Another "era" of Notre Dame football begins today as Brian Kelly debuts as the Irish new head football coach. Many Irish fans are excited about today and the start of Kelly's career as the head man while many, like me, are taking a wait and see you in three years approach.
Irish fans can't forget that when Tryone Willingham took over the helm he won is first eight games, but after that it was all down hill. Then came big ego filled Charlie Weis. He came in with a reputation as an offensive genius. He also started out with a bang with his first two seasons going 9-3 and 10-3, playing mostly with Willingham's recruits. We all know what happened after season two.
So it's a wait and see attitude most Irish fans should be taking. Hoping, of course, that Kelly is the man to bring the glory years of Irish football back. He has more credentials for being a successful college coach than Willingham and Weis and has experience in building a winning college programs. So there is hope, but we'll wait and see.
The talent pool at ND is good as there are plenty of solid players coming back. In addition, Kelly has recruited some good prospects and there were some excellent players already committed to the program when Weis was still the head man.
Kelly is instituting a hurry-up spread offense which debuted at the spring game last April.
The key to the spread offense is the quarterback. Dayne Crist inherits the job from Jimmy Clausen, who left after his junior year to enter the pro football draft and ended up at Carolina. Crist missed much of the second half of the 2009 season with a knee injury. He had surgery and returned in time for spring drills.
So far this fall Crist appears to be healthy and is grasping the spread offense. But there is always danger when a player comes back from a injury. It is especially dangerous when its a knee injury and you are the quarterback. The offensive line has to protect you and that has been a big problem for ND the last two years.
The backups to Crist all lack any kind of college game experience. After the spring game Nate Montana, son of former ND quarterback great Joe Montana, was wirtten in as the number two man. Last Monday Kelly named freshman Tommy Rees as the backup to Christ following two weeks of fall drills. Rees was a early enrollee at ND. Kelly did hedge a little after the announcement and said Montana, who was granted a full scholarship by Kelly after being a walk-on, is a very close second to Rees.
Other returnees that should help the cause include WRs Michael Floyd and Theo Riddick and frosh senstation Tai-ler Jones, who beat out veteran Duval Kamara for a starting receiving job. And, of course, we can't forget TE Kyle Rudolph. So Crist has plenty of targets.
Also back of note are running backs Armando Allen and Robert Hughes. The offensive line has Zack Martin at LT and Taylor Dever at RT; Christ Stewart LG and Trevor Robinson RG. At center Braxston Cave will get is first start today, beating out fifth-year senior Dan Wenger for the start.
Defensively the Irish have some talent coming back at key positions. They include ILB Manti Te'o. Te'o has been very impressive so far this fall. Carlo Calabrese won the spot opposite Te'o. Also returning are DE Ethan Johnson, NG Ian Williams, DE Ka Lewis-Moore and OLBs Darius Fleming, Brian Smith and converted down lineman Kerry Neal who will now play DE. In the secondary there is a mix of experience and new talent. It includes Darrin Walls and Gary Gray, CBs, and Harrison Smith and John Slaughter at safety.
Kicking chores will be handled by Nick Tausch or David Ruffer with Ruffer handling kickoffs. Ben Turk will do the punting. Kickoff returns will be handled by either Cierre Wood, Riddick or Allen. Punt returns by Allen.
The Irish face an old foe today in Purdue. The Boilermakers are led by new QB Robert Marve, who will get is first start today, and WR O.J. Ross. Defensively the Boilers are led by DT Bruce Gaston. Purdue was 5-7 last year under first year coach Danny Hope. ND won last year's game, 24-21. ND leads the series 53-26-2. ND has won four of the last five games with the last Purdue win in 2007, 33-19.
The game will be televised nationally by NBC with a 3:41 p.m. EDT kickoff.
IRISH NOTES ... Kelly has been very active as the new head coach. He has made no less than about 130 appearances on behalf of ND at various locations including booster clubs and other events as well as charity events. He and his wife donated $250,000 to the university for special need students....Former ND coach Lou Holtz loves to put the pressure on new ND coaches. He predicts that the Irish will be favored in every game they play this year. Holtz also predicts a nine or 10 win regular season for the Irish. He bases his prediction on what he has seen while visiting the campus four times this past spring and summer. He said, "Everthing I hear is so positive."....ND has no major injuries to report so far, but backup tight end Mike Raggone will miss the game with an inner ear infection....In keeping with his push for the Irish to be in top sharpe Kelly has lost 20 plus pounds since he took the job. He said he wants to set an example for the players to stay in shape. A rap on Weis' teams were that they were not in very good shape and by the fourth quarter they were pretty well done....Because of the hurry-up offense Kelly and school officials have met with NBC officials concerning TV timeouts. NBC, reportedly, is trying to cooperate and is going to reduce the length of TV timeouts....Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick told the media in South Bend last week that ND will remain independent in football for as long as it can. ND gets about $15 million a year from NBC for televising its games....Some ND players have been named to preseason "watch" lists. They include kicker Nick Tausch, a sophomore; tailback Armando Allen, a senior; defensive end Ethan Johnson, a junior; inside linebacker Manti Te'o, a sophomore; and tight end Kyle Rudolph, a junior. Tausch on the Lou Groza list, Allen the Doak Walker, and Johnson, Rudolph and Te'o the Lombardi Awards. Tausch is one of four sophomores on the list which totals 30....Sophomore WR Shaquelle Evans informed Kelly on Monday he is transferring. Evans has been unhappy being down on the depth chart at WR. He will probable end up at UCLA....True freshmen Prince Shembo and Danny Spond are listed as No. 2 on the depth charge at Cat linebacker and middle linebacker, respectively....Here is my annual prediction for the Irish season. ND opens with a win over Purdue (1-0); its two in a row with a win over Michigan (2-0); Kelly loses first game at Michigan State (2-1); Irish and Stanford play a real shoot-out, edge to ND (3-1); Boston College comes out on top (3-2); Irish upend Pitt (4-2); Western Michigan no match for Irish (5-2); Navy gives Irish early trouble but folds (6-2); Tulsa over-matched (7-2); Utah gives Irish fits but ND prevails (8-2); Army a laugher (9-2); USC edges by Irish (9-3)....As you read this I'm in South Bend for the game along with many Irish fans from our area. Hope to return with a victory.