Not everything can be turned into a cogent, well-rounded column. So in the great tradition of the internet, here's a collection of unrelated ideas, non-sequitur, tangents and opinion, all of which I'll deny when proven false. (Though nothing of the sort has happened to me, to date.)
Five Senior Certainties: A quintet of no-doubt standouts over the season's trying opening five games: Zack Martin, Prince Shembo, Louis Nix, T.J. Jones and Chris Watt
Two more that should come through: Bennett Jackson, Tommy Rees. Jackson's hang-up is an ankle injury that slowed him in camp, Rees' is 2011…
And Two to Monitor: RG Christian Lombard (formerly RT) and S Austin Collinsworth (rust after missing 2012). Collinsworth has never played a major role defensively, he might start; Lombard is likely to debut at a new position.
Rookies, Relative and Otherwise: If you're catching up on the Irish after a long off-season, these are the newbies (starters and newcomers) of note: #91 soph. Sheldon Day (DE), #3 jr. Amir Carlisle (RB), #9 fr. Jaylon Smith (OLB), #22 soph. Elijah Shumate (S), #72 jr. Nick Martin, and #88 fr. Corey Robinson (WR)
Six Season-Defining Subs: Backup DL Kona Schwenke, third CB Lo Wood, rotating OLB/DE/Nickel/Dime LB Ishaq Williams, nickel defender Cole Luke, WR Chris Brown and TE Ben Koyack
By the Numbers
Each category includes my projected leader, runner-up and sleeper/off-the-radar contributor, respectively…
Touchdowns Scored: Amir Carlisle, George Atkinson…Corey Robinson or Ben Koyack
Touchdown Receptions: T.J. Jones, DaVaris Daniels…Same as above, obviously
Rushing Yards: Atkinson, Carlisle…Greg Bryant
Receiving Yards: Daniels, Jones…Carlisle
Total Tackles: Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese…Bennett Jackson
Sacks: Prince Shembo, Stephon Tuitt…Ishaq Williams
Tackles-For-Loss (Not including Sacks): Louis Nix, Shembo…Jaylon Smith
Interceptions: Bennett Jackson, Matthias Farley…Austin Collinsworth
Passes Defended: Jackson, Keivarae Russell…Jaylon Smith
No One Will Account for More First Downs than… Amir Carlisle
No One Will Earn More Irisheyes.com Game Balls than… Louis Nix
No One Will Look Better on Film Monday Morning than… Zack Martin
No One Will Deliver More Big Hits than… Elijah Shumate. Good Lord…
Notre Dame's Best Skill Off Player/Defender in September Will Be… T.J. Jones (skill) and Prince Shembo (Def)
Notre Dame's Best Skill Off Player/Defender in October Will Be… Amir Carlisle and Stephon Tuitt
Notre Dame's Best Skill Off Player/Defender in November Will Be… DaVaris Daniels and Louis Nix
Top 10 Players Based on 2012: Nix, Martin, Tuitt, Shembo, Watt, Jones, Jackson, Daniels, Farley, and Day...
Three with the best chance to infiltrate that list in 2013: Carlisle, Rees, Atkinson…
Three Sleepers to do so: Smith, Schwenke, Shumate...
Freshmen to the Field
Relative impact of my nine (projected) freshmen to see the field this fall:
- Jaylon Smith: Starting drop linebacker, constant in the nickel and dime packages
- Steven Elmer: Potential starting right tackle; first lineman off the bench
- Cole Luke: Starting nickel in September; No. 4 cornerback throughout the season, special teams
- Greg Bryant: Third in rushing yards, third in rushing scores, backup kick returner and punt returner
- Corey Robinson: 11 receptions, 10 first downs including 2 touchdowns
- Max Redfield: Full season special teams contributor; 2nd-half season regular in nickel/dime
- Malik Zaire: Forced into competitive action at some point in 2013; mop-up role thereafter
- Devin Butler: Full season special teams contributor; No. 5 cornerback
- James Onwualu: Full season special teams contributor; No. 7 receiver (not much time)
- Next if Needed: Mike Heuerman (activated if a tight end is injured); Tarean Folston (return game; activated if Carlisle is injured and Mahone doesn't return to full strength)
Random predictions, and as always, I reserve the right to change them for game week (and certainly will):
- Notre Dame will lose three outside of South Bend; but none at home over a 13-game season…
- The Irish will play eight games "close and late" this fall (a one-score margin at some point in the fourth quarter constitutes "close and late")
- Thanksgiving Weekend vs. Stanford will be a play-in game for a BCS berth…
- The Irish will play two of lesser foes Purdue, Pittsburgh, and/or BYU to a fourth-quarter finish…
- The season's biggest margin of victory will come vs. Navy -- for the third straight season…
- For the 22nd time in its last 24 seasons, ND will suffer a (Vegas) upset (2012 and 2000 previous exceptions).
No Opponent Will Score More Points vs. ND than… Arizona State
No Opponent's Offense Will Be Bottled Up vs. ND as badly as… Michigan State
No Opponent Will Play Better Defense vs. ND than… Stanford
No Opposing Off. Player Will Be Better vs. ND than… USC's Marqise Lee
No Opposing Def. Player Be Better vs. ND than… Stanford's Shayne Skov
The Best quarterback on Notre Dame's schedule is… Stanford's Kevin Hogan
The Best Unit ND WIll Face This Year Is… Stanford's Linebackers
The Best Opposing Game Plan ND WIll Face This Year Will Be From… Stanford with a Sleeper pick of ASU
The Toughest Matchup For ND This Year Is… Stanford's Edge Rush vs. Notre Dame's tight ends
The Best Matchup For ND vs. a Top 25 Caliber Team Is… MSU's running game vs. the Irish front seven
Three Coaches that Might Match Kelly When They Meet: David Shaw (Stanford), Todd Graham (ASU -- would be 3 for 3 at three different schools if proven true), and Bronco Mendenhall (BYU)
Notre Dame will enter its bye week: With one loss…but if it has two, it won't lose again until Stanford.
Everett Golson will first be missed… Late in the third quarter at Michigan
Odds and ends
-- The Irish Defense will allow more TD in 12 regular season games than it did in 13 last fall (15 total last year including six by Alabama)…
--The Irish offense will score more points than the 335 it managed last fall, and it will be without the aid of a 50-point explosion…
-- Look for freshman S Max Redfield to begin to play a larger role vs. USC (post-Bye)…Look for Greg Bryant to emerge just prior…I'm concerned George Atkinson could be very good against the also-rans and not-so-consistent vs. the big dogs…I have no concerns regarding Amir Carlisle other than his ability to stay healthy, as he runs hard inside at 190…
-- A crucial contributor to Notre Dame's run to 12-0 last fall, Rees enters his fourth and final season as the media and fans' focal point, if not in reality, the team's…He's far from being both the best or worst starter among Kelly's 22….
- If asked to pick a number of total touchdowns scored by Irish tight ends this year, I'd pick (5)…
- If asked to pick a number of total touchdowns scored by Irish running backs this year, I'd pick (21)…
- If asked to pick a number of total touchdowns scored by Irish wide receivers this year, I'd pick (15)…
- If asked to pick a number of total touchdowns scored by Irish quarterbacks this year, I'd pick (2)…
- If asked to bet the defense would record more or fewer sacks (34) than 2012, I'd say "more"…
- If asked to bet if the defense would force more or fewer turnovers (23) than 2012, I'd say "fewer"…
- Aspect of the offense I still worry about: Scoring TDs rather than field goals in the red zone
- Aspect of the defense I still worry about: Pass D vs. a good quarterback
5 Reasons the Irish Won't Achieve BCS Bowl Riches
- They're Vertically Challenged -- Can Notre Dame's deep passing game keep any secondary honest?
- Warrior's Code -- Te'o, Riddick, Lewis-Moore, Motta and Spond all had career years; Toma, Wood, Cave and Goodman offered major contributions in close wins; Eifert was great as expected. All are gone...
- Leadership Will Not Be Duplicated -- Galvanized by Te'o, led daily through example set by Eifert, Riddick, and Lewis-Moore, blessed with a chip on their shoulder thanks to Motta's inherent play-past-the-whistle contributions (and I'll say it, incessant trash-talk and post-whistle action), the graduated group was special, and the main reason the Irish finished 12-0.
- Notre Dame has scored two or fewer regulation touchdowns... against 14 of the last 18 defenses it's faced with a pulse (trust me) dating back to the opener in 2011. Why should that change?
- Golson's Gone -- His dual-threat skills keyed the offense from Oklahoma, onward, and also against Michigan State in a set-the-stage road upset
5 Reasons the Irish Will Challenge for Pasadena
- They have more offensive weapons than did last year's squad: Atkinson, Carlisle, McDaniel, Bryant, Niklas, Koyack, Welch, Jones, Daniels, Brown, Prosise, Smith, Robinson, and maybe Mahone, Hendrix and Zaire could all contribute
- The secondary... is faster, more experienced, deeper, and has added super freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith to its coverage plans
- The pass-rush... will be just as good, maybe better -- and that's the key to any defense
- Only Stanford... appears "better" than Notre Dame entering the season
- Tommy Rees will be... as good or better than (approximately) nine opposing quarterbacks
If feels like a cop-out, but I don't believe Kelly and the defense will allow the Irish to lose more than three times this fall, and a two-loss season was my selection with Golson at the helm (11-2) -- I think Golson's mobility will be missed in games vs. Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Arizona State, USC, Brigham Young, and Stanford, and maybe at Purdue and Pittsburgh.
Notre Dame has lost just four games since it started 0-2 in 2011. They were beaten by a GREAT team (Alabama), a very, very good team (Stanford with Andrew Luck), a good/dangerous team (10-win USC with Matt Barkley/Robert Woods) and a team with a great defense/hideous offense (Florida State).
Among the 20 wins during that span, the Irish beat one very good team (Stanford 2012), two good teams (MSU 2011, Oklahoma 2012), four capable teams (MSU/UM/BYU/USC 2012) and then a bunch of teams that are decent/average/sub par or flat out bad.
There are only four, maybe five of the latter category on the 2013 slate.
I see the Irish foes as follows:
Very, Very Good: Stanford, Bowl Foe
Difficult to beat: Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Arizona State, USC, and Brigham Young (with MSU the worst of that group).
Capable of one big day/night: Purdue, Pittsburgh
Seismic Upset Situations: Temple, Air Force, Navy
That's six relative peer matchups, two vs. an on-paper superior, and two that could cause problems.
Emerging from that 10-game gauntlet of tests at 7-3 seems fitting after a season in which Notre Dame reached 12-1 facing just two superior teams on paper (Alabama and Oklahoma), four relative peers (MSU, Michigan, Stanford, and USC) and four capable of causing problems (Purdue, Miami, BYU, and Pittsburgh -- three of which did).
The final call here is 10-3, with two of the losses occurring on the game's final drive...and Michigan again serving as the swing game, for both programs, this fall.
If the Irish win in Ann Arbor, I might need a re-write...