Notre Dame Football: Why the Irish Will Underachieve in 2013

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst IMay 30, 2013

Jan 7, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly reacts on the sideline against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the second half of the 2013 BCS Championship game at Sun Life Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Eileen Blass-USA TODAY Sports
Eileen Blass-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly isn't one to waste valuable pondering the future.

But make no mistake about it; after each of his team's 12 victories in 2012, Kelly had it swirling in the back of his mind that expectations of the program were increasing exponentially. Such is the nature of college football, especially at Notre Dame. 

After more than a decade of pressing their noses on the glass outside of the national championship race, Irish fans finally tasted the type of success they had been starved for when Kelly and Co. advanced to January's BCS National Championship Game. 

I hate to burst these fans' collective bubble, but Notre Dame will fall short of mountainous expectations for the 2013 season.

That proclamation shouldn't arrive as a surprise, though.

While some fans may be content with the Irish simply reaching a BCS game, the consensus desire among the fanbase is for the team to make a return trip to the BCS National Championship Game.

Therefore, anything short of accomplishing that goal will be seen as an underachievement. I suppose great power indeed does come with great responsibility.

Prior to Saturday evening, I was prepared to make the argument that Notre Dame would overachieve in 2013, but news of incumbent starting quarterback Everett Golson's dismissal from the school drastically altered the beliefs surrounding the potential of this season's outfit.

With Golson's suspension encompassing the fall semester—he must reapply to the school, meaning a return to Notre Dame is anything but certain—Kelly will be forced to choose between Tommy Rees, Malik Zaire and Andrew Hendrix to fulfill Golson's vacant post.

While this circumstance will likely become a damning revelation for the Irish's aspirations in 2013, there is good news to discuss.

The catalyst of the team's undefeated 2012 season was its defense, which finished second nationally in points allowed, 11th against the rush and seventh in total defense. That stifling unit returns eight starters, making it no secret that it will be the team's overwhelming strength once again.

While defense does win championships, the Irish's starting 11 will—in the absence of Goldson—face the unenviable task of bailing out the offense for a second consecutive season.

Fans and the media alike can speculate about what the potential of the Irish offense would have been with Golson, but the fact of the matter is that it will surely regress without the Myrtle Beach, S.C., native.

The current belief surrounding the starting quarterback job is that a battle will ensue between Rees and Zaire, but the unfortunate fact is that neither is equal to Golson; the playbook will be scaled back for either quarterback, though for different reasons—inexperience in Zaire's case, physical limitations in Rees' case.

The quarterback position isn't the Irish's only worry on the offensive side of the ball.

They've been charged with replacing two starting offensive linemen—center Braxston Cave and right guard Mike Golic, Jr.

Nick Martin, the younger brother of starting left tackle Zack Martin, seemingly has transitioned to Cave's vacant center position, though questions exist as to how he and Golic's replacement will gel with the Irish's returning starters along the line.

That group will also be blocking for an unproven group of running backs, which is currently led by George Atkinson—though he doesn't fit the mold of a starting running back. Will William Mahone break through? What about the heralded incoming freshmen, Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston?

These are questions that must be answered prior to kickoff against Temple on Aug. 31 but, at this point, seem far from being resolved.

Regardless of what the answers may be, the most burning question will be whether the offense can put enough points on the board so as to not hold the defense directly responsible for winning games.