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Why Notre Dame is Stronger and More Dangerous in 2013

Brian Kelly is one of my favorite coaches in college football as he led Cincinnati to consecutive BCS bowl games before replacing the ineffective Charlie Weis at Notre Dame in 2010. Kelly has compiled sixteen wins in his first two season on the sidelines at Notre Dame, including last year’s impressive run that landed the Irish in the Title game. With fourteen returning starters and one of the nation’s best defenses, Notre Dame enters the 2013 campaign as a legitimate National Title contender.

Notre Dame Offense:

  • With more experience, I expect the Irish to have improved quarterback play behind Everett Golson, who threw for 2,405 yards (58.8%; 12-6 ratio) last season.
  • Tommy Rees, who threw for 436 yards (57.6%; 2-2 ratio) also returns, but my guess is that Kelly opts to use Golson as his primary quarterback.
  • The strength of Notre Dame’s offense is its offensive line that has improved in each of the last three seasons.
  • This season, Notre Dame welcomes back to of college football’s best linemen in Zack Martin and Chris Watt. With 78 career starts returning, look for the Irish to field an outstanding group in the trenches.

The biggest question mark surrounding Notre Dame’s offense is its backfield as the Irish lost their top two running backs to the NFL. With only George Atkinson returning (team’s #3 rusher last year), Notre Dame will struggle to match last season’s production on the ground.

Notre Dame Defense:

  • The Irish field an elite defense that begins with defensive line that had its best season (2012) in eight years (106 yards per game; 3.5 yards per carry; 34 sacks). In fact, Notre Dame did not allow a rushing touchdown through the first seven games of last season! With five of their top six players returning, look for the Irish to possess the best defensive line in college football.
  • Despite losing Manti Te’o to the NFL, Notre Dame will once again field an outstanding group of linebackers in 2013. The Irish welcome back 8 of its top 9 performers from last year, and I expect the Irish to match (if not exceed) last season’s results.
  • Notre Dame also enters the 2013 season with a much more experienced secondary with Bennett Jackson, Keivarae Russell and Elijah Shumate leading the way.

My biggest concern about Notre Dame this season is the fact that the Irish benefited from five close wins in 2012 (as well al being +8 in turnover margin). While those statistics speak to positive variance, Notre Dame possesses an even stronger unit this season and I would not be surprised to see Brian Kelly walkin