Notre Dame football: No luck in 2013 for Irish

COMMENTARY

AL LESAR
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Breaks have a way of evening up.

Violators of the law of averages will be prosecuted. They usually end up doing hard time.

This has all the makings of one of those get-even season for the Notre Dame football team.

Every break imaginable went Notre Dame’s way last year, right up until kickoff of the BCS national championship game against Alabama.

After a while, it seemed way beyond good karma. Face it, the Irish were downright lucky to be 12-0.

*Kevin Harper sailed a game-winning 33-yard chip shot wide right — Notre Dame was undetected having two players wearing No. 2 on the field at same time during the kick — and narrowly avoided an overtime loss to Pittsburgh.

*Did Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor really get into the end zone on that fourth-down try to break the plane — with a quick whistle — in overtime?

*A last-second win ... over Purdue?

*Four picks by Denard Robinson?

*A fourth-quarter, come-from-behind win over BYU?

*Five field goals to pull out a nine-point win over a Southern Cal team — without its starting quarterback — that had already packed it in and folded up the tents.

Getting to 12-0 was a tight-rope act for the Irish. Buoyed by a stout defense and an amazing collection of leaders, Notre Dame overcame growing pains at quarterback to navigate through a special regular season.

Chemistry counts for something.

That development process was supposed to pay dividends this year. All indications were that 2013 was supposed to be the target time in coach Brian Kelly’s master plan. What happened last year was gravy.

Better hold onto the memories. Maintenance will be tough without the proper technicians.

Kelly’s blueprint was focused around Everett Golson leading a quarterback-centric offense. His play-making athleticism could make up for a lack of big-time proven talent at running back and receiver.

So much for that.

The Irish defensive line was supposed to be an anchor. Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt and Sheldon Day are all prime-time big guys, but depth was sacked when Aaron Lynch and Eddie Vanderdoes(n’t) went in different directions.

Kelly’s plan crumbled.

The secondary is solid and outside linebacker is well-stocked — even with the sad end to Danny Spond’s career — but quality depth issues at inside linebacker and along the line will expose the Irish to problems.

Look at last year: A very fine line between 12-0 and 6-6.

Kelly’s fourth team at Notre Dame isn’t a bad one in terms of talent. Good guys. Doesn’t appear to have many knuckleheads. Great coaches. But there’s just a feeling that the football’s going to bounce the other way this time.

What goes around, comes around.

Don’t shoot the messenger. The Irish could be staring 7-5 in the face.

*Aug. 31, South Bend: Notre Dame 37, Temple 13: Matt Rhule is the Owls’ third head coach in four years. A program without consistency doesn’t stand much of a chance in the season-opener at Notre Dame Stadium.

*Sept. 7, Ann Arbor: Michigan 17, Notre Dame 16: With Devin Gardner under center, the Wolverines’ quarterback position is much more stable than it was with Robinson (great athlete, mediocre quarterback). Under the lights at The Big House, strange things happen.

*Sept. 14, West Lafayette: Notre Dame 31, Purdue 23: Someday soon, Purdue is going to be good. First-year head coach Darrell Hazell knows how to build a program. The process takes time (just ask Brian Kelly). The Boilermakers will be much more fundamentally sound than they were under Danny (No) Hope; and Hazell surely will manage his timeouts better; but it’s not their time yet.

*Sept. 21, South Bend: Notre Dame 27, Michigan State 14: Unless quarterback Andrew Maxwell has made some mega-strides from last season’s woeful effort (23 of 45 for 187 yards in a 20-3 loss), the Spartans are in trouble. Even with Max Bullough, one of the best inside linebackers in the country, anchoring the defense, it won’t be enough.

*Sept. 28, South Bend: Oklahoma 21, Notre Dame 17: Roles have been reversed. Last season, Notre Dame was a team desperate for validation when it came into Norman and whipped Oklahoma, 30-13. That’s when the Irish started to believe. The Sooners, who have a week off before this battle, will be looking for that same sort of respect. The Irish will have endured a physical pounding in their first four games.

*Oct. 5, Arlington, Texas: Arizona State 38, Notre Dame 35: With five tough games in the rear-view mirror, this will be the end of the Irish gauntlet. This brutal stretch of games will end against an Arizona State team built for speed. The Sun Devils will have been tested too, having played Wisconsin, Stanford and Southern Cal leading up to the Shamrock Series meeting. After having gone through periods of frustration with quarterbacks Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix in the first five games, look for Malik Zaire to finally get some quality playing time.

*Oct. 19, South Bend: Southern Cal 20, Notre Dame 14: Arizona State and Arizona (on Thursday, Oct. 10) are the only bona fide threats to the Trojans having a 6-0 record heading into the showdown with the Irish. The sum of the season will play a role for both teams. Without much on the line, motivation won’t come easily for Notre Dame.

*Oct. 26, Colorado Springs: Notre Dame 23, Air Force 17: This one, played in the thin air of the Air Force Academy, can’t be taken for granted. By now, it might be time to turn to Zaire to develop a quality backup to Golson for 2014. There won’t be much to prove over the next four games. That ship has sailed.

*Nov. 2, South Bend: Notre Dame 42, Navy 14: Time to lick some wounds and take out some frustration on the Midshipmen. Navy has been blessed with special teams in recent years, but this isn’t one of them.

*Nov. 9, Pittsburgh: Notre Dame 16, Pitt 10: For whatever reason, the Irish have struggled but won in their three games with Pitt under Kelly (23-17 in 2010; 15-12 in 2011; and 29-26 in three overtimes last season). Why should this year be different?

*Nov. 23, South Bend: Notre Dame 27, BYU 17: This will be a battle for survival. The Irish should have a deeper talent pool to fill in the gaps this late in the year. BYU’s schedule is loaded with Virginia, Texas, Utah, Georgia Tech, Boise State and Wisconsin. The Irish have a week off to get ready for this, while the Cougars face Idaho State.

*Nov. 30, Palo Alto: Stanford 33, Notre Dame 17: The Cardinal will be playing for a spot in the last edition of the BCS. The Irish ... not so much. Until Notre Dame becomes part of the ACC bowl package next season, the postseason climate difference between 8-4 and 7-5 is minimal.

*Bowl game: Dumpster diving: The Big 10 isn’t able to fill out its spots, meaning Notre Dame gets a spot in the Little Caesar’s Bowl in Detroit against Central Michigan.

Ugh. At least it’s not Shreveport.

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson is wrestled down by Stanford's Shayne Skov during last year's overtime battle, but most of the breaks went ND's way.