It really felt like this was the year Notre Dame finally would rebound and get back to the BCS. They haven’t been there since January 2006, when Ohio State and Ted Ginn hammered Brady Quinn and the Irish, 34-20.*
Back in January, I wrote that the Irish would be serious a serious BCS threat in 2011 because a lot of talent was returning, the recruiting class was impressive, and the schedule was manageable.
The Irish opener against South Florida Saturday began with such promise – QB Dayne Crist led Notre Dame into the red zone with ease. And then on 3rd and goal, Jonas Gray was stripped on the 1-yard line, the ball popped out, and Kayvon Webster raced 96 yards the other way for a touchdown. The Irish never recovered.
Plagued by penalties (eight), turnovers (five), and dropped passes (lost count), Notre Dame fell behind 16-0, and after a quarterback change and two rain delays, the Irish lost their opener, 23-20. Crist threw a terrible 2nd quarter interception – right after a costly Michael Floyd holding penalty negated a TD – and after a two hour halftime due to lightning, he was replaced by last year’s hero, Tommy Rees.
On Notre Dame’s second drive of the third quarter, Rees connected on a TD pass to Floyd (12-154-2 TDs) and I heard Don Criqui proclaim on the radio, “And Tommy Rees will be Notre Dame’s quarterback for the rest of the season.”
Collectively, it was a clunker of a performance reminiscent of stinkers from the forgettable Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis eras. How, with a veteran team, could an offseason filled with promise crumble so quickly? Turnovers do happen, but five? When you ring up 508 yards of total offense – exactly double what South Florida generated, you’re supposed to win. The Notre Dame defense wasn’t terrible – idiotic penalties aside – and South Florida was only 2-for-14 on third down.
Next up? A trip to Michigan for the first night game in the storied history of the Big House. The Wolverines defeated Western Michigan, 34-10, in a rain-shortened game (three quarters). Notre Dame lost to Michigan in a 2010 classic – Denard Robinson totaled 502 yards of total offense (including this awesome TD run) and guided the Wolverines on a game-winning drive in the final minute to defeat the Irish, 28-24.
It’ll be a lengthy climb to the BCS if Notre Dame falls to 0-2.
*Yes, I have deleted the 41-14 Sugar Bowl loss to JaMarcus Russell in 2007 from memory. One can stomach two BCS losses in a row. Three? Come on, that didn’t actually happen. The NFL and the Raiders certainly wish it the game never happened; it propelled Russell to the No. 1 pick in the draft.