Notre Dame's finish to the 2010 season gave Irish fans reasons to be optimistic for 2011, with one caveat. There was no obvious replacement for Michael Floyd's playmaking abilities if/when the junior receiver decided to turn pro.
Floyd had seemed like a sure bet to enter the NFL draft, just based on his natural ability. But on Wednesday morning, he delivered some fantastic news for Brian Kelly and Notre Dame supporters: He's coming back for his senior season.
The star wideout called it one of the toughest decisions of his life.
"I'm returning to Notre Dame for three reasons: to earn my degree, return Notre Dame to the top and improve myself as a player," he said in an official statement released by the school. "First, I promised my mom I would graduate from Notre Dame and I am 40 credit hours shy of attaining that goal. I chose to attend Notre Dame in part because I knew it was a 40-year decision and not a four-year decision. Graduating from Notre Dame will help me for the rest of my life.
"Second, I want to get Notre Dame back to a BCS game. I believe we are very close to returning the Irish to where we belong and I want to be part of something great.
"Lastly, I want to show everyone in the country that I'm the best wide receiver in college football in 2011. There are many things I need to improve, but I feel with the coaching I have at Notre Dame, I can become the best at my position in this game."
Floyd was given a third-round grade by the NFL draft advisory committee, according to the Chicago Tribune. That seems low, but the receiver position is loaded this year. A big reason tight end Kyle Rudolph decided to leave was because tight end has a much more shallow pool of prospects.
The 6-foot-3, 227-pound Floyd already has the most career touchdown receptions, second-most career receptions and third-most career receiving yards in Irish history. With some more polish on his route-running skills and a bit better ball security, he could work his way into a first-round pick in 2012.
"Whether Michael went to the NFL this year or next year would not have changed my opinion that he will have a long and successful career at the next level," Kelly said in a statement. "I would have supported Michael's decision either way, but obviously I am thrilled he will be part of our team in 2011.
"As I have said many times, I have never had a player work as hard as Michael. That work ethic and passion for football proved to be contagious in our locker room and it was not a coincidence that he represented the offense as a game-day captain more than any other player this year."
Floyd had 79 catches for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2010. He could do even more damage next season as he and the rest of the offense settle into Kelly's system.
The Irish now have a bonafide go-to guy for whichever quarterback leads the team, whether that be Tommy Rees or Dayne Crist. Add in Theo Riddick and TJ Jones at receiver and Tyler Eifert at tight end, and Kelly has plenty of weapons in the passing game. Defenses can't just key on Floyd.
Notre Dame already looked like a preseason Top-25 team. Now it's not too outlandish to suggest that the Irish could contend for a BCS berth.