But is this just another false alarm or is this year’s Irish team the one that can get over the hump?
Quarterback Everett Golson and stud linebacker Manti Te’o, have helped the Irish have jump out to a 3-0 start this season highlighted by Saturday’s trouncing of the No. 10 team in the country. The win lifted Notre Dame to No. 11 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 and their best start since 2002.
Three games may not seem like a big sample size — especially when two of the games were against Purdue and Navy –- but when looking at the numbers and the on-field product it is hard to argue that this team does not have a serious shot at being in the BCS picture. For the first time in a long time, teams should fear Brian Kelly’s team.
The defense, anchored by Te’o at linebacker, has been as close to dominant as any unit in the country. They rank 10th in points allowed (10 per game) and sacks (3.7 per game), while coming in at 18th in total offense (288.7 per game). They locked down Michigan State’s electric Le’veon Bell, keeping him out of the end zone and allowing just 77 yards -– down from 280 yards and four touchdowns in the previous two games.
Last season’s BCS championship slugfest between LSU and Alabama proved that defensive dominance can still outweigh offensive ineptitude in college football. While the Irish offense is far from terrible, this unit certainly has some room to grow as the season goes along.
Golson has been solid, completing 58 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and has done a good job taking care of the ball with just one interception. Turnovers plagued this offense last season with Tommy Rees at the helm, with the current backup throwing 11 total interceptions, including five in the first three games.
Golson still shows flashes of inexperience on the field, but Kelly has kept the offense flowing a way that lets him use all the tools he brings to the position. Golson’s 36-yard touchdown strike to John Goodman was perhaps the play of the weekend and showed off both Golson’s speed –- a designed rollout helped avoid the rush –- and his arm strength as he threw back across the
The biggest concern with Notre Dame is the same concern that comes up year-after-year: their schedule. Being an independent has its advantages -– more TV money, scheduling freedom, national recruiting profile –- but it also requires an elevated strength of schedule. However, the Irish still have games against No. 18 Michigan, No. 9 Stanford, and No. 13 USC as well as rivalry games against Miami and Boston College that are always a crapshoot.
Kelly called their upset of Michigan State a “trademark win” because of their opportunistic offense and stout defense. With this formula bringing back memories of last season’s Alabama/LSU battles, the Irish could only just be getting started.