The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are coming off a BCS National Championship game appearance but have a tough road to travel in 2013 to get back to the top.
With Everett Golson—last year’s freshman phenom quarterback—out of the picture, senior signal-caller Tommy Rees will need to step up and show that he’s improved while not actually playing in games.
If the Irish are able to succeed in spite of the long odds and numerous personnel issues, it's going to reflect on Kelly’s brilliance as a strategist.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at Notre Dame’s complete 2013 schedule, make some predictions for the season and more.
Rees Has Solid Campaign
Before Golson jumped him on the depth chart, Rees performed decently well under center—connecting on 269 of 411 passes for 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns with 14 interceptions—during an up-and-down 2011 season.
He’s been given a rare opportunity to reclaim his starting spot and lead the Irish to glory, so you know that Rees certainly isn’t lacking motivation to star in 2013.
Coach Kelly may keep Rees on a short leash to start the season, but the 6’2” 215-pound signal-caller may get some more leeway as the campaign moves forward.
Rees will need to hit the ground running against Temple, as this showdown precedes a tough and anticipated matchup with the rival Michigan Wolverines.
If he can perform well in these two contests, the senior will have regained his confidence and be poised to take the Irish to new heights.
George Atkinson Breaks Out
There are a number of potential rushers on the Notre Dame roster waiting to bust out this season, but George Atkinson looks most prepared to put up the best numbers and make the biggest impact.
Remember, both Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood—last year’s leading rushers—took their talents to the NFL and left two major vacancies in the backfield.
You may be familiar with Atkinson, as he was the third-leading rusher behind those two in 2012 and ran the ball 51 times for 361 yards. He also scored five touchdowns, an impressive feat for the sophomore.
At 6’2”, 220 pounds, Atkinson is an absolute bruiser who can take a pounding and punish the defense for trying to arm tackle him. He also has breakaway speed and seems to have developed a consistent motor and patience, as evidenced by some of his runs during practice.
Don’t sleep on this kid becoming a workhorse under Kelly, as he has the build, speed and skill to put the team on his back.
Irish Finish 10-2
Notre Dame simply won’t be able to repeat last year’s success and run the table, especially not with so many tough games on the schedule.
Although this team is good enough to win a majority of the matchups in 2013, there are two that stand out.
Contests against the Arizona State Sun Devils at a neutral site in the middle of the season and the season finale against Stanford are the pair of contests that stick out as extremely tough.
Both teams play extremely different brands of Pac-12 football, but both are capable of getting the job done and are poised to have incredible seasons in 2013.
Don’t be surprised if the Irish falter against those two and only those two during the upcoming campaign.