Following consecutive 8-5 campaigns, Notre Dame entered this spring with a re-shuffled staff, a wide-open quarterback competition and arguably one of the nation's best defensive lines.
So, uh, about those three new assistants ...
"I love the energy out there, I love what I'm hearing in terms of teaching," head coach Brian Kelly said April 4, roughly halfway through the spring. "Guys are teaching and I can hear it. So for me it's exactly what I need to hear from our coaches. There's a lot of teaching going on, there's a lot of energy. So for me I feel really good about going out to practice, and what I hear I really like."
Nine days after that comment, defensive end Aaron Lynch announced his decision to transfer, eventually ending up with Notre Dame alum Skip Holtz at South Florida. A series of cryptic Twitter posts by nose guard Louis Nix in the days after Lynch's departure unsettled an already-uneasy fan base, and Nix's admittedly honest public comments afterward about having missed his Florida home did little to quell Irish fans' worst fears.
Then came the spring game, Everett Golson's coming-out party. The rising sophomore quarterback completed 11 of 15 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns, adding 25 yards on six rushes. Most importantly, he was the only of the four quarterbacks to not turn the ball over.
If that wasn't enough for Golson to improve his chances of starting in 2012 -- Kelly said afterward that he had trouble getting plays in on time -- the events of May 3 certainly did.
Tommy Rees, the only of the four signal-callers with starting experience, was charged with four misdemeanors as a result of his arrest at an off-campus house party. Police said that they had to use pepper spray to subdue Rees, who faces two counts of resisting law enforcement, in addition to minor consumption and battery.
So begins an offseason whose storyline, like last year's with Michael Floyd, will be dominated by an off-field run-in by a big-name player. Rees is due in court May 17, but his status with the Irish remains up in the air. Discipline of any kind -- even an offseason suspension -- would strongly diminish his hopes of taking the first snap Sept. 1 in Dublin, Ireland.
Kelly said after the spring game that the guy to emerge as the starter will be the one who commits to all the details in the summer. Golson and Andrew Hendrix — in addition to early enrollee Gunner Kiel — would be in much better positions to do that should Rees be dealt a ban. Regardless, leadership issue becomes an obvious question in light of the arrest.
Whoever does start should have plenty to work with in proven playmakers like Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and Tyler Eifert. He will also be protected by an experienced offensive line, which returns four players with starting experience.
Linebacker Manti Te'o, who passed up NFL millions this offseason, returns to lead a defense that should still be strong enough up front, though a depleted cornerback corp could have benefited from playing behind an elite pass-rusher like Lynch.
A season that begins overseas is still four months away, but the drama attached to the hip of the nation's most polarizing program has only increased with spring ball in the rearview mirror.