Will Notre Dame ever contend for another national championship again or even be considered among college football’s elite again? These questions have been discussed by college football analysis all over the country over the past couple of the years. The answer, Yes.Not only has a 7-0 start got the Fighting Irish in the top 5 of the BCS rankings but they are now playing for a spot in the Discover BCS National Championship.
The last time Notre Dame was being mentioned in national championship talk was in the beginning of 2006 under head coach, Charlie Weis. The Irish entered the season as #2 and Brady Quinn as a Heisman hopeful. But a lost in week three to Michigan put a damper on their title hopes. After losing back to back BCS bowl games in 2005 and 2006, questions arose about the future of one of the most historic college football programs.
After a 3-9 season in 2007, 7-6 record in ’08 and 6-6 in ’09, Notre Dame had no choice but to fire Weis and find someone to return the program to glory. Big names such as Bob Stoops were mentioned as possible candidates to fill the vacancy, but the Brian Kelly was the man named to the job. Kelly had spent the previous four years as the head coach of Cincinnati where he led the Bearcats to a perfect 12-0 record in 2009. As he became took over a struggling Notre Dame program, Kelly was under pressure to get the job done, and fast.
In their first season under Kelly, the Irish went 8-5 and won the Sun-Bowl against Miami. Although an 8-5 record is not where people expect Notre Dame to be, a young nucleus lead by now Heisman hopeful, Manti Te’o. Along with the current players, Notre Dame had a strong recruiting class that featured DaVaris Daniels, Stephon Tuitt, and Evertt Golson.
After another 8-5 season, loss in the Champs Sports Bowl to Florida State, and losing star wide receiver, Michael Floyd to the NFL draft, Notre Dame responded with the #9 recruiting class according to ESPN.com. The class featured one five-star, 9 four-stars, and 6 three-stars and finally things were looking up for Kelly and the fighting Irish.
Notre Dame entered the season with expectations but nothing to high with nation’s toughest schedule heading into the preseason. After a blowout of Navy in Ireland and a close home win against Purdue, Notre Dame found themselves in the top 20 heading the face #10 Michigan State on national television. The first opportunity for Notre Dame to gain some respect. And they did just that. Inspired by captain Manti Te’o who lost his grandmother and girlfriend that week, the Irish knocked off the Spartans 17-3. They then followed that up with two wins over Michigan and Miami and found themselves all the way up to #7 in the Associated Press rankings heading into the showdown against #17 Stanford.
The electrifying atmosphere was back in South Bend and Notre Dame looked to remain perfect. After a fourth quarter comeback in the rain by the Irish, the game would have to be settled in over time. Notre Dame struck first when back up quarterback Tommy Rees hooked up with wideout T.J. Jones for a touchdown and now the defense had the chance for the win in front of the deafening Notre Dame student section. After two first downs, the Cardinals had the ball inside the five yard. After two runs by back Stephen Taylor, Stanford had the ball at the one yard line. It appeared the game was headed for a second overtime, but not the Fighting Irish defense. Notre Dame stuffed Taylor on back to back plays and capped off one of the most emotional wins in quite some time and a staple win for the program.
In the first BCS rankings, Notre Dame was at #5 and just six wins away from a possible title game birth. Last Saturday, Notre Dame escaped the “trap” game against BYU and Kelly now has his team in perfect position heading into Oklahoma to face the #8 Sooners on Saturday.
Will Notre Dame continue to be a national championship contender this year? That will be determined on Saturday. But we do know that Irish are back and with a recruiting currently ranked sixth, they are here to stay.
*Photo Credit to Bleacherreport.com.