August 29, 2013 in Sports

Irish still in independent spotlight

BYU, Navy figure to continue winning trends
Matt Murschel Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel
 
Associated Press photo

Former backup Tommy Rees steps in as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback.
(Full-size photo)

Top team

Much of the credit to Notre Dame’s run to the BCS National Championship Game can be given to its stellar defense. The unit returns eight starters from last season, including defensive end Stephon Tuitt and nose tackle Louis Nix. Losing quarterback Everett Golson for the season because of a violation of academic rules was a huge blow for the offense, but backup Tommy Rees is experienced and should provide stability at the position.

Other contenders

It’s hard to imagine that an eight-win season could be considered a bit of a disappointment, but that was the case for BYU last season. The Cougars struggled on offense, but still managed to capture the program’s fourth straight bowl victory. Navy bounced back from a five-win season in 2011 to claim eight victories in 2012. The Midshipmen have posted winning seasons nine of the past 10 seasons, and the team should add another winning record this year.

Top players

Quarterback Keenan Reynolds was a big part of Navy’s success after taking over the starting job during the fifth week of the season. He finished the year third on the team in rushing (649), but first in rushing touchdowns (10). Reynolds also passed for 898 yards and nine touchdowns. Notre Dame’s Tuitt led the team in sacks (12) and was second in tackles (47). He also forced three fumbles and returned one of them 77-yards for a touchdown in the season-opening win against Navy in Ireland.

The buzz

After decades of mediocrity, Notre Dame jumped back onto the national stage with an undefeated regular season and showdown with Alabama in the national championship game. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly had his team ready to cope with pressure, including a triple-overtime win over Pitt. While the Irish went on to lose the title game to the Tide, Notre Dame made it clear the football program is back on track.

1.Notre Dame
2.BYU
3.Navy
4.Army
5.Idaho
6.N. Mex. St.

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