South Bend, IN– The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are in the midst of a disastrous season in 2016. Standing at 2-5, the Irish have lost nearly all hope of reaching a bowl game with six games to go.
Early in the season, the offense was clicking while the defense allowed teams to go up and downfield. After four games, the Irish fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, which pleased much of the Notre Dame faithful around the country. Despite VanGorder being gone, the Irish still allowed 33 points to Syracuse the following week (luckily the Irish offense scored 50).
The game against Syracuse in early October was the last time the Irish have tasted victory this season. They scored a grand total of 3 points against NC State on a depleted field due to Hurricane Matthew and followed it up with a home loss to rival Stanford.
The offense that was once so promising early in the season was shut out in the second half against Stanford and QB Deshone Kizer was benched at one point. Kizer is a player that is projected to go top 5 in the draft and the Irish seem to be wasting his final year in college.
Despite the turmoil, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said earlier this week that head coach Brian Kelly’s job was safe and that he will “lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year” (ESPN.com).
Kelly’s job seems to be safe at the moment, but saying that he will be the coach next fall in South Bend does not feel convincing. The team looks really bad right now, and if they finish 3-9 or 4-8, it would be very difficult to bring Kelly back. The Irish fanbase has shown to be very impatient, especially this season with high expectations going in.
Notre Dame lost many players to the NFL last season like Will Fuller, Jaylon Smith and Sheldon Day, but Kelly has proven year after year that he knows how to recruit well and compete with the better teams in the country. He even signed a six year extension before this season.
The 2016 season has just been a disaster. Trouble came before the season even started when 6 players were arrested on various charges. Then came the quarterback controversy between Kizer and Malik Zaire, where Kelly would not commit to Kizer until halftime of the opening game against Texas.
You can have issues like this in college football as long as you keep winning, but the Irish have done little of that this season. Defeating Nevada and Syracuse does not impress anybody in South Bend at the moment.
Believe it or not, the Irish finishing 5-9 might just be enough for Kelly to keep his job. The Irish still have tough games against Miami, Navy and USC. Winning 2 out of 3 of these games could be just enough for the Irish fans to feel better about their team going into next season.
Expectations are high in South Bend, similar to the pressure you might find at high level SEC or Big 10 schools. Kelly has done a respectable job for the last five years, but he has to continue to recruit well and show that he can put his players in the best positions to win. If not, Irish fans could see a new era begin as early as next fall.