What Should We Expect From Brian Kelly in 2010?

After a 9-3 season, which was capped off by a BCS bowl game against Ohio State, the Charlie Weis era at Notre Dame took a drastic turn for the worse.  In his last three seasons at the helm, Weis led the Irish to a combined record of 16-21.  Last season’s 6-6 record marked the end of Weis’ five-year run in South Bend.

Brian Kelly enters the spring season with an empty cupboard on offense (google images)

Enter former Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly.  As we head into spring football, College FootBlog takes a look at the program that Kelly inherits and the current state of what is perhaps college football’s most storied program.

 

The strength of Notre Dame last season was the offense, led by future first rounders, quarterback Jimmy Clausen and wide receiver Golden Tate.  As good as the offense was last year, Kelly will have a lot to replace.  As mentioned, Clausen and Tate chose to leave after their junior seasons, and four of the five starters on the offensive line are now gone.  

The Irish will return starting tailback Armando Allen, but the rushing attack was not exactly explosive a year ago.  Allen, who led the team in rushing, managed 697 yards rushing, but he only managed to break 100 yards once all season (against Purdue).  Allen also only managed to find the end zone three times on the ground all year.

Wide receiver Michael Floyd has shown some great promise and could very easily be a first round draft pick in the next two seasons.  The problem Kelly and his staff have now is finding someone to throw him the football.  Junior Dayne Crist was the second-ranked quarterback in the nation coming out of high school, but since his arrival from the 2008 class, he has yet to see any significant playing time, and although he is ahead of schedule, the junior QB from California is recovering from a torn ACL, which he suffered last fall against Washington State.

That leaves true freshman Tommy Rees, who just enrolled at Notre Dame in January to run the offense in the spring.  After Rees, the only other option at quarterback is wide receiver John Goodman.

Now, for the bad news–Notre Dame’s defense was 86th nationally in total defense, averaging just under 400 yards allowed per game.  The good news for Irish fans is that last year’s defense was very young, with three of the four leading tacklers coming back for next season, including linebacker Manti Te’o, who started last season as a true freshman.

Despite the departures of several key starters on offense and a struggling defense last season, Kelly and his staff should have an improved defense in 2010, and overall, Kelly has already proven to be a more successful head coach at the college level than the last three head coaches brought into the program.

The offense will likely struggle at times for the Irish in 2010, but look for Kelly and his staff to do a much better job of coaching the entire team than Weis did.  Unlike his predecessor, Kelly has shown that he can win with great offense, as he did last season in Cincinnati, but he has also shown that he can win with a solid defense, as he did in 2008.

A relatively soft schedule in 2010, which includes Western Michigan, Army, a struggling Michigan program and a Stanford team (minus Toby Gerhart) should set Kelly up with a great opportunity to at least match Weis’ six win total from 2009.  But don’t expect much more than that from Notre Dame this fall.  The losses on offense and the state in which Weis left the defense will likely be too much to sustain.

Look out for Notre Dame in 2011, though, especially if Floyd stays for his senior season and Crist is as good as advertised.  That will also be the season that the Irish defense that was smacked around last season will be comprised of juniors and seniors with bigtime game experience.

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