How the Irish Will Return Strong Next Year
By Ben Brockman
Call it tradition or call it luck, but there is just something special about a Notre Dame head coach’s third season. Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all won the National Championship in their third seasons in charge of the Irish.
The stage was set and the pressure was on as head coach Brian Kelly entered his third season in 2012, and, as improbable as it was, he led his Irish to the biggest stage in college football. While the team couldn’t close the season out and secure a 13th national championship for the University, Kelly and his team did something incredible and put Notre Dame football back on the right track.
Too bad there is no historic winning precedent for a Notre Dame head coach’s fourth season.
Coming off such a stellar 2012 season, the Irish had a lot to live up to in 2013, and, as a sophomore who had never seen a regular season loss from his beloved Irish, my expectations were sky high. Sadly, four times this season, as Saturday drew to a close, I ended my day in disappointment. While a nine-win season is a feat in and of itself, it was not what I had hoped would happen. To be honest, I was spoiled by my freshman year, and I did not want to deal with defeat. The Michigan game was tough because I had become so accustomed to winning, but Oklahoma was the hardest of all. A team came into our stadium and took our legs out from under us. Two more losses on the season, and we found ourselves out of BCS contention and playing in the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City.
Still, even as I get used to the idea of not playing for a championship every year I’m here, I see so much promise for the 2014 season.
Everett Golson, after being suspended for the 2013 season, will return better than ever. While Rees has been great for the Irish over the past four years, Golson has that “X-factor:” He is a winner. In high school, Golson led his team to two football state championships and a state basketball championship. The ability to win is a skill that cannot be taught and one that Golson put on display during the undefeated 2012 regular season. Golson also brings a running component back to the Notre Dame offense at the quarterback spot. The dual threat potential will be another variable that opposing defenses will have to deal with and allow Kelly to expand his playbook that much more.
Golson will have weapons to work with as well. The offense returns its top four rushers from 2013, including a talented freshman in Tarean Folston who came on strong at the end of the year. Ben Koyack also saw a significant increase in playing time late in the season, hauling in three touchdown passes for the Irish. He should continue the legacy of “tight end U.” DaVaris Daniels will be a threat to any opposing secondary and will use his speed and size to add to his seven touchdown reception total this year.
The loss of Bob Diaco as defensive coordinator, as well as many 2013 starters, will be tough on the Irish, but young players have shown a lot of potential. Freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith started every game in 2013, was third on the team in tackles and played like a veteran for most of the year. His flashes of unparalleled athleticism, seen when he fought his way back into position to make the tackle on fourth down that secured the victory over Navy, leave me awestruck. Sheldon Day saw limited playing time this season but proved to be a force on the defensive line, and will surely be called upon to fill the hole left by Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III. KeiVarae Russell continued to gain reps and improve in coverage and against the run as the season went on. The Irish will also welcome back Jarrett Grace, who recorded 41 tackles in just seven games this season before breaking his leg against Arizona State.
The team certainly did not have its best season, as we watched games like Pittsburgh and Michigan slip away, but that doesn’t mean it is time to panic. There is still a lot of untapped potential on this young Irish squad, and one thing Kelly has proven over the past four seasons is that he can put a prepared roster out on the field each and every week. While we have lost some games, it isn’t time to lose hope. I know that Brian Kelly is the right man for the job, that Golson is the right man under center and that Notre Dame is primed for greatness in 2014.
This article appeared in print in the Jan. 23, 2014 issue of Scholastic. Pick up a copy around campus or subscribe today!