Offensive: New coach Brian Kelly wants the Fighting Irish to work fast and play fast. It’s a necessity for Notre Dame’s spread offense. The progress of junior quarterback Dayne Crist, who tore the ACL in his right knee last fall, is especially important. Crist should have some decent targets in junior wideout Michael Floyd and junior tight end Kyle Rudolph. Senior Armando Allen, who had a team-leading 697 yards, has returned to the backfield, but expect a committee approach to be employed. The offensive line is in transition with senior left guard Chris Stewart providing stability.
Defensive: Last season’s numbers were grisly — Notre Dame’s defense allowed 397.8 yards per game, a school record. Bob Diaco, the new defensive coordinator, has installed a 3-4 alignment. The linebackers should be up for that task. Sophomore inside linebacker Manti Te’o is a potential star. The defensive linemen all have starting experience, and senior nose tackle Ian Williams looks like a nice anchor, but the unit has an overall lack of depth. There’s experience at cornerback with senior Darrin Walls and junior Robert Blanton, but there’s concern at the safety positions.
Specialists: The bright spot is sophomore place-kicker Nick Tausch, who converted on 14 of 17 field-goal attempts. Sophomore punter Ben Turk, who took over at last season’s midpoint, averaged a pedestrian 38.2 yards. The return and coverage units need an overhaul.
Coaching: In 2003, Kelly was head coach at Division II Grand Valley State. Now he is head coach at Notre Dame. That’s a coaching ascension you don’t see every day. But Kelly has earned this opportunity after bringing Cincinnati into football relevance. In time, Kelly will have Notre Dame’s offense clicking. Already, he has delivered a great sense of organization and urgency.
Heisman hopefuls: Notre Dame can tighten up its budget lines for printing costs, glossy posters and other knick-knacks. There are no Heisman hopefuls to promote this time.
Overview: Don’t expect early miracles to occur for Kelly. Notre Dame is breaking in a new quarterback, while installing new systems on both sides of the ball. The schedule has its share of challenges, but expect the Fighting Irish to improve as the season progresses, prompting some optimism for 2011.
Next up: No. 24 Georgia Tech
CFT: In a shocking move, QB Everett Golson is no longer enrolled at Notre Dame.
CFT: Former Penn State signalcaller Steven Bench joined the South Florida Bulls, he announced on Twitter.
NBCSports.com's Preseason Top 25
Video: Football from NBC Sports
HBO Real Sports: Bill O'Brien
Penn State football coach and 2012 National Coach of the Year shares the challenges in turning around a program shattered by scandal. Real Sports premieres Tuesday, May 21 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
BCS title game
Pregame color, key plays and other moments from 'Bama's blowout win.
Check out the action from the postseason.
Check out which players were best of the best at each position.
Check out some of the college football cheerleaders from across the country.