Carson: Time to strike for Notre Dame
Alex Carson | Friday, April 17, 2015
As the sun sets throughout the United States on Jan. 11, 2016, the sports world’s eyes will be turned to Glendale, Arizona, where two teams will take the field for the national championship.
We don’t know who we’ll see on that field in just under nine months. Ohio State, the defending national champions, are clearly a favorite. TCU is the trendy pick. Alabama will always be a contender. Florida State and Oregon have solid chances of making it back to the four-team playoff.
But when millions of people nationwide tune in that Monday night, what’s to say they won’t be watching the Irish?
Sure, we don’t often talk about five-loss teams as having national title aspirations, but last year’s Notre Dame squad is far from your normal one.
At times, it looked brilliant. Early in the year, Everett Golson was a Heisman candidate, making plays left and right to lead the Irish to a 6-0 start and a No. 5 ranking.
The defense looked fantastic, too. It didn’t surrender more than 17 points to any of its first five opponents, with the hallmark performance a shutout of Michigan in the series’ final scheduled contest.
Then the bottom fell out. A controversial ending to a three-point loss at Florida State gave way to a lackluster performance two weeks later against Navy. Joe Schmidt got hurt, and it spiraled from there, as the Irish lost their last four games of the regular season.
A team that was once in the playoff conversation was now a national afterthought.
Typically if a team’s lucky, it gets one chance at immortality. One opportunity together to do something special.
For Notre Dame? That just isn’t the case.
Let’s start with the offense.
If the old-fashioned folks in the crowd didn’t need any more proof, yes, Brian Kelly’s Irish teams can run the dang ball.
Just look at the Music City Bowl. With 263 yards on the ground and 37 minutes of possession, Notre Dame controlled the game against LSU — the same Tigers that finished ninth nationally in time of possession.
Only four of those yards — those gained on Cam McDaniel’s one carry — leave the program.
The entire receiving corps is back, with Will Fuller primed to make his name known to those in charge of the Biletnikoff Award, since 15 receiving touchdowns isn’t apparently enough to be considered for the award.
When the Irish trot on the field for the first snap of 2015, some combination of Fuller, Chris Brown, Amir Carlisle, C.J. Prosise and Corey Robinson will be standing on the sideline. That’s a good spot to be in.
But if Notre Dame contends for a national title, it’s because of the defense.
If cornerback KeiVarae Russell returns to the team, Notre Dame will put 11 players on the field to open the year who have starting experience.
That’s good, right?
Jaylon Smith might be the best linebacker in America. Joe Schmidt will return from his injury — the one that derailed last season — and might not even start. That’s how good the Irish linebackers are.
If it can fully take to Brian VanGorder’s defensive scheme this year, the defense could vault into one of college football’s 10 best.
The schedule? It’s tough but not too tough.
Georgia Tech, Clemson, USC and Stanford will all provide significant challenges, but none of those are too difficult to overcome.
So here we sit.
This is Brian Kelly’s most talented and experienced team yet at Notre Dame.
The stage is set.
This is Notre Dame’s time to strike.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.