After a disappointing campaign last season, Notre Dame is rolling this year, ranked No. 5 in the nation and sporting a perfect 6-0 record.
Armed with a stellar defense and a power running game, the Fighting Irish are feeling good following last season's loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Of course, none of this success would be possible if inside linebacker Manti Te'o had departed to the NFL after last season. He's the guiding force of a defense that is allowing just 8.7 points per game (second to No. 1 Alabama) as the only unit left in the FBS not to allow a rushing touchdown.
Greg Couch of FoxSports.com went as far as to call Te'o the Heisman favorite this season, calling him "the most important, best, most outstanding, least flawed, most dominant, most valuable player on a major college football field anywhere."
As for the running game, a running-back-by-committee approach is paying dividends. Theo Riddick, George Atkinson III and Cierre Wood have combined for 877 rushing yards so far (5.5 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns on the ground.
Head coach Brian Kelly said, via ESPN:
We think they are all very good backs. I think if there's any comment that needs to be made on the three running backs is we still have to continue to get more touches for George Atkinson.
Interestingly enough, Riddick and Wood share a four-person apartment together, per the ESPN report. Atkinson also comes over and hangs out from time to time. One big happy family.
And perhaps there is something to be said about that. Perhaps a chemistry that extends even off the field has made Notre Dame a more solid group, more level-headed.
When looking at Notre Dame's weaknesses, the passing game always comes up.
But while consistency at quarterback has been an issue, offensive coordinator Chuck Martin likes the, yes, chemistry quarterbacks Everett Golson and Tommy Rees have exhibited while splitting time under center.
Martin's own chemistry with the quarterbacks may have something to do with there not being much frustration that could derail the team.
Martin said of Golson after defeating then-No. 18 Michigan in Week 4, via ESPN:
"We said from Day 1, 'You're not going to be a great quarterback as a freshman. It's very rare (a freshman's) great all the time. You might be great in spurts or great on plays or great for a period of time, or even a whole game you might have a complete great game.' But just to play, there's so many new experiences for him."
In the thrilling 20-13 overtime victory over Stanford last week, Golson played the majority of the contest, but Rees came in late to go 4-of-4 for 43 yards and direct Notre Dame's game-winning touchdown drive after Golson got injured. Things like that are generally not supposed to be so easy—or appear that way.
Also, you have to credit tight end Tyler Eifert for staying in South Bend despite having a shot of being an early pick in the NFL draft this year.
Tim O'Malley of IrishEyes.com noted that Kelly has stressed ever since he arrived that players place all their attention on the program instead of looking forward to the NFL, per Brandon Gurney of the Deseret News.
According to O'Malley, Golson is expected to start against BYU this week, but Rees will be there waiting in the wings if an opportunity presents itself.
BYU is allowing 6.0 yards per pass attempt this season (19th in the nation) while giving up just 2.2 yards per carry (second).
On the other hand, the Cougars' defense just allowed 35 points to Oregon State last week while getting torched through the air and on the ground. Senior quarterback Riley Nelson also struggled, throwing three interceptions, including one that was taken to the house to cap off a 42-24 blowout loss.
Notre Dame is currently rolling, and that doesn't figure to change against BYU on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
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