Brian Kelly insists this is not a transition year for Notre Dame.
Kelly is installing a new system on both sides of the ball and hopefully a new mindset during his first year in South Bend. But he knows impatient Irish fans want him to win games, not talk about rebuilding.
Notre Dame has a record resembling that of a reclamation effort: 3-3. Yet there are positive signs if you look close enough.
The Irish are one crazy fake field goal play in overtime and one defensive stop away from possibly being 5-1. Of course, people are sick about hearing how close this program is from being better. What has improved is an overall mental toughness; Notre Dame isn't physically stout enough to hang with an imposing team like Stanford, but the Irish have dealt with adversity while making big plays on the road at Michigan State and holding Pittsburgh down defensively while clinging to a lead.
What still needs to come is an ability to step on an opponent's throat when the momentum is on their side. Dayne Crist needs to understand the complexities of the spread offense better so Kelly can let him and the offense loose to play at a higher tempo. Mistakes like careless turnovers in the red zone and drive-killing penalties have to end.
The good news for the Irish is they can work on these things while playing Western Michigan, Navy and Tulsa in the next three games. After that stretch, the record should look less like that of a team in transition.
Offensive MVP: Armando Allen, RB
While Crist has been inconsistent, Michael Floyd has had costly fumbles and Kyle Rudolph has played through an injured hamstring, Allen has been about as reliable a player as the Irish have. Notre Dame may never have a high-powered run game, but Allen runs hard every time and is on pace to approach a 900-yard season. Defenses can't just load up against the pass when Allen is in the game.
Defensive MVP: Manti Te'o, LB
Nose tackle Ian Williams and cornerback Darrin Walls have had strong seasons, but there's no doubt who the star is on the Irish defense. Te'o has taken well to the inside linebacker spot in Bob Diaco's 3-4 as just a true sophomore, leading the team with 69 tackles. He still makes the occasional mistake, but it's almost always out of aggression, and Te'o is the one guy who can totally blow up an opposing offense's best-laid plans.