Today begins the third year of the Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame and the school's 125th season of college football. This is also the year we learn if Kelly is the man for the job or just another in a list of failed hires.
After two very unimpressive 8-5 seasons it is time for Kelly to make his mark. Is he better than the three before him - Weis, Willingham and Davie?
His first year could be somewhat forgiven. He was given the players Charlie Weis recruited to run the Weis offense and defense. He got into the recruiting cycle late and althrough he did get some good talent, it was not quite enough.
Then came year two. Kelly had a year to have his holdover Weis players learn his system plus his recruits. His second recruiting class had a lot of merit to it. But another 8-5 season against a very manageable schedule did not do much for his reputation.
Now comes year three. The Irish fans are a tough lot, they expect the best and they don't want excuses, they want wins.
Most preseaon polls have settled on ND winning about seven games this year. That means, of course, a regular season record of 7-5. That won't do for Irish fans.
The pressure is on Kelly to produce and the only way he will satisfy Irish fans is getting more than eight wins. That will be a hard task considering the Irish play one of the toughest schedules in the country. Included in that schedule are five top rated teams. Two of them on the road at top-ranked USC and also a trip of Oklahoma. Then there are Michgan and Stanford, two teams in the top 15, a home. The fifth team is Miami.
Today I begin another year of my weekly ND columns and would like to highlight some things to watch this year and to catch up with some things that have happended since last season.
First off Kelly has picked Sophomore Everett Golson to be the starting quarterback. He won the job over Andrew Hendrix. Of course, last year's starter, Tommy Rees, is suspended for today's game along with linebacker Carlo Calabrese, after their arrests this summer at a off-campus underage party.
Kelly also has suspended senior running back and the leading rusher last year, Cierre Wood. He and backup defensive end Justin Utupo have been suspended for two games because of breaking team rules. Wood ran for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns last season so he will be missed.
Replacing Wood will be senior Theo Riddick and sophomore George Atkinson III.
Defensively, the Irish have to improve over a year ago. Too many times the defense gave up a big play that help lead to a ND defeat. We'll have more later.
Today the Irish face Navy in Dublin, Ireland, in Aviva stadium, which is the home field for Dublin's soccer team. It's called teh Emerald Isle Classic.
ND won last year against Navy, but the Middies have won three of the last five. Navy lost some top players from a year ago in QB Kris Procter and running back Alexander Teich. But the Middies have a lot of talent to run their triple-option offense, which ND has a hard time handling. The new QB is Terry Miller, a junior. Miller has plenty of speed to run the option and he is a very decent thrower. He'll be a problem for the Irish defense. Returning at runningback is Gee Gee Green, who had 507 yards on 64 carries a year ago. Also watch Noah Copeland at fullback replacing Teich.
ND leads the series at 72-12-1. ND and Navy played in Dublin in 1996, which the Irish won. The game will be televised nationally by CBS-TV with a 9 a.m. EDT kickoff. Perhaps a eggs and keg outing is in order.
IRISH NOTES:ND is not considered a national threat this year. They are ranked 26th in the Associated Press preseason poll and 24th in the coaches poll....With Riddick and Atkinson the mainstays of the offense today, don't expect to see USC transfer Amir Carlisle. He missed the entire spring drills because of ankle sugery and has not participated in the contact drills so far this fall. Sophomore Cam McDaniel, who started training camp as a cornerback, could be inserted at runningback. Another possibility is freshman William Mahone....ND lost starting cornerback Lo Wood for the season with an injury about two weeks ago. ND has some questions in the secondary but up front they should be solid, especially at linebacker with All American Manti Te'o being backed by Kendall Moore, Romeo Okwara, Ishaq Williams, and Jarrett Grace. Add to that list of defenders Calabrese (when he returns from suspension), Danny Spond, Dan Fox, and Prince Shembo....Kelly announced this week that there will be four captains this season. Last year the Irish had only one, safety Harrison Smith. Tight end Tyler Eifert and tackle Zack Martin are the offensive captains. Defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore and linebacker Manti Te'o are the defensive captains....ND arrived in Dublin on Wednesday. ND returns a veteran offensive line and defensive front seven....Now my annual predictions for the coming season. ND opens with a close win over Navy, 1-0; Irish open at home with a win over Purdue, 2-0; the undefeated season ends at Michigan State, 2-1; the Irish fall to 2-2 at home with Michigan; Irish pull off a big win over Miami, 3-2; Stanford edges ND in South Bend, 3-3; ND just gets by BYU, 4-3; Irish can't keep up with Oklahoma, 4-4; Irish rolls by Pitt, 5-4; ND wins again over Boston College, 6-4; Irish handle Wake Forest, 7-4; USC too much at home for visiting ND, 7-5....With this prediction you can tell I am not overly impressed with Kelly and staff. I feel the defense has plenty of potential but coach Bob Diaco does not impress. Golson could be the real key this year. He can throw the ball and he has the legs to run for a lot of yardage and keep defenses off guard. But Golson is untested and when he goes up against the likes of the Michigan State and Michigan in a couple of weeks will he be able to handle the pressure, or, will Kelly panic and pull the trigger early on him. Injuries, players rallying behind their coaches, good play on the field, such as tackling and execution of the offense, plus some good old Irish luck, are all intangibles that could make this Irish team a surprise of the year, or just another dull replica of teams of the recent past. We'll find out a lot about the team with today's game.