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Notre Dame football looking to rediscover its mojo

The schedule

Aug. 30 Rice 2:30 p.m.

Sept. 6 Michigan 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 13 Purdue* 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 27 at Syracuse** TBA

Oct. 4 Stanford 2:30 p.m.

Oct. 11 North Carolina 2:30 p.m.

Oct. 18 at Florida State TBA

Nov. 1 Navy*** 7 p.m.

Nov. 8 at Arizona State TBA

Nov. 15 Northwestern 2:30 p.m.

Nov. 22 Louisville 2:30 p.m.

Nov. 29 at USC TBA

*at Indianapolis; **at East Rutherford, N.J.; *** at Landover, Md.

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Updated: September 7, 2014 6:33AM



Has Notre Dame recovered from its 42-14 beating at the hands of Alabama in the BCS title game in January 2013?

From start to finish last season, there was reason to wonder if that miserable night in Miami hadn’t created a spillover effect. The Irish lost four times — to Michigan, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh and Stanford — and each defeat came with regrets of costly breakdowns on both sides of the ball.

Was a lack of confidence partly to blame? A lack of focus? A lack
of mojo?

To be sure, the disappointing
results had at least something to do with the absences of departed linebacker Manti Te’o and suspended quarterback Everett Golson.

Still, Notre Dame has lost five of its 14 games since reaching 12-0 and the No. 1 ranking in the BCS standings in November 2012. If there’s a Job 1 this training camp — and in this first playoff season in college football — it’s for everyone from coach Brian Kelly to the last guys on the depth chart to rally around the same concept.

Irish fans might prefer to call it the same blue-and-golden rule. And it’s a simple one, really.

‘‘You want to be part of the [playoff] conversation,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘We want to be one of those teams that are considered. That’s how we’ll mark our program every year — to compete for a playoff position. There are only four of them, and there are 128 [teams]. We have got to have a serious shot at getting one of those four.’’

It won’t happen without confidence, focus and a whole lot of mojo, but Notre Dame already has found the right combination of those things once under Kelly. It’s critical that every last remnant of the aforementioned loss to Alabama is exorcised from the program during the next few weeks.

Quarterback challenge

Golson is back and is the presumptive favorite to start, even though Kelly has declared it an open competition with untested sophomore Malik Zaire.

What Kelly wants to see from both players is a more complete
understanding of the offense.

‘‘It’s an ongoing process [not] of knowing the playbook, but of
understanding the move before the move is made,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘So really understanding me and what I’m thinking before that play is made or that call is made. That’s what we’re really trying to get to.’’

Where is Golson at in this regard? He isn’t there yet, according to Kelly. Zaire is ‘‘pretty good at the why,’’ as Kelly put it, but he is still the more mistake-prone of the two.

Extra-full plate for Kelly

A welcome difference at quarterback is that Golson and Zaire are similar enough athletically that essentially separate offenses don’t have to be scripted for them. It was different in past seasons with, for example, Golson and the far-less-mobile Tommy Rees.

This convenience is highly relevant, too, with Kelly temporarily assuming the duties of first-year offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, who’ll be on the mend for much or all of training camp after undergoing an undisclosed surgical procedure.

Back in action

Center Nick Martin is ready to go, an impressive turnaround for a terrific player who suffered a
major knee injury last November. The Irish need Martin — the younger brother of Dallas Cowboys first-round draft pick Zack Martin — to anchor the offensive line throughout the season.

Linebacker Ben Councell likewise is ready after rehabbing from his own serious knee injury suffered last November. Fellow linebacker Jarrett Grace, coming off multiple surgeries to repair a broken leg, is taking cautious steps toward a comeback that might be complete before the end of camp.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SLGreenberg



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