Online Now 1030

Is Notre Dame ‘A Year Away?’

I was wondering if there was any correlation between the 1988 team and this year's team. Doesn't appear so, since Notre Dame is considered more than a year away, I would imagine. It would be great if ND could perform "above" expectations for a change.

Seniors such as linebacker Manti Te'o would rather not want to believe Notre Dame is still "a year away."

I believe most people are looking toward 2013 as the year to make a move, hence "a year away," because:

1. The quarterback situation should become stabilized by then, with 2012 the used as the year to get it resolved. If not by 2013, then there are problems.

2. Junior year is when most players begin to hit their stride. There can be “sophomore jinxes” (like this year’s hockey team, which made the Frozen Four last year with numerous freshmen playing key roles), and by senior year many players have their eyes more on the pros. Thus, it’s in 2013 that the Aaron Lynchs, Stephon Tuitts, Troy Niklas, Ishaq Williams' etc., should begin to blossom fully on defense, while the five junior offensive linemen do likewise on offense, and maybe even an Everett Golson at QB or Davaris Daniels at receiver or Ben Koyack at tight end.

3. This year is when the young wideouts and defensive backs — especially the corners — might receive a baptism of fire, whereas by 2013 they should be more seasoned.

4. Denard Robinson is gone at Michigan in 2013, as is Matt Barkley at USC and Landry Jones at Oklahoma — and the latter two this time are at home (not that playing at home has been a big deal for Notre Dame).

Those are just a few of the reasons why the Irish might be considered "a year away."

Prior to the start of the 1988 season, do you remember where Notre Dame was ranked? Also, what was the prevailing opinion from the so-called "experts" out there on how their season would turn out?

The popular opinion prior to the 1988 season was the Irish were indeed "a year away" from potentially returning to national title contention. The reasons were two-fold:

1) After improving from 5-6 in Lou Holtz's first season to 8-4 the next, the Irish lost way too much to be a bona fide contender in 1988. They lost Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown, the entire starting offensive line (although Tim Grunhard did have four starts), the entire defensive line, plus 1986 USA Today Defensive Player of the Year John Foley saw his football career ended because of an injury that couldn't be surgically repaired.

2) Furthermore, there was a huge question at QB with Tony Rice, who could run the option well but was considered a horrible passer. He completed only 42 percent as a sophomore with 1 TD and four interceptions. All the best teams had superior passers, like Miami with Steve Walsh, USC with Rodney Peete, UCLA with Troy Aikman, etc.

Despite those concerns, Notre Dame had recruited the No. 1 recruiting class in 1987 and 1988. The 1987 group had sophomores like Todd Lyght, Ricky Watters, Tony Brooks, Chris Zorich, George Williams, Mike Heldt, Tim Ryan, etc. while the freshmen featured Rocket Ismail, Derek Brown and Arnold Ale, among others. They were expected to start blossoming in 1989, not 1988, hence "the year away" tag.

Notre Dame started the season No. 13 in the AP poll and was generally considered top-20 material. An 8-3 regular season finish was the popular pick — with losses to defending national champ and No. 1 Miami and at USC in the finale — with another loss snuck in there somewhere.

However, Notre Dame was rated as high as No. 5 by two major pre-season publications — Don Heinrich's and Inside Sports. Football News had it at No. 10.

ESPN’s “Pope of College Football,” Beano Cook, picked Notre Dame to finish 11-1 in the pre-season — but a year earlier he said Notre Dame would win the national title in 1988 because it was the 100th anniversary of Knute Rockne's birth. He stunned everyone by picking West Virginia to win the 1988 national title, but he reasoned that they had good enough talent to finish 11-0 against a favorable schedule.

Indeed, Notre Dame ended up playing West Virginia for the national title, which the Irish won.

I can't see Brian Kelly thinking Tommy Rees can deliver what he wants at quarterback, the dual threat, the play extender … like either Andrew Hendrix or Everett Golson. Unless, of course, he tanks the offense, plays Rees and finds the power running game. Could that happen?

Brian Kelly demonstrated an ability to adept at the end of 2010 when he had to insert Rees in for the injured Dayne Crist. The Irish ran virtually no power packages in the first nine games, but with Rees they had a regular two-tight end package with Tyler Eifert and Mike Ragone pretty much as their base. It was about playing to the team's strengths, and they finished 4-0 by doing so. That is the essence of coaching — finding and maximizing strengths while being able to cover up or mask more vulnerable areas.

Now, Kelly and the staff are antsy about finally being able to run "their" offense in the eve of their third season.

In 2011, it didn't seem there was any confidence yet to turn the reins over to Hendrix or Golson. While Rees has his limits, especially as a runner, a lot of the criticism he took last year was unwarranted, if not unfair. He displayed a lot of moxie at both Michigan and Pitt by directing late touchdown drives — and there is no way we could have envisioned either Hendrix or Golson at that stage of their careers capable of doing the same.

After the devastating fumble at the goal line by Crist against USC gave the Trojans a 24-10 lead, while the rest of the stadium seem demoralized, an injured Rees stepped in the next series and led the Irish right back down the field for a TD. Again, seeing Hendrix or Golson doing that at that stage of their career was difficult.

We all like to indulge in fantasy that Notre Dame has another John Huarte (1964), Joe Montana (1977) or Kevin McDougal (1993) perhaps languishing on the bench, but what can't be forgotten is all three of those QBs were seniors when they busted out. They had at least been in college practices for three years and had more than a rudimentary understanding of the college game and their teammates. When they were freshmen and sophomores, they too struggled tremendously.

If Hendrix or Golson do indeed have the greater upside and are the future, that should be manifested some time this season. Whether it will be early, middle or late in the season is uncertain. If the time comes for them, they must also carpe diem. Either one must be able to do more than Rees, not just have the job given to him.

Already have an account? Sign In