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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Chris Dufresne's preseason football rankings: No. 20 Notre Dame

Football rankings: Don't expect 2012's luck of the Irish to continue. Key players from last season — Manti Te'o, Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick — have moved on, and quarterback Everett Golson will sit out the season.

August 08, 2013|Chris Dufresne
  • Brian Kelly's Notre Dame squad made it to the BCS National Championship last season, but Chris Dufresne has them at No. 20 in his preseason rankings going into the 2013 season.
Brian Kelly's Notre Dame squad made it to the BCS National Championship… (Jim Rassol / McClatchy-Tribune )

What I remember most about last season's BCS title game was fixing binoculars on Alabama and Notre Dame during pregame warmups and going "uh-oh."

I had seen both schools separately in person but not together on the same field

The squad dressed in white and crimson looked like an NFL team.

I started typing as fast as Alabama was scoring and completed my game story by the third quarter needing only the final score: 42-14.

It didn't take away Notre Dame's great season, but it did bring some more things into focus.

The Fighting Irish had a season in which everything went right. They won six games by nine points or fewer. They beat crummy Purdue by three, survived a controversial overtime win over Stanford, outlasted Brigham Young by a field goal and needed a Pittsburgh kicker to miss a chip shot.

And those were just the Notre Dame home games. The Irish also struggled at Boston College and got USC a week after Matt Barkley's college career ended because of a shoulder injury.

Anyone who thinks Notre Dame is ready for that kind of run again has seen "Rudy" too many times.

The schedule is tough again, and the Irish must attack it without some of their best players from 2012.

Heart-and-soul linebacker Manti Te'o has run off to the San Diego Chargers after leaving in South Bend his legacy and an imaginary girlfriend.

Also gone is starting quarterback Everett Golson, who transformed Notre Dame's offense with his running and passing skills. So are running backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick.

Golson is a fall semester academic casualty; Wood turned pro and Riddick played out his eligibility.

The Irish also lost a key off-season recruit when top defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes flipped to UCLA.

News that Golson is expected back in January doesn't help Notre Dame in September.

"There will be a plan in place," Coach Brian Kelly said of Golson.

Notre Dame has been leaking momentum since the national anthem before kickoff against Alabama.

The Irish are betting 2013 on quarterback Tommy Rees, who isn't as mobile as Golson and has a propensity for turnovers. Rees, a senior, has 34 touchdown passes but also 24 interceptions in his career.

Kelly has tepidly handed back to Rees the keys to the kingdom.

"I didn't name him the starter for all 13 games," Kelly said at Notre Dame media day. "I named him starter for Temple."

Kelly expects Rees to seize the opportunity and to have learned from his mistakes.

"We talked ad nauseam about turnovers," Kelly said.

Will Notre Dame be good?

Yes. A defense that was stellar until the Alabama game has eight returning starters.

Defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III give the Irish legitimate stoppers in the interior, and the secondary also should be splendid.

The schedule is unforgiving, except most of the big games — Michigan, Oklahoma, USC — are in South Bend. Notre Dame, though, also plays a tough neutral-site game against Arizona State and closes the season at Stanford.

Expecting Notre Dame to get every break again is like expecting 21 in blackjack when you hit on 18.

Could it happen? Sure.

"Our players are committed to one goal, and that is to get back to a national championship," Kelly said.

Is it likely?

No.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

Twitter: @DufresneLATimes

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