Notre Dame was the surprise team of 2012. Through grit and a superior defense, the Irish were able to make it all the way to the BCS Championship game. Only to be dominated by Alabama and finish with a 12-1 record.
Notre Dame lost six players to the NFL Draft, but head coach Brian Kelly has done a good job reloading the team. Gone is their best offensive player, tight end Tyler Eifert, and defensive captain Manti Te’o.
Last season, this team dominated its opponents on defense. The Irish held their opponents to just 12.8 points per game, the second best in the country behind Alabama. Notre Dame also had the seventh best defense in terms of yards allowed.
The offense was a different story. Kelly, an offensive minded coach, struggled to get consistency from this side of the ball. The team bounced between delivering blowouts and comeback wins week to week. The offense ranked 54th in total yards and 78th in scoring.
AP Top 25 Preseason poll has the Irish ranked 14th. This is a team that wants to be in the BCS conversation at the end of the year, and they should be looking at another 10 win season. But keep in mind that they haven’t had back-to-back double digit win seasons since 1992-93.
This unit has a lot of pressure on it after last season. The Irish will want to measure up to what was put on the field last year, and the unit has only lost three starters.
Its looking like this team will have one of the best defensive lines in the country. Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt are both potential All-Americans and Sheldon Day is a sleeper on the line who is exceptional at rushing the passer.
The secondary was a mixed bag last season, but a year of experience and improved depth make for a better unit overall. Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell proved to be a very good combo at cornerback. They were productive in 26 combined starts, and it neither had all that much experience at the beginning of last year. Jackson was even named as one of the teams captains.
At linebacker, the Irish will have to do without Te’o, but they also did so in the National Championship game (zing!). Three starter, all seniors, return to this unit. Junior Jarrett Grace will fill in on the edge and has shown that he can be a good pass rusher and is equally skilled against the run.
Expect the defense to carry the team until the offense is able to consistently put up points. This could look a lot like last season, but the schedule appears to be a bit more difficult.
Former starting QB Evertt Golson will sit out the season. That leaves Tommy Rees to take control of the offense. Rees showed up for a few snaps in almost every game last season, but he didn’t look all that great. He completed just 57 percent of his passes for 436 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.
The good news for Rees is that Notre Dame has one of the highest rated offensive lines in the country. The interior of the line, specifically center and right guard, are in need of replacements. Senior left tackle Zach Martin returns, as do fellow seniors Chris Watt and Christian Lombard. Anytime you can return that many upperclassmen, its always a good thing.
At running back, the Irish will be without Theo Riddick who went pro, as well as Cierre Wood. That means that the only back with experience from last season will be George Atkinson III. Atkinson rushed for 361 yards and five touchdowns on just 51 carries last season. Amir Carlisle is a junior transfer from USC, but his freshman stats don’t amount to much. Freshman Greg Bryant could be the difference maker. The five-star recruit is the ideal mold for a running back and he has all the skills necessary to be successful.
The receiving corps took a hit when Eifer went pro. Eifert was tied for the lead in receptions and touchdowns (50 and 4, respectively) led the team in receiving yards. Junior Troy Niklas will attempt to take over the tight end position, but he didn’t see too many passes thrown his way last season. DeVaris Daniels and T.J. Jones return as starters at the wide receiver position and both are on the Biletnikoff Award Preseason Watch List. Having Daniels back and healthy will be a big boost to the offense and really let the Irish push the ball down field.
The Irish have a very solid returning team. The defense is poised for another big year, and Rees has enough weapons around him to be dangerous. Another 10 win season is definitely in the cards for Notre Dame in 2013.
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