The Notre Dame Fighting Irish were once the kings of college football. One of the most successful schools in college football from a historical perspective, Notre Dame has not had consistent success since Lou Holtz was the head coach. The results under current coach Brian Kelly have been up and down, but the Irish might be headed in the right direction. At the very least, the Notre Dame football team is poised for an interesting season.
Both of Brian Kelly’s first two seasons ended in only eight wins. The 2012 season was notably different as the Irish went for an undefeated regular season for the first time since 1988. However, that seemingly magical year ended in an embarrassing 42-14 loss to Alabama in the BCS National Championship game.
Last year was back to fairly mediocre results. Notre Dame was set back by the loss of red-shirt sophomore quarterback Everett Golson due to suspension. The Irish had an 8-4 regular season, plus a Pinstripe Bowl win against Rutgers.
Notre Dame’s defense took a step back last year compared to 2012. The Irish gave up 30 or more points in four games last year. In the 12-1 2012 season, Notre Dame only gave up 30 or more points in its one loss. The Irish defense seemed to struggle at times to adjust to life without 2012 Heisman candidate Manti Te’O. The low point of the season from a defensive perspective might have been giving up 34 points to navy.
Unfortunately, Notre Dame will again have to adjust to losing some of its key players in the upcoming season. Defensive linemen Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt will both be moving on to the NFL. Productive tight end Troy Niklas will also be entering the NFL draft.
The Irish will also have to endure some changes in other ways. Former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is gone, and there has been some speculation that Notre Dame might be transitioning a bit towards a 4-3 defense. The defense used a mix of three and four man fronts under Diaco, but the base defense was essentially a 3-4.
While Everett Golson will return for the 2014 season, it will be interesting to see how quickly he shakes off the rust after being suspended for a season. He showed some excellent potential in his first year as a starter, but there will likely be a period of readjustment.
Despite all these potential pitfalls, Notre Dame is primed for an interesting season in 2014. While the team has some serious issues that need to be worked out, there is some reason for optimism. Freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith emerged as a serious play maker last season and looks to be a mainstay on the defensive side next season. On the offensive side of the ball, sophomore Tarean Folston looks to provide an answer at running back.
Notre Dame has been building talent in the past few recruiting cycles. The Irish particularly have a lot of potential depth along the offensive line and at wide receiver. Of course, a lot of this talent is still unproven. Stocking up on talent is one thing, actually getting things done on the field is another thing altogether.
Notre Dame should have an interesting football season in 2014. Whether the talent on paper will translate into consistent success on the field remains to be seen.
Commentary by Zach Kirkman