For the Notre Dame football team, the 2010 season ended with a fourth straight victory in the Sun Bowl. For coach Brian Kelly, the dividing line between Year 1 and Year 2 isn't nearly as defined. He could, however, easily identify the turning points in the 8-5 campaign, the surprises along the way and how all those experiences shaped an optimistic state of Fighting Irish football.
"It's not where you start but where you finish, is probably the best way to look at our football season," Kelly said Friday. "We certainly didn't start in the manner we wanted to, but we clearly finished. We put the fight back in the Fighting Irish. More than anything else, we got our players to play their very best football later in the season and develop our defense."
Kelly and his staff applied a "first coat of paint," which included shaking up the system. From nutrition, conditioning and weight training, to the break-neck practice pace, expectations are clear moving forward. And some Irish players will be left behind.
The most intriguing storyline this spring will be which quarterback emerges as the starter. Soon-to-be senior Dayne Crist is on the mend for the second straight winter following another knee surgery. Freshman Tommy Rees proved he's up to the task after filling in for the majority of the team's final five games.
"I can't yet (project Crist's return)," Kelly said. "But certainly we feel like, based upon what he did last spring, as you know, he was virtually in every rep, played in the spring game and we thought we did a very good job of protecting him. We think we're going to be able to really do a lot more of those similar kinds of things and keep him involved and competing within our spring practice format.
"As you know, it's gonna be a lot of fun this year because we have players now that have our nomenclature down, they understand the offense and so now we're really going to fit what we do to our personnel."
Six or more QBs will be pared to a manageable quartet by the end of April, he said.
"I have formulated in my mind some real clear guidelines as to how we're going to move forward there," Kelly explained. "I'm not going to share them with you right now because I haven't shared them with our quarterbacks. Suffice to say, I'm pretty clear on the styles that we have and how to utilize those styles within our offense.
"Not everybody can run the style of offense that I would want us to be running. We're going to utilize our quarterbacks to best help us win football games. We can't work with six. I can tell you right now we'll work with four quarterbacks."
Those four will have one dynamic wide receiver lined up wide that many expected was routed for the National Football League. Kelly reiterated that Michael Floyd's decision to return for his senior season was a result of several factors, but had more to do with a beef concerning his pro evaluation. Experts pegged Floyd as a third-round prospect.
"I think when you really cut to it, when you look at it, he believes that he's the best wide receiver in the country and he wasn't perceived and evaluated as such," Kellly said. "He wants to prove to everybody that he is in fact the best wide receiver in the country.
"Maybe I have a lot of really good friends that are scouts that gave him low grades to keep him here at Notre Dame. I doubt that's the case. ... He's going to have a chance now to really train and throw some numbers on the board in junior testing that are going to put him in a great position moving into his last year."
Tight end Kyle Rudolph declared he would enter the draft after being rated as the top player at his position. Floyd's evaluation wasn't nearly as satisfactory.
"The feedback that I got just wasn't something that I thought was the best for me," Floyd said Friday, speaking to the media for the first time since his decision. "I know coming back, I can raise that up higher than what I want. With this year, I'll work hard and do whatever it takes to get that stock up, get the highest I can get."