SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame has four straight winning seasons for the first time this century, played a key role in deciding the national championship for two straight seasons and reclaimed the title of winningest football program it lost to Michigan in 2003.
That's still not enough to satisfy Fighting Irish fans who measure success by national championships and have been waiting since 1988 for the school to win another. The Irish slipped to 9-4 last season and finished the season ranked No. 21.
They went 12-0 in the regular season in 2012 before an embarrassing 42-14 loss to Alabama in the title game. The highlight of last season was a 17-13 victory over Michigan State, a lone loss that cost the Spartans a shot at the national championship.
Coach Brian Kelly acknowledges that isn't good enough.
"You don't want to have an undefeated season and then have just winning seasons. You want to be part of the national conversation," he said. "At Notre Dame, that's where we want to be."
Kelly enters this season in a position like few Irish coaches — without a national championship after four seasons and without his job in jeopardy. The only Notre Dame coach who lasted more than five seasons without winning a national championship was Elmer Layden, who coached the Irish for seven seasons from 1934-40.
The 2014 season brings artificial turf for the first time at Notre Dame Stadium, new Under Armour uniforms, four games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents and a fan base eager for some old-style success. Here are five things to know about the Irish:
SCORING POINTS: Kelly arrived at Notre Dame with a reputation as an offensive-minded coach, keeping defenses off-balance with a no-huddle, hurry-up spread attack. In his final season at Cincinnati in 2009, the Bearcats finished fourth in the nation in scoring at 38.6 points a game. In four seasons at Notre Dame the Irish haven't averaged better than 26.3 points a game. Kelly hopes having an experienced, mobile quarterback in Everett Golson, who is back after serving a semester academic suspension, will allow the Irish to score more points by using the read option and running a no-huddle, hurry-up spread attack.
ATTACKING DEFENSE: The Irish enjoyed a lot of success using former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's read-and-react style, finishing in the top 27 in scoring defense nationally four straight years. Diaco is head coach at Connecticut now, replaced by Brian VanGorder, who prefers a more attacking scheme. The Irish are inexperienced up in the front seven, with former walk-on Joe Schmidt expected to start at middle linebacker. The Irish have a difference-maker in linebacker Jaylon Smith, though, and a lot of experience in the backfield, especially at corner with KeiVarae Russell and Cody Riggs, a transfer from Florida who was fourth on the Gators in tackles last season.
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