It's been a roller coaster ride for Irish fans in 2010. Have they been well behaved enough to warrant inclusion on the "Good List?" That's up to Santa to decide, but chances are if they post on a message board the answer is "no."
However, just in case the answer is yes we're going to run through the ten things that should be on every Irish fan's list.
#10: A Scholarship for David Ruffer
David Ruffer has been the most consistent and prolific kicker in the history of Notre Dame Football. Someone needs to answer why there's even a question as to whether he should be honored with a scholarship for his fifth year next season.
If there's one thing Notre Dame fans have learned to appreciate over the years it's a placekicker that's good at his job. There have been plenty of times over the past twenty years when fans had to hold their breath on extra points let alone 30-yard field goals. Those experiences with the likes of Kevin Kopka, Jim Sanson, and Carl Gioia have made it easy to recognize and fully embrace the proficiency of kickers like Kevin Pendergast, Nick Setta, and Mr. Ruffer.
Whenever Ruffer steps up for a kick whether it's 20 yards or 50 yards, the expectation is not only that it will split the uprights but that it will be a laser that barely budges to the left or right. He's become a cold-blooded assassin who has already come up big in pressure packed situations like overtime at Michigan State.
Why has there been a hesitation to guarantee this kid a scholarship? Santa, why don't you just go ahead and take care of this one. Give Ruffer his well-earned scholarship so we can move on and pretend this was never even an issue.
#9: Good Health for Dayne Crist
Dayne has been a fan favorite since the day he committed. He chose Notre Dame despite the fact that he knew he’d be sitting behind fellow five star prospect Jimmy Clausen for two—maybe three—years and made it clear he wanted to be a part of Notre Dame for all the right reasons. Patiently he waited his turn and quietly emerged as one of the team’s biggest leader despite his limited playing time.
Of course when his time finally arrived he had to overcome a devastating non-contact knee injury in order to get on the field. Against all odds he was back to full health for the season opener against Purdue and led the Irish to a victory. Unfortunately, the next week he was suffered a freak injury where he went temporarily blind in one eye, which essentially ended up costing the Irish a win against Michigan. Seven weeks later his season was ending when he ruptured his patellar tendon against Tulsa.
Can’t this guy catch a break? Santa, I don’t know if Dayne is destined to be the next great Notre Dame quarterback but I do know he deserves a shot. Despite starting eight games this season he still has a long way to go in becoming a complete, consistent quarterback. Should he not turn out to be the answer it should be because he fell short on the field—not because his body betrayed him.
So Santa, hook our boy up and bring him some good health in 2011 and beyond. Grant him the opportunity to win or lose the starting job on the field.
#8: The Return of Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph
The two most dangerous offensive weapons on the team will be faced with a very difficult decision this January. Should they stick around for their senior seasons and attempt to spearhead the Irish resurgence or should they forgo their final year of eligibility and take their talents to the NFL?
Most experts project both to go somewhere in the first three rounds of the draft—and some even think they could sneak into the Top 32 picks with good workouts—but their choice is made more difficult with the NFL labor problems on the horizon.
If they return to school for their final years then both would have an opportunity to boost their draft stock. With a strong campaign there’s little doubt Rudolph could get himself into the first round conversation. Floyd could too if he comes back and answers the concerns about his durability. The fact that he’d be going against a loaded class of receivers (A.J. Green, Jonathan Baldwin, Julio Jones, etc.) provides another reason to give college one more go-round.
So Santa, what do you say? Please bring this duo back for one more lap and help ensure the Irish offense has every available weapon next season.
#7: The Delivery of All Recruits That Verbally Commit
Irish fans have plenty of scars from recruiting wars over the past five years, but the ones that linger the longest and hurt the most are the players that go elsewhere after verbally pledging their commitment to Notre Dame. The mere mention of names like Greg Little, Justin Trattou, Omar Hunter, and Chris Martin is enough to make blue and gold blooded recruitniks cringe.
This summer Brian Kelly landed arguably the biggest fish on Notre Dame’s radar this recruiting when Aaron Lynch (a dynamic defensive end from Florida) said he would enroll at Notre Dame in 2011. He was so taken in by the place and found campus to be so special that he actually spread his grandfather’s ashes on the field in Notre Dame Stadium.
So what happened a few months later? He decommitted and decided to go to Florida State. Forget explaining the 180 to ND fans and coaches; how does he explain it to Grandma?!?
During Notre Dame’s October swoon Brian Kelly also lost his grasp on LB Clay Burton, OL Jordon Prestwood, and RB Justice Hayes. He’s done a nice job finding replacements and is in the hunt for some elite prospects that perhaps could be upgrades from all of the above, but it’s crucial that no more bleeding occurs.
The new gem of this recruiting class is Stephon Tuitt, a defensive end from Georgia who is ranked the #26 overall prospect by Rivals. Just last weekend he took a visit to look at Auburn and said that while he thinks Notre Dame is the place for him he’s still open to going somewhere else.
An elite Irish verbal commit along the defensive line is waffling. Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.
That’s where you come in Santa. Remind Stephon and all the other verbal commitments who may be tempted to go back on their word to remember why they chose Notre Dame in the first place. Help them to see that they can contribute to the rise of the sport’s largest sleeping giant and make it clear that if they spurn Our Lady that they’ll be on the naughty list forever.
#6: The Commitment of Savon Huggins
One word describes this New Jersey running back: stud.
Huggins is a legitimate home run threat from the backfield and would instantly become the biggest recruit landed at the running back position since Julius Jones came to town in 1999. Armando Allen’s eligibility has been exhausted which means there’s a very real chance that Huggins could come in and challenge Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray for carries right away.
Huggins has expressed some concern as to how exactly he would fit into Notre Dame’s spread attack since he’s more accustomed to an I-Formation look, but a talk with Brian Kelly helped ease those fears. What probably went farther than Kelly’s words in making Huggins feel comfortable about his role in this type of offense was the sudden commitment to the run game down the stretch that spurred the three game win streak.
Santa, make it perfectly clear to Savon that he can excel in the spread offense and that his inclusion in the Irish attack this fall would amp it up to a whole new level. Remind him that two of the other schools he’s considering (Auburn and North Carolina) will be on probation during his time on campus, one of them is the little brother in its own state (Michigan State), and one of them is Rutgers (gross).
Once he’s on board then place him snugly in Brian Kelly’s stocking.
#5: A Big, Fat Lump of Coal For The Chicago Tribune
Lizzy Seeberg’s death was an unspeakable tragedy. The details of the incident that happened the week before her suicide are somewhat fuzzy and complicated by a wide range of factors.
Over the past month The Chicago Tribune has offered unbelievably slanted coverage of the tragedy and painted Notre Dame as an organization hell-bent on covering up the truth in an attempt to protect its football program. NBC’s Keith Arnold wrote a phenomenal article that outlines exactly how twisted and imbalanced the Tribune’s coverage has been (read it here).
First of all, people accusing the school of covering up a sexual assault to protect a football player have such a warped sense of how the University of Notre Dame operates it’s sickening. This is a school that has suspended a star basketball player for possession of marijuana (Kyle McAlarney) and kicked a starting tight end (Will Yeatman) out of school for an underage drinking ticket. Yet some seem completely convinced the administration would sweep a sexual assault under the rug to save a back-up football player. Does that not seem absurd to anyone?
Santa, I’d say bring the entire Tribune staff a certificate that gives them a spot in a Journalism 101 class (because it’s necessary), but they don’t deserve anything. Get your biggest lumps of coal ready and throw them in the stockings of the Tribune staff. If you choose to throw it through the window instead of the chimney then all the better.
#4: A Clear-Cut Starting Quarterback by September 3rd
Next season Notre Dame will return all five scholarship quarterbacks currently on the roster. That doesn’t mean the position isn’t home to a slew of giant question marks heading into spring practice.
Will Dayne Crist be healthy in time to start against South Florida?
Would Crist beat out Tommy Rees even if he was healthy?
Has Rees earned the starting job with his performance down the stretch?
Will highly touted incoming freshman Everett Golson shake up the depth chart?
Can Andrew Hendrix build on what apparently was a very impressive fall on the scout team?
True Irish fans don’t care who emerges from the pack; they just want someone to take a stranglehold on the position. The last quarterback derby Notre Dame hosted (in the spring of 2007) turned out to be a complete fiasco on every level. The last thing Brian Kelly’s squad needs is a revolving door behind center that could sabotage a potentially potent offense.
This year’s edition won’t be as disastrous as it was three years ago if only because two of the candidates have extensive game experience (in 2007 there were three freshmen and a sophomore who’d only seen garbage time). Still, it’d be nice to see one guy deliver a performance that stands out among the rest.
So Santa, Irish fans would love for you to bring strong showings for all of the starting quarterback candidates this spring…but for the fans’ sanity please make sure one is stronger than all the other ones.
#3: News That Rich Rodriguez Will Be Retained at Michigan
Rich Rodriguez is not a bad coach, he’s just an epically terrible fit at the University of Michigan. He’s demonstrated it very clearly since the day he told boosters they needed to “get a life” shortly after he took the job. Over the course of three years he’s been throttled by Ohio State three times, posted only one bowl appearance, committed NCAA violations, and seemingly stepped on the toes of every person in the Michigan athletic department.
He may pump out high-powered offenses as long as he has players like Denard Robinson to execute his spread attack, but his defense is in absolute tatters and no help appears to be coming. The ceiling for Rodriguez at Michigan is not even a conference championship let alone a national title—and that’s not going to cut it in Ann Arbor.
While Irish fans delight in Michigan floundering and therefore would love to see Rodriguez continue to drag a traditional power down, there’s another reason to want Rich Rod to stay put. His name is Jim Harbaugh.
Harbaugh is a Michigan grad who has transformed Stanford—a team that was one of the biggest cream puffs in college football as recently as 2006—into a hard-nosed, Top 5 football team. Think about what he could do at Michigan without the academic restrictions and additional resources.
The worst thing that could happen to Notre Dame is Harbaugh moving next door to coach the Wolverines. That’s why it’d be wonderful news if Rodriguez’s awkward Josh Groban sing-a-long bought him one more year at the helm. By then Harbaugh may have moved on to the NFL or elsewhere within the college football world. Irish fans can only hope.
This is a preemptive strike Santa. The Irish don’t want to deal with Harbaugh in Ann Arbor so please deliver the news that Rich Rod will be retained…and while you’re at it why not bring Jim Harbaugh an NFL head coaching gig?
#2: Comfort For the Families of Declan Sullivan and Lizzy Seeberg
It hasn’t been a particularly good year for the Notre Dame Family. Two young students lost their lives this fall due to tragic circumstances and with the holidays approaching the families of Declan Sullivan and Lizzy Seeberg will be forced to deal with a void that will never be filled.
It doesn’t matter what the specifics of either incident are right now. It doesn’t matter who is at fault. These families are in need of the Notre Dame Family’s prayers and full support during what undoubtedly is an indescribably difficult time.
Both the Sullivans and Seebergs are in the thoughts of the Notre Dame Community during this holiday season.
#1: A Victory in The Sun Bowl
The Irish finally have some positive mojo going thanks to their three game win streak to end the regular season. The tendency in recent years has been to take a giant step backward after every step forward. Notre Dame can't afford to continue that trend.
The Irish need to keep this wave of momentum going so that it can maintain the positive vibes both inside and outside the locker room. The players are fresh off the program's biggest win in five years and fully buying in to Kelly's new system and scheme. The atmosphere around the program is becoming more and more upbeat as well which has a definite effect on the psyche of the players.
If Notre Dame can find a way to get past the Canes it won't mean "they're back" and it won't go down as a great victory. However, the facts will read that the Irish end the season on a four game winning streak (their longest streak to end a season since '92) and clear, marked improvement occurred over the course of a season for the first time in ten years. That can't help but give players, coaches, and fans alike an extra bounce in their step heading into the offseason and perhaps the dramatic turnaround can be parlayed into some success on the recruiting trail.
Two years ago you delivered a smackdown of Hawaii on Christmas Eve, Santa. That victory turned out to be fool's gold in the end. Here's hoping if you bring a victory in this year's showdown with Miami the gold is 24K real.