The Notre Dame Fighting Irish fell off a bit in 2013 after playing their way into the BCS National Championship after the 2012 regular season. Brian Kelly will try and get the Irish back on top of the college football world next season but will face a daunting task, considering what Notre Dame will lose off their roster this offseason, especially on defense now that Stephon Tuitt has confirmed he will skip his senior season and head for the NFL.
Tuitt was expected to leave South Bend after leading the team with 7.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss this season. He becomes just the second Notre Dame player to leave early under Kelly’s watch (though he is one of three this season) and his departure makes Notre Dame’s defensive front dangerously thin heading into 2014. Along with Tuitt, nose guard Louis Nix is gone to the pros as well. That makes the most experienced defensive lineman coming back for 2014 sophomore Sheldon Day who recorded 33 tackles this season, including 5.5 tackles for loss, but was in on just half of a sack.
Replacing the talent on the defensive side of the ball was an issue for Notre Dame in 2013 as they took a step back from the BCS National Championship run. Now, they have an even tougher challenge ahead of them next season as they lose even more talent on defense. They’re also getting thinned out on offense despite the return of Everett Golson under center following his semester-long suspension this fall. The exodus of talent this year, headlined by early departures like Tuitt, casts a lot of doubt on the 2014 fortunes of the Irish heading into the offseason.
Kelly faces the challenge of replacing a ton of talent in South Bend this offseason. How well he finds younger players to step into featured roles next fall will determine how successful the Irish are in 2014. Will he be able to replace the talent lost?