Here we are again, on the brink of another season of Notre Dame Football. Through all the drama following the National Title game, (which looked more like a scrimmage against a Juco team for Alabama) with Te’o and his fake love story, Kelly interviewing with the Eagles, losing recruits and Golson cheating; most were left with nothing else to do but wonder what happened to the magic of the 2012 season. Surely this year will cause much of the same at times, however, I don’t understand why people are expecting a let down from this year’s Fighting Irish.
There are a lot of 9-3 predictions out there, many with the Irish losing all of their toughest games. The analysis of such a prediction must have been excruciating, really. Surely most of the pessimism comes from Everett Golson missing this season and having Tommy Rees lead the offense again. All of the sudden, memories of passes fluttering behind receivers and under thrown deep balls start dancing in your head; kind of makes you nauseous. While you can’t discount Rees’ shortcomings, this team is still better than last year.
Here are 3 reasons why:
1.) Tommy Rees: Two years More Mature; Physically and Mentally
It’s clear that Rees is not as gifted as Golson but don’t discount what two years of training and development can do for a young athlete. Paul Longo and his staff do an incredible job physically developing the Irish athletes and Tommy is no exception. If teams are expecting the same old Tommy Rees in 2013, they may be in for a rude awakening. He’s not going to set the world on fire, but expect him to make some more plays with his arm and be able to lead the Irish offense with minimal turnovers. The Irish absolutely would not have made it to the title game last year if Rees didn’t step up when called upon, and they won’t make it to a BCS game this season without him either.
2.) Better Defense: Experienced and Deep
Even without Te’o, the Irish defense is improved. Te’o had a great year, but the story of his “girlfriend’s death” seemed to make him larger than life, overshadowing the accomplishments of his teammates at times. A secondary that was full of youth and uncertainty turned out being a pleasant surprise with the arrival of KeiVarae Russell, Elijah Shumate and Mathias Farley stepping up as underclassmen. With a year of experience under their belt and the addition of a healthy Bennett Jackson, the Irish secondary could end up being one of the best in the nation this season after finishing last season 25th in pass defense.
Although Danny Spond’s career ended prematurely, the Irish are in good hands with seniors Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese and Prince Shembo. Jaylon Smith will be called on to replace Spond and having Danny traveling with the team this season will help Jaylon settle into the starting role as a true freshman. Smith was a 5 start recruit in an excellent class for Brian Kelly and if anyone can fill Danny’s shoes, it’s him. His athleticism and ability to rush the passer could make him and Shembo a force to be reckoned with coming off the edge.
The front line of the Irish defense is where it all starts with Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. Sheldon Day is the sleeper up front, at least for the first week or so. Day showed his explosiveness last season and the ability to get up field in a hurry. His game has a little Dwight Freeney in it with his quick first step and disruptiveness in the pass rush.
Now that the Irish have stability at all three levels of the defense, they should be able to adapt to nearly any style offense. Bob Diaco and the Irish will see it all this season, but with their depth and experience, expect the defense to rise up as a unit and be among the best in the nation
3.) Experience Of Last Season
After starting the 2012 campaign ranked 24th in the country, the Irish took the college football world by storm. When Notre Dame is living up to expectations, the pressure mounts quickly. Irish fans think all is right in the world, the “experts” find reasons why they can’t keep wining and the haters, well, they think it’s a conspiracy…or something. The Irish know how to win, and for the first time since the mid 90’s, it’s expected.
With that said, just a week away from the kick of the 2013 season, I predict the Irish to finish 11-1. The loss will come in Texas in the Shamrock series against Arizona State. The Sun Devils have a D-line that rivals the Irish and enough speed offensively to terrorize the most athletic defense. Even with the loss, I believe the Irish will make their second appearance to the title game in as many years. The final game of the season against Stanford will be the game that catapults the Irish to the top of the BCS standings along with the Georgia Bulldogs.