For most of the 2012 season, I watched Notre Dame's success with a certain level of disbelief. Like many, I didn't expect the team to reach the BCS National Championship. Obviously, I was wrong.
In 2013, I will likely spend much of the season doubting that the team can return to the top of the rankings. It's not personal, it's just that the Fighting Irish are losing defensive captain Manti Te'o, tight end Tyler Eifert, Zeke Motta and starting running backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick.
But if Everett Golson takes a major step in his development, all bets are off for Notre Dame. If Golson can become a poor man's Braxton Miller, Notre Dame can once again compete for a BCS berth.
There is a lot of depth in South Bend, no doubt about that. The core of last year's team remains intact, and Brian Kelly put together another fantastic recruiting class—the third-best recruiting class this year according to 247 Sports.
But this is a team that still needs a star to step forward. The team's top two rushers are gone. The team's best receiver is gone. The Heisman finalist and best defensive player in football is gone.
Somebody has to carry the torch.
Golson was solid during his redshirt freshman season, throwing for 2,405 yards, 12 touchdowns, six interceptions and completing 58.8 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 298 yards and another six touchdowns.
They aren't spectacular numbers, I know, but Golson was as effective because he didn't kill Notre Dame with turnovers as he was when he made big plays himself. He was a solid game manager in his first year starting, but he has plenty of ability for the Notre Dame coaches to give him more leash this season.
This Notre Dame team will probably be cut from the same mold as last year's team. They'll play solid defense, they'll look to establish a running game and they'll struggle to score against stingier defenses.
The difference could be Golson taking the reins of this offense and giving the team a dangerous, two-way player who has an impact similar to Braxton for Ohio State or Johnny Manziel for Texas A&M.
How far will Golson take Notre Dame?
I'm not saying he'll be a Heisman candidate next year, but I am saying he's going to need to be a big-time playmaker for Notre Dame to find its way to a BCS Bowl this year.
For now, I think Notre Dame will be a team that will finish around No. 15 in the rankings next year. There is talent, but the team lacks proven offensive playmakers.
But Golson can prove me wrong. It wouldn't be the first time he and Notre Dame did just that.