That storyline is none other than Notre Dame football.
A year ago, Charlie Weis’s program stumbled to a 3-9 record, which included six losses to unranked opponents and back-to-back defeats at the hands of Navy and Air Force. But the Irish are off to their best start in three years and are starting to get people excited about the program again.
After a sloppy win in their opener against San Diego State (a game in which one ignorant writer had the audacity to suggest Notre Dame hadn’t improved at all following last year’s debacle of a season), the Irish crushed longtime rivals Michigan, 35-17, before suffering their first defeat of the season – a 35-17 road loss to Michigan State. But ND has since won back-to-back games against Purdue and Stanford in rather convincing fashion, leading some to believe that Weis and sophomore QB Jimmy Clausen have the team back on the right track.
So are the Irish back? It’s hard to say. Clausen has developed nicely in his second season and in turn, the offense looks like a completely different unit than the one that took the field on most Saturdays last year. In his last two games, Clausen has throw for 622 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. His two main receivers, Golden Tate and Michael Floyd have also been fantastic, averaging over 15 yards a catch. The defense has improved as well, allowing just 19 points per game (17 PPG over the last six games dating back to last season), as opposed to the nearly 30 PPG they allowed a year ago.
But the Irish have benefited from playing four of their first five games at home this year and their only loss was on the road. They have also yet to play a ranked opponent, which changes this week when they travel to No. 22 North Carolina, another improving program out to prove they’re legit as well. And despite Clausen’s solid play, the Irish haven’t been able to run the ball outside of the Purdue game and prior to last week, only had one sack. (Of course, they had five sacks against Stanford last week, so getting to the quarterback might not be a problem in the long run.)
We should find out a lot about Clausen and Notre Dame this week. The Tar Heels have amassed 11 interceptions in their last four games and sophomore Shaun Draughn is emerging as a solid back to complement UNC’s already top-notch wide receiver corps. The ‘Heels also blocked three punts last week in their win over previously ranked Connecticut and if the Irish can’t run the ball to help take the pressure of Clausen, UNC’s ball hawking secondary could ruin the young quarterback’s afternoon.
Is Notre Dame football back? Stay tuned.