Virtually no one outside of the Fighting Irish predicted that Notre Dame would have the season that they did last year. They finished with a 12-1 record with their only blemish coming in the BCS National Championship game to a team that featured nine 2013 NFL draft picks and a quarterback whose girlfriend made Brent Musburger act like a 13-year-old boy.
But that was last season. Now, the Irish find themselves trying to distance themselves from arguably one of the most puzzling scandals in the history of college football. They also have an extremely large and rabid fan base that will not likely be ready to go back to mediocrity after the school’s first undefeated regular season since the 1989 National Championship team went 12-0.
Luckily, the Irish have put themselves in a position to do exactly that. While they loose leading rusher Theo Riddick and playmaker Cierre Wood, they bring in a highly decorated recruiting class that features RBs Tarean Folston (4 star, rivals.com) and Greg Bryant (5 star, rivals.com). These two look to immediately challenge George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel for playing time. Look for Coach Brian Kelly to utilize any number of these backs the same way he did last year.
Joining this group of backs will be starting QB Everett Gholson. In his first year as a starter, Gholson threw for 2405 and 12 scores and ran for another 5. He also led his team to a National Champion. Arguably the best dual threat Irish QB since Tony Rice, his job is still not 100% safe. Former starter Tommy Rees will look to win back the job he lost at the beginning of last season after he was suspended from the first game for an off field drinking incident. Rees has thrown 34 TDs and 24 INTs in his career and split time with Gholson throughout the year, as he is a more accomplished and seasoned passer.
On the other side of the ball, the defense loses Heisman candidate Manti Te’o, but the line-backing core doesn’t look to be sweating it. The Irish bring back Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, Danny Spond and Prince Shembo. These four have an immense amount of experience and look to lead this defensive unit back to the same domination that they enjoyed last year.
The Irish defense will also be somewhat stacked at the end position as well. Stephon Tuitt is coming off a breakout season where he was named a second team All American and recorded 13 TFLs and 12 sacks, which lead the team. The opposite end, incoming freshman Sheldon Day replaces Kapron Lewis-Moore with more height and speed. Look for Day to immediately make an impact coming off the corner.
While 2012 may have been a dream season for the Irish, they certainly don’t seem like they are ready to wake up. With a decently manageable schedule featuring Temple, Air Force, Navy, Purdue and Pitt, don’t be too surprised to see Notre Dame in the same situation they were in at the end of last season.
Mike O’Keefe is a writer and a comedian. He can be found online at www.themikeokeefe.com and on twitter @themikeokeefe