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The opening win at home against Purdue seems long ago in this roller coaster of a season. Back then, optimism for the Kelly regime was overflowing. But the Irish lost in the closing seconds at home to Michigan, were defeated in overtime by Michigan State on a fake field goal and then were beaten soundly at home by Stanford.

They answered with wins over Boston College, Pitt and Western Michigan before the Navy and Tulsa setbacks and, finally, the strong finish.

Now Kelly will try to bring in some top-notch recruits for his spread offense with questions looming before spring practice _ many related to injuries.

Crist needed season-ending surgery for a second straight year, this time on a patella tendon he hurt in the Tulsa loss. Armando Allen, who led the Irish in rushing the previous two seasons, went down with hip injuries, and didn’t play the final four games. NFL prospect tight end Kyle Rudolph had hamstring surgery and missed the final six games. The Irish were also without speedy slot receiver Theo Riddick for four of the final games because of an ankle injury.

Crist is expected to return and compete for the starter’s job, Allen has exhausted his eligibility and the futures of Rudolph and Floyd _ both of whom could leave for the NFL _ are still to be determined.

The defense, led by star linebacker Manti Te’o, safety Harrison Smith and linebacker Brian Smith, played well down the stretch despite losing senior nose guard Ian Williams the final four games with a knee injury.

Numerous reports say the Irish have lost four recruits who earlier gave verbal nonbinding commitments to Notre Dame. The national signing day is in February.

Without commenting specifically on any recruits, Kelly earlier had this to say about the type of player he is looking for as he builds the program his way:

“There are plenty of great players out there. We are not going to lose sight of the fact that we’re going to develop our players, and we want guys here who want to be here,” Kelly said. “We are not going to beg anybody to come play at Notre Dame.”

The Irish are 14-15 in bowl games, beginning with a victory over Stanford in the 1924 Rose Bowl. Their last appearance was a 49-21 win over Hawaii in the 2008 Hawaii Bowl, their third postseason trip in Weis‘ five seasons. Before that victory, the Irish had lost nine straight bowl games.