Notre Dame to open season under cloud of uncertainty
BY LAMOND POPE Sun-Times Media August 25, 2014 9:17PM
Updated: August 26, 2014 2:27PM
The starting quarterback hasn’t taken a snap in a meaningful game since January 2013.
The defense is filled with players who will be full-time starters for the first time.
And the futures of four players, including three projected starters, remain in question because of an ongoing investigation into suspected academic dishonesty.
The only certainty about No. 17 Notre Dame as it opens the 2014 season is the uncertainty.
The Irish are preparing for their season opener Saturday against Rice without wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive lineman Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore because of the aforementioned investigation.
‘‘To lose any of your players, especially given the circumstances, that’s always difficult,’’ coach Brian Kelly said. ‘‘But I’m responsible for not just four players [but] 105, plus over 30 support staff. I’ve got to get going. I’ve got to move immediately to getting better as a program and as a football team. I don’t spend much time on the past, don’t mortgage the future. I try to stay in the present.’’
The present includes the return of quarterback Everett Golson, who missed the entire 2013 season because of a suspension tied to academics.
How will the time off affect Golson’s timing? And which players will emerge as his top targets if Daniels (49 receptions in 2013) is out of the mix? Receivers Chris Brown and Corey Robinson and tight end Ben Koyack will be among the options.
The questions continue on defense, where Brian VanGorder takes over as the coordinator. The Irish plan to be more aggressive this season after finishing with only 21 sacks (84th nationally) in 2013.
Lineman Jarron Jones, linebacker Joe Schmidt, safety Max Redfield and cornerback Luke Cole have varying levels of experience. They have added responsibilities this season.
‘‘We have a lot of inexperienced players playing for us this year, and they’ll get that opportunity playing the toughest schedule in the country,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘We will grow up quickly.’’
Saturday vs. Rice (W)
Golson shakes off rust against Owls.
Sept. 6 vs. Michigan (W)
This might come down to which Devin Gardner shows up for Wolverines.
Sept. 13 vs. Purdue at Indy (W)
Notre Dame looks for seventh consecutive victory in series.
Sept. 27 vs. Syracuse at East Rutherford, N.J. (W)
Irish will have more success there than Broncos did in Super Bowl.
Oct. 4 vs. Stanford (L)
Notre Dame must contain QB Kevin Hogan to have any chance to win.
Oct. 11 vs. North Carolina (W)
This one has ‘‘trap game’’ written all over it.
Oct. 18 at Florida State (L)
Inexperienced defense might be in for long night against Jameis Winston.
Nov. 1 vs. Navy at Landover, Md. (W)
Might be case where team wins on last-minute drive.
Nov. 8 at Arizona State (L)
This one’s a tossup. One sure bet: Expect lots of points.
Nov. 15 vs. Northwestern (W)
First meeting since 1995 might be slugfest.
Nov. 22 vs. Louisville (W)
Interested to see what Bobby Petrino adds to Cardinals.
Nov. 29 at USC (L)
Expect a few more offensive fireworks than in 14-10 clunker in 2013.
5 PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB Everett Golson
He missed all of last season because of a suspension for showing ‘‘poor academic judgment.’’ He’ll return as the most explosive option on an offense that needs to produce more points than it did last season.
LB Jaylon Smith
The sophomore (above) is one of the best young linebackers in the country. And he’ll play an even larger role this season as the team’s top defensive player.
DL Sheldon Day
The most experienced member of the defensive line has developed into one of Notre Dame’s leaders.
CB Cody Riggs
A fifth-year transfer from Florida, Riggs’ arrival takes on added importance with KeiVarae Russell sidelined.
RB Greg Bryant
Bryant appeared in only three games as a freshman because of a knee injury. He can be an X-factor in the rotation with Tarean Folston and Cam McDaniel.
26 — KeiVarae Russell, one of the four players sitting while Notre Dame investigates suspected academic dishonesty, has made 26 career starts at cornerback. There’s no disputing his impact.
5 — Notre Dame faces five opponents ranked in the AP Top 25 (Stanford, North Carolina, Florida State, Arizona State, USC), including all three of its games in October.
10 — Everett Golson began his career as a starter with 10 consecutive victories. What will he do for an encore?