The Grantland Top Five

1. University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind.
2. Brian Kelly, football coach, University of Notre Dame

Let me just say this first: I’ve never had a particular affinity for Notre Dame. I believe gold is an overvalued metal and leprechauns are terrifying shoemakers. I believe Sam Gamgee was a subpar defensive end and Qadry was the more talented Ismail brother. It was fun growing up with an irrational hatred of Notre Dame; it’s been a lot less fun pitying them for the majority of the past 15 years.

It looks like that might be about to change. Notre Dame is ranked 18th in this year’s preseason coaches’ poll. In Brian Kelly, the Irish have found a coach who at the very least isn’t fudging his résumé and isn’t a Belichickian megalomaniac. If anything, Kelly seems a lot like a typical (successful) football coach. And I’m being utterly sincere when I say that I hope this means the end of the Irish’s era of ignominy, and I hope that Kelly takes Notre Dame to a BCS game. It won’t just be good for Notre Dame. It will be good for the sport.

This is the sort of nebulous declaration that usually carries no meaning, but Notre Dame is the exception to that rule. No other team in any sport controls the broadcast airwaves like Notre Dame. When casual fans turn on NBC on a Saturday afternoon only to witness a team that cannot defend an option quarterback from a service academy, it actually does have the potential to negatively affect the view of college football as a whole.

More than anything else, Notre Dame football is about fostering perception. It is the last original link to college football’s dying mythology. When Notre Dame fails, the notion that amateurism is flawed takes on greater weight.

The difficulty, for the Fighting Irish, is that they are perhaps the only team in America whose fan base will like them a little bit less if they behave like everyone else does. After Kelly mentioned the word “redshirt” at a press conference, he quickly back-tracked. Notre Dame doesn’t use such craven terminology. To negotiate the world of modern college football, Kelly has had to alter the school’s recruiting and disciplinary infrastructure. The Chicago Tribune reported that one of his top defensive recruits scored a 17 on the ACT (about half the score of the student body), and he didn’t discipline star receiver Michael Floyd for a DUI in the spring. It was Floyd’s third alcohol-related offense since coming to school.

It is quite possible that each of those decisions will have a positive outcome. It is not unimaginable for a teenager who struggles on the ACT to find an academic foothold in college. It is conceivable that Floyd will stay out trouble on his own this season. At the majority of college football programs, these stories wouldn’t even be stories at all. But this is what it means to coach at Notre Dame — winning really is an attitude.

3. Joe Paterno, football coach, Penn State

It might be inherently absurd for an 84-year-old football coach to continue to adhere to the same five-year retirement plan he spoke of in 1981, but there is also something to be said for a man whose bones are constructed from Adamantium.

4. Jesse Pinkman’s drug den, Albuquerque, N.M.

There might be no worse tenant/homeowner in the American southwest than Jesse, of Breaking Bad. Spoiler alert: He has now disintegrated a bathroom while attempting to decompose a body, seduced (and irrevocably corrupted) his landlord’s daughter, and turned an otherwise respectable house into New Mexico’s most popular meth-and-pizza cafe in the course of a few days. We can only hope that if he makes it back from the desert, he uses any surplus cash to rent out an entire Marriott.

5. Justin Kirk, actor, New York City/Los Angeles

Because of the triumvirate of once-promising shows currently airing on cable that should have ended long ago — Rescue Me, Weeds, Entourage — Kirk is the only actor on any of the above who seems to recognize that he is drowning in a morass of nonsensical plot points and suggestive shots of Mary Louise Parker in a softball jersey and yellow sanitary socks. At one point this season, Kirk’s character was involved in an open relationship with an artist (whose schtick was to encase male models in suffocating plastic bubbles until Good Samaritans intervene) and her dying husband, and there were at least two separate moments when I thought Kirk might just break the fourth wall and apologize to the 17 of us who are still watching only out of an obsessive-compulsive sense of completism.

This post has been updated to correct an editing error.

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Filed Under: Breaking Bad, College Football, Grantland top Five, Michael Weinreb, Notre Dame, Penn State