- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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When it comes to Notre Dame, every play, issue, statement and other morsel is dissected and put under the microscope. But here are five big things to watch in 2010:
1. Faith in Crist: Dayne Crist is not only the best option at quarterback, he's pretty much the only one at this point. No one behind him has ever taken a college snap. Of course, Crist is just in his second year of playing and didn't see much time last year before tearing his ACL against Washington State. Not only does he have to manage Brian Kelly's intricate offense, but he needs to stay healthy. He's a talented and heady player, though, and he could put up dazzling numbers as most of Kelly's quarterbacks seem to do.
2. 3-4, better close the door: The Irish defense has been a mess for several years, and unless coordinator Bob Diaco can figure out how to stop somebody, Kelly's results won't differ too much from those of Charlie Weis. Diaco isn't going to try to blitz every down with players who aren't fast enough to get to the quarterback like Jon Tenuta did; he's going back to a 3-4 base that better suits the personnel. "We feel like the guys we have definitely fit this kind of defense," outside linebacker Darius Fleming says. "It's what most of us were recruited for. We're excited to play it and see how it works out."
3. Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph: You could make a case that in Floyd and Rudolph, the Irish have the best wide receiver and the best tight end in America. Neither player has justified that with a full season of production, thanks largely to injuries, but their talent and physical superiority are unquestioned. Look for Kelly and Crist to ride these stars as much as possible in the passing game, and both could challenge for postseason awards and first-round NFL slots.
4. Gone in November? Late-season fades became a troubling trend under Weis. The Irish lost their final four games in 2009 and four of their last five regular-season contests in 2008. Notre Dame hopes the addition of a football-only training table for the first time will help players keep their weight as the season wears on, and strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo might be the second-most valuable staff member behind Kelly. The Irish say they're much better conditioned this year. We'll see about that in November.
5. Manti Te'o: As a true freshman, Te'o was mostly running around without a clue. Yet he still managed 57 tackles in the final eight games. Maturing rapidly, he's moving to middle linebacker and will be the anchor of the defense. Te'o has always been a special talent. Now he is acclimated to the college game and playing in a system tailored for him to make big plays. Anything other than a huge season from Te'o would register as a surprise at this point.
When it comes to Notre Dame, every play, issue, statement and other morsel is dissected and put under the microscope. But here are five big things to watch in 2010:1.