and it leads one to believe Golson will return to Notre Dame a vastly improved quarterback.
Understandably so, critics of Golson still exist (I'm looking at a loyal reader of mine who doesn't prefer the new-school methods) for the display of his limited mental grasp of Kelly's playbook during the 2012 season. Whether that facet of his game has improved remains to be seen, though if it has, the Irish offense should be beyond explosive in 2014.
A Quiet Offseason
Notre Dame's previous offseason was one of the most dramatic of any in college football in recent years.
It began with the Irish being whipped by Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game, followed by the Manti Te'o saga, Kelly interviewing with the Philadelphia Eagles, former linebacker commit Alex Anzalone spurning the Irish for Florida on national signing day and Eddie Vanderdoes wiggling out of his letter of intent to wind up at UCLA.
It was devastating blow after devastating blow for Notre Dame, which made the 2013 offseason one to forget.
For Kelly and Co., avoiding a similar turn of events would be ideal this offseason.
Yet, is there ever an uneventful offseason for the Irish? Could the 2014 offseason buck the trend?
Only time will tell.