As Brian Kelly puts it, if Notre Dame runs the table this season, there can’t really be a debate as to whether the Irish belong in the national championship game. Then again, the Notre Dame second-year head coach knows going undefeated against this slate is going to be tough.
The Irish open their season 10 days from today against South Florida. Later, they go to Michigan for a night game, take on Big Ten contender Michigan State, Mountain West contender Air Force and Pac-12 contenders Stanford and USC, just to name a few.
Brian Kelly joined 790 The Zone in Atlanta with Barnhart and Durham to discuss the differences heading into his second year, his starting quarterback Dayne Crist, how winning the last three games a year ago has given the team momentum, the brutal schedule, what he’s still concerned about and how his life has changed in 10 years.
How different is it heading into Year than it was heading into Year 1?:
“All of the analogies would probably hold up — night and day. … This is my fourth program that I’ve coached and Year Two is always a better year in terms of communication. Your players understand what you’re asking them and then they start to obviously, clearly understand what your demands are. We’re at that point.”
On the evolution of starting quarterback Dayne Crist:
“I think this was really about demeanor. His character is absolutely flawless. He’s an unbelievable young man, what he does on and off the field. … What I wanted was a demeanor. At the quarterback position, you’ve got to have a mental and physical toughness to you and Dayne has developed that in the past year. Some of it has to do with his circumstances. He overcame two knee injuries and had a sub-par spring and really had to fight, I think maybe for the first time in his life, for a starting position. … Having to dig down really showed a side that I hadn’t seen before. It goes to his development as a quarterback and as a young man.”
Has winning the last three games last year had any carryover this year?:
“Absolutely. You use words like momentum and confidence, but they are one in the same. When you gain confidence as a football team, that builds momentum and that builds the belief that you can go out and win every game that you play. Those were absolutely crucial as the building blocks going into Year Two where you’re looking for confidence in your football team. … Now, having said that, you want to maintain momentum, you need to win games.”
On the tough schedule:
“Look, if we go undefeated, there can’t be any debate as to whether we play for a national championship. You have to have that kind of schedule because when you’re not in a conference, if an SEC team goes undefeated and a Big Ten team goes undefeated and Notre Dame goes undefeated, we have to get into the national championship game. And the only way to do that is you have to have a great schedule.”
What are you still concerned about or looking at as the season gets closer?:
“Just depth. Year Two in your program, there are generally areas where you’re concerned from a depth standpoint. We addressed our defensive line last year in recruiting. We’ll have to address running back and wide receiver in Year Two. I know who I’ve got in my top 22. You guys know you can’t play with 22. It’s the next level, at some of the skill areas, that I’m concerned about, that we can’t sustain injuries in those areas.”
Less than a decade ago, you were at Grand Valley State, now you’re at Notre Dame. How much have things changed?:
“You know, the coaching does not. I come in the office the same way as I would if I was at Grand Valley State. It’s just a lot more people care at Notre Dame.”