Notre Dame Football: Previewing the 2012 Season

With eight days to go until Notre Dame football kicksoff the 2012 season in Dublin, Ireland against Navy (preview to come soon), I figured now would be the perfect time to to post my thoughts and predictions on how things will go. 2012 is a year in transition for the Irish. Numerous stars and starters from last year’s 8-5 campaign are gone, including stand-out wide receiver Michael Floyd, who we all know was drafted this year #13 overall by the Arizona Cardinals. That being said, the Irish do return 8 starters on offense (including TE Tyler Eifert and QB Tommy Rees – more on him in a minute, 6 on defense (not least being ILB Manti Te’o), and 1 special teamer (P Ben Turk).

         

Manti Te’o, Tyler Eifert, and Cierre Wood are all back for the Irish in 2012

Here’s a list of all the returning offensive and defensive starters this season:

Offense: QB Tommy Rees, RB Cierre Wood, TE Tyler Eifert, WR T.J. Jones, WR Theo Ratliff, OT Zack Martin, OG Chris Watt, C Braxston Cave.

Defense: DE Aaron Lynch, NT Louis Nix, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, ILB Manti Te’o, OLB Prince Shembo, S Jamoris Slaughter.

As you can tell, the most experience appears to be on the offensive line, which should help Wood accumulate big(ger) numbers this year. The offensive line, however, isn’t the Irish’s greatest concern. So what, might you ask, do I see as the biggest issues for the Irish in 2012? Read on and ye shall be enlightened.

The Quarterbacks

              

Will Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson, or Gunner Kiel ultimately be the man under center for Notre Dame in 2012?

This should be a no brainer for any Irish fan. Dayne Crist followed former ND head coach Charlie Weiss to Kansas. Incumbent starter Tommy Rees has had his moments but overall he’s been inconsistent, and not nearly the type of quarterback needed for real contention in today’s college game. Not to mention he’s been suspended for the first game this year following an off-season arrest. Junior Andrew Hendrix saw game action in 5 games last year, but only threw 37 passes. Sophomore Everett Golson and freshman Gunner Kiel have never thrown a college football pass.

According to a Bleacher Report story, Everett Golson will be the Irish’s starting QB for the Dublin game (read it here – http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1308540-notre-dame-reportedly-will-announce-everett-golson-as-starting-qb). Even with that particular question answered, don’t be surprised to see any of the other three quarterbacks taking snaps at some point. Notre Dame will not have enduring success this season if they can’t find a decent player at the QB position.

The Cornerbacks

Cornerback Lo Wood

The news broke earlier in the week that projected starting corner Lo Wood was out for the season with a torn ACL. For a secondary that lost Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton, and has done very little in recruiting CBs, this is a huge loss. For now, the projected starters at corner are junior Bennett Jackson and sophomore Jalen Brown. Jackson has played sparingly the past two years and Brown has yet to see any game action at all. Against teams like Michigan, Oklahoma, and USC, that could be a big factor in deciding how the games go.

For a game that is increasingly pass-happy, it’s hard to understand how a team can focus so little on recruiting guys that can be true cover corners. The past two years Notre Dame has only signed three cornerbacks, and this year they’ve only nabbed one commitment. Head coach Brian Kelly needs to get this area fixed.

The Schedule

It’s no news that Notre Dame has one of the more difficult schedules in the nation. Being an independent program, they have the freedom to schedule whomever they can get to play them. The past few years Irish fans have snorted in derision at some of the cupcakes that Notre Dame has brought to South Bend (including Western Michigan and Tulsa – a game that I was there for and which they lost, by the way). But this year, they’ve got very few games that you could look at and say “easy W.” Here’s a quick look. #21 Stanford, #13 Michigan State, #8 Michigan, #4 Oklahoma, and the biggie - #1 USC. Mixed in with that are games against an improved Purdue team and a “Shamrock Series” game against the Miami (FL) Hurricanes in Chicago. It will be interesting to see how well the young Irish players can hold up to the test. Here’s a complete breakdown of the entire 2012 schedule:

9/1 – Navy (Dublin, Ireland)

9/8 – Purdue

9/15 – @ #13 Michigan State

9/22 – #8 Michigan

10/6 – Miami (FL) (Chicago, IL)

10/13 – #21 Stanford

10/20 – BYU

10/27 – @ #4 Oklahoma

11/3 – Pittsburgh

11/10 – Boston College

11/17 – Wake Forest

11/24 – @ #1 USC

Predictions

So with all the adversity that Notre Dame could face, how do I see the season playing out? Given the difficulty of the schedule, the uncertainty at quarterback, and the young/inexperienced defense, I wouldn’t put my hopes up too high. Teams like Navy, Pitt, Boston College, and Wake Forest could potentially give them a run, but overall I think they’ll be beaten. I can see one “big upset” against Stanford because the Cardinal’s quarterback situation is as tenuous as Notre Dame’s. But the higher ranked teams will most likely roll. You might hear some calling for Brian Kelly’s job, but I say patience is the best course of action. I think Kelly can be the guy, and remember, for the better part of his tenure he’s been playing with Charlie Weis’ recruits.

Final 2012 record: 7-6

Player Awards: John Mackey – Tyler Eifert

All-Americans: TE Tyler Eifert, ILB Manti Te’o.

Bowl Game: Sun or Hawaii.

Top 3 Games to Watch

1. Miami (FL) – Normally a game between two middling programs wouldn’t incite much enthusiasm. But it’s nice to see the two schools try to bring back the old “Catholics vs. Convicts” rivalry from the 80s and early 90s.

2. #4 Oklahoma – The Irish play the Sooners for the first time since 1999, and in Norman, OK for the first time since 1957. Notre Dame has an 8-1 record all-time vs. the Sooners.

3. #1 USC – Notre Dame has beaten USC only once in the past 10 years (the 2005 was vacated by USC following the Reggie Bush scandal).

Game to Miss

1. Boston College – The Eagles finished last season with a 4-8 record last year, which includes a close loss last year to Notre Dame in South Bend (ND won 16-14). Don’t expect a repeat squeaker by the Irish.

It’s gonna be a wild ride for the Irish in 2012. Enjoy of it what you can.

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