Originally written January 28, 2013 on isportsweb.com:
Head Coach Brian kelly led the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to great success in 2012. He’ll look to improve on that for 2013.   2012 was – overall – a great season for Notre Dame football and its fans. Sure, the success and excitement stemming from the teams first National Championship game appearance in 24 years came crashing down with a 42-14 beatdown by Alabama. And, of course, you have the crazy/weird Manti Te’o girlfriend story (which will not factor into the grades, by the way). But despite those two (very big) black marks, Irish fans should be very happy with how 2012 rounded out. Especially since they began the year unranked, and ost people pegged them for a low tier bowl game. Myself included. Head coach Brian Kelly was able to gear his boys up and fight through issues concerning depth, talent, and youth to have an undefeated regular season. Yes, for all of us Irish fans that bought those “UNDefeated” or “#1rish” t-shirts and now have to relegate them to yard work duties or dog bedding, it could have been slightly better. But we shouldn’t let that hinder the true greatness we were able to witness for most of the season. But how should we grade the team’s overall performance? Take a look below and let me know how you feel about it (check out my mid-season grades for comparison here: http://isportsweb.com/?p=189739). *Author’s note – Sorry about the tardiness of this post. I realize the season ended 3 weeks ago. Overall Achievement – A- 12-0 in the regular season. A Heisman trophy finalist. Numerous other awards. A BCS National Championship berth. If you had been able to include a title at the end of that, this would unquestionably be an A+ as it should be. But even with the blow-out in the Natty, you can’t dispute that the Irish overcame low expecatations and brought the program back into the relevant national consciousness. And when you factor in the individual success – 10 different individual awards were given to Notre Dame this year – and that’s why they still get the A-. Offense – Passing – C+  The vertical game was obviously the biggest weakness of a so-so offensive unit in 2012. Redshirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson started off slow, but improved as the season went on. That being said, however, his stat line says it all as to why this gets an “average” grade: 187 completions on 318 attempts (58.8%), 2,405 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. Not too bad for his first year under the helm against the type of competition Notre Dame normally plays, but not good enough. Not yet, anyway. Look for big improvements in Golson’s game next year. Offense – Running – A- The run game was undoubtedly the better of the two units. They had three players average 4.8 yards per run or more (RBs Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, and George Atkinson III), and totaled over 2400 yards. The unit as a whole scored 23 times on the ground – including 5 each for Riddick and Atkinson, 4 for Wood, and 6 coming from Golson at the QB spot. But when they truly needed to run, they weren’t able to. Against Alabama, the Irish gained just 32 yards on 19 carries – thanks to Alabama’s fast start and dominant defense. Defense – Passing – B+ The Irish gave up fewer than 200 yards per game in the air (25th in the nation), allowed just 11 scores all season, picked off 16 passes (T-20th), and sacked the opposing quarterback 34 times (T-22nd). Another young, inexperienced unit on the team that had to overcome a slow start and injury problems (starting DBs Jamoris Slaughter and Lo Wood were both lost early in the year to injuries). Normally those stats would be good enough for a B-, but they get a bit of a curve based on their constant improvement throughout 2012. Defense – Running – A The BCS National Championship notwithstanding (the Irish defense allowed a season high 265 yards), the run defense was the best unit – offensively or defensively – of the season. Even with the terrible performance on January 7th, the run defense still wound up ranking the 11th best in the nation at 105.7 yards, and gave up only four scores on the ground (two to Alabama). Had the title game gone differently, it’s quite likely this would have stayed at the A+ I gave it in the mid-season review. Special Teams – C The Irish special teams were not that special in 2012. The only facet that deserved a high grade was on extra points, in which Notre Dame connected on 28 of 29 attempts. Field goals could have better, where the Irish  made only 75% (24 of 32). They also ranked 30th in net punting yards (38.6 net), 77th in kick return return yards allowed (22.1 yards), and 93rd in return yards (19.6). All of that makes for an average (at best) turn out for 2012 Coaching – A It should be no suprise that Kelly’s grade comes from the overall success of his team. After all, the players are the ones doing the work on the field. But coaches still have to coach, so let’s recap: 12-0 regular season? Check. BCS National Championship berth? Check. Four different coaching awards in a single season? Check. Top 5 recruiting class for next year? Check. Spurning the NFL to remain with the team for at least one more year? Check. Oh, and we can’t forget defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who was voted as the nation’s top assistant for 2012. Final Season Awards Offensive MVP – RB Theo Riddick As tough as this one was to call at the mid way point, it remains so for the final season. There wasn’t really one player who consistently played at a hugh level for the entire season. But Riddick’s versatility in both the running and passing games made him likely the most dangerous weapon the Irish’s offense had this year. Defensive MVP - LB Manti Te’o All jokes about his non-existent girlfriend aside, Te’o had a seaon for the ages. He ended the season with 111 tackles and 7 interceptions, and was the anchor of the highly succesful defensive unit. If the numbers don’t impress you, they certainly did impress the voters. Te’o came home with seven different awards - the most of any college football player in a single season ever. Here’s the list: the Lott IMPACT Award, the Walter Camp Award, the Vince Lombardi/Rotary Award, the Bronko Nagurski Award, the Maxwell Award, the Dick Butkus Award, and the Chuck Bednarik Award. Oh, and he finished 2nd in the Heisman voting, the highest finish ever for a pure defensive player. So yeah – no brainer. Best Game – Stanford, week 7, (w 20-13 in overtime) No change here from mid-season. It was the most exciting game with the most controversial finish for the team all year. Worst Game – Alabama, NCG (L 42-14) Ugly, ugly, ugly. What more can we say about the horrid performance the team displayed on the biggest stage? Even though the season didn’t turn out how must of us Irish faithful had hoped, one thing is certain: Notre Dame football is back. The team will be returning plenty of starters and key contributors next year (Golson, Riddick, Atkinson, DT Louis Nix, DE Stephon Tuitt, etc.) and will have plenty of fresh talent coming in from their great recruiting class. Get used to seeing Notre Dame at or near the top for the forseeable future. It’s exciting to be an Irish fan once again. Follow me on Twitter @IrishColt1
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