The destruction of an ego is always a great thing; especially in NCAA Football.
Entering into week 9 of the college football season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are ranked #5 in the ATP Top 25. I have been following Notre Dame for at least 4 or 5 years now, and they have barely kept themselves in the top 25 for most of that time; however, this season seems different. It seems that the “Notre Dame mystique” is returning. For those of you not into College Football, let me give you a brief background. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are one of the most storied football programs in America: with 11 National Championships, 7 Heisman trophy winners and 96 All-Americans, they were once an unbeatable machine. However, in recent years, the Irish have definitely not been fighting; mostly running and hiding away from the competition. They have been mediocre at best for more than a decade and yet they still continue to retain special status within the NCAA (they are not part of a conference and are therefore able to govern themselves, as the only college sports team with an individual television deal with a major cable network (NBC).
Why all of a sudden, after years of mediocrity for a perennial college powerhouse, is Notre Dame finally achieving success? Is it because they followed the path of USC and bought the best high school players in the country? Nope. Is it because they hired a legendary coach like Nick Saban in Alabama? Nope. It is for two simple reasons: the program is finally being humble after years of an inflated ego, and Brian Kelly’s redevelopment of what Notre Dame football should be is working tremendously.
What is this “Humbling” you speak of?
This so-called Humbling process began this past off-season after Brian Kelly’s second season with the Irish ended with a disappointing loss in the covenant (psych, not really) Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State. Both Kelly and the Irish received much criticism over his failure thus far to bring the Irish back to national glory, including an ESPN article by Rick Reilly in which he tore Notre Dame a “new one” by criticizing them for having a cable television deal and not being in a conference in the NCAA. Reilly also says how they should not enjoy these privileges when they do not deserve them based on their play. Now whether Notre Dame noticed this article and/or other criticisms is highly doubtful, but it seems as though the program looked at these and somehow took it to heart. Since September, dramatic changes have been made to the football program including pseudo-joining the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) through playing half of their games against ACC teams (even though they are not officially a part of the conference) and cancelling their games against the Michigan Wolverines (after 2014), a game that has been going on since 1887. These changes, both large and small, show how Notre Dame is seemingly taking their criticisms seriously and wants to destroy their notions of entitlement, especially when their program is not performing in a congruent manner to the benefits they are receiving.
WTF??? How is this Notre Dame Football???
Watching Notre Dame football this year has been quite the shock to any fan. Going back to the days of Joe Montana, Joe Theismann, and even Brady Quinn (yes, the man himself, Brady Quinn) Notre Dame won games with a high-flying offense that would outscore their opponents regardless of how many points their defense gave up. In recent years, Brian Kelly tried to do the same thing but with Jimmy Claussen and Tommy Rees as QB… a far cry from Joe Montana or even Brady Quinn in his college days. Clearly in the off-season, Kelly got his head out of his a$$ and changed what we called Notre Dame Football, putting emphasis on the defense and making them the backbone of the team. How has this worked out? Well, the Notre Dame defense, anchored by Heisman candidate Manti T’eo, is currently second in the NCAA averaging a stingy 9.4 points against while the offense is ranked 77th, averaging 25.9 points per game with a ratio of 25.9 to 9.4. It’s no wonder Notre Dame is 7-0. Their defense is their backbone, while the offense, as mediocre as it may be, is opportunistic and when the team needs a big play, they deliver to help solidify the win.
Will these changes lead Notre Dame to win their first National Championship in the BSC era and first since 1988? They will definitely need some help with the teams around them but if the results from the changes made this offseason are any indication, Notre Dame is finally back and around to stay for many years to come.