4 Bold Predictions for Notre Dame's 2014 Season
SOUTH BEND, Indiana — Game week is finally upon us, as Notre Dame football begins its 2014 season Saturday when it hosts Rice.
GAMEWEEK!— Kerry Cooks (@CoachKerryCooks) August 25, 2014
We’ve spent the summer months predicting and analyzing everything from position battles to the schedule to recruiting. Now it’s time to focus in on the actual season.
With just a few more days remaining until kickoff, here are some bold predictions for the upcoming season. Now these very well could end up wildly wrong, but hopefully they’ll still provide us with some insight into particular aspects of the Irish squad.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Everett Golson Will Take Nearly Every Meaningful Snap at QB
The quarterback competition is over, and Everett Golson was declared the winner. Back from his lost 2013 season, Golson outpaced redshirt freshman challenger Malik Zaire in a battle that lasted—at least in terms of the official announcement—maybe a bit longer than some expected.
But don’t confuse the lengthy competition with an ongoing question. Irish head coach Brian Kelly has made it clear he prefers to use one quarterback. Barring consistent poor play or an injury, Golson will be the only man under center (excluding garbage-time situations).
At first glance, this may not appear to be a bold prediction. But consider that in three of Kelly’s four seasons in South Bend, multiple quarterbacks have started, whether due to injury or underwhelming play.
Don’t expect either from Golson.
In practices open to the media, Golson seemed to separate himself as the clear-cut top option, which explains why there was little surprise when he was, in fact, tabbed as the starter.
On top of that, last week Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock praised Golson’s ability to protect himself when on the run. And while he’s certainly a dual threat, the media hasn’t seen many designed runs for Golson; when he does take off, it’s typically when a passing play has broken down.
Zaire will be ready right behind Golson. But the Irish may never need to turn to him.
Cam McDaniel Will Lead Notre Dame in Rushing Yards
There’s a three-headed monster lurking in Notre Dame’s backfield. Maybe the most exciting head and certainly the least proven is that of second-year back Greg Bryant. The college football world eagerly awaits the talented back’s first full season as a part of the offense.
Last year it was then-freshman Tarean Folston who burst onto the scene as the season progressed, racking up 470 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by an 18-carry, 140-yard performance against Navy.
But the man Kelly calls the team’s best overall running back is senior Cam McDaniel.
“Cam is so efficient in everything that he does for us,” Kelly said at media day Tuesday. “He's invaluable from that perspective.”
As a result, the rarely flashy, yet always reliable, McDaniel could lead the team in rushing yards. As Kelly himself noted, McDaniel won’t draw the infatuation from the crowd and won’t smack 80-yard home runs. But he’s so reliable that the offense will keep turning to him, especially if it is trying to salt away a game.
No Irish Player Will Reach More Than 6 Sacks
Six sacks really aren't much to ask for. Still, there’s not a proven pass-rushing option who projects to step up and provide that much production.
Moreover, Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder wants to play lots of defensive bodies, hoping to maximize certain abilities in certain situations.
Junior defensive lineman Sheldon Day might be Notre Dame’s best pass-rusher even from the interior, but he’ll already have his plate full taking on the center and guards and defending the run.
Defensive ends Andrew Trumbetti, Isaac Rochell and Romeo Okwara have flashed their talent at times but not on a regular basis at the collegiate level.
Maybe the pass rush comes from the linebacker position, where sophomore Jaylon Smith has exceptional ability. But Smith excels in coverage and can’t be expected to do absolutely everything for the Notre Dame defense.
The front seven remains a question mark for the Irish, especially when trying to get to the quarterback.
Special Teams Will Be Much Improved
Notre Dame’s special teams have become a trite punch line surrounding the program.
Heck, even Kelly joked in the spring about trying sports information director Michael Bertsch as a punt returner.
Big day for @NDsidBertschy ... BK says he'll get a shot at punt returns Saturday.— Chris Hine (@ChristopherHine) April 9, 2014
Expect change in 2014.
The Irish coaching staff has spent time self-scouting and searching for answers throughout the offseason, and we started to see alterations during fall camp. For instance, during last Tuesday’s practice that was open to the media, Notre Dame deployed quicker athletes on the kick coverage team than had been seen in recent years.
There was Bryant, nimble linebacker James Onwualu, safety Drue Tranquill, slot receivers Amir Carlisle and C.J. Prosise, safety Elijah Shumate, defensive back Matthias Farley and McDaniel, among others, all taking reps as Kyle Brindza booted his kickoffs deep.
“Some of the research that we did was we wanted speed to the 30‑yard line,” Kelly said after practice. “Again, a lot of the people that we brought in and talked to, we had big thumpers on that crew, that search-and-destroy crew, that cover team, but we didn't have enough speed.”
In other areas, too, expect Notre Dame to be better. Carlisle will return kicks while Bryant and graduate student cornerback Cody Riggs will be the punt returners.
The Irish have given up too much field position in recent years. That will likely be rectified in 2014.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.