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Irish building forward, not looking back

The SportsXchange

It was a glorious return to national prominence for Notre Dame in 2012.

The Irish won 12 consecutive regular season games - the school's most since 1989 - earned a No. 1 national ranking and a berth in the BCS national title game.

Then came Alabama. The Crimson Tide crushed Notre Dame, 42-14, for the national championship last January.

That was then. The Irish aren't looking back.

"I'm really pleased with the way our guys have focused on this year," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "There hasn't been a lot of this is what we did last year and talking about the way we did it last year. It's been about this year.

"You just don't begin this climb at the top of the mountain. We have to start all over again."

Notre Dame takes the first step Saturday when it plays host to Temple.

The Irish field a team with losses that weren't numerically extensive but were still significant.

Gone is last year's starting quarterback Everett Golson, plus a trio of all-Americans: linebacker Manti Te'o, tight end Tyler Eifert and center Braxton Cave. Also departed are top running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, safety Zeke Motta and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore.

So the foundation starts with 42 letter winners, including with 13 returning starters plus kicker Kyle Brindza.

"The lion's share of the work has been preparing the depth of this football team, which we're going to count on with the kind of schedule we have," Kelly said. "A lot of players are going to have to play for us this year ... They may not be on the field of every snap, but they will have significant roles."

A familiar face is back at quarterback. Tommy Rees, the 2011 starter, returns after Golson was suspended for the fall semester for what he described as "poor academic judgment."

Golson started 11 games and helped lead the Irish to a 12-1 season. He completed 187 of 318 passes for 2,405 yards and 12 touchdowns.

But Kelly hasn't committed to Rees beyond this week's season opener, and also likes qualities exhibited by backup Andrew Hendrix.

"(Hendrix) is no longer a niche quarterback," Kelly said. "He can run our offense ... We're going to take advantage of some of the things he can do."

The Owls feature a new coach (former assistant Matt Ruhle) and a strong-armed quarterback in Connor Reilly with a veteran line to protect him. But the defense returns one starter on the line and the unit was ranked 100th nationally against the run. Temple was 4-7 overall last year and return 14 starters (eight on offense, six on defense).


--Kelly singled out three true freshmen making an immediate impact: offensive lineman Steve Elmer, linebacker Jaylon Smith and wide receiver Corey Robinson. "There are some younger players now that are physically able to compete at a high BCS level," he said.

--Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco likes his linebacker corps of Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese and Jarrett Grace. "There are enough accumulated plays and experience there to perform at a high level and although Grace may not have as many reps as the others, he practices full speed and prepares for the game the way you should," Diaco said.

--Offensive lineman Zach Martin is not only physically stronger, his presence and example have helped the line mates and reserves -- especially the freshmen. "I think we measure greatness in so many different ways, but one of those areas is to up the game of others around you," Kelly said.

Notes: Kelly announced three captains, including Martin -- serving for his second year -- plus cornerback Bennett Jackson and wide receiver TJ Jones. "(Martin) did an incredible job for us last year ... and he's somebody we can count on week in and week out," Kelly said. ... Golson, unable to play football this fall due to academic issues, won't be taking classes this fall and will instead work with a quarterbacks coach in San Diego. Kelly said Golson will settle back in at Notre Dame around the holidays. ... Junior defensive lineman Tony Springman is out for the season and will require surgery for a ligament damage in his left knee. ... Offensive lineman Danny Spond was injured early in camp and announced he would no longer play football. He had suffered migraines and severe concussions in recent years.

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