It is hard to tell Notre Dame fans to think about reasonable goals after everything that happened last season. From starting the season off unranked, to reaching the national championship with an undefeated record, it was anything from reasonable and wasn't predicted by even the most hardcore Irish fan.
Who's to say it can't happen again?
Well, assuming that lightning never strikes the same spot twice, Notre Dame must realize that last year was a once-in-a-lifetime season. Like every team in the country, the Irish will have to begin the season with reasonable goals.
It is fun to shoot for the moon, but here are some achievable goals Notre Dame can reach in 2013.
Top 60 in Offensive Points Per Game
Notre Dame finished last season ranked 80th in the country, averaging 25.8 points per game. While it won't become Oregon or Texas A&M anytime soon, it will see a significant improvement from last year.
A backfield that averaged 189 yards a game on the ground is even deeper than it was last year. From true freshman Greg Bryant, to experienced runner George Atkinson III, the Irish have a handful of backs they could go to when looking for a spark. There isn't a true No. 1 option at receiver, but with a combination of TJ Jones, DaVaris Daniels, C.J. Prosise and Chris Brown, there is potential with this unit to improve the receiving statistics.
Then there is quarterback Everett Golson, who has potential, but we are all waiting to see when it will start to come together. He didn't exactly light things up during the spring game and still looks a little lost out there on the field. However, when given time, he can throw the prettiest football in the country. You have to believe with a few more months of the offseason, Golson will continue to fix his game and iron out the wrinkles.
Although there are still questions with this unit, the talent is there to become a more efficient offense than it was a year ago.
35 Total Sacks from the Defense
One thing that should remain the same for Notre Dame is the amount of defensive pressure the front seven generates. Finishing last season with 33 sacks, it isn't farfetched to believe that those numbers will increase with the guys who are returning.
It goes without saying that Stephon Tuitt is a monster at defensive end and easily one of the better defensive linemen in the country. Racking up 11 sacks last year, he should once again have another great year and keep a lot of offensive coordinators up at night. Having Louis Nix in the middle will make things tough for opponents, and a bigger role for sophomore Sheldon Day may actually be an upgrade over Kapron Lewis-Moore.
Knowing that linebacker Ishaq Williams will see an increased workload is another reason to get excited about this defense. With his athleticism and pure pass-rushing skills, he will help take things to another level as far as getting to the quarterback is concerned.
You could make an argument that Notre Dame has the best defensive front in college football. Because of that, I see better sack numbers taking place and more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Remember, we are talking about reasonable goals. Could Notre Dame run the table again? Sure. But with the schedule that is on the table, it won't be an easy task and certainly isn't reasonable.
When looking at the teams the Irish have to play, I'm concerned about Michigan, Oklahoma, Arizona State, USC and Stanford. I'm giving the team from South Bend victories in all of the other matchups, but have doubts with all of the other teams.
Michigan always plays Notre Dame tough and should be better on both sides of the ball from a year ago. Oklahoma should be all right assuming the question mark is answered at quarterback. Arizona State will be one of the biggest surprises this season, and the game takes place on a neutral field. USC has much of its team returning and will remain a contender as long as somebody steps up at quarterback. Stanford is a national title contender, and an end-of-the-season road trip is never easy.
No matter how you want to slice it, this is still the toughest schedule in the country. This is without even mentioning Michigan State and BYU, two programs very capable of pulling off the upset and making things that much harder to appear in a BCS bowl.
Notre Dame may be a better team talent-wise than it was a year ago, but thanks to another daunting schedule, the Irish should set the bar at nine victories.