The Notre Dame Football program has been in a holding pattern for the better part of Brian Kelly’s tenure. This season, Kelly and the Irish are at a significant crossroads in the program’s development.
For Notre Dam fans, the job Brian Kelly has done at Notre Dame continues to be a division among those who follow the program closely. Some fans have been quick to document Kelly’s pitfalls. Others have come to his defense, saying that Kelly is doing as much as he can with what he’s been given. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Last year’s 10-3 season is a fair benchmark for this program. After an unacceptable 4-8 campaign in 2016, Kelly righted the ship. He should be commended for this performance. The question, however, begs to be answered: Is 10-3 the relative ceiling for this program or is it what the program should aspire to in “average” seasons? Irish fans hope for the latter.
While it’s probably not reasonable to expect the program to rise to the level of Alabama, for instance, it surely can expect to win 10 games in most years. For the Irish, 10 wins should be “acceptable,” provided there are years the Irish exceed that expectation.
For the sake of Brian Kelly, the Irish need to exceed expectations this season.
The Irish seem to be at somewhat of a fork in the road. One fork leads the direction of the college football playoff. The other fork leads to the Pinstripe Bowl. Of course, there is the possibility that the Irish remain steady in 2018, but what fun is that?
Kelly’s career at Notre Dame could be at a similar fork in the road. The Irish should be able to take a significant step if they can build off last season’s success. Anything less would be a major disappointment and may be an indictment on Kelly’s coaching. For Kelly, it would seem the window of opportunity closes a little bit with each passing year that Notre Dame doesn’t make it to the College Football Playoff.
While the offseason wasn’t ideal for Notre Dame, the Irish still have the tools in place to compete in 2018. The quarterback play should be better. The defensive play should be better. It’s easy to look down the line at position groups and expect most groups to take a step forward, with the exception maybe of the offensive line. That said, the re-tooled line should be more than adequate this season. Notre Dame should compete for the playoff this year.
But it won’t be easy.
With games against Michigan, Virginia Tech, Florida State, USC, and others, the Irish will have their work cut out for them. Factor in Notre Dame’s scheduling snafu (the Irish play one home game in October and one in November) and that’s a whole new ballgame. Still, the Irish should be contending in November.
Will 10-3 be good enough for Kelly to stick around another year? Probably. Will much less cost him his job? Maybe. Either way, if things go south in South Bend, Kelly’s seat will once again be pretty warm.