FBO: Rebuilding the Golden Dome

If Jimmy Clausen does return for one more year, he would be one asset for the new head coach. Jason O. Watson/US Presswire

The fan base of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish -- as well as most of the nation -- had anticipated Monday's announcement for weeks or longer. Now that athletic director Jack Swarbrick has officially begun the search for Charlie Weis' replacement, speculation over possible candidates ramps up and the age-old questions resurface. What are the expectations for the Notre Dame program? Are the Fighting Irish a dormant elite program, or has their status been permanently reduced to something less than elite?

An examination of college football's elite programs of the past 25 years puts Notre Dame's status in a stark light. While all of the top programs have suffered down seasons, those that have dropped as far as Notre Dame have rarely found a quick fix back to the top -- and even those that have returned to elite status have seen rebuilding projects of five years or more.