Notre Dame's football team set the tone for this season after making the national championship last January. According to Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune, Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly said "it's unacceptable for a standard to be any less than being back here again. So it's an incredible springboard."
In order for the Irish to take on the likes of the Alabama Crimson Tide, Notre Dame's offense needs to evolve.
Here are three reasons the offense will do just that in 2013:
1. The Offensive Line
Of all the reasons I'm about to give for Notre Dame's offense being elite in 2013, the offensive line is the surest one. The Fighting Irish O-line is composed entirely of upperclassmen. Here are the projected starters on the most recent depth chart, via Rivals.com.
|Tight End||Troy Niklas||Junior|
|Offensive Tackle||Zack Martin||Senior|
|Offensive Tackle||Christian Lombard||Senior|
|Offensive Guard||Chris Watt||Senior|
|Offensive Guard||Connor Hanratty||Junior|
It's also worth noting that the smallest guy on the line is 6'3", 321 pounds.
The line will need to work on their ability to open up holes for running backs and QB Everett Golson. This was sometimes a problem for them last year, so expect that to be a focus in the offseason.
2. Golson's Running Game
Sure, Golson did not have the best spring game, but the young quarterback out of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina remains the Irish's best option to get back to the national championship. One thing that is critical to understanding Golson's potential is recognizing his improvements.
Let's juxtapose his rushing stats with those of highly touted Marcus Mariota from the 2012 Oregon Ducks.
These stats are deceiving because Golson rushed for minus-11 yards in his first four games with the Fighting Irish. Let's negate the last seven regular-season games for each player and see how they stack up:
As you can see, Golson is making the attempts, he's just not getting the yardage. With the senior leadership on the O-line this year, they are bound to create more holes for him.
It's also worth noting that in the Wake Forest game, Golson only made one attempt that did not result in a loss or gain for the Irish. If you remove that game, his numbers look like this:
*YPA = yards per attempt
Admittedly, I'm doing a bit of statistical gymnastics here to make a point. However, what is clear is that when Golson is playing well, he gets a fair amount of rushing yardage. If he develops his play-reading ability and rushing skills in the offseason, he has the potential to be a serious dual-threat quarterback this fall.
Now before you go rushing to the comments to tell me that Mariota's pass-completion percentage is much higher that Golson's (68.5 to 58.8, respectively) making them a mismatched comparison, keep in mind that Golson threw for just 272 less yards than his contemporary in Eugene last season. Golson was also out for the entire BYU game, whereas Mariota played in all 13 of the Ducks' games in 2012. They also have the exact same number of interceptions at six a piece.
3. Wide Receiver TJ Jones
With the competition for running back in full swing, the wide receivers will need to be rock solid this fall. If history is any indicator, TJ Jones will be the go-to wideout. With 50 catches for 649 yards—averaging 13 yards a reception—last season, Jones was just behind star tight end Tyler Eifert, who had the same number of catches for 685 yards.
To appreciate Jones' talent, keep in mind that his average yards per carry, 13, is only .4 yards lower than that of Louisiana Tech's star receiver Quinton Patton, who averaged 13.4 yards in 2012.
This season you can expect his numbers to increase as he will be the primary receiver and Golson's passing game is expected to improve during the offseason. If Golson is able to get the ball to Jones, expect him to continue making big plays this fall.
In conclusion, there is still a fair amount of work to be done to bring the Irish offense up to elite level. However, the talent base is strong enough that with the proper coaching and training, they will be up to par by fall.
*All statistics referenced from www.sports-reference.com.