Fighting Irish football has experienced a resurgence under Brian Kelly, and the 2013 season will be another big step in the program’s rise back to the top of the college ranks.
Kelly took the reins in 2010 and led the Irish to two consecutive eight-win seasons. With a solid foundation in place, he guided Notre Dame to a 12-0 regular season and a shot at a championship—something the program hasn’t secured since the 1988 season under Lou Holtz.
The Irish ran into a buzz saw in the national championship game, though. A 42-14 defeat at the hands of Alabama derailed a season unrivaled by any Irish campaign since the 12-0 year of 1988.
While Alabama is poised to make another title run in 2013, Notre Dame won’t be far behind. The Irish lost just three starters on the defensive side of the ball this offseason, and a strong recruiting class (No. 3 in the nation, per 247Sports) should serve to fill some of the more glaring holes on both sides of the ball in the coming years.
The Irish fell just short of national championship glory last season, but they have a clean slate and a chance to make another run in 2013. We’ll take a look ahead at the coming season, and offer some bold predictions for the Notre Dame football program going forward.
Freshman Running Backs Will Lead the Charge
Running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood led the ground attack for the Irish in 2012. The two combined for 1,659 yards and nine touchdowns, pacing an offense that relied heavily on its ground game to keep the pressure off redshirt freshman Everett Golson with a balanced attack.
Riddick and Wood will enter the NFL draft in April, and Notre Dame will be forced to fill some big shoes. George Atkinson III seems like the logical choice to take over the starting role (having seen 51 carries in 2012), but there’s reason to believe Atkinson may once again take a back seat to a couple of dynamic young backs.
Four-star running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant will attend Notre Dame in the fall, and both have a chance to shine early in their careers with the Irish. They have the size, speed and quickness to contribute in every facet of the offense, though there will still be a place for Atkinson as more of a change-of-pace runner.
Prediction: Folston will lead the Irish in rushing. The trio of Folston, Bryant and Atkinson will top 2,000 yards rushing.
Everett Golson Will Take Giant Step Forward
In all fairness to Golson, he wasn’t asked to do too much in 2012, and he did a terrific job taking care of the football.
Golson didn’t put up impressive numbers or outshine the team’s rushing attack or defense, though. He was efficient, dynamic and careful with the ball, but he needs to do a little more in 2013, especially with his top receiving threat (Tyler Eifert) leaving for the draft.
He has the talent though, and Golson is poised to take a big leap forward in 2013. The Irish offense will be in a transitional period with three of their best offensive weapons no longer on the team. It will be up to the sophomore signal-caller to both lead and produce this year.
With a year of experience now under his belt, expect to see Golson make strides in a number of areas. As the unquestioned leader of the offense, he will take on a new role in 2013. Expect to see a very confident player under center.
Golson will have to take more chances in the vertical passing game, but the confidence to make those throws comes with experience and maturity. He’ll have a lot more of both this season, and he stands to put up some big numbers in 2013.
Prediction: 2,950 yards passing, 425 yards rushing, 26 total touchdowns, eight interceptions
November 30 Will Decide Championship Fate
The Fighting Irish didn’t pull any punches with their scheduling this year. They have some tough games on the slate.
Notre Dame’s 2013 schedule is highlighted by contests against Michigan, Oklahoma, Arizona State and USC, but its regular-season finale will be the ultimate test.
The Irish face off with Stanford on November 30 in what may prove to be their springboard to a second straight national title game. The Cardinal went 12-2 in 2012, and punctuated another strong year with a 20-14 victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. If Notre Dame is to have another chance at championship glory, it will have to go through Stanford.
The Irish have some tough games on the schedule in 2013, but a quick start with wins over Michigan, Michigan State and Oklahoma will go a long way in building momentum for a strong finish.
Prediction: Notre Dame will stumble in the middle of the season, but the Irish will enter the final week of the regular season with a chance to take down Stanford en route to a championship appearance.