Can the Fighting Irish play for the national title again?
Despite Notre Dame’s 42-14 loss to Alabama in the national championship game, there’s little doubt coach Brian Kelly has the Fighting Irish back on the right track.
Notre Dame’s hopes of repeating its undefeated regular season mark from last year took a hit after spring practice, as quarterback Everett Golson was suspended and won’t play in 2013. With Golson out of the picture, Kelly and coordinator Chuck Martin will turn to senior Tommy Rees once again. Rees played well in limited spots last year but will be throwing to a young receiving corps in 2013.
While the offense has a few question marks, the defense is expected to be one of the best in the nation once again. Eight starters are back for coordinator Bob Diaco, including end Stephon Tuitt and tackle Louis Nix III.
Notre Dame’s has one of the nation’s most difficult slates, as 11 bowl teams appear on the schedule for 2013.
What will Notre Dame's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Notre Dame's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
|9/7 at Michigan|
|9/14 at Purdue|
|9/21 Michigan State|
|10/5 Arizona State (Arlington)|
|10/26 at Air Force|
|11/9 at Pittsburgh|
|11/30 at Stanford|
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Matching last year’s 12-1 mark is going to be a difficult task for Notre Dame. However, the Fighting Irish still have enough talent to finish 10-2 and qualify for a BCS bowl. Sure, the offense is going to be a struggle at times, but coach Brian Kelly did an excellent job at Cincinnati of mixing and matching quarterbacks to get the right results. While Rees will start, true freshman Malik Zaire could see some time in 2013. Notre Dame should be fine at running back, and the offensive line is solid with three starters back. The defense will miss linebacker Manti Te’o, but with eight starters back, the Fighting Irish figure to be a top-10 unit once again. There’s no question the schedule is among the nation’s best. However, I think Notre Dame will be able to squeeze 10 wins and play in a BCS bowl for the second consecutive season.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Notre Dame's title hopes took a huge blow when Everett Golson was dismissed from school back in May. This was a top-10 team with a top-10 defense and a developing star at quarterback. I had the Irish at 11-1 and sniffing around the outskirts of the BCS National Championships conversation with Golson under center. Now I have concerns about the offense competing against the better offenses — Michigan, Oklahoma, Arizona State and Stanford. The defensive line will carry this team to wins most weekends, but the offense will have to win a close game or two and I don't see Tommy Rees doing that. Look for Malik Zaire to enter the starting lineup after a loss to Arizona State on a fast track in Cowboys Stadium on October 5.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
It’s obvious to say, but so much of this season is going to depend on the quarterback situation. Notre Dame may end up missing Everett Golson more than Manti Te’o. The defense will be fine, especially up front. Whether Notre Dame turns to Tommy Rees or the freshman Malik Zaire, the quarterback position is going to be hard-pressed to lead a 10-win effort, particularly with road games against quality opponents like Michigan and Stanford. I’d pick Notre Dame to split the games against Oklahoma and Arizona State. I’ve picked Arizona State because the Sun Devils have a bit of momentum, the game’s on a neutral site and Todd Graham has done OK against Notre Dame and Brian Kelly in the past.
If Brian Kelly wants to lead Notre Dame back to a BCS bowl, the Fighting Irish need at least nine wins in the regular season to remain in the conversation. I think that's exactly where this team will land by the end of November after navigating a rugged schedule. Road games in Ann Arbor and Stanford won't be easy and the Irish also can't look past Arizona State at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. In fact, I think Notre Dame's postseason destiny could likely come down to back-to-back games against Oklahoma at home and the neutral-site matchup with the Sun Devils. Win both and the Irish should be well-positioned for another BCS berth. Lose both and any hopes of a repeat appearance are all but gone. A split isn't a season-breaker, necessarily, but it certainly decreases Notre Dame's margin of error the rest of the way.
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