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Notre Dame season preview: Irish eager to put offseason woes behind them

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Coach: Brian Kelly (199-68-2 overall in 22 years, 28-11 in three seasons at Notre Dame)
Last year: 12-1. The Irish lost 42-14 to Alabama in the BCS National Championship game.
2013 schedule
Aug. 31 vs. Temple, 3:30 p.m., NBC
Sept. 7 at Michigan, 8 p.m., ESPN or ABC
Sept. 14 at Purdue, 8 p.m., ESPN or ABC
Sept. 21 vs. Michigan State, 3:30 p.m., NBC
Sept. 28 vs. Oklahoma, 3:30 p.m., NBC
Oct. 5 vs. Arizona State (in Arlington, Texas), 7:30 p.m., NBC
Oct. 19 vs. USC, 7:30 p.m., NBC
Oct. 26 at Air Force, 5 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Nov. 2 vs. Navy, 3:30 p.m., NBC
Nov. 9 at Pitt, TBA, ABC or ESPN
Nov. 23 vs. BYU, 3:30 p.m., NBC
Nov. 30 at Stanford, TBA, Fox or Fox Sports 1
Key game of season for the Irish: Oct. 19 vs. USC. Very few people expect Notre Dame to run the table again. In fact, no one does. The realists can accept losses at Michigan and even in South Bend against Oklahoma – as long as they aren't embarrassing. However, a loss to a Trojan program in South Bend will go a long way toward keeping Notre Dame out of a BCS bowl game.
Key players returning: TJ Jones, Sr., WR; Troy Niklas, Jr., TE; Tommy Rees, Sr., QB; George Atkinson III, Jr., RB; Zack Martin, Sr., OT; Louis Nix III, Jr., NG; Stephon Tuitt, Jr., DE; Prince Shembo, Sr., OLB; Dan Fox, Sr., ILB; Carlo Calabrese, Sr., ILB; Danny Spond, Sr., OLB; Bennett Jackson, Sr., CB; Matthias Farley, So., S.

Defense is loaded, but questions about offense linger

Thursday, August 22, 2013 - 12:01 am

The Notre Dame football program is simply ecstatic to be in training camp after the offseason that it endured.

The Fighting Irish had their best season in two decades last fall, but the offseason couldn't have been worse.

The problems started when Kelly interviewed with the Philadelphia Eagles within 24 hours of getting thumped by Alabama. Then there were the girlfriend problems, academic fraud, transfers, etc. that followed.

“We're like everybody else in college football: extremely excited about starting the season,” Kelly said. “For us here at Notre Dame, we've worked hard to put ourselves in a position to be back in the national spotlight. We have no intention of giving that up.”

The Irish are loaded defensively again with All-Americans in Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt, while defensive end Sheldon Day has been very impressive during training camp.

The Notre Dame linebackers are deep and talented, while the secondary also has a solid amount of depth (though sophomore Nicky Baratti reinjured his shoulder earlier this month and will miss the 2013 season).

Offensively, questions abound, beginning with Tommy Rees, who is replacing the expelled Everett Golson (academics). The senior quarterback is like the Energizer bunny and simply can't be kept from the field with this program. Rees will rely heavily on TJ Jones, and Kelly said the depth of pass-catchers is the best he has had in South Bend. The Irish have six players vying for the opportunity to carry the football, which is a very good situation to have.

Intriguing aspect of the Irish

There can be no more intriguing aspect than how Rees will play. The whole college football world is curious. In the past, he's played well enough to be impressive in victories. He's also been atrocious in his propensity for throwing interceptions. Which Rees will show up? We'll see.

Notre Dame fans will cheer if…

Rees is serviceable and doesn't throw critical interceptions. Essentially, the entire season rides on his shoulders (and head).

Notre Dame fans will boo if…

Rees throws first-half interception against Temple. That will be an ominous sign if there ever was one.