Temple-Notre Dame Preview
Notre Dame is trying to focus on the present.
And who can blame the 14th-ranked Fighting Irish? Not much has gone right for them since the calendar turned to 2013, and they'll look to get this season started on a positive note against visiting Temple on Saturday.
After enjoying their first unbeaten regular season since 1988, when they last won the national championship, the new year started with an embarrassing 42-14 loss to Alabama in the BCS title game, followed quickly by news that linebacker Manti Te'o had been the victim of an equally embarrassing hoax - a girlfriend who never was.
Then there was the disclosure that coach Brian Kelly had interviewed with the Philadelphia Eagles, the revelation that quarterback Everett Golson had been suspended for the fall for poor academic judgment and the defection of blue chip signee Eddie Vanderdoes to UCLA.
Talk about luck of the Irish. Kelly says those problems are behind Notre Dame, which went 12-1 last season, as it seeks to prove it is ready to consistently contend for national titles.
"We've worked hard to put ourselves in a position to be back in the national spotlight. We have no intention of giving that up," Kelly said.
The Irish will be looking to post four straight winning seasons for the first time since 1995-98 while seeking back-to-back seasons with nine victories or more for the first time since 2005-06.
Notre Dame will try to accomplish those feats after losing its best big-play players in Te'o, tight end Tyler Eifert and Golson. The two biggest-name returnees are defensive linemen Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt.
It might not take long for Notre Dame's freshman class to have an impact.
The depth chart released Tuesday lists Jaylon Smith, who last year won the Butkus Award as the nation's top high school linebacker, as a starting outside linebacker, and lists six other freshmen.
Kelly said the freshman class, which called themselves "Irish Mob 13" during the recruiting process and is the highest rated class Kelly has signed, has shown up on campus with the right attitude.
"It's a very unique group. They have never once said, 'Hey, we're the group,'" Kelly said. "They have blended in so well to an established identity within this football team, and it takes a humble group of guys, and that's why it's a pretty good dynamic."
The Irish also need to find a way to replace Golson. Tommy Rees is back in as the starter after losing out to Golson by throwing 14 interceptions and losing five fumbles in 2011. He is 14-4 as a starter and played key roles in four victories last season.
Kelly is looking to return to the fast-tempo offense his squads were known for at Cincinnati and Central Michigan. Kelly says he believes having Rees at quarterback will make it easier because he knows the offense better and can read defenses better than Golson.
The Irish return eight starters from a squad that finished seventh in the nation in total defense - their best showing in 32 years. The Irish say they believe even without Te'o they can be better than last year. The last time they were ranked in the top 10 in total defense in back-to-back seasons was in 1973 (No. 2) and 1974 (No. 1).
Notre Dame's first opponent will be running a new offense.
Temple averaged the fifth-fewest passing yards (120.8) in the FBS last year, ahead of only Army, Navy, Air Force and New Mexico, all of whom run the triple-option.
New coach Matt Rhule, in an effort to kickstart the offense, is installing a no-huddle, Pro Spread to balance the play calling and keep opposing defenses honest.
Rhule, a former Temple assistant under Al Golden, takes over following Steve Addazio's departure for Boston College. He is the Owls' third head coach in the last five years.
Rhule aims to engineer a turnaround from last year's 4-7 campaign, Temple's first losing season since 2008. In the three years prior, Temple had rebuilt itself from a program that was nearly abandoned in 2004 to a team that went 27-12 with two bowl appearances and one bowl win from 2009-2011.
Junior Connor Reilly will be running the new offense. Reilly, bothered in camp by a sprained ankle, has never started a collegiate game. He made an impression in the spring game, going 25 of 41 for 366 yards and four touchdowns.
"We have a chance to go play a great opponent on a great day, in a great environment," Rhule said. "For our players, we want them to relish this moment and go understand this is why they came to Temple, to play the very best of the best."