One year after making an appearance in the BCS National Championship Game, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish took a bit of a step back and went just 9-4 with an appearance, and win, in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
Brian Kelly has done a wonderful job as Notre Dame’s head coach since taking over the program in 2010, going 37-15. However, Fighting Irish fans are hoping for a bit more than just another four or five-loss season from the team.
This year could be special for Notre Dame, but owning one of the toughest schedules in the nation could make or break the team.
Not too often do you see a quarterback who led a team to a national title appearance fighting for a starting job with a sophomore QB with no starting experience. That is exactly the position Everett Golson, senior QB who was suspended for academic issues in 2013, is in with sophomore stud Malik Zaire.
Many think Golson should regain his job as the team’s starter because of his experience under center and his ability to lead the Irish to the national title during the 2012 season. However, Brian Kelly argued that Golson didn’t exactly lead the bus to the title game, he just rode in it — giving credit to the entire team that year.
Whoever comes out on top will have to do so without last year’s top wide out, TJ Jones. Top returning receiver DaVaris Daniels will have some big shoes to fill. He finished the 2013 season with 49 catches for 745 yards and seven touchdowns.
Although Cam McDaniel was the team’s leading rusher a season ago, many are excited to see sophomore Tarean Folston lining up in the backfield after racking up 470 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman.
When the Irish made the title game in January of 2013, they went in with one of the nation’s best defenses, led by linebacker Manti Te’o. However, Notre Dame took a step back during the 2013 season on that side of the ball.
Despite losing the captain of the defense from the national title-bound team in 2012, the 2013 version of the Irish defense wasn’t half bad. In fact, Notre Dame ranked No. 30 in the nation in total yards allowed per game as well as 27th in the nation in points allowed per game.
However, moving forward, Notre Dame will be without its top two leading tacklers from the 2013 season in Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese.
Returning sophomore linebackers, and stud, Jaylon Smith will be huge for the defense. Smith accounted for 67 tackles and an interception last season. However, the defensive line will be losing a lot of talent in Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III. It could be a tough year for Notre Dame’s defensive front seven.
Coming off a nine-win season, Notre Dame fans are itching for more as it seems like the offense might be more potent than last year’s, which was on the roller coaster that was Tommy Rees.
If this team is to finish with a better record in 2014 than it did in 2013, it will need more than just a spectacular offense, but a top-tier defense to lead it through the horrendously-tough schedule.
Although I want to say the Fighting Irish will finish with more wins than their total of nine in 2013, I believe Notre Dame will lose four regular season games once again in 2014 and finish with the same record — depending on the outcome of its bowl game.
Connor Muldowney is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.