Will Everett Golson's Return Be Enough for Notre Dame to Improve in 2014?

Alex SimsCorrespondent IIIJanuary 27, 2014

The return of Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson might be the feel-good story of the 2014 football season.

Star quarterback sits out one season and returns a better quarterback and a better person. Upon his return, he leads his storied program to the first ever College Football Playoff.

But as Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly admitted, not everyone will be hoping for that happy ending, per Tom Coyne, Associated Press:

There's going to be a lot of noise surrounding Everett Golson. I think there's going to be as many people looking for him to not succeed as there will be to succeed. Unfortunately, not everybody likes a good story. So there will be some cynics out there. I think we're going to have to support him. But he's prepared to handle all those things.

While Golson might be able to handle the skeptics, he'll have a tougher time fighting through his team's daunting 2014 schedule without several key members of the team's 2013 squad.

Notre Dame will spend its first season as a partial member in the Atlantic Coast Conference and will face four tough league contests.

Notre Dame 2014 Schedule
DateOpponent2013 Sagarin RatingLocation
Aug. 30Rice69South Bend, Ind.
Sept.6Michigan44South Bend, Ind.
Sept. 13Purdue157Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Stadium)
Sept. 27Syracuse62East Rutherford, N.J. (MetLife Stadium)
Oct. 4Stanford5South Bend, Ind.
Oct. 11North Carolina45South Bend, Ind.
Oct. 18Florida State1Tallahassee, Fla.
Nov. 1Navy51Landover, Md. (FedEx Field)
Nov. 8Arizona State19Tempe, Ariz.
Nov. 15Northwestern65South Bend, Ind.
Nov. 22Louisville20South Bend, Ind.
Nov. 29USC21Los Angeles

The Irish will take on Syracuse at MetLife Stadium before playing host to North Carolina and Louisville. The biggest test will come on Oct. 18 against defending national champion Florida State. Those four tilts are only the beginning. Notre Dame will also take on Michigan, Stanford, Arizona State and USC.

From defending Conference USA champion Rice in the season opener to the Trojans to close the season, the Irish don't truly have a walkover (except perhaps Big Ten cellar-dweller Purdue) on their entire slate. They'll face five teams that finished in the top 25 of the Jeff Sagarin Ratings for the 2013 season.

They figure to improve on offense with the addition of Golson. The Myrtle Beach, S.C., native spent his season off training with heralded quarterback guru George Whitfield and all signs point to him returning as a bigger, better QB.

As Coyne reported, Kelly is pleased with the new look of his quarterback, saying he has packed weight on his frame in preparation for the 2014 campaign:

Golson, who was listed at 185 pounds when Notre Dame faced Alabama in the national championship game last year, looked "physically more mature, probably over 200 pounds," Kelly said. "He looked great, quite frankly. Great physical condition and I think mentally is really where I saw a young man that understands what he's coming back to."

Golson will carry 25/1 Heisman Trophy odds as he aims to replace Tommy Rees under center.

Rees threw for 3,257 yards with 27 passing touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2013, leading the Irish to a 9-4 record. By comparison, Golson tallied 2,703 total yards (2,405 passing and 298 rushing) and 18 total touchdowns with six interceptions.

If Golson is indeed the improved quarterback as promised, the Notre Dame offense stands to improve. The Irish finished just 68th in the country in total offense last year, tallying 405.8 yards per contest. The year before, with Golson, they were slightly better, tallying 412.2 yards per game, good for No. 54 nationally.

Notre Dame under Brian Kelly
YearRecordBowl Result
20108-5Sun Bowl Win vs. Miami (Fla.)
20118-5Champs Sports Bowl Loss vs. Florida State
201212-1National Championship Loss vs. Alabama
20139-4Pinstripe Bowl Win Vs. Rutgers
Notre Dame Media Guide

On the other hand, Notre Dame will be without at least two top playmakers. Receiver T.J. Jones and running back George Atkinson III, who accounted for 1,108 receiving and 555 rushing yards respectively, are headed to the next level.

But whether Golson's offense pans out or not, the defensive side will be the biggest root of concern. The Fighting Irish will lose their top two defensive linemen, Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III, their two leading tacklers, Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese and their best defensive backs, Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth.

Those losses will be a true test of just how well Kelly's squad will be able to reload going forward.

Unfortunately, with that much production departing from the other side of the ball, coupled with a murderous schedule, Golson's triumphant return will likely be spoiled.

Luckily, he'll have his senior season still left. More good news: Florida State doesn't appear on the 2015 schedule.


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