Notre Dame lost several key players this offseason and is without quarterback Everett Golson for the time being.
That has caused many across the land to proclaim that the Fighting Irish are headed for a downward spiral. Heck, the AP preseason poll ranked the team 14th.
But, while it's illogical to expect Brian Kelly's squad to make it back to the national championship game, Notre Dame is nonetheless underrated headed into the 2013 campaign.
OK, so turnover-prone Tommy Rees is back under center, and the Fighting Irish lost inside linebacker Manti Te'o and leading rushers Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood this offseason.
However, not only is the criticism of Rees overblown, but there are also plenty of talented backs on the roster, and the defense could actually be better than last season.
First of all, let's talk about Rees.
Is Rees a top-tier quarterback? Not in the slightest.
But can he still win games for the Fighting Irish? I'll give you a hint: Rees has won 78 percent of his starts at Notre Dame. He also saved the Fighting Irish on multiple occasions last season—somehow that has been forgotten over the summer.
Then you have the backfield.
Junior running back George Atkinson III will get a chance to shine in 2013. All he did in 2012 was average 7.1 yards per carry while notching five touchdowns on just 51 rushes.
There's also star recruit Greg Bryant, who will battle with juniors Amir Carlisle and Cam McDaniel for carries behind Atkinson.
Now let's talk about the defense.
Should Notre Dame be ranked better than 14th in the preseason?
Anytime you lose a star like Te'o, it can be blown out of proportion. Would the Fighting Irish still like to have Te'o around? Of course. But they also have eight starters on defense returning, including defensive end Stephon Tuitt, nose guard Louis Nix and linebacker Prince Shembo. The unit also has more experience—three players with experience on the offensive side of the ball earlier in their careers were made into starters on defense last season.
So, Notre Dame has depth in the backfield, a capable quarterback and perhaps a better collective defense.
Sounds like a pretty strong team to me.
Don't expect the Fighting Irish to make it to the national championship game this season, but you can expect them to prove their preseason ranking to be too low.