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Brian Kelly's Fighting Irish: Shedding Its Skin

A few months ago we had the honor of celebrating the life of my aunt. Under the Florida sun, she and her husband were buried with full military honors for their service. She was the last of her generation in our family, which sent her three brothers to Notre Dame. That post-War generation may have been like no other - mature beyond years and thankful for the opportunity that peace brought. They rolled up their sleeves, remembering the sacrifices of those who did not survive. There was a country to build, families to create, and values to pass on.

Irish football flourished as Frank Leahy and his lads built a dynasty from that spirit - three national championships and a record of 36-0-2 from 1946-49. To say that football has changed since then is an understatement. No dynasties exist now, for one.

Top Ten Rankings Compared

In 2007 - three years ago - the AP Top Ten was (with 2010 records in parentheses):

LSU (7-1), Georgia (4-5), USC (5-3), Missouri (7-1), Ohio State (8-1), West Virginia (5-3), Kansas (2-6), Oklahoma (7-1), Virginia Tech (6-2), Texas (4-4).

Of those teams, only Ohio State appears in this week's AP Top Ten (#8).

Who would have thought that USC, Texas, Florida (#13, 9-4 in 2007), Georgia and West Virginia would have a combined record of 23-18 (56%) this year? Against BCS competition, these five teams are 15-18 (45%)!! Those first four teams sit in recruiting sweet spots, too.

In 2010, the AP Top Ten this week is stacked with names nowhere to be found in the 2007 Top 25 in 2007, except for Ohio State (2007 records in parentheses):

Oregon (9-4), Boise State (10-3), Auburn (9-4), TCU (8-5), Alabama (7-6), Utah (9-4), Wisconsin (9-4), Ohio State (11-2), Nebraska (5-7), Stanford (4-8).

A four to eight loss record can lead to success within three years.


The speed with which a new coach can succeed is worth noting. Of the Top 10 team's coaches, Chip Kelly (Oregon) and Gene Chisek (Auburn) are in their second years, though Kelly was their Head Coach in Waiting and OC. Bo Pellini is in his third year at Nebraska. Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh are in their fourth years.

The three non-BCS coaches (Peterson, Whittingham and Patterson) and the two Big Ten coaches (Bielema and Tressel) have longer tenures. Yet both Oregon and Auburn were 9-4 in 2007. Alabama was 7-6 in Saban's first year. Pellini took over a 5-7 team. Stanford was 4-8 in Harbaugh's first year.

Pellini's and Harbaugh's tasks are most like what faces Brian Kelly.

Recruiting Relevance

Recruiting, using Rivals' team rankings, has not really corresponded to success this year either. Only Alabama and Ohio State can claim high recruiting rankings over the past four years. Auburn's average ranking of their four classes (2007-2010) is 10th, Oregon - 15th, Nebraska - 27th (for three classes), Stanford - 32nd (three classes), Wisconsin - 43rd (three classes). Nebraska, Stanford and Wisconsin each had one class year that was not ranked in the top 50, which I did not count. For their four classes, each of their rankings would be much lower.

The three non-BCS schools in the Top Ten - Boise State, TCU and Utah - are rarely ranked in the top fifty team rankings in recruiting. Of the Top Ten, only four (Alabama, Ohio State, Auburn and Oregon) averaged a ranking of 15 or better for their last four recruiting classes. The other six achieved success despite much lower ranked recruiting classes.

USC, Florida, Texas and Georgia have all consistently ranked among the top schools in recruiting and are noticeable flops this year even considering that the Gators may recover enough to play for the SEC championship in a weak SEC East.

Psychological Warfare

After a couple of weeks of Irish fan meltdown over losses to Navy and Tulsa, consider Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" advice on psychological warfare tactics:

- Give them the appearance of inferiority and weakness, to make them proud.

- Appear to be lowly and weak, so as to make them arrogant - then they will not worry about you, and you can attack them as they relax.

Defeats by an enemy then will be more devastating and magnified.

Other psyops warfare tactics are:

- If they are violent and easily angered, then use embarrassment to enrage them, so that their morale is upset - then they will proceed carelessly, without formulating a plan.

- If they are quick-tempered, then stir them up to excite them so that they go into battle carelessly.

- Wait for them to become decadent and lazy.

Though some of the criticisms voiced on NDNation, The Observer, IrishEnvy, and One Foot Down are valid and balanced, many more are emotional broadsides by some fans who end up contributing to the psyche that an attacking enemy prefers.

That division of opinions, the intensity of reaction to defeat, the seeming disarray and the disconnect with the football team would not be something the post-WWII generation could conceive.

Shedding Its Skin

Brian Kelly's Fighting Irish team is being totally remade - offensively, defensively, physically and psychologically. I expect to see them shed the old skin including the burden of old won-loss records, those who use past comparisons, those who fling Internet snowballs at the team or those who sit passively at an Irish home game. Expect the growth of a new dragon representing the best of this generation.

Roll up your sleeves.

With Senior Day approaching and a November that looks daunting, there is work to be done, old values to affirm, and challenges in psychological warfare to meet. The psychology of warfare may be as important as the tactics.

What do you think?

For other viewpoints, I include three of my favorite writers: