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Team Report - NOTRE DAME

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INSIDE SLANT

As No. 17 Notre Dame prepared for Saturday's opening game against Rice the midweek headlines revolved around academics as much as athletics.

Irish coach Brian Kelly said on Tuesday that four players will sit out the opener in the wake of an academic fraud probe at the school announced on Aug. 15.

The athletes -- receiver DaVaris Daniels, linebacker Kendall Moore, cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams -- have been sidelined since the investigation began and no update is expected until next at least next week.

"I've been through (process) already with Everett (Golson), so I know the workings of it," Kelly said on Tuesday. "It does me no good to put a timetable on it. I've moved on and (the) process will take care of itself."

Golson, who left Notre Dame under an academic cloud in 2013, is back with the team and in good academic standing.

He picks up his Irish career as starter against Rice for the first time losing to Alabama 42-12 in the Jan. 7, 2013 national championship game.

"He's been consistent," Kelly said. "I think he's been as a quarterback much more decisive. ? There is still room for growth there in that position. But as for consistency, decisiveness those are good words to use with the quarterback's growth."

Golson started 11 games in his last full season and completed 58 percent of his passes for 2,405 yards, 12 touchdowns and was picked off six times. He also rushed for 298 yards and six TDs.

But the following spring he was no longer enrolled in school, a case of what was described a "poor academic judgement."

Golson, now a 21-year-old redshirt junior, was readmitted last December and participated in spring drills.

"Since he's been back, there's been no question who the leader of the offense is," senior defensive back Matthias Farley told the Chicago Tribune. "I don't think anybody on the team, any of the coaches, would question that. He's definitely become more vocal, which is important, especially as a quarterback."

Saturday's game is the first on new artificial turf installed over the summer at Notre Dame Stadium. It's the first of seven home games that include a final regularly schedule clash with Michigan on Sept. 6.

Notre Dame plays five teams ranked in the preseason Top 25, including an Oct. 18 trip to No. 1 Florida State.

NOTES, QUOTES

PLAYERS TO WATCH

--QB Everett Golson, who led Notre Dame to victory in each of his first 10 starts, will play his first game in 600 days as he take snaps against Rice on Saturday after sitting out last season following academic issues. He went 187-of-318 for 2,405 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012.

--RB Cam McDaniel isn't flashy, but observers point to him as likely to be Notre Dame's leading rusher this fall. Last year he carried 152 times for 705 yards and three TDs.

--LT Ronnie Stanley makes his 14th career start this week but first at left tackle. He succeeds longtime fixture Zach Martin, a first-round Dallas Cowboys draft pick. Stanley made two starts in 2012.

--PK Kyle Brindza made 20 of 26 field goals in 2013 and was a near-perfect 66-for-67 in career extra point tries, converting each of his last 49 entering 2014. He's also nearly perfect at 14-for-15 in game-winning, game-tying, overtime or fourth-quarter lead extending field goals over his career.

--S Austin Collinsworth started 11 games and made 43 tackles with three interceptions last year after missing the 2012 season with injury. Last December he became the first Irish player with an interception in three consecutive games since current defensive graduate assistant Kyle McCarthy.

--LB Jaylon Smith is tabbed as preseason All-American and the Irish sophomore is a candidate for a series of awards. He had 67 tackles in 2013 and started all 13 games.

SERIES HISTORY: Notre Dame leads Rice 4-0 including 2-0 at Notre Dame Stadium. The Fighting Irish have outscored the Owls, 147-16, in the four previous meetings for an average score of 36.8-4.0. Notre Dame has allowed just one touchdown to Rice, coming in 1988.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We need to be cognizant of the fact that this will be his first game since playing against Alabama. We need to get him into the game ? and have some success early on with him and get him into the flow I think once he starts to get comfortable playing the game at fast pace, then we just call the game like we normally would." -- Irish coach Brian Kelly on Everett Golson's first game back at quarterback since the Jan. 7, 2013 national championship game against Alabama.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

GAME BREAKDOWN

Scouting the running game: Reliable Cam McDaniel brings his efficient running style and a team-leading 705 yards on 152 carries from last season. Also back is the flashier Tarean Folston (88 carries, 470 yards) plus contributions expected from second-year player Greg Bryant who saw action in three games. Offensive guard Christian Lombard has 33 career games and 20 starts at RG and RT. C Nick Martin is back after suffering a season-ending injury late last year.

Scouting the passing game: Everett Golson was 187-of-318 for 2,405 yards and 12 touchdowns as he won 10 straight games as starting quarterback in 2012. After a year's hiatus prompted by academic issues, Golson is back and ready to be tested. Graduation hit hard, but capable receiving targets back include senior Ben Koyak (10 catches, 171 yards), junior Chris Brown (15 catches, 209 yards)) and Amir Carlisle (7 catches, 30 yards) who moves into the receiving corps full time.

Scouting the run defense: New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder plans a more flexible and versatility defensive look that's designed to put more pressure on the opposing quarterback. Among the anchors are expected to be junior Sheldon Day, a seven-game starter who had 33 tackles plus three others who saw plenty of minutes but had limited starts.

Scouting the pass defense: As KeiVarae Russell sits out while an academic investigation continues, Florida State transfer Cody Riggs has moved into one of the starting CB slots. Graduate S Austin Collinsworth is back after starting 11 games with 43 tackles and three picks while sophomore Max Redfield saw action in 12 games and started in the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers.

Scouting the special teams: Senior K Kyle Brindza is nearly perfect (14-of-15) in game-winning, game-tying overtime or fourth-quarter lead-extending field goals over his career. He hit three field goals of over 50 yards last year and also served as punter. Amir Carlisle will return kicks while Cody Riggs is also expect to be punt returner.

DRAFT PROSPECTS (includes 2015 NFLDraftScout.com rating as applicable):

--CB Cody Riggs (No.5 cornerback,100th overall) -- Played 26 games at Florida State before transferring to South Bend.

--TE Ben Koyack (No. 3 tight end, 116th overall) -- The latest in a line of top Irish tight ends, Koyak was fifth in receiving with 10 catches for 171 yards and three TDs.

--OG Christian Lombard (No. 10 offensive guard, 177th overall) -- Has made 20 starts between RG and RT among 33 games played.

--PK Kyle Brindza (No. 2 kicker, 207th overall) -- Serves as both kicker and punter for the Irish. He made 38 extra points and 20 field goals in 2013.

--SS Austin Collinsworth (No. 19 strong safety, 457th overall) -- Collinsworth started 11 games and played in all 13 in 2013 with 43 tackles with three interceptions.

ROSTER REPORT

--WR Corey Robinson had a pin placed in his thumb last Friday but was back at practice this week and is available for Saturday.

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