2014 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Team Preview
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Head Coach: Brian Kelly
2013 Record: 9-4 overall
2013 Bowl Result: Beat Rutgers 29-16 in the Pinstripe Bowl
2013 Returning Starters: 7 offense, 5 defense
Odds to win 2015 College Football Championship Game: 50/1
Regular Season Wins: over 7.5 -155 / under 7.5 +125
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After an undefeated regular season and a loss in the BCS Championship Game in 2012, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish finished 9-4 in 2013. The losses came to Michigan, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh and Stanford, all bowl teams. They did give Michigan State their only loss of the season, and also had wins over bowl teams USC, Arizona State, Navy and BYU. Notre Dame beat Rutgers 29-16 in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Officially, 12 starters are back but it is really 13. Quarterback Everett Golson missed last year due to being academically ineligible after leading the Irish to the great 2012 season. Coach Brian Kelly enters his fifth year as Notre Dame head coach.
Notre Dame averaged 255 passing and 151 rushing yards last season. The Fighting Irish scored 27 points a game. Coordinator Mike Denbrook is back to run the offense.
Thomas Rees was a solid replacement for Golson in 2013. Rees threw for 3,257 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He has graduated though and Golson returns to helm the offense as a senior. In 2012, he passed for 2,405 yards with 12 touchdowns and 6 interceptions and also rushed for 298 yards with 6 touchdowns. Sophomore Malik Zaire could take a few snaps a game in 2014, as could long-time back-up Andrew Hendrix.
Leading rusher Cam McDaniel had 152 carries for 705 yards and 3 touchdowns and is back for his senior season. The Irish must replace George Atkinson III who rushed 93 times for 555 yards and 3 touchdowns, and is now with the Oakland Raiders. Tarean Folston is also back and he rushed for 470 yards on 88 carries with 3 touchdowns. Amir Carlisle had 47 carries for 204 yards but he moves to receiver in 2014. Expect Greg Bryant to get more carries behind McDaniel and Folston. The mobile Golson will also get a lot of carries.
Leading receiver T.J. Jones is now with the Detroit Lions. He made 70 catches for 1,108 yards and 9 touchdowns. Tight end Troy Niklas left early for the NFL and is with the Arizona Cardinals. He had 32 catches for 498 yards and 5 touchdowns last year. Receiver DaVaris Daniels is back though and should be the go-to receiver. He had 49 catches for 745 yards with 7 touchdowns. Junior Chris Brown had 15 catches for 209 yards and a touchdown. He will get more targets in 2014. Tight end Ben Koyack had 10 catches for 171 yards and 3 touchdowns, and should be a very capable replacement for Niklas.
Left tackle Zack Martin was a first round pick by the Dallas Cowboys and started 52 straight games for Notre Dame. The line must also replace left guard Chris Watt. Still the line should be in good shape with Zack’s younger brother Nick Martin at center, right guard Christian Lombard and Ronnie Stanley at left tackle.
Notre Dame gave up 366 yards per game on defense and 22 points per game. The Fighting Irish were #31 or better in both categories. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco left to become the head coach at Connecticut. Kelly replaced him with Brian VanGorder, who has been the defensive coordinator for Georgia, Auburn and the Atlanta Falcons in his career. Five starters are back for the Irish on defense.
The defensive line must replace nose guard Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. Three other starters are gone from the front seven, and inside linebacker Jarrett Grace could miss the season as he continues to recovery from a leg injury. Linebackers Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith will anchor what should be a strong unit.
The secondary will be the strength of the defense. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell is NFL ready and some say he might be the best corner in college football. Cole Luke and Cody Riggs will compete for the other corner. Austin Collinsworth and Max Redfield will man the safeties.
Kicker Kyle Brindza made 20 of 26 field goals last year and also averaged 41.1 yards as a punter. McDaniel and Carlisle will likely handle the return duties.
Outlook / Schedule
Notre Dame has home games against Rice, Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina, Northwestern and Louisville. The Fighting Irish have road games at Florida State, Navy, Arizona State and USC, along with neutral site games against Purdue in Indianapolis and Syracuse in East Rutherford, New Jersey. I think Notre Dame wins 7 or 8 games with such a difficult schedule with 10 bowl teams from last year.
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