Notre Dame Gets A Shot At Redemption Against South Florida

Bryan Driskell

It was just over nine years ago that Notre Dame and South Florida last met on the football field to kick off the 2011 season. The two programs have gone in completely different directions since that matchup, and the Irish will get a chance to get a bit of redemption.

Notre Dame entered that season-opening contest ranked 16th in the preseason polls after rolling to four straight victories to end the previous season. The Irish beat a ranked Utah team, ended its 8-game losing streak to USC and finished the season with a beat down of Miami in the Sun Bowl, which completed head coach Brian Kelly’s first year in South Bend.

Expectations were high for the Irish going into that 2011 season, and year two of Kelly’s tenure was supposed to be a big jump for the Irish.

The 2011 Irish roster was loaded, and it was filled with players like Manti Te’o, Harrison Smith, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin, Tyler Eifert, Stephon Tuitt, Chris Watt, Robert Blanton, Darius Fleming, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Prince Shembo, Zeke Motta, Theo Riddick, Jonas Gray and Aaron Lynch.

The roster was largely built by former head coach Charlie Weis, who recruited all but two of the players listed above.

That game ended with South Florida pulling off the monumental 23-20 upset victory over the 16th-ranked Fighting Irish, and it served as a pre-cursor to what was a disastrous season. Notre Dame underachieved mightily, finishing unranked and owners of a 1-4 record against opponents that finished the season ranked.

Fast forward nine years and the circumstances are similar, and there are a lot of familiar names.

Kelly is still Notre Dame’s head coach and expectations are once again sky high. Current offensive coordinator Tommy Rees was a sophomore and threw for 296 yards off the bench in that home loss. South Florida’s offensive coordinator is Charlie Weis Jr., who spent five seasons on the Irish sidelines (2005-09) while his father was the head coach.

The Bulls are now in year one of the Jeff Scott era after the first-year head coach took over the USF program following an incredibly prolific tenure as the co-offensive coordinator at Clemson. Scott, of course, was on the Clemson sidelines when the Tigers beat Notre Dame in both the 2015 and 2018 seasons.

Expectations are even higher now than they were back in 2011. Kelly was in rebuild mode back in 2011, but now he’s in next-level mode after leading the Irish to a 33-6 record over the last three seasons. Notre Dame has come a very long way since that 2011 matchup, while the Bulls are now on their third head coach.

The Bulls will be looking for a big signature win to kick start Scott’s tenure, while Notre Dame will be looking to get rolling against a far inferior and out-matched opponent. Kelly will likely never say it out loud, but this is a chance at redemption. It’s an opportunity to get that previous loss to the Bulls out of the program’s system. It’s an opportunity for Kelly to show the growth his program has made.

It should be a dominant Notre Dame victory, and another step towards Kelly finally getting the Irish back to the pinnacle of college football.

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