Even Steven?

IrishEyes kicks off its summer-long prediction series by addressing the bottom line.

This is the first of 30-plus detailed predictions regarding the 2010 season. Last year's series offered a mixed bag of good ("Clausen will post a TD-to-INT ratio better than 3:1") …bad ("Notre Dame will allow fewer than 30 touchdowns") …incredible ("ND will play at least 8 games ‘Close and Late'") …and way, way off. (10-3)

To kick off the 2010 series, I decided to stay with the theme of accountability linked above and go straight to the heart of the matter: it's time to start winning.

Prediction #1 – The recruiting class of '07 will finish above .500

It's not going to be easy, but it's fair to say "most" (as in, more than 50 percent) Irish fans reasonably expect the season to play out in a manner similar to what I've detailed in the final section below.

The group of 18 student athletes in the recruiting class of 2007 is now 15 strong thanks to a transfer (a common occurrence) and a pair of early draft entrants (not quite as common for a group that loses twice at home to Navy). The haul was ranked 11th overall by Scout.com, boasting five in its Top 100 with 11 recruits earning four stars (Jimmy Clausen was the only prospect to earn a fifth).

The group helped facilitate the end of the program's ridiculous 9-game Bowl losing streak; it produced more than a dozen individual records courtesy of the pitch-and-catch tandem pictured above, and it enters the 2010 season with 16 wins and 21 losses to its credit.

Before we look at season's end 2010, a look back…

Four-year records of the least successful recruiting classes in program history:

  • 1960 – 14-25: Coached by Joe Kuharich and Hugh Devore (final season).
  • 1959 – 17-25: Kuharich only
  • 1958 – 18-22: Coached by Terry Brennan (first season only) and Kuharich.
  • 1956 and 1957 – 20-20: Coached by Brennan and Kuharich (final season). Though the 1957 team had a solid first season with a 7-3 finish and No. 10 national ranking.
  • 1983 – 24-22: Coached by Gerry Faust and Lou Holtz (final season). The group enjoyed two bowl appearances and one win. It's also largely recognized as the class that laid the groundwork for Notre Dame's most recent championship season.
  • 2006 – 26-24: Coached by Charlie Weis (produced the most important lower-tier bowl victory in our collective lifetimes...hopefully)

Since that was no fun, let's take a break and fire off the most successful classes from eras past:

  • Class of 1946: Frank Leahy's teams finished 36-0-2 over their fours seasons and won three national titles (I'd like to wish the incoming class luck in its quest…)
  • Class of 1919: Knute Rockne's second squad finished 36-2-1 with two unofficial national titles (Rockne won his first officially recognized title in 1924 to cap a 37-3-1 run by the freshman class of 1921).
  • Class of 1937: Elmer Layden's final four-year group finished 28-7-1
  • Class of 1964: Ara Parseghian's first class finished 33-5-2 with a national title
  • Class of 1970: Ara's second-to-last group finished 37-6 with a national title:
  • Class of 1975: Dan Devine's first class finished 37-10 with a national title
  • Class of 1988: Lou Holtz's third class finished 43-7 with a national title. Holtz's 1990 recruiting haul, generally recognized as his best single class, finished a snake-bitten 40-8-1, losing the national title game (on a called back punt return touchdown) as freshmen and then finishing No. 2 in the nation as seniors. ND 31 National Champions 24...

Each of the program's last three coaches found more success from his first official class (transition classes) than any that followed:

  • Bob Davie's recruiting class of 1997 finished 30-19
  • Tyrone Willingham's first official in 2002 haul finished 30-19 with significant fourth-year help from Charlie Weis
  • Weis' lowest rated group, also his first and smallest class from ‘05, finished 29-21. Weis' '08 class (13-12) and '09 haul (6-6) can't reach the rarified air of the past, but two strong seasons could rank them higher than any since the Holtz era.

Looking Ahead:

Though only 12 games are guaranteed, the lack of a 13th would mean my prediction is ridiculously off-base, so we'll approach the possibilities below with the assumption of a bowl game.

A 9-4 record in 2010 would earn the Class of '07 a .500 record at 25-25 (with two bowl appearances).

10-3 next fall would place them two games over .500 at 26-24 – the same record the recruiting class of 2006 will exit campus with later this month.

Finally, an 8-5 finish would place the '07 Class at 24-26 over four years, and attach the dubious distinction as the first class to post a losing record at the school since 1960.

For inspiration, next year's seniors need look no further than the Recruiting Class of 1983, a group that experienced more lows than highs in its time at the University. Regardless, they're remembered fondly for their final season efforts in 1986 (as the best 5-6 squad in world history…or at least that's how I remember them).

Look for the seniors-to-be to pull off a similar final act, pull out the type of close contests that felled the '86 squad, and post a four-year winning record by season's end.

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