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Notre Dame season preview: Keys to the season

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5 Keys To The Season

Rees back as the starter: Everett Golson is gone for the 2013 season, serving a suspension. Rees made 12 starts in 2011 and was a key contributor as the backup last season (he also made two starts).

Defense keeps rolling: The Irish allowed 12.8 points per game last season. Notre Dame allowed 16 touchdowns (15 offensively), four touchdowns fewer than any other Football Bowl Subdivision school. Seven starters return.

Development of the OL: Zack Martin returns at left tackle to anchor the offensive line. Martin became the 18th two-time captain in Notre Dame history last week. His brother, Nick, has spent fall camp at center. Chris Watt and Christian Lombard provide experience.

New options at running back: Notre Dame’s top two running backs from last year are gone, but it has plenty of depth at that position. George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel provide leadership. Amir Carlisle and Greg Bryant will be among those in the mix.

Special teams options: Kyle Brindza spent camp working at punting and kicking. He’ll start the season as the punter for the Irish. Notre Dame also plans to utilize punter Alex Wulfeck and kicker Nick Tausch against Temple.

5 Key Games

Sept. 7 at Michigan: The first true test of the season comes in Week 2 in the Big House. The Wolverines are ranked No. 17 in The Associated Press poll. It could be the last meeting in Ann Arbor, Mich., for some time.

Sept. 28 vs. Oklahoma: The Irish handled the Sooners 30-13 in Norman, Okla., last season in the first meeting between the teams since 1999. Oklahoma opens the season at No. 16 in The Associated Press poll.

Oct. 5 vs. Arizona State: The teams meet in Arlington, Texas, as part of the Shamrock Series. The Sun Devils, led by defensive tackle Will Sutton, will be a major player in the Pac-12 South Division.

Oct. 19 vs. USC: Notre Dame has won two of the last three in the series. The Irish have not defeated the Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium since 2001. Notre Dame looks to win consecutive games in the series for the first time since taking three straight from 1999-2001.

Nov. 30 at Stanford: The Irish beat the Cardinal 20-13 in an overtime thriller. Stanford enters the season ranked No. 4 in The Associated Press poll. The regular-season finale could have BCS bowl implications.

5 Key Players

QB Tommy Rees: He has made 18 starts and appeared in 33 games. Rees has 4,413 career passing yards, 34 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. He was primarily the backup for the Irish last season.

DE Stephon Tuitt: Earned second-team AP All-America honors in 2012 after finishing with 47 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. Led the Irish in sacks and tackles for loss last season.

NG Louis Nix III: Named to six preseason watch lists for 2013. Nix had 50 tackles and 7½ tackles for loss last season. Nix has made it a goal to try to remain on the field for as many downs as possible.

LB Prince Shembo: Finished second on the team with 10½ tackles for loss and 7½ sacks. Shembo had a career-high 51 tackles last year. He also recovered one fumble. Named to the Bednarik preseason watch list.

WR TJ Jones: One of the captains, along with offensive lineman Zack Martin and cornerback Bennett Jackson. Jones will also return punts for the Irish. He caught 50 passes for 649 yards and four touchdowns last season.

— LaMond Pope

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Updated: September 26, 2013 6:52AM





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