Last season was a magical one for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. They ran through their 12-game regular season undefeated and made it to the BCS National Championship Game, marking the return of Notre Dame to relevancy in college football.
But 2013 is a different year, and expecting the Fighting Irish to even win 10 games this season is unrealistic for a number of reasons.
For starters, the team lost the two players that meant the most to the program last year in linebacker Manti Te'o and quarterback Everett Golson.
Te'o graduated and moved on to the NFL, so his departure was at least expected. But still, it's incredibly hard to replace a guy that finished as the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
What set apart Te'o from so many others in the country last season was not just his impressive numbers, but his clutch playmaking ability. Just look at the game against the Oklahoma Sooners in Norman last year.
It was Te'o's interception of Landry Jones with under five minutes to go and the Irish clinging to a 20-13 lead that let Irish pull ahead late for a 30-13 win.
Notre Dame has some terrific players on defense that include defensive end Stephon Tuitt, but they don't have that one playmaker that change the course of a game like Te'o could.
While Golson wasn't terrific statistically in 2012 (2,405 yards passing, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions), his scrambling ability and decision-making played huge roles for the Fighting Irish. He proved to be the better signal-caller than Tommy Rees, and it was Brian Kelly's decision to stick with Golson that played a huge role in the Fighting Irish having the type of season they did.
Now with Golson banned from Notre Dame for the fall semester due to, according to ESPN.com, "poor academic judgement," the Fighting Irish will now likely have to fall back on Rees again.
Rees is a terrible quarterback that will simply not be able to even come close to replicating the kind of success that Notre Dame had last year. Over the course of his career, Rees has thrown for just over 4,400 yards and has totaled 34 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. That's over three seasons.
Secondly, Notre Dame's schedule in 2013, while very similar to the one it had in 2012, is very tough and it will be unlikely that they can find 10 wins without the kind of playmakers that they had last season.
Road tests at Michigan on Sep. 7 and Stanford on Nov. 30 will be extremely tough matchups. The Irish also have to host the Michigan State Spartans, Oklahoma Sooners, USC Trojans and Brigham Young Cougars.
A neutral-site matchup with Arizona State is also on the slate for Notre Dame.
It's hard to say that out of those seven games listed, there aren't three losses there. Because three losses is all it takes for the Fighting Irish to fall short of 10 wins.
It's not inconceivable to think that Notre Dame could lose upwards of five or six of those games. Brian Kelly is a good coach, though, and he'll find a way to win a few of them.
Overall, while the Fighting Irish are still a good team with a great outlook for 2013, 10 wins just isn't in the cards this season. There are too many tough games on the schedule, including eight games against teams they beat last season.
You better believe those eight teams, particularly the USC Trojans, Michigan Wolverines and Oklahoma Sooners will come into that game with a huge chip on their shoulder.
Without the type of game-changers that Manti Te'o and Everett Golson were for the Fighting Irish last season, Notre Dame won't be available to avoid three losses in 2013.
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