Media Fawning All Over Notre Dame; What Else is New?
Like many of you, I’m feverishly preparing for the college football season by reading every preview magazine I can get my hands on. That’s where you can find Notre Dame in its usual place: Over ranked and over hyped. - Jim Weber
Hearing that “Notre Dame is back” draws more groans nowadays than Brett Favre unretirement rumors.
You can’t blame fans for being skeptical; ever since Lou Holtz left South Bend in 1996, this proclamation has fallen flat over and over again.
There was the Bob Davie Era when the Irish went to the 2001 Fiesta Bowl after seven straight wins in which the Golden Domers had supposedly woken up the echoes. Those were quickly silenced with a 41-9 thrashing by Oregon State in which the Irish were thoroughly humiliated by being outscored 29-0 in the third quarter alone.
Davie was fired one year later.
Then came the stone-faced Tyrone Willingham, who started 8-0 during his first year with the Domers in 2002, including a road victory over Florida State that propelled Notre Dame to No. 4 in the AP poll and had people comparing Willingham to Ara Parseghian.
After losing a shocker at home to Boston College three weeks earlier, Notre Dame was trashed by USC in the L.A. Coliseum. Not only did the Irish lose by 31 points, they were outgained in yardage by the worst margin in school history. After another blowout in the 2003 Gator Bowl and two more sub-par seasons, Willingham was gone as well.
Along came Charlie Weis, who had people proclaiming the Irish “were back” not once, but twice.
The first time was after Notre Dame jumped out to a 5-2 record and would have upset No. 1 USC if it weren’t for the “Bush Push” in 2005. Weis received his infamous 10-year contract extension and the Weis hype kicked up a notch when he led Notre Dame to a BCS bowl game as a rookie head coach.
The Irish proceeded to get run over by Ohio State in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl and by LSU in the 2007 Sugar Bowl. After a 3-9 season in ‘07, things looked bleak.
But following a 2008 season in which the Irish lost four of their last five games and finished just 7-6, expectations were sky high for the ‘09 Irish and QB Jimmy Clausen, with people once again predicting the Irish to make a BCS bowl and analyst Beano Cook (along with, of course, Holtz) predicting Notre Dame would play in the BCS National Championship Game.
The Golden Domers didn’t even play in a bowl game, losing their final four games to finish the season at 6-6 as Weis was ushered out the door as well.
That brings us to the 2011 season where, just one year into Brian Kelly’s tenure, people are proclaiming the Irish are once again back. Phil Steele has Notre Dame ranked No. 7 in his legendary preview magazine while Athlon goes a step further, ranking Notre Dame No. 6 ahead of the likes of LSU and Nebraska.
Granted, there’s plenty of reason for optimism in South Bend. The Irish won their last four games, including their first victory over USC since 2001. They also return 16 starters, including potential NFL first-round draft picks in WR Michael Floyd and LB Manti Te’o.
No, I don’t think Kelly is fool’s gold like Davie, Willingham and Weis. He’s proven himself to be a winner at too many places to flop like his predecessors, and I fully expect Notre Dame to annually compete for BCS bowls under Kelly’s watch.
But ranked among the top six or seven teams in the nation? Pardon me, but I’m a little confused.
Are we talking about the same Notre Dame team that lost five games last season, including a blowout loss to Navy and a home loss to Tulsa? The same squad that averaged giving up nearly 400 yards of offense per game over the first nine contests? And the same Irish that still haven’t settled on a quarterback and whose presumed starter, Dayne Crist, is coming off a major knee injury and is still unproven?
Despite all that, there are even some people projecting the Irish as a national title contender dark horse.
Figure out how the Domers are going to play in the Superdome this January with a schedule that includes a night game at Michigan, a home contest against a formidable Michigan State team, hosting a revenge-minded USC team in South Bend, a trip to Landover to face Maryland and the season finale vs. Heisman favorite Andrew Luck and Stanford in Palo Alto. And that doesn’t even mention some other tough games (i.e. vs. Air Force).
Pardon me if I think the absolute best-case scenario is for the Irish to lose only two regular-season games.
Of course, nothing shows how overhyped Notre Dame is on an annual basis than the blindless praise for the Irish’s starting quarterback. Remember when Cook once said Ron Powlus would win two Heisman Trophies while at Notre Dame and Mel Kiper Jr. said Jimmy Clausen should be the top overall pick of the 2010 NFL draft?
Well, now it’s Crist’s turn to be deified.
He is being named to multiple national watch lists (i.e. Maxwell, Davey O’Brien) without even winning the starting job over Tommy Rees yet. The sports gambling site Bodog.com has Crist at 75-1 odds to win the Heisman Trophy, tied with Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez and ahead of South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery and Wisconsin RB Montee Ball.
This is all based off nine career starts in which his team has gone 4-5 (granted, he was out most of the Michigan game and barely played against Tulsa)?
I do think Notre Dame will have solid quarterback play this season from either Crist, who is supremely talented, or Rees, who led the Irish to four straight victories to end the year. Both appear more than capable and Kelly has a history of turning his quarterbacks into stars.
But Crist contending for the Heisman Trophy while possibly leading Notre Dame to the national title game?
It’s premature, to say the least.
And given their history, let’s make the Irish earn their accolades for once.
Jim Weber is the president and founder of LostLettermen.com. His column appears each Monday and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.