Notre Dame Football: 4 Locks for the 2014 Season
At this time of year, so much of the discussion surrounding the upcoming football season involves uncertainty and projection. That’s even more so the case for the inexperienced and relatively unproven Notre Dame football team in 2014.
The quarterback—whoever it may be—will have not taken a game snap since the 2012 season. Meanwhile, the defense must replace five starters from the front seven.
With that being said, with fall camp upon us, let’s discuss some of the locks for this Irish squad in 2014.
To be clear, these aren’t absolute certainties that the coaches have said to be true. Rather, these are our high-probability predictions for Notre Dame’s upcoming season.
Both Quarterbacks Will Get Meaningful Snaps
Irish head coach Brian Kelly stood in front of the media following the Blue-Gold Game in April and stressed his desire to settle on one quarterback during the 2014 season.
While that still figures to be the case, recent history tells us that even with a clear-cut starter, multiple quarterbacks are likely to get meaningful snaps at some point in the season.
Multiple quarterbacks have started a game for Kelly in three of his four seasons at Notre Dame. Tommy Rees admirably handled a relief role in 2012, while Andrew Hendrix logged crucial time under center for Rees in the second half against USC last season.
Therefore, even once Everett Golson or Malik Zaire is named the starting quarterback, don’t forgot about the others. Kelly may not want to play both, but he very well may have to at some point because of injury and/or performance.
The Offensive Line Won’t Be Questioned
It’s becoming as much of a stone-cold lock as the treacherous winters in South Bend, Indiana—Notre Dame’s offensive line will be one of the most reliable parts of the squad.
Entering his third season as the offensive line coach, Harry Hiestand has built a deep, skilled and versatile group of linemen. In 2013, the Irish offensive line allowed just eight sacks. There wasn’t a team in the nation that allowed fewer sacks while attempting more passes in 2013.
Maybe even more impressive than the raw numbers were the players with which Hiestand molded his elite unit. By season’s end, the Irish were trotting out four first-year starters (with Chris Watt and Christian Lombard out with injuries).
Even though Watt and Zack Martin have departed, there’s no reason to doubt Hiestand. The Irish have been continually building up the offensive line depth with top-notch recruiting classes in each of the past two seasons.
Sheldon Day Will Star on the Defense
In each of Sheldon Day’s two seasons with the Irish, there have been bright stars on the defense to command the majority of the attention.
Manti Te’o ripped through a Heisman runner-up campaign in 2012, and the duo of Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix formed a high-profile defensive line duo again last season.
All Day has done during that time is steadily work and produce for the Irish, playing in 24 games (with eight starts). Now, on a defense devoid of those big names, Day should be set to star. Following the Blue-Gold Game in April, Kelly tabbed the rising junior as Notre Dame’s best on-the-ball defender.
Day should be ready to control the interior of the defensive line, causing trouble in both the run and passing games. It will, however, be interesting to see how Day handles the added attention offensive lines will surely pay him without Nix and Tuitt present to gobble up blockers.
Day must also stay healthy in 2014, as ankle injuries limited his play last season.
Notre Dame Will Lose at Least 2 Regular-Season Games
However, for all the energy spent discussing the schedule, it seems highly likely the Irish will lose at least two regular-season games this year.
Florida State figures to be a strong favorite against the Irish in their October showdown. Beyond that, it’s tough to see Notre Dame beating all of Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina, Arizona State, Louisville and USC. In fact, if the Irish survive this regular season with merely two losses, that’s a huge win considering the inexperience on the squad.
It still seems more realistic that this Irish team finishes 9-3 given the challenging schedule.
However, while we say two losses is a lock and three is realistic, who knows how things will play out? Few saw the Irish tearing through an undefeated season in 2012.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.