By Nick Shepkowski–
When Tommy Rees‘ late fourth quarter pass against Tulsa wound up in the hands of John Flanders, the honeymoon for Brian Kelly at Notre Dame came to an official end. No longer do Domers want to hear about the “multiple national championships” Kelly intends to bring to South Bend, they would like to see this incarnation of the Fighting Irish be less like the teams of the past fifteen years.
Kelly’s biggest issue is that he is losing games at Notre Dame the exact same way we saw Charlie Weis lose them the last three years. Weis once decided to attempt a 4th and 8 from the Navy 24 in a tied game with under a minute to play: Navy sacked Evan Sharpley and won in South Bend for the first time since 1963 (the first of 3 of the last 4 contests Navy has won against once powerful Notre Dame).
Kelly has reminded us of these boneheaded decisions with a couple of his own, nine games into 2010. Instead of attempting a short field goal against Michigan to close out the first half in week two, he trusted backup Nate Montana to get the Irish in the end zone. Michigan made the stop and the Irish wound up losing by four after having to attempt a hail Mary at the end of the game despite being in field goal range. Saturday’s decision to let the inexperienced Tommy Rees not only cost Notre Dame a win against Tulsa but could spell doom for Brian Kelly going forward.
With three games left in 2010 Notre Dame must now go 2-1 against the likes of Utah, Army at Yankee Stadium, and at USC in order to become bowl eligible. Seeing as Utah currently ranks 5th in the BCS and the fact that Notre Dame hasn’t won at USC since 2000 its very likely the Irish will fall short of a bowl game in Brian Kelly’s first season in charge. Only one coach has ever won a BCS championship after failing to reach a bowl his first year at the school and that was Bobby Bowden in a very unique situation at Florida State.
We’ve seen bowl games work as a recruiting tool for coaches in the past (Manti T’eo), something Kelly could use help in after the events of the past couple of weeks. Kelly and the Irish have lost three commitments from former “verbals”, all of which are no longer considering attending Notre Dame. Aaron Lynch, a prized defensive end from Cape Coral, FL is now considering Florida State and Miami as well as seemingly every team in the SEC after decomitting from Kelly’s Irish after Saturday’s loss.
Brian Kelly’s first season at Notre Dame hasn’t gone the way he or anyone with any association to the university wanted it to go. Kelly could save a lot of face in 2010 if he’s to upset Utah at home as Notre Dame hasn’t beaten a top 10 team in South Bend since 2004, or if he can get Notre Dame’s first win at USC since 2000. Until either of those happen though, its starting to feel like a lot more of the same for the Notre Dame faithful. They’re growing tired already and that’s before you mention the name Declan Sullivan.