Some franchises and athletic programs seem to have it all: tradition, success and ever-supportive fans. Other programs seem to have tradition that never translates into success, at the disappointment of their fans. Over the next few issues, I’ll be taking a look at a few different programs that, despite the expectations for their success year after year, the teams just can’t seem to put it together on the field and constantly leave their fans wanting more. This week, I’ll be taking a look at one of college football’s oldest and most successful teams that seems to have lost their way.
With a total of 11 national championships and seven Heisman trophy award winners, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football history is rich in success; however, in recent years, they have fallen on hard times. Ever since Tyrone Willingham’s magical 10-3 season in 2002 that saw the Irish beat the likes of number seven Michigan and number 22 Florida State, the Fighting Irish have a record of 54 wins and 37 losses (through the first two weeks of the 2011 college football season), a far cry from their 10-win seasons of earlier years.
Charlie Weiss, the former offensive mastermind behind the New England Patriots NFL dynasty, was heralded as the answer to lead Notre Dame back to glory and multiple BCS bowl appearances. After having a promising 10-3 record in his first year as head coach, Fighting Irish fans everywhere were excited that the program was on the short track to glory. It seemed that Notre Dame was finally ready to book tickets to the BCS.
Despite losing star quarterback Brady Quinn to graduation, Weis seemed to have put the perfect piece in place by recruiting the top high school QB in the nation, Jimmy Clausen. Clausen was touted as the best Notre Dame recruit in years, if not decades. According to reports, Clausen had the quickest release since Joe Namath. In his senior year of high school, Clausen won the Parade Magazine Co-Player of the Year and the USA Today Offensive Player of the Year. Sports Illustrated called him “The Kid With the Golden Arm,” and recruiters believed he was the best QB prospect in a decade. From all accounts, Jimmy Clausen seemed to be the answer for Notre Dame at quarterback. Despite the accolades and praise from the coaching staff, Clausen and Notre Dame struggled to a 3-9 finish in his first season. He finished his freshman year with just 1,254 passing yards, seven touchdown passes, and six interceptions. Clearly, Clausen struggled to translate his game to the next level, but there was still time for him to live up to the hype and become the next great Notre Dame star.
In his sophomore year, Clausen threw for over 3,000 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. The Irish finished 7-6, a far cry from the huge expectations that come at Notre Dame. In his junior year, Jimmy Clausen flourished, throwing for over 3,700 yards, 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Despite Clausen’s achievements, the Irish finished just 6-6 in 2009. They missed out on a bowl game, leading to the firing of Charlie Weis. Despite once being touted as the mastermind that would lead Notre Dame back to glory with his golden boy quarterback leading the charge, Weis was showed to the door because of his lack of success in translating hype into wins. Once again, Notre Dame fans were left wanting more.
After Weis’ firing, Notre Dame brought in Brian Kelley, who successfully led Cincinnati to a BCS berth. Notre Dame was instantly given new hope that Kelley, who had built the Cincinnati program from the ground up, would be able to rebuild Notre Dame. Under his reign, the Irish are 8-7, including their first two games of the 2011 season, and seem to always be on the wrong side of close games.
In 2010, the Irish lost to heavy underdogs Navy and Tulsa. This year, despite starting the season being ranked in the top 25 and being picked as many to be a strong contender for a possible top 10 finish, the Irish have already lost to both the University of South Florida and the University of Michigan. The Irish were close to victory in both games, but Notre Dame turned the ball over a total of nine times in the two games and suffered significant defensive lapses. Once again Notre Dames fans were disappointed, knowing that their team should have started the 2011 season 2-0 instead of their current 0-2. While their current season is far from over, it is hard to see how the Irish of late could possible meet the expectations that their fans had for them entering the 2011 season.
Despite Notre Dame’s rich history, the program has fallen significantly from where they once were. Teams are no longer scared to come to South Bend and take on perhaps the most storied college football team ever. Notre Dame is no longer a team that can compete with the nation’s best. Notre Dame is falling by the wayside, and it doesn’t seem as if they may ever again recapture their previous success and meet their fans’ expectations.