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Ugly win is still a positive step

Eric Prister | Monday, October 11, 2010

Can we really be happy at all with Notre Dame’s win over Pittsburgh? Wasn’t this just another example of letting a team off the hook that the Irish were much better than? Isn’t it pretty clear that Dayne Crist doesn’t have what it takes to be a successful quarterback in this offense? Isn’t this team just like last year’s?

The nature of Notre Dame football fans lends itself to extreme highs and extreme lows. A bad loss means that the Irish have no chance of beating any other teams for the rest of the season, so we’ll just have to wait for next year — and fire our head coach. A good loss shows that Notre Dame can play with anyone, and that the team is just on the brink of being the best Irish team anyone’s ever seen — just wait until next year.

A good win (like the one against Purdue) shows just how talented the Irish roster is, and how amazing a coach we’ve hired and that we should be 8-3 going into USC — Utah should be a breeze. A bad win (like the win over Pittsburgh, for many) is basically a loss, because can we really expect this team to beat any talented teams, especially if they show no pride in the school and tradition which they represent?

Notre Dame beat Pittsburgh. Sure the victory was sloppy. Yes, the Irish let the Panthers back into the game and showed very little killer instinct by not scoring a touchdown in the second half. But they did beat Pittsburgh, a team that they should have beaten. And winning those games, those you should win, is a sign of a team that’s on the rise.

Brian Kelly summed up it nicely in his post-game press conference.

“This is not a transition year,” he said. “This is a winning year. We don’t allow [the Irish players] to grow. But they’re growing. And that’s really what we’re going through, some growing pains as we move forward. But I’m a big believer that you can have those and still win football games.”

This is an Irish squad with an offense still trying to find its identity. They have a quarterback who has now made six career starts, an offensive line with only two players who had ever started a game at the collegiate level before this season, and a receiver playing the position for the first time in his life. This is a transition year, whether Kelly wants to admit it or not.

The difference is that it’s a team transitioning while still beating the teams that it should. Does anyone remember 2007, the last Irish team to play an entire season with a new quarterback? Even last year’s team (a veteran one, for all intents and purposes), if the offense had played as poorly as the offense did Saturday, would not have beaten Pittsburgh.

Dayne Crist is not an elite college quarterback. He is a very talented player who isn’t fully comfortable running a college offense or making all the reads and throws that he needs to make over the course of a game. But when asked if Crist’s zero-interception performance against Pitt was a step in the right direction, Kelly beamed. He had a look on his face that said, “Just wait. This kid’s going to be something special, and you’re just seeing the beginning.” Crist is not an elite college quarterback, but he’s going to be.

It may not bring many changes on the field yet, but the attitude around the Notre Dame football program is changing. Kelly said so himself.

“There’s something they’re starting to develop a little bit and that is they believe they’re going to win,” he said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re taking the right steps towards where we want to go as a football team.”

This team is not ready to be a national powerhouse. They aren’t ready to play in a BCS bowl, and they probably aren’t even ready to beat USC. But this is the beginning of something special. They are starting to make strides in the right direction, and beating Pittsburgh, a team that the Irish should have beaten, is just one of those strides.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Eric Prister at eprister@nd.edu