Just two short years ago, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were playing for a BCS National Championship, but a beatdown by Alabama quickly ensued. The following season was an average one as starting quarterback Everett Golson was suspended for academic reasons, leaving Tommy Rees to start. With Golson back, the Fighting Irish could be in line to make yet another deep run.
The most memorable moment of the Rice Owls‘ 2013 season — to the casual college football fan — was in the season opener as they were the subject of Johnny Manziel‘s excessive taunting after a one-half suspension. The Owls followed that loss to Johnny Football up with wins in 10 of their next 13 games to finish the season with a 10-4 record. Can they build on that with just 12 returning starters?
Golson had to fight for his job back during spring ball and the entire offseason as talented youngster Malik Zaire made a case for the starting job as well. During the national title-run season, Golson passed for 2,405 yards but had just 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. Head coach Brian Kelly says he is taking more of a leadership role this year and he will need to if the Fighting Irish are going to make a run at the College Football Playoff. However, Golson will have to excel without the help of top wide out DaVaris Daniels who was one of four players suspended due to academic issues. Cam McDaniel led all rushers last season but it looks like Tarean Folston and former five-star RB Greg Bryant will also get a cut of the carries.
Rice had one of the best rushing offenses in the nation in 2013, ranking 17th in yards per game, but losing top rusher Charles Ross will definitely impact the offense in a negative way. Sophomore Jowan Davis will be relied upon to take the bulk of the carries and he is the lead returning rusher as he finished the 2013 season with 476 yards and three scores. Along with Ross also goes dual-threat quarterback Taylor McHargue who passed for over 2,300 yards and ran for over 450. Enter, Driphus Jackson. The junior quarterback struggles with accuracy, completing just five of 16 passes last season, but has the ability to elude pressure and scramble. Jackson finished the 2013 season with 156 rushing yards and a score. He will have two returning starters in Dennis Parks and Jordan Taylor to throw to.
Defensively, the Owls were one of the more average teams in the conference. Rice finished 42nd in the nation in scoring defense while also ranking 30th in total defense. The area in which the Owls succeeded most was against the pass, ranking 18th. Notre Dame was also one of the better defensive units in the country, ranking 27th in points allowed as well as 31st in total yards allowed. The Fighting Irish also excelled against the pass, ranking 15th nationally.
Rice will travel to Notre Dame to take on the Fighting Irish at 3:30 p.m. EST on Saturday, Aug. 30. The game will be broadcasted on NBC.
PREDICTION: Rice 14, Notre Dame 35
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.