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Owens: 2012 success paves the way for 2013 (Jan. 15)

Andrew Owens | Tuesday, January 15, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – 2012 wasn’t supposed to go like this.
If Notre Dame had stayed true to the script, it would have gone 8-4 this season. Improvement would have been evident, even if not in the final record. The stage would be set for a 2013 BCS berth and Irish resurgence.

But, thanks to a marvelous 12-0 regular season and No. 3 ranking in the final coaches’ poll after a championship game loss to Alabama, 2013 looks brighter than anyone could have imagined four a little more than four short months ago.
Irish coach Brian Kelly found a quarterback this season after a fruitless search during his first two seasons that caused many of the hair-pulling and skepticism by the Notre Dame fan base.

Everett Golson will start under center for the Irish for three more seasons after a remarkable freshman campaign that culminated with a learning opportunity against the nation’s top defense seemingly every season and on a stage unlike any other.

“The experience that he is able to take from this game, you can’t duplicate it if you’re sitting home or playing in a bowl game,” Kelly said. “When you’re playing for a national championship, that stuff doesn’t leave you.”

Golson enters 2013 as the program’s unquestioned leader. The unit loses running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood and tight end Tyler Eifert to the NFL, but the continued development of No. 5 and young contributors such as receiver DaVaris Daniels should offset the loss. Golson will take the offense by the reins and do what needs to be accomplished.

Defensively, Manti Te’o highlights the crop of seniors defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s unit loses. Te’o, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Zeke Motta depart, but a young secondary will have a full season under its belts and should be primed for improvement in 2013. (It could also be aided by the return of Jamoris Slaughter, who has petitioned the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility after suffering a season-ending injury in week three.)

The front seven will bulk up during the off-season and, even with the losses of Te’o and Lewis-Moore, be even more productive in 2013.
Defensive end Stephon Tuitt, nose guard Louis Nix and cat linebacker Prince Shembo all return, and linebacker Ishaq Williams and defensive linemen Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones will provide the unit depth that rivals any defense in the nation.

It appears the coaching staff will remain intact, and that’s a blessing for the Irish. The coaches are on the same page and demonstrated a cohesiveness this season that the 2010 and 2011 groups did not.

But even with all the reasons for excitement for next season, it’s a distinct possibility – maybe even a probability – that a more talented team’s final destination falls short of the BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif., and that doesn’t mean it will be a failure.

The true measuring stick for 2013 achievement is reaching a BCS bowl and, for the first time in program history, winning it.
Now that the Irish have asserted themselves among the nation’s elite, the next step is to sustain the success annually. Kelly and his staff’s plan has been embraced by the players and, if 2013 goes to script, the nation will realize Notre Dame is primed to remain a national contender.

Contact Andrew Owens at aowens2@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.