Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2023

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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46 DECEMBER 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED O ver the years, you learn there are at least three absolutes about Notre Dame football: 1. The next recruiting class is always the one that will "take you to the next level." 2. The next quarterback is always the one that will "take you to the next level." 3. The next head coach, or next of- fensive coordinator, or next defensive coordinator … or maybe even office as- sistant will "take you to the next level." Or at least that's what we always want to believe. Yet for the 18th straight year, Notre Dame's football walk through the wil- derness culminated with three or more losses, yet another year filled with im- mense promise but once again falling short of expectations. This had the real- istic makings of a 10-2 team that found a way to be 8-4 despite all the talk of "momentum" at the end of 2010. While always mindful and respectful of "The Man In The Arena" (see for- mer president Teddy Roosevelt's speech on this) and their efforts, what made this season particularly disappointing is you don't often get a confluence of factors such as a well-regarded senior class, quarterback experience, favorable schedule, etc., and come up with such an unfulfilling final result. RECRUITING REVIEWS Every February it's the same rheto- ric everywhere: "Hey, the future looks bright!" It will be no different in Febru- ary 2012. The reality is seldom in the last 20 years has Notre Dame signed a collective overall class on offense and defense as promising as the one in February 2008, the one that just completed its senior year. The Irish and Alabama were pretty much the consensus top two classes that February. The Crimson Tide has held up its end of the hype, even with the early NFL defection of Julio Jones, by posting a 47-6 record from 2008-11 with one national title and vying for a second this year. Notre Dame, meanwhile, is 29-21. Such disparity is disconcerting. It's really not about competing for national titles or BCS bids. It's how do you avoid home losses to the likes of USF, Tulsa, UConn, Syracuse and Navy? With each new coaching regime, we hear about how the previous classes must be flushed out and a coach must bring in "his recruits." It's a vicious cy- cle that never seems to end. One of the positives of this season is that Notre Dame, for the most part, did put the hammer down on teams that did not match up in personnel, from Purdue (38-10) to Maryland (45-21), and scored 50-plus points against service academies Air Force (59-33) and Navy (56-14). Problem is, Notre Dame looked too much like the neighborhood bully who picks on the smaller kids but rarely seems to answer the bell when it is put in the ring with someone its own size or bigger. QB QUANDARY From a game-changing dual threat (Demetrius Jones) to the LeBron James of college football (Jimmy Clausen), to the classic, beloved leader (Dayne Crist), to the baby-faced assassin (Tommy Rees), the next Irish quarter- back always seems to be "The Man." Probably the most discouraging aspect of this season was the lack of a true evolution at quarterback. Crist was pulled after one half, and for all the moxie and poise displayed by Rees, it was painfully obvious that an inabil- ity to run at least some zone option or stretch defenses with a vertical game would never truly have Kelly's idea of the spread offense humming. Now, sophomore Andrew Hendrix is on deck with both a shotgun arm and an ability to make plays with his feet. He fits more of the prototype, until people start clamoring for Everett Golson … or maybe even recruiting target Gunner Kiel, the nation's top prep quarterback. Which direction will the quarterback future go? Do you now start all over next year at quarterback? What if tight end Tyler Eifert joins Michael Floyd in the NFL? Is there an elite target for the Irish? If this program is going to get out from walking in the desert, achieving stability at quarterback will be essential. YEAR 3 Don't look now, but Kelly is about to embark on his third season at Notre Dame, the one we always refer to as "The Judgment Year." After two seasons, there are reasons for and evidence of hope, specifically an emphasis along the lines and on defense … but there is also plenty of head scratch- ing, particularly on recent huge stages versus Michigan, USC and Stanford. You don't see an Ara or Lou right now. For now, you just want to be optimistic it will be better for the long haul than Bob, Tyrone or Charlie. Kelly's program has proven it can deal with and rebound from failure and misery, but the ultimate test is how it deals with success. The fun part is being the under- dog with nothing to lose; the champions are the ones who don't let the moment overwhelm them, as so often seems to be the case with Notre Dame the past 18 years. Next year, the Irish have too many questions in the defensive backfield, at quarterback, at running back, at re- ceiver and at linebacker — especially if junior Manti Te'o departs for the NFL — to judge Kelly's regime by whether or not he vies for a national title. This past year we viewed 9-3 as the minimum base. Next year, it might be 8-4. That's the reality when you remain in the wilderness. ✦ BEST OF THE FIFTH QUARTER ✦ LOU SOMOGYI ✦ DECEMBER 2011 Walk In The Wilderness Continues EDITOR'S NOTE: The late, great Lou Somogyi possessed an unmatched knowledge of Notre Dame football, and it was his mission in life to share it with others. Those of us at Blue & Gold Illustrated would like to continue to provide his wis- dom and unique perspective from his more than 37 years covering the Fighting Irish for this publication. Through two years in charge, head coach Brian Kelly's program proved it could deal with and rebound from failure and misery. The ultimate test, however, was how it eventually dealt with success. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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