The 2013 season is shaping up to be Notre Dame's year of redemption.
Last season's memories—particularly Notre Dame's appearance in the BCS National Championship Game—are but distant specks in the rear view mirror.
Having been defeated, 42-14, at the hands of an Alabama dynasty, the Fighting Irish begin the 2013 season with hopes and dreams of returning to college football's title game to avenge the drubbing they suffered in Miami seven months ago.
With that journey's outset less than two weeks away, all the information and details you need about this season's Irish squad has been compiled into this virtual program.
Bleacher Report college football experts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer present their predictions for Notre Dame's 2013 season.
To dub Notre Dame's 2012 campaign as anything other than a "dream season" would be an understatement.
The Irish entered the season at a crossroads, as head coach Brian Kelly had guided the program to an overall record of 16-10 during his first two seasons at the helm, sparking light discussion that he may not have been the right man for the job.
However, those audible doubts were quickly silenced after the Irish experienced a flaming 4-0 start that included two victories against Top 25 teams (Michigan and Michigan State). Notre Dame continued to surge upward in the polls with each win, eventually claiming the No. 1 ranking, for the first time since 1993, prior to the final week of the regular season.
Yet the ascent to No. 1 didn't arrive without dramatic moments.
Five of Notre Dame's 12 regular season victories were by a touchdown or less, with two—Stanford and Pittsburgh—requiring overtime to determine a winner and loser.
But when the dust settled on Notre Dame's 22-13 victory at USC in the final week of the regular season, the Irish had earned a perfect 12-0 record and an invitation to the BCS National Championship Game—the school's first appearance in the title game in 24 years.
The dream season experienced a nightmarish ending, though.
The Irish suffered a 42-14 crushing defeat at the hands of Nick Saban and his SEC Champion Alabama squad at Sun Life Stadium, handing the Crimson Tide its third national championship in the past four seasons.
- SR Tommy Rees 6-2, 215
- SR Andrew Hendrix 6-2, 226
- JR George Atkinson III 6-1, 220
- JR Amir Carlisle 5-10, 190
- JR DaVaris Daniels 6-2, 203
- SO Chris Brown 6-2, 191
- SR TJ Jones 5-11, 195
- FR James Onwualu 6-1, 215
- SO C.J. Prosise 6-1, 220
- SR Daniel Smith 6-4, 213
- JR Troy Niklas 6-7, 270
- JR Ben Koyack 6-5, 261
- SR Zack Martin 6-4, 308
- FR Mike McGlinchey 6-8, 290
- SO Ronnie Stanley 6-6, 318
- FR Steve Elmer 6-6, 317
- SR Chris Watt 6-3, 321
- FR Hunter Bivin 6-5, 291
- SR Christian Lombard 6-5, 315
- JR Conor Hanratty 6-5, 309
- JR Nick Martin 6-5, 295
- JR Matt Hegarty 6-5, 300
- SR Louis Nix III 6-3, 357
- SR Kona Schwenke 6-4, 303
- JR Stephon Tuitt 6-6, 322
- FR Isaac Rochell 6-3, 280
- SO Sheldon Day 6-2, 290
- JR Tony Springmann 6-6, 296
- FR Jaylon Smith 6-3, 230
- JR Ben Councell 6-5, 254
- SR Prince Shembo 6-2, 258
- JR Ishaq Williams 6-5, 261
- SR Carlo Calabrese 6-1, 250
- JR Jarrett Grace 6-3, 253
- SR Dan Fox 6-3, 245
- SR Kendall Moore 6-1, 251
- SO KeiVarae Russell 5-11, 190
- SR Lo Wood 5-11, 194
- SR Bennett Jackson 6-0, 195
- FR Cole Luke 5-11, 184
- SO Elijah Shumate 6-0, 213
- FR Max Redfield 6-1, 194
- JR Matthias Farley 5-11, 204
- SR Austin Collinsworth 6-1, 205
The injury bug has been no stranger to Notre Dame's 2013 fall camp.
At present, three players on the 2013 roster will be out for the upcoming season.
The first casualty was safety Nicky Baratti, who dislocated the same shoulder he had corrective surgery on during the offseason, via Chip Patterson of CBS Sports.
"We hope to regain that year [of eligibility] obviously," head coach Brian Kelly said. "Very disappointed for Nick, he's worked hard to get back. We'll expect the next man in to step up and get it done there."
Following Baratti's injury, it was announced that freshman linebacker Doug Randolph will be out for the 2013 season while recovering from corrective shoulder surgery, via Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune.
Yet the most shocking injury news of all was senior linebacker Danny Spond's announcement that he will no longer be playing football, via Hamilton. The Littleton, Colo., native was spotted at practice in a sweatshirt and shorts, and he was also using a cane.
"What was pretty apparent was that it was an emotional decision and it didn't come without a lot of thought," head coach Brian Kelly said. "He spent the day speaking to a lot of specialists and his family was here. This was not a decision that came easy. He loves his teammates. But what's important is he did what's in his best interest for the future. He's got a bright future."
Also per Hamilton, Spond and his family will give a statement about his condition later this week.
Hamilton also said in the same article that defensive end Tony Springmann will miss the Irish's season-opening contest against Temple with a knee injury, and he will also undergo an MRI to determine the severity of the injury.
Also in the report was news that running back Will Mahone is in "jeopardy" of missing the Temple game with a high ankle sprain.
Nick Martin, C
The younger brother of starting left tackle Zack Martin, Nick is stepping into former center Braxston Cave's vacant starting position. The 6'5", 295-pound Indianapolis native won the starting job over fellow junior Matt Hegarty and will be one of two first-year starters along the offensive line.
Kelly was been keen to sing Martin's praises, stating that Martin is "extremely conscientious" and is "not a guy who makes mistakes," via Jim Johnston of WNDU.com.
Sheldon Day, DE
A freshman starter during the Irish's march to the national championship last season, Day is entering his sophomore season as the unsung hero along a star-studded defensive line. Often overshadowed by preseason All-Americans Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III, Day has undoubtedly earned Kelly's respect, via LaMond Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times.
"I know all the talk is about Nix and Tuitt, but I tell you, Sheldon Day, just watch the film," Kelly said. "His first-step quickness. He's an impressive football player. I wouldn't trade him for anybody on our football team. He is as impressive of a player as we have on defense."
Matthias Farley, S
Two years ago, Farley was a freshman receiver fighting to climb his way up the depth chart. Now, he's the veteran leader of the Irish secondary.
The Charlotte, N.C., native learned from former safety Zeke Motta—now a safety with the Atlanta Falcons—and will be called upon to provide the type of leadership Motta did during last season in which the secondary was extremely raw and inexperienced.
Jaylon Smith, LB
Each recruiting class has an undeniable "gem." And in the case of Notre Dame, the gem of the 2013 class was Smith, a 5-star prospect, per 247 Sports.
The nearby product—Smith hails from Fort Wayne, Ind., roughly 90 miles southeast of campus—has made a serious push for starting duties, especially with incumbent drop linebacker Danny Spond having given up the game of football due to medical hardship.
Smith's arrival was even seen as a signal that Notre Dame is "back," via Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports.
"And then there was the day Jaylon Smith committed," Kelly said. "When Jaylon came back from Ohio State and said no to Ohio State, that was big. Because you've got Urban there. The glitter is still on. It's Ohio State and it's Urban Meyer and he's the hottest thing out there and Jaylon said, 'No, I want to come to Notre Dame.'
"That might have been the time I looked out there and said, 'we're going to be all right.'"
In a rare turn of events, Notre Dame did not experience any staff shakeup during the offseason.
The coaching staff remains intact as follows:
- Brian Kelly - Head Coach
- Bob Diaco - Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
- Paul Longo - Director of Football Strength and Conditioning
- Chuck Martin - Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
- Tony Alford - Running Backs/Slot Wide Receivers/Recruiting Coordinator
- Scott Booker - Tight Ends/Special Teams Coordinator
- Kerry Cooks - Co-Defensive Coordinator/Cornerbacks
- Mike Denbrock - Outside Wide Receivers/Passing Game Coordinator
- Bob Elliott - Safeties
- Mike Elston - Defensive Line
- Harry Hiestand - Offensive Line
- Aug. 31 vs. Temple
- Sept. 7 @ Michigan
- Sept. 14 @ Purdue
- Sept. 21 vs. Michigan State
- Sept. 28 vs. Oklahoma
- Oct. 5 vs. Arizona State (Cowboys Stadium)
- Oct. 19 vs. USC
- Oct. 26 @ Air Force
- Nov. 2 vs. Navy
- Nov. 9 @ Pittsburgh
- Nov. 23 vs. BYU
- Nov. 30 @ Stanford
Most Important Games
Sept. 7 @ Michigan
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past four years, you know that each installment of the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry has been a hotly contested matchup.
Each of those four contests—three Michigan victories to Notre Dame's one—have been decided by a touchdown or less. Perhaps the most dramatic finish in that stretch was the 2011 edition, in which the Wolverines rallied from a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to steal a 35-31 victory at Michigan Stadium.
This year marks the Irish's first trip back to Michigan Stadium since that fateful evening two years ago. It will also be the final opportunity for Kelly and Co. to earn a victory on the Wolverines' turf for the foreseeable future, as Notre Dame cancelled three meetings between 2015-17.
Nov. 30 @ Stanford
No other annual opponent on Notre Dame's schedule emulates the Irish like Stanford.
The Cardinal is built upon a seemingly impenetrable defense and an offense centered around running the football. The colliding of two such similar identities was the culprit behind last season's barn burner in which the Irish won, 20-13, in overtime on an epic goal line stand.
Due to such a finish, the Cardinal will have revenge on the mind. Making matters worse for the Irish is that this season's contest is at Stanford Stadium, and both teams could be vying for BCS bowl berths at the time of this contest.
With incumbent starting quarterback Everett Golson leading the offense, the Irish were able to employ more of an option-oriented look last season, which, in turn, forced defenses to respect Golson's dual-threat ability.
However, Golson has been suspended for the fall semester due to an academic blunder, opening the door for Tommy Rees to regain the starting position.
Common knowledge is that Rees is in no way a threat to run the football, making life easy on opposing defenses, particularly on obvious passing downs. The 2011 season was a clear illustration of that scenario, in which opposing defenses dropped eight in coverage with the knowledge that Rees wouldn't move the chains with his feet.
Thus, Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin are likely to return to more of a pro-style approach to suit Rees' skills as a pocket passer.
That approach begins, first and foremost, with running the football. With an offensive line that may be the best of Kelly's tenure at Notre Dame, establishing the run early and often shouldn't be a difficult task.
Currenty, the most pressing issue of the running game is identifying a No. 1 running back. Will it be George Atkinson? Possibly Amir Carlisle? What about the freshmen tandem of Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston? Regardless, multiple running backs will be used in expanded roles this season.
Should those individuals get the running game going, the passing game will open up for Rees, who has a plethora of weapons at receiver and tight end. TJ Jones, Chris Brown, DaVaris Daniels, C.J. Prosise, Will Fuller, Corey Robinson and James Onwualu are each in the mix at receiver, and all will contribute.
But because Rees lacks elite arm strength, don't expect to see the Irish attempt to burn opposing defenses over the top.
What you should expect is to see a methodical, play-by-play march down the field.
Notre Dame's defense was the catalyst of its run to last season's BCS National Championship Game last season.
Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's 3-4 scheme was transformed from a middle-of-the-pack unit in 2011 to a top-five unit in 2012.
That ascension was due in large part to the play of the Irish defensive line, led by mammoth nose tackle Louis Nix III, who has been officially listed by Notre Dame at 357 pounds. With his incredible size, quickness and burst off the line, Nix is able to rapidly break through the line into the backfield, effectively disrupting the timing and flow of opposing offenses.
Thus, Nix attracts double teams, opening up opportunities for edge rushers such as linebackers Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams, as well as defensive ends Stephon Tuitt and Sheldon Day.
This is a front seven that will be as stout as any in the country in 2013.
They were also able to mask any weaknesses of an inexperienced secondary last season, often forcing the defense to play a bend-but-don't-break style. Yet what should really strike fear into the minds of Irish opponents is that the secondary is now what can be considered an experienced unit.
With that fact in mind, Diaco will have the freedom to mold his defense into a more attacking unit intent upon crashing into the backfield this season.
The basic principles of Diaco's 3-4 scheme haven't changed, but the manner in which it attacks defenses have gained a significant amount of versatility.
One oft-neglected consequence of Notre Dame's run to last season's national title game is the increased spotlight shed on the program.
As one of the most iconic programs in college football, Notre Dame is often an opponents "Super Bowl," if you will. That is, the Irish will get the best shot from each and every opponent on their schedule.
That notion was ridiculed and mocked during the Irish's lean years with Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis roaming the sidelines. However, because of the program's "return to glory" under Kelly, it has since gained traction.
If Notre Dame were to ever worry about an increased level of competition, it would be this season. Can the Irish withstand the weekly body blows? If not, a return to the BCS is out of the question. But if Kelly and Co. can successfully traverse a loaded schedule, they'll be invited back to the party.
As I discussed earlier, Tommy Rees will, once again, be Notre Dame's starting quarterback.
What fans tend to grudgingly remember is his penchant for turnovers. As a sophomore in 2011, Rees accounted for 19 of the team's 29 turnovers, earning him the sarcastic moniker "Tommy Turnover."
The question begging to be answered is whether Rees has matured since that dreadful 2011 season or if he's still the same turnover-prone quarterback. The answer will be the difference between the Irish earning a BCS beth and reverting to a middling 8-4 team.
Was Notre Dame's 2012 Season a Fluke?
The truth for any major college football program is that it will have detractors and naysayers.
Nowhere is that truth more evident than at Notre Dame, where the Irish are on a mission to prove that they are indeed "back," and that their 2012 season wasn't just smoke and mirrors.
Their run to the national title game was vindicating for the chaotic and mediocrity-filled 15 years between Lou Holtz's final season at Notre Dame and the turnover-plagued 2011 season. What fans and detractors alike are eager to learn is whether the Irish can repeat their 2012 success.
That places the pressure on Notre Dame to get off to a fast start. For if the team stumbles out of the gate, the popular perception will be that the Irish's 2012 season was nothing but a pure stroke of luck.
Will Brian Kelly Pursue NFL Jobs?
The day after Notre Dame's loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game, Kelly interviewed with the Philadelphia Eagles for their open head coaching position.
Kelly's silence to his players, coaches and fans in the days following that interview struck fear in anyone associated with the program, though he ultimately stated he would return to Notre Dame. However, that may have been just the beginning of Kelly's flirtation with the NFL, as my colleague, Lisa Horne, wrote earlier this month.
Should Kelly guide Notre Dame to another successful season, NFL executives will be calling, and it will be up to Kelly to listen.
Taking a long look at Notre Dame's 2013 schedule, there are six games which the Irish have no business losing—Temple, Purdue, Michigan State, Air Force, Navy and Pittsburgh.
That automatically qualifies the Irish as a bowl eligible team, though how they fare against the other half of the schedule will determine the team's postseason fate.
As I've stated numerous times throughout the spring and summer, I don't see any way in which this season's squad ends the regular season with less than two losses.
What I will say with confidence now is that Notre Dame will lose to Stanford at Stanford Stadium in the final week of the regular season. With last season's controversial call at the goal line that awarded Notre Dame the win, the Cardinal will come out with its guns blazing. Add in home field advantage, and the odds are almost completely stacked against Notre Dame.
Keep in mind that Stanford is also currently the highest-ranked team on the schedule.
The other loss I've had in mind since January is against Arizona State in Dallas on Oct. 5.
With a senior-laden defense to go along with an explosive, pass-first offense, the Sun Devils present the type of attack that is foreign to Notre Dame. Add in dual-threat quarterback Taylor Kelly's added dimension to the offense and a neutral field, and the recipe is there for an upset.
Even with two losses, the Irish will still be eligible for a BCS bowl, narrowly avoiding a sticky postseason situation due to the lack of a bowl tie-in for 2013.
With Oklahoma as the favorite to win the Big 12, the Irish will be sent to New Orleans to take on SEC Runner-up Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Unfortunately, Notre Dame will suffer its third humbling defeat to an SEC team in a bowl game in the past six years.
Predicted Record: 10-3