The defensive play for Notre Dame last season was the side of the ball that carried the Irish to a BCS national championship appearance last year. We can expect similar numbers from that unit again this season, but it is the offense that everybody is going to be focused on. A team that struggled to move the chains and get into the end zone on a consistent basis, the offense has the potential to be one of the most improved in all of college football.
Irish fans should be excited about the group of guys that are returning offensively, and the players who will soon step on campus and emerge as playmakers.
Of course the success of this unit will start with quarterback Everett Golson. After a somewhat pedestrian first season on the job, the young quarterback left Irish fans with glimpses of greatness, but also had us asking many questions.
It isn't quite fair to judge Golson off of his numbers from a year ago because of the amount of times he was pulled from the game. It was really a matter of watching him on film and seeing all of the upside that he brings to the table.
What you see is a quarterback who is still a bit raw and needs to do a better job of scanning the field. His decision-making could certainly improve, as well as his confidence. However, he is a playmaker at the position and seems to be a match made in heaven for head coach Brian Kelly and this spread offense.
I see big things for Golson with a full offseason under his belt as the legitimate starter, and he should have little problems taking the next step.
Even if last year’s backup in Gunner Kiel ends up taking the starting position away from Golson, the offense should still be in great hands. There isn't any other team in the country that is as deep at quarterback as the Irish.
Because of this, I see the Irish being improved at the quarterback position regardless of who is considered the leader of the offense heading into the season opener.
Notre Dame was solid last year in running the football, as the 189 yards on the ground per game was good for 38th in the country. And even though the top two rushers from last season are no longer on the squad, the backfield is loaded with young guys who are ready to make their impact felt.
George Atkinson will finally get a shot to become a starter, and if his production as a utility player is any indication of how successful he could be as the man, watch out. His top-notch speed and ability to run between the tackles makes him a solid option.
But the Irish also have experience in Amir Carlisle, who transferred from USC and redshirted last season, and Cam McDaniel, who averaged five yards per carry last year on only 23 touches.
When you add the fact that redshirt freshman William Mahone and 2013 recruit Greg Bryant are also in the mix, you find yourself with a backfield that could easily improve last year’s numbers. Instead of relying on two small backs with similar running styles, Notre Dame now has a plethora of backs to choose from, and they all bring something different to the table.
Seeing a possible top-25 rushing offense next season isn't out of the question, especially with the running threat of Golson being included.
As for the receiver position, the Irish are likely better off this year than they were during the championship run. Having an experienced wideout in T.J. Jones, somebody who has more than 100 receptions in his career will give Golson and Kiel a security blanket.
I absolutely love Davonte' Neal moving to the slot position to replace Roby Toma, as he is one of the fastest guys on the team and should be the speedy receiver who helps stretch the field.
It is also encouraging knowing that DaVaris Daniels will see an increased workload. With his height and route-running skills, the sky is truly the limit for the young receiver who caught 31 passes his first year on the field.
The Irish also added some solid wide receiver recruits in Torii Hunter, Corey Robinson and James Onwualu. And while Tyler Eifert left a year early for the NFL, Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack provide a lot of upside at tight end.
Much like the running back position, the wide receiver corps is looking better than it did a season ago. You would still like somebody to become the No. 1 threat like Michael Floyd was a couple of years ago, but overall this is a solid group of guys that will be able to get the job done as a collective group.
These aren't receivers who are going to scare opposing defenses or make many highlight reels, but if you are looking for production, Irish fans should expect better in 2013.
And what kept this offense from completely tanking a year ago was the offensive line. Arguably one of the best in all of college football, Notre Dame only allowed 18 sacks all season long and consistently bullied defenses by opening up gaping running lanes. Even with a couple of bodies not returning from the starting lineup, the offensive line should remain one of the best.
Zack Martin and Christian Lombard will continue to hold down the fort at the tackle positions, while Chris Watt is the experienced guard who will solidify the left side. Nick Martin is a versatile lineman who can help replace Mike Golic Jr. and the center position is wrapped up as long as Matt Hegarty can continue to recover from his stroke.
The Irish offensive line was the strength of this offense a year ago and should continue to remain stout with all of the experience that is coming back. Expect to see a group of guys that continues to keep the quarterback clean and help open up holes for an improved backfield.
So what do Irish fans have to look forward to next season offensively?
Well, with an above-average receiving corps, deep backfield, oodles of potential at quarterback and an offensive line that teams would kill to have, Notre Dame should be a lot more exciting on this side of the ball.
I can guarantee the Irish won't be ranked 80th in scoring offense next season, and this will be a unit that starts earning some respect on a national level instead of being the laughing stock it was last year.
The Irish were a defensive juggernaut last season, but it looks like this team is becoming much more balanced as we enter the 2013 regular season.