Having never met Jack Swarbrick and having no idea how the man thinks, I can only assume that he’s a smart guy with a better grasp on Notre Dame football than just about every person out there. There is no one who knows Charlie Weis better, no one who can judge the work of the coaching staff better, and nobody that knows the exact criteria by which the Notre Dame head coach is judged.
Saying all that, last night everybody got a very clear look at the other man that’s burrowing a place into the hearts of Notre Dame’s fan base. Brian Kelly and Cincinnati got the job done with a win, but they certainly didn’t start any hearts a flutter. Sure Kelly has done unprecedented things with the Bearcats, but he’s running an offense that very closely resembles that of Rich Rodriguez’s, and ask Michigan fans how much they’re liking that transition. Or more appropriately, ask Nebraska fans how firing a 9-3 Frank Solich went? Think they enjoy being in the decade long rebuild they’re still stuck in, because they were worried college football might have been passing them by. Since then, they’ve found themselves in the Alamo, Cotton, and Gator Bowl, all because 9-3 just wasn’t good enough.
But still, I’m not comfortable talking about what might be. What Notre Dame has is Charlie Weis and the premiere pro-style offense in college football. The reason Weis and the Irish are able to reel in the blue-chip offensive prospects is Charlie Weis. He’s far from perfect as a head coach and Irish fans and foes have gone to great lengths to prove this, but as Weis is apt to say, the arrow is still pointing in the right direction.
For Weis and the Irish, tonight is all about opportunity. In Pittsburgh, the Irish have the opportunity to play a top ten team that isn’t USC, that isn’t in a BCS game, and that in many ways is an inferior team to the Irish. They’ll have all eyes on them, watching to see if the Irish are the team that Weis thinks they’re very close to being, or if they’re the team that many detractors think should spell the end of the Charlie Weis era.
A win is mandatory tonight for Notre Dame. And for many, a win won’t be good enough, but winning with style, something Weis and the Irish have struggled to do because of a maddening lack of defense, would do plenty to get the Irish back to a stable place.
After a long week of speculation, it’ll be good to finally get to see an actual football game, and let Weis and the Irish decide what to do with the Notre Dame football program.