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College Football Preview: 13. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

13. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

  It was a pretty stunning year for the Irish last season as they went 12-0 in the regular season with wins over Oklahoma, Michigan and Stanford. With the return of a number of star defensive players and some real potential on offense the Irish have the ability to reach another BCS bowl. Even without Everett Golson it could be a magical year in South Bend.

Backfield: Everett Golson will not play in 2013 but there is hope that he can start in the future. Senior Tommy Rees will take over for Golson at quarterback.
Tommy Rees
Unlike a number of backups he has great experience as a starter and has showed he has a good fell of the offense. Though he doesn't have the potential that Golson has and does struggle under pressure. The Irish must have also find a new running back after Cierre Wood graduated. Junior George Atkinson has the talent to be fantastic this season. He has a good mix of speed and strength and also can help out Rees as a receiver out of the backfield. Another junior, Amir Carlisle, will also compete to be an impact player immediately. The USC transfer is great in the open field but Brian Kelly could like to see him become more of a threat between the tackles.

Receivers: Senior wide receiver T.J. Jones has All-American potential. Jones caught 50 passes for 649 yards last year while breaking in a young quarterback. With a more experienced Rees and being the top receiver in Notre Dame's offense he could have a huge year. Other than Jones, this receiving corps is inexperienced but the talent is there. Davaris Daniels has the hands and breakaway speed to become a real threat in '12. Rees will also have to rely on sophomore Chris Brown and senior Daniel Smith, who uses his big frame to be a force on jump balls. The real question mark is at tight end where the Irish are looking for a replacement for Tyler Eifert, who was the best tight end in all of the land a year ago. 6-7, 260 pound junior Troy Niklas is more of a blocker while senior Alex Welch is more of a receiving threat. Kelly could lean towards Welch because Notre Dame needs a big force that can move the chains.

Offensive Line: The Irish offensive line didn't get enough credit for what it did last year. It helped the ground game become a force and helped devlope Golson by protecting him. Senior left tackle Zack Martin is an All-American threat and will be very important protecting the blind side of Rees. He has good size, moves very well and is a very good leader to this unit. Also sure to dominate on the left side will be guard Chris Watt and at center will likely be junior Matt Hegarty. If Hegarty struggles likely to get a shot will be junior Nick Martin, Zack's brother, who has a ton of potential. Brian Kelly and his staff will also rely on a number of freshman to play a lot of snaps from the start. Tackle Hunter Bivin has the talent to dominate and Illinois product Collin McGovern was a great four-star commit.

Defensive Line: Kapron Lewis-Moore and Manti Te'o are gone but this front seven still is so strong it could be on the nation's best. Senior nose guard Louis Nix has been an impact player for a long time. With his experience and huge size he can be a run stuffer (45 tackles in 2012) and can disrupt backfields. On the edge the Irish will definitely rely on junior Stephon Tuitt who had 12 sacks last season. He is incredibly tough to stop, standing at 6-6 and despite being huge he is extremely quick to the ball. The other starting D-Linemen in this 3-4 defense will likely be sophomore Sheldon Dann who has the talent to be a beast. Five-star talent Eddie Vandedoes will be an impact player from the beginning of his career to the end in South Bend. When Nix leaves expect Vanderdoes to become an All-American threat immediately. With this talent it appears teams should have some major issues running the ball against the Irish just like last year.

Linebackers: Manti Te'o was the heart and soul of this defense and it isn't easy to replace that. Who will replace him is a definite question. Junior Jarrett Grace and Carlo Calabrese should both get a chance to start at the inside 'backer slot. Starting alongside the Te'o replacement should be senior Dan Fox. He is a leader and has loads of experience. With his instincts and smarts he can definitely make plays from sideline to sideline. The outside linebacker positions are also in good hands with loads of experience at them. Senior Prince Shembo is extremely fast and should rack up a lot of tackles. It will be intresting to see if he can also make an impact as a pass rusher with offensive lines really focusing on the 1-2 punch of Nix and Tuitt. Also sure to be a real impact player this year will be senior Danny Spond who is a sure tackler. Another five-star commit Jaylen Lewis should get an opportunity to spend time at outside linebacker as well.
Bennett Jackson

Secondary: There were a lot of questions surrounding this secondary when 2012 began but it proved to be a strong and effective unit. The most imporant part of it returns with senior Bennett Jackson who had 4 interceptions a year ago. He is a great coverage cornerback and recognizes plays extremely well. Presumed 2012 starter Lo Wood returns after missing all of last season with a torn Achilles. He has the potential to be a stud but his maturity is a little bit of an issue. Both of those cornerbacks are strong coverage players and Wood has proved he can be a hard hitter. Notre Dame should also rely on both their safeties. Unfortunately that is a weakness with little experience and a number of issues. Senior Austin Collinsworth has proven he can be a real factor at times though is weak in a number of areas. The other starting safety is a real question as both junior Matthias Farley and sophomore Elijah Shumate will compete for the spot.

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