One of the many cliche's that coaches, media, and fans use in their preseason prognostications is that Team A needs to get off to a good start this season and make a strong showing in the first 3 or 4 games. That is as obvious of a general statement as you'll find- and you'll find it for most teams that have any chance to do anything during the year.
So, of course I just had to sit down after dinner and think about that statement and apply it's basic principles to Notre Dame. I really haven't given the broader scope of the season much thought as of yet. That may sound strange, given the fact that Notre Dame made it to the National Title game last year, and I could justifiably be thinking there could be more of the same- but I just haven't. My thinking has been much more isolated on individual games and roster movement. After that slab of ribs though... BOOM. The thought hit me.
Notre Dame HAS got to get off to a good start this year. [ Tips hat to Mr. Obvious]. Seriously though, there is just too much at stake for the program for them to get stuck in the muck. This is also something that the Irish haven't done under the Kelly regime. I'll explain...
The beginning of the Brian Kelly era kind of got off to a good start. The home opener was the season opener and it was against Purdue. Purdue isn't a great program, but at least it is a BCS conference school. That counts for something, right? The Irish won that game 23-12, but it never seemed like they totally OWNED the game. It wasn't close, but it isn't the dominance that we are looking for. What really tossed this train off the track was when the Irish then lost 3 straight. They lost two heartbreakers to Michigan and then Michigan State, and then got physically tossed around by Stanford while losing 37-14.
This was the same season Notre Dame lost to Navy and Tulsa in consecutive weeks, but then ended a long losing streak against USC and then won their bowl game over Miami. It was an odd season that got weird early- stayed weird, and then took off in the end. A better start would have changed the narrative greatly.
2011 got rough, even before the season began. It started with all of the problems that surfaced in 2010, and culminated in this ESPN video written by Wright Thompson. The country was laughing and snickering like never before. Those laughs and snickers only increased in volume as Notre Dame started off the season 0-2 by losing yet another couple of heartbreakers, this time to South Florida and Michigan.
The Irish did end up going on a bit of a run, going 8-1 over the next 9 games, but that one loss was an embarrassing ownage by a rival (USC) in prime time and at home. Notre Dame then whimpered out of the season by getting physically handled again by Stanford, and then losing to Florida State in their bowl game. Those two games exposed Notre Dame's depth and their physicality. It also set up something much bigger.
Notre Dame is irrelevant. At least that is what Rick Reilly would have liked you to believe in early August of that year. Sure the Irish slaughtered Navy to begin the year, but that was Navy and it was done in Ireland with a kickoff time of 9:00 in the morning. They then limped through a victory at home over Purdue while using two quarterbacks. 2-0, but a rough 2-0. In fact, the season was a lot like that start.
The Irish would show a flash of dominance, and then squeak a victory out of the jaws of defeat (usually against a lesser opponent). Notre Dame eventually got all the help it needed as it won its games (regardless of style) and others slipped here and there. Still, all of those close wins casted a doubt that turned into absolute truth after Notre Dame got dominated by Alabama in the BCS Title game.
Because of all of those close games in 2012, the BCS beatdown, and an offseason full of bad news, a team that made it to the BCS Title game starts the season off at #14 while a school like Ohio State which also had a 12-0 regular season against a much easier schedule with a lot of wins being very unimpressive, starts off ranked #2.
To fight against these scales of injustice, the Irish must leave ZERO doubt that they are one of the top teams in the country. This game against Temple MUST be won by a greater number than what the spread (29.5) has set. Then, over the course of the next 6 games against @Michigan, @Purdue, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Arizona State, and Southern Cal, the Irish must be impressive in victory. This doesn't mean that they need to blow all of these teams out, but they don't need a lot of "controversial" moments to arise.
Sounds rough, doesn't it? It also sounds like a fairy tale, doesn't it? Well, that's what championship seasons feel and look like. They feel and look like pure magic, and it's a magic that fills the hearts and minds of others. The Alabama game is going to weigh on voters minds ALL season whether it is justified or not. Notre Dame can only do what it can do. They have to win, and win impressively when asked to.
Can this happen? Sure. Will it happen? Well, that's why they play the games. We will start to find out soon enough. The key to this thing is to start strong and to end stronger. Some of the mishaps in the middle are just mishaps in the middle as long as the outcome is victory.
I want to see an Irish team- this 2013 Notre Dame Fighting Irish team come out of the gates swinging hard and landing every blow. We all do, and if ND can get that going for the first 3, 4, and 5 games, then we can pour another drink, because the best may be still yet to come.
Start strong. End Stronger.