Notre Dame’s 2012 football campaign will long be remembered by Irish fans. Unexpectedly posting an undefeated regular season for the first time in decades, the twelve regular season games served as therapeutic relief for a fan base that had become accustomed to apprehension and doubt. Though ND fell short of bringing a crystal trophy to South Bend, overall the season was one of celebration and backslapping. Middle linebacker Manti Te’o became the most decorated player in college football history. Irish fans pinched themselves as Brian Kelly nabbed top coaching honors, finally tasting coaching stability after witnessing four head coaches come and go since Lou’s Holtz departure. Notre Dame was even dominating the recruiting trail, securing commitments to the best Notre Dame recruiting class since the beginning of the Internet recruiting era.
And then the off-season began.
Notre Dame fans were still attempting to numb the pain from the Crimson drubbing received in Miami during the national title match when news broke Brian Kelly had interviewed with the Philadelphia Eagles mere hours after Notre Dame’s defeat. Nearly a week of uncertainty, surprise, and anxiety took hold until Kelly announced his intention to remain Notre Dame’s head coach, though the damage was done. Rivals 4-star linebacker commitment, Alex Anzalone, decommitted from Notre Dame and immediately enrolled at the University of Florida, citing Kelly’s interview with the Eagles as the motivation for his switch.
If Notre Dame fans were disorientated by the sudden and unusual turn of events from the national title blowout, Kelly’s NFL posturing and Anzalone’s switch, nothing could have served to prepare for the haymaker to follow. On January 16th, Deadspin.com broke the story that Lennay Kekua, girlfriend of Heisman finalist Manti Te’o, did not pass away from a battle with cancer as originally reported, a story that garnered nationwide sympathy and support for the mourning Hawaiian football star. In fact, Lennay had never existed. By January 18th Te’o had circled the wagons, admitting to interviewers he had indeed been untruthful to his parents about meeting Lennay out of fear he would be judged for his affection toward a woman whom he had never physically met. The downward trajectory continued into April with Te’o slipping out of the NFL Draft’s 1st round before being selected by the San Diego Chargers as the 38th overall pick.
In the midst of Teo’s unprecedented public relations battle, Notre Dame was bitten hard by the transfer bug. In mid-March former 5-star and number one overall quarterback for the Class of 2012, Gunner Kiel, announced he would transfer from Notre Dame, eventually landing at Cincinnati. A short week or two later Notre Dame lost a pair of wide receivers in Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson. Neal, a former 4-star, transferred to Arizona to be closer to his girlfriend and infant daughter. Ferguson, a 3-star prospect hailing from Florida, left South Bend and headed one hour north to Kalamazoo, home of Western Michigan University.
Notre Dame’s misfortune trudged into the summer, though oddly in the form of insults provided by representatives from other academic institutions. In early May Michigan head coach Brady Hoke made news for stating Notre Dame was “chickening out” of its commitments by opting out of its series with the Wolverines in order to placate a future ACC schedule, an optional right both Michigan and Notre Dame possessed under the series agreement. A few weeks later a report surfaced that then-Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee had expressed his opinion that you simply “can’t trust those damn Catholics” at a Buckeye booster event the previous December. And, most recently, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier bashed Notre Dame at the SEC’s Media Days despite his 0-1 career record against the Fighting Irish. Spurrier publicly bemoaned the fact Notre Dame had yet to join a conference, and questioned why Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick is treated equally to conference commissioners.
As Notre Dame fans wondered if relief would ever come after several public relation disasters and schoolyard name-calling from other head coaches and university presidents, more devastating news was delivered: Notre Dame starting quarterback and rare bright spot against the Crimson Tide, Everett Golson, was dismissed by the university for “poor academic judgment” and would miss the upcoming 2013 season. Pouring gasoline on an already blazingly horrible off-season, Notre Dame made news yet again when it was reported Eddie Vanderdoes, one of the crown jewels of Notre Dame’s recruiting class and a potential star along the defensive line, planned to enroll at UCLA rather than Notre Dame in order to be closer to home. Vanderdoes, though signing a letter of intent to attend Notre Dame, left the Fighting Irish before stepping foot on campus as a student.
Notre Dame’s off-season gives context and meaning to the cliché that no news is good news, as the Fighting Irish experienced one of the roughest off-seasons in recent memory. However, with football camp beginning at the start of August, a new season is upon us, and with it an opportunity to wipe the slate clean.
It’s football time once again.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles as well as co-founded a nationally-featured non-profit organization. In his spare time he takes his NCAA Football ’13 online dynasty way too seriously and alienates those around him by discussing football 24 hours a day. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.