Notre Dame's upward trajectory

Armed with key returnees and top prospects, Irish set to continue rise in '14

Updated: January 31, 2014, 11:42 AM ET
By KC Joyner | ESPN Insider

Brian KellyMatt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsBrian Kelly has led the Irish to four consecutive bowl games.

After a couple of decades of inconsistent performance, the Notre Dame program looks to be on a steady upward trend. Under Brian Kelly's leadership, the Fighting Irish have made it to four consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1995, and if they win nine games this upcoming season, they will have posted 30 wins over a three-year period for the first time since 1993. These achievements are part of why the school recently announced a $400 million stadium upgrade that the university's president called, "the most ambitious building project in the 172-year history of Notre Dame."

Despite losing one of the top passers in team history (Tommy Rees), a tight end (Troy Niklas) and wide receiver (TJ Jones) whose touchdown prowess put them near the top of the Notre Dame single-season historical charts at their respective positions, the departure of six starters on defense (including two of the top 10 sack leaders in team history in Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo) and the recent suspension of DaVaris Daniels, their leading returning receiver, there are many reasons to believe this program's upward trajectory will continue in 2014 and beyond.

Offensive outlook

The program's continued rise starts with the return of quarterback Everett Golson. Golson has shown some elite skills in the past, including the ability -- despite his poor off-field decision-making -- to post an extremely low percentage in the bad decision rate (BDR) metric that gauges a quarterback's penchant for making mental errors that lead to a turnover opportunity for the opposing team.