2013 record: 9-4, defeated Rutgers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Expectations for 2014: The Irish of 2014 were expected to be about an 8-win team. Then they had four key players suspended. And on top of that, they're losing Tommy Rees, TJ Jones, Zack Martin, Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin.
Add in the fact that the Irish take on a pretty brutal schedule - Florida State, Stanford, Michigan, USC, North Carolina, Arizona State - and there's very little time for a breather.
However, even with all that standing in their way, the Irish may still be able to survive 2014 in good shape, particularly thanks to the return of former starter Everett Golson. After a year away from the team, the dynamic Golson gives Brian Kelly a little carryover from the National Championship contenders of 2012. Altogether, this will be Kelly's toughest year at the helm (on the field, that is), but this Notre Dame team could go many ways this season. If the talent rises to the occasion, an impressive ten win season doesn't seem impossible, while a more jumbled year would probably net about 6 wins.
Most important player: Because I'm unsure who exactly Notre Dame's best player is at this point, I'll instead focus on Everett Golson, the prodigal son who has returned to quarterback the Irish. Golson was a revelation for the Irish in 2012 thanks to his running and passing skills, and he was critical to their undefeated regular season. He'll be a steadying presence to the Irish this season, and should they have a successful season, I imagine he'll get most of the praise.
If you asked me to pick a best player, I might say Jaylon Smith, a sophomore linebacker who was third in tackles for the Irish last season. He's one of the best athletes the Irish have had playing linebacker in a while.
Predictions vs Stanford: I don't know if the Irish quite have the horses to run with Stanford this season, given the fact that they've lost so many of their key contributors from the last couple years. I think Stanford's passing game should present some problems for Notre Dame, while the Irish may need to extract a flawless game from Everett Golson in order to better the Cardinal D. However, the trip to South Bend isn't always an easy one, and the Cardinal will be traveling in back-to-back weeks to Washington and then to the midwest. I think it probably adds up to a 10 point win for Stanford, but the travel may catch up to the Card.
100 words of visceral, inobjective, biased hate: Someday I want to meet a real Notre Dame fan. A fan who actually went to and graduated from Notre Dame. And I want to break down and tell them how sad I was when Lennay Kekua passed away. How she was such a meaningful classmate to everyone in the Stanford community. How I miss her the most on the sunny days, because she loved them so much. I'll keep it up until they want to stab me in the neck. Then they'll probably tell me I'm immature and unoriginal and childish. And they'll be right. But they will be oh so angry about it and they'll think about that ridiculous performance forever (kind of like the 2012 National Championship Game). And it'll be totally worth it.