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Brian Kelly, players say Notre Dame going in right direction

Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly

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Updated: December 29, 2013 8:25PM

NEW YORK — Notre Dame’s 2013 football season got off to a false start months before the first snap when quarterback Everett Golson was suspended for an academic issue.

It was the first of several setbacks, which also included injuries and inconsistent play, that defined the Irish’s season.

Coach Brian Kelly called it a ‘‘good year that could have been a great year.’’ Players looked at the larger picture and said they think the program is headed in the right direction.

‘‘There has been some ups and downs,’’ senior quarterback Tommy Rees said in the wake of Notre Dame’s 29-16 victory Saturday against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. ‘‘Obviously, [we were] banged up and had some tough losses and some pretty great wins. What I’m going to remember is the great group of guys we got to share this with. We came in with coach Kelly, and we helped turn this program back to where it needs to be.’’

Last season, the Irish went 12-1 and reached the BCS championship game before losing to Alabama. This season, they slipped to 9-4.

‘‘If you look at the last couple of years, we were probably as close to being an eight-win team last year as we were a 12-win team,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘We were probably close to being a 10-win team this year. We were very close to being able to put up double-digit wins each year, and that’s really the goal in terms of competing — certainly — for BCS opportunities. That’s where we need to be. We’re close, [but] we’re not there consistently yet.

‘‘Now it will be about getting this program to play for a playoff spot each and every year, and that’s going to at least mean double-digit wins each year.’’

Notre Dame will get the dynamic Golson back next season and soon will find out whether defensive end Stephon Tuitt will return to school or turn pro.

There will be new coordinators. Multiple news outlets have reported New York Jets linebackers coach Brian VanGorder is in line to become the defensive coordinator, and Kelly still is mulling over choices for offensive coordinator.

Kelly said some of the building blocks for next season played well against Rutgers. He singled out the offensive line, tight ends, wide receiver Chris Brown, defensive lineman Jarron Jones and cornerback KeiVarae Russell.

‘‘A lot of really good things that we can take and build off in 2014,’’ Kelly said.


Twitter: @lamondpope

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