Nine months since Charlie Weis slipped past the waiting media crunch and slinked out the side door in Palo Alto after career loss No. 27. Nine months since Brian Kelly took over the reigns with promises of "tough gentlemen" and a rededicated brand of Fighting Irish.
It's been at least nine months since Irish fans watched any football they cared about. It's been a lot longer since those same fans watched any football of which they could be proud.
That will likely change Saturday – first-year coaches have fared well in South Bend with a small sampling of exceptions. But unlike the previous three regimes, the Brian Kelly era appears to have staying power: a proven winner; at every level of college football, whose 20-year journey in the trade led him to the biggest Saturday stage in the land.
Nine months after the 2009 season ended in a final flurry of Golden's greatness (and missed tackles by the gang from South Bend); the Irish are ready to tee up the 2010 season.
Here are a few things you can expect:
The Buzz is BackThe first Saturday in September will arrive with fanfare and legitimate hope from the fan base for the first time since the 2006 season when the Irish opened as the nation's No. 2 team.
Three seasons of poor to average football greatly lowered expectations in South Bend. Tickets became plentiful; area hotel rooms remained empty and for the first time in recorded history, I walked from car to Stadium/press box undeterred on a game day Saturday – Senior Day vs. Connecticut (I literally never had to break stride through the half-empty Joyce parking lot on my way inside.)
Purdue/ND will be the easiest ticket of the Notre Dame season, because the trepidation that remains for skeptical Irish fans will be eased early in the Brian Kelly era. His first team won't win the national championship, but the days of the unprepared and uninspired are past – win or lose this season, Irish fans will gain a sense of pride in the program not seen since the fleeting fall of 2005, when We Is ND swept through South Bend for three magic months, only to fade at the hands of a Buckeye Fiesta at season's end.
If Thomas Edison was correct, and success really is 1 percent inspiration and 99 perspiration, Notre Dame Football is in good hands for the foreseeable future.
Key MatchupA new staff and new attitude cures many ills. Tomorrow we'll find out if defending the ball in the air and/or, tackling the guy that catches it, is one of them.
Purdue boasts a dual-threat QB in Miami transfer Robert Marve and one of the nation's top receiving targets in the brutish Keith Smith. That combination alone would be worth three touchdowns and 150+ yards vs. the 2009 Irish.
Defensive backs coach Chuck Martin and D-coordinator Bob Diaco have been tasked with the back line's turnaround. The unit: four scholarships deep at both cornerback and safety has a collective 31 recruiting star designations to its credit, will need to play at a much higher level with three dual-threat quarterbacks on the slate over the first four weeks.
"You have to be disciplined in how you get after the quarterback," Kelly said Thursday when asked about the added threat of a mobile QB. "You have to have some things in place – maybe put a spy on him – there's a lot of things within our defensive structure, that if we're having problems with a quarterback breaking contain, we have some answers."
(For more on Marve and Smith, as well as three key Boilers defenders, go to IrishEyes weekly matchup review: They're a Handful.)
Spot Them 3Purdue has a weapon Irish fans covet: a bona fide, cannon-legged, just get me somewhere on that side of the field place-kicker.
Boilermakers junior Carson Wiggs ranks among the nation's best, drilling field goals of 59, 55 and another pair from 49 yards out last season.
Look for 3-4 more three-pointers by Wiggs Saturday as the Irish defense yields yards but toughens near the red zone vs. a Purdue offense replete with uncertainty on the offensive line and a running back unit that is without star running back Ralph Bolden, who tore his ACL in the spring.
In a late-week surprise, Wiggs' Irish counterpart will not be 2009 freshman record-setter Nick Tausch. Tausch, who hit 14 straight field goals last season before missing his final two (first-half) attempts of the year in a 23-21 loss to Navy, lost the Game One place-kicking duties to senior David Ruffer.
"Ruffer is going to start at kicker," Kelly noted Thursday evening when curiously pressed the subject. "Ruffer, we felt had a great week. The ball comes off his foot really well. So he's earned that starting position. That is a change in the depth chart from what you saw."
Ruffer connected of 5 of 5 field goal attempts in Tausch's stead over the season's final three games last fall, including one overtime kick vs. Connecticut that briefly keep the Irish alive on Senior Day.
The former walk-on will handle kickoff duties as expected.
Return of the ManIrish fans met the real Michael Floyd last September: a 10-half, 358-yard, 5 touchdown monster on his way to re-writing the Notre Dame record books. The post-injury Floyd of November was a shell of his former self.
From both on and off-the-record accounts of Floyd since, I get the feeling the Floyd the staff saw in the spring resembled the November Floyd much more so than the early-season force of 2009.
Floyd must still prove he can remain upright (he's finished just 17 of the 25 games Notre Dame has played since his arrival. But Brian Kelly's mid-August revelation that Floyd was previously "overhyped" but "in 20 years, has not had a player that has worked as hard as Michael Floyd" bodes well for fans that want to see their favorite players and a team's supposed stars improve over the course of their careers.
A healthy, improved, focused Floyd will dominate college football Saturdays in Kelly's spread attack. Purdue's defensive backfield features four new starters tomorrow.
Welcome to downfield Hell.
In With the NewBrady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen set 27Notre Dame passing records over the last seven football seasons. Combined W/L record in that span: 45-35.
Dayne Crist will probably never surpass Quinn's career touchdown total (95) or Clausen's single-season accuracy mark (68.0 percent). But with good health, consistent improvement, and ascent to the average Brian Kelly success rate, Crist's goal should be to match or surpass Quinn's program record of 29 wins as a starting quarterback (if he doesn't edge by Clausen's paltry total 16 by late November of next season, we'll all be looking for something else to watch over the 2011 Holidays.)
His expected three-year journey as a starter begins with Saturday's first step:
Notre Dame 30 Purdue 19