After a long awaited wait, the 2014 season is FINALLY upon us as Notre Dame begins their journey to gain a berth in the first ever College Football Playoff. Its time to put fall camp and the academic investigation behind us and get excited for some Notre Dame Football. First up on the chopping block is the Rice Owls. David Bailiffs Owls squad is coming of a 10 win season last year but most people remember them for there effort against Texas A&M to begin their 2013 season. Notre Dame and Rice have meet on 4 other occasions with Notre Dame winning every contest. However some look at Rice’s record last season as well as being the Conference USA Champion as a reason to worry about this matchup for the Irish. I don’t see it that way at all and here is why. Sure Rice won ten games last season. But has anyone looked at who they played? Besides playing Texas A&M on the road to start the season, Rice’s second most difficult opponent was Mississippi State in the Liberty bowl and Rice got run off the field in that game losing 44-7. After that Rice’s opponents were awful. So yes they won 10 games but the only two quality teams they played, Texas A&M and Mississippi State, they lost too. Speaking of Texas A&M, many people point to how well Rice played in that game as another reason that Notre Dame could be in for a tough game. But did Rice REALLY play well in that game? Not only did Johnny Manziel sit out the entire first half, but the Aggies defense was absolutely abysmal. I mean really really bad and to compound on how bad it was they were also missing 5 starters on their defensive unit. So basically what I am saying is don’t let the numbers fool you on Rice.
This years Rice team is also very different than last season. They are returning only about half of their starters and have been hit pretty hard by pre-season injuries. Their starting tight end Connor Cella is out 4-6 weeks with an injury and their star receiver Jordan Taylor is dealing with a foot injury that may hold him out against the Irish. Bottom line here is that Rice looked better on paper last season than they really were AND this years team doesn’t have the same amount of talent that that team did. So what can we expect out of Notre Dame against Rice to start the season? Lets find out.
Obviously the highlight of the offense for the first game and maybe even the entire season is the return of Everett Golson. It has been over 600 days since his last game against Alabama in the 2012 National Championship game. Reports out of fall camp are that Golson has matured as a leader, has grown physically, and has really taken the next step forward in the playbook. That spells success to me and while he may shake off some rust early on, I don’t see it lasting more than one or maybe two drives. With Davaris Daniels still in limbo regarding his “suspension” the only receiver to have ever caught a pass from Golson in a game is Chris Brown with his memorable catch against Oklahoma during the 2012 season. This season he will have a whole new receiving corps to throw the ball too that is not lacking in talent. Corey Robinson presents a pretty sizable mismatch for most defensive backs and Will Fuller’s speed that we saw glimpses of last season should be more up front and center especially against a Rice secondary that normally does not play against that type of speed. The Irish come into this game with a healthy and very talented offensive line led by newly named captain Nick Martin, which should not only give Golson plenty of time to throw the ball, but open running lanes for the three headed monster at running back with Bryant, Folston, and McDaniel. All three backs will present a challenge for the Rice defense led by their star defensive lineman Christian Covington, and they should be able to rack up a large chunk of rushing yards.
The recent academic investigation has really left the defense short handed with KeiVarae Russell, Ishaq Williams, Kendal Moore, and Eliar Hardy all set to be missing the Rice game this weekend for sure and who knows how much longer after that. There is not a lack of talent to fill in those positions however. Cole Luke, who played last year and very well in my opinion, will take Russell’s spot on the field opposite of Cody Riggs. Williams role will be replaced by using multiple underclassmen to help generate a pass rush. Obviously Jaylon Smith is the superstar of the defense and with him now anchoring the middle of the defense this season he really has the ability to be even better this season. Going into Rice the Irish defense’s main goal needs to be to force Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson to try and beat them with his arm. He is a dual threat guy with the ability to run. With VanGorders new scheme being tested in its first game at Notre Dame I fully expect the Irish to put pressure on the quarterback early and often to try to rattle a quarterback who is going to be playing in front of the largest crowd he will face all season. While the depth of the Irish defensive line is a concern throughout the season, I don’t see it playing to much of a factor into this game as Rice’s offensive line is going to have a handful dealing with Sheldon Day who looks to be in line to have a monster season.
I am sure most people have either read or seen some of the Harry Potter books/movies. Remember that owl named Heddwig? Now picture that owl. And picture someone picking it up and stabbing it mercilessly to death. Thats exactly what this game is going to be like. Its going to be a bloodbath. I don’t want to hear the whole “Well Notre Dame doesn’t play well in season openers” argument. 2012 Navy says hello. Notre Dame is by far the better team on the field in every aspect of the game and its not even close. Rice is going to put up a good fight early but it will be all for not. Golson will play brilliant in his first game back from his exile, the running game runs the ball at will, and the young defense will play much better than many folks anticipate.
Notre Dame 45 Rice 17
Other Games Around the Country
1 Florida State at Oklahoma State (Arlington, TX)- The defending national champs and defending Heisman trophy winner open the season taking on a Oklahoma State team that doesn’t seem like it will be as competitive as years past under Mike Gundy. The offense should still do pretty well in the Big 12 but they won’t fare all that well against that FSU defense. This game may still be close at halftime but it wont end that way. Florida State 41 Oklahoma State 24
16 Clemson at 12 Georgia- In probably the best matchup of the weekend, we get to see how Clemson and Georgia respond with new quarterbacks at the helm with Taji Boyd and Aaron Murray both gone to the NFL. Georgia still has a very strong stable of running backs with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshal and that will be the difference in this game. Georgia 28 Clemson 21
14 Wisconsin at 13 LSU (Houston, TX)- If any team outside the SEC has the scheme and skill set to play with and beat LSU it would be Wisconsin. The Badgers love to run the ball and have a couple of very talented backs. But playing them the first game of the season is tough and LSU’s defense should be even tougher. LSU 24 Wisconsin 17
5 Ohio State at Navy- With the loss of Braxton Miller at quarterback the offense for the Buckeyes, that was already replacing a huge chunk of their offensive line, is going to be under a large amount of pressure to score a lot of points. Carlos Hyde is gone to the NFL so the ability of a running back to step up and fill that void is very important. Navy is a running machine and Keenan Reynolds runs the triple option attack to perfection. The Buckeyes defense wasn’t great last year and they lost some key playmakers. Ohio State realizes very quickly that life without Braxton Miller will not be a good one. Navy 31 Ohio State 30