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Irish out to prove 2012 no fluke

Published August 31. 2013 09:00AM

Was 2012 a fluke? Was Notre Dame just lucky and a team that had all the breaks fall their way en route to a regular season 12-0 record.

There is no dispute that the Irish were on the right end of many breaks during the season. Some say good teams make their own breaks. But it was a season that had just about everything go the Irish way.

Consider, Pitt's Kevin Harper missing a game-winning 33-yard field goal in overtime to given ND another chance to win the game; or the controversial finish to the Stanford game where officials ruled Stepfan Taylor did not get into the end zone on the final play, but replays showed he might have crossed the line; a last second win over Purude, and a come from behind victory over BYU, all indicating it was a special year for ND

And, of course, the ND haters will say the BCS championship game against Alabama proved the Irish were simply lucky as the Tide completely dominated ND for four quarters in making the title game little more than a scrimmage game.

But its 2013 now and the Irish and head coach Brian Kelly and staff has the chance to prove that the Irish are back among the elite of college football and that 2012 was not a fluke.

It's hard to believe that today I begin another season of Irish football columns on Saturday mornings. But that's how quick the summer has rolled by with high school football opening last night and college ball already under way.

Just a quick look today on the Irish of 2013.

Defensively the Irish should be as good as any team in the country with one of the best defensive fronts in all of college ball. The Irish will be led up front by returning junior nose guard Louis Nix and he gets some stellar help from the likes of defensive ends Stephon Tuitt, a junior, and Sheldon Day, a sophomore who has impressed in practice.

ND's defensive unit also boasts veterans at linebacker including Prince Shembo, Ben Councell, and Jaylon Smith. Also returning are middle linebacker Jarret Grace, who fills the big shoes of Manti Teo, with Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese in the LB corps.

The secondary includes the likes of Matthias Farley, Elijah Shumat, Nicky Baratti, Bennett Jackson, Josh Atkinson, Keivarae Russell, and Lon Wood. All with experience in different levels.

Offense is where the Irish have the big question marks and that is mostly due to the fact that projected starting quarterback Everett Golson was dismissed from the school for the fall semester due to a academic problem. He plans to return in January and all indications are that he will. However, there is no secret to the fact Kelly and staff had set the offense up for Golson, a QB who has a fair arm, who can run the option and roll out giving defenses problems as he has the speed to run at will. All that is gone.

Returning is Tommy Rees, a senior who has started many games for ND in the past, last year coming in and bailing out the Irish when Goldson falthered, mostly due to his inexperience. But Rees IS NOT Golson. Rees is a good passer but lacks the ability to throw deep. He doesn't run well and when should run, he often doesn't. And the final rap on Rees is that he turns the ball over too many times.

The plus is Rees has apparently grabbed this latest opportunity to start with new confidence and has not looked bad in practice, but again he has his shortcomings.

The Irish offense also has other holes to fill and a quick look at the players ND will be counting on on offense includes: Running back position is deep with the likes of George Atkinson III, Amir Carlisle, Cam McDaniel and Will Mahone. Carlisle is a transfer from USC who sat out last year due injuries. The receiving corps are led by TJ Jones, Davaris Daniels, Daniel Smith, CJ Prosise and Chris Brown. The ends will be Troy Niklas and Joey Brooks with Ben Koyack and Alex Welch getting playing time. The offensive line is a question mark. Here it the projected players: LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, C Nick Martin, RG Conor Hanratty, and RT Christian Lombard. Martin is the real veteran of the group.

Today's opponent is Temple, which comes off a 4-7 2012 season. Top players are WR Jalen Fitzpatrick with the QB spot going to redsshirt junior Connor Reilly, who beat out senior Juice Granger for the job. Matt Rhule is in his first year at head coach for the Owls. The problem for the Owls is consistency. Rhule is their third head coach in four years. Also, the Owls are basically a young team.

This is the first game between the two schools and probably the last regular season matchup. Although ND was suppose to play Temple in 2014 in Philadelphia, that game has been dropped. ND will open next season at Arizona State to fullfill and contract obligation the Irish tried to get out of but couldn't.

The game will be televised nationally by NBC-TV with a 3:30 p.m. EDT start.

IRISH NOTES:Josh Atkinson, who has dropped on the depth chart at a defensive back spot, has taken reps at wide receiver. He is twin brother of George Atkinson....George Atkinson will return kickoffs. Punt returns, where the Irish did poorly last year, will be handled by TJ Jones....OT Zack Martin, WR JT Jones, and CB Bennett Jackson were named team captains by Kelly. Martin is a repeat from 2012....Nick Tausch is back. Tausch, a fifth year senior, will kick the extra points and kickoffs for the Temple game, edging out last year's kicker Kyle Brindza. However, Brindza is still very much in the picture and will do the punting duties and could win back the PAT and kickoff job....There will be some local connections today, all on the Temple side. John Christopher, a sophomore for Temple, is the grandson of Tamaqua residents Louise and Raymond DeWire. He is a wide receiver for the Owls and played in 11 games last season. He is the son of Louann and John Christopher of Ormond Beach, Fla. Louann is a former Tamaqua resident. Brendan McGowan, of Barnesville, is a six-four, 300 pound offensive lineman for the Owls. He played his high school ball for Marian High and is a redshirt freshman for the Owls. And Matt Falcone, of Palmerton, was a top recruit for the Owls but a injury has ended his playing carreer, Falcone is a student assistant coach for the team....The Tamaqua and Panther Valley area will be well-represented at today's game as about 75 to 100 local residents will be in South Bend for the game, including this writer....As you probably know, NBC and ND entered into a new 10-year contract for the network to be the home of the Irish through 2025. The current contract ends in 2014....Starting times for ND homes games. All at 3:30 p.m. except USC, 7:30 p.m., and the home game at Texas Stadium with Arizona State, 7:30 p.m. Road games, Michigan and Purdue, both 8 p.m.; Air Force at 3 p.m., and Stanford at 8 p.m. The start time for Pitt is still not determined....Now my annual prediction for the Irish. Open with a win over the undermanned Temple Owls, 1-0; a tough loss at Michigan, 1-1; a close win at Purdue, 2-1; return home with a win over Michigan State, 3-1; a loss to Oklahoma, 3-2; another close one, a win over Arizona State, 4-2; a win at home with USC, 5-2; ND gets by Air Force in Colorado, 6-2; a win over Navy in South Bend, 7-2; Pitt upsets the Irish, 7-3; ND gets by BYU, 8-3; Stanford puts a hurt on the Irish, 8-4. ND is a 30-point favorite to beat Temple today. Although you never take any opponent for granted in any sport, the Irish, opening at home, coming off an undefeated regular season, and wanting to ease the pain of the Alabama loss in the title game, should be up for this one. My obvious pick is ND to win.

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