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The Times' preseason college football rankings: No. 11 Notre Dame

With eight starters returning on offense and defense, Brian Kelly's Irish appear poised to make some noise

August 20, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • Going into his second year as head coach, Brian Kelly has Notre Dame looking like a program on the rise. Wins against USC and Miami last year reestablished the Irish's confidence to compete athletically with upper-echelon programs.
Going into his second year as head coach, Brian Kelly has Notre Dame looking… (Matt Cashore / US Presswire )

Extra, extra, you could have read all about it: Dec. 10, 2009.

Notre Dame had just hired Brian Kelly away from Cincinnati.

A blogger on The Times' website (take one guess) instantly pontificated: "Kelly, who has led Cincinnati to a 12-0 record this year, was so obviously the right choice. Notre Dame, the 'it' program, for so many years, finally hired a coach with the 'it' factor."

Notre Dame whiffed on three pitches in 2004, when it lost former assistant Urban Meyer to Florida. It took Meyer four years in Gainesville to win two national titles.

Notre Dame, instead, settled for Charlie Weis.

Think of Kelly as the do-over for not getting Meyer. Kelly is Catholic with roots in the Mid-American Conference, a coach almost everyone recognized was the next up-and-comer.

It didn't look so good last year after Notre Dame dropped to 4-5 after consecutive losses to Navy and Tulsa. The Irish, though, finished 8-5 with closing statement wins against USC and the Miami Hurricanes.

Kelly has had to navigate through the horrible video-tower death of Declan Sullivan. He had to deal with losing starting quarterback Dayne Crist to another knee injury and the off-field troubles of Michael Floyd, his star receiver.

Floyd was recently, but not shockingly, reinstated after serving off-season penance for a DUI charge.

"I don't think you forget about it," Kelly said last week at Notre Dame media day. "You don't just throw it under the rug. But you don't spend time gnashing your teeth.… It's past that in that sense. But he's got to do the right things every day, and I think he has."

The Irish look like a program on the rise. Wins against USC and Miami last year reestablished the Irish's confidence to compete athletically with upper-echelon programs. Notre Dame returns eight starters on offense and defense.

Crist's injury last year allowed backup Tommy Rees to shine to the point the team now has two quarterbacks it can trust.

The defense is anchored by linebacker junior Manti Te'o, who chose Notre Dame over USC. Te'o led the Irish with 133 tackles.

Notre Dame's schedule is the kind of challenging that can get you fired or a bid to the Bowl Championship Series. Notre Dame has never played a Football Championship Subdivision school and isn't starting now. It starts out of the gate against South Florida, then has Michigan, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Air Force and USC. The season ends with nemesis Boston College and a season-ending trip to Stanford.

The right combination of 9-3 could put the Irish back in a major bowl.

Notre Dame has momentum. There is stability on both lines and in the head coach's office. Kelly has won big everywhere he's been. He took Cincinnati to the brink of a national title in 2009 and leveraged it into his dream job.

Notre Dame missed out on Meyer, but maybe the Irish got lucky this time.

The countdown so far: 25. Texas; 24. Georgia; 23. Arkansas; 22. Arizona State; 21. West Virginia; 20. Auburn; 19. Ohio State; 18. USC; 17. Michigan State; 16. Florida; 15. Virginia Tech; 14. Texas A&M; 13. Texas Christian; 12. South Carolina.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/dufresnelatimes

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