The 10th and final report card of Notre Dame's bye week.
Summary: One could hardly go five minutes during last year's training camp without hearing BCS talk out of players' and coaches' mouths. Reality hit everyone cold and fast with an 0-2 start, and despite some bright spots, the 2011 season ended up being a disappointment. With quarterback uncertainty, secondary youth and more off-field issues heading into 2012 — not to mention a schedule perceived to be as daunting as any in recent memory — there seemed to be a huge lack of optimism from the fan base entering this season. Brian Kelly was harder to read, much more reserved when talking about his team and its expectations, with reporters wondering if it was all smoke or if he truly didn't know what he had in his team. The naming of Everett Golson as starter seemed to signal a shift in the offensive direction, with the Irish offense looking to open up the way many thought it would.
That hasn't happened yet, but something else has. The defense has absorbed the loss of Aaron Lynch and has been dominant up front. The secondary — despite losing two more first-teamers — has jelled together solidly through four weeks. The offense — while struggling at times under Golson, who still has a long way to go — has stopped turning the ball over. The team seems to have bought in fully with Kelly's system. And that daunting schedule looks a lot less daunting, as the No. 9 Irish are currently ranked higher than anyone they play this season.
It's early, and though Notre Dame is the only team in the nation yet to trail at any point this season, its offense is still not very good so far, meaning there is little room for error. But the team has far exceeded any and all expectations prior to the bye week, winning its first four games for the first time in 10 years. At the end of the day — or, in this case, the bye — someone needs to take a bow. And that's Kelly. His decision to put Tommy Rees in for Golson during a tied Purdue game in Week 2 could've ignited a storm like no other had the Irish lost. Instead, his faith was rewarded, Rees has responded as the best possible No. 2 option under center and the Irish have a lot less to worry about if their experiment with Golson does not produce results.
The next step for Notre Dame is to build on its success and avoid a letdown. But so far, so good.
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