After returning to elite status in the college football world in 2012, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football program is looking to prove last year wasn't a fluke.
Head coach Brian Kelly has recruited well and the program has the pieces in place to remain a national powerhouse. The proving grounds started this spring. Now the Fighting Irish are ready to display a preview of what the 2013 team will look like.
The Blue-Gold Spring game is set for Saturday. Here's how you can check out this scrimmage, as well as a few things to watch during the practice and upcoming season.
When: Saturday, April 20 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Notre Dame, Ind.
TV: NBC Sports Network
Position Battle to Watch: Running Back
George Atkinson III certainly seems to have a leg up here after averaging seven yards per carry in 2012. With Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick gone, GA III is the logical choice to carry the load for the Irish in 2013.
That said, don’t count out Cam McDaniel, USC transfer Amir Carlisle (who is out of the Spring game, per Matt Fortuna of ESPN) and redshirt freshman William Mahone. All four men will have an opportunity to compete for carries, and that competition will take center stage at the spring game.
Each runner has a different style. While we’ve seen what GA III and McDaniel can do to an extent, we have yet to see what Mahone and Carlisle can do under the spotlight.
Carlisle is perhaps the most explosive back the Irish have. His big-play ability could immediately grab some attention.
Mahone is more of a physical, between-the-tackles runner that could be valuable in short-yardage situations. At 5'10" 206 pounds, he has the frame to bang.
Ultimately, so much talent is a nice problem to have, and it’ll be fun watching the players display their gifts on the field.
Areas in Need of Improvement: The Secondary
It's no secret the otherwise solid Irish defense was victimized in the secondary against Alabama in the national championship.
Who will the Irish miss most?
At the beginning of the season, many thought the Irish secondary was the biggest weakness of the team. They were extremely young and inexperienced. Over the course of the year, I think that was forgotten as Notre Dame was seventh in the nation in total defense in 2012.
The Crimson Tide simply reminded us the secondary still had ways to go to be considered elite. A.J. McCarron sliced the Irish's last level of defense for four touchdown passes, completed 20-of-28 attempts and wasn't picked off once.
In 2013, with another year under their belt, the likes of KeiVarae Russell, Matthias Farley, Nicky Baratti and Elijah Shumate will be improved.
Many of them played other positions before settling into their current spots in the secondary. This season, they should be far more comfortable and confident in their roles.
What to Expect in 2013
With the expected improvement from Everett Golson at quarterback, the depth at running back and an improving secondary, the Irish will remain solid.
That said, they will miss Manti Te’o’s leadership on defense.
Returning to the national championship will depend on the offense’s ability to take pressure off a defense that may not be as dominant in 2013.
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