Regular Season Review: Notre Dame

With a regular season that obliterated expectations, Irish Eye's Tim O'Malley reviews Notre Dame's 2012 regular season and looks to the future.

1. With the regular season over, has Notre Dame met or failed expectations?

The undefeated Irish will play January 7 for the 2013 BCS Championship. That didn't only exceed all expectations outside the programs walls, it obliterated them.

2. What one player has made the difference this season?

Senior linebacker Manti Te'o developed into arguably the best college football player in America. He was the team's best player vs. the run, the pass, and its heart and soul throughout an undefeated regular season -- the program's first since 1988.

3. What are the key improvements that need to be made before the BCS Championship?

Notre Dame finished undefeated despite just 27 touchdowns scored in its 58 red zone forays this fall. Their offensive balance and season-long improvement suggests yards can be accrued no matter who the foe, but if too many drives end in field goals (sophomore Kyle Brindza set a program record with 23 made in 31 attempts), the Irish will end their magical run as the nation's second-best team rather than as champions.

4. What has been the dominant headline of the regular season?

The defense's three-year evolution under head coach Brian Kelly from program weakness to national dominance. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's unit allowed just nine touchdowns in 2012, five fewer than any team including defending national champion Alabama. (Just two opponents hit pay dirt via the rush.) Key to the effort was a front four populated by future NFL draft picks and the presence of Manti Te'o behind them.

5. If the recruiting class stays in-tact, what are your expectations for next season?

At present, the Irish are the nation's No. 1 ranked team with the No. 1 ranked recruiting class per FOX Sports NEXT…and the nation's No. 1 graduation rate, to boot. The defense loses three starters (and no other regulars) while the offense loses a quartet of starters and five total key players.

The Irish should contend for the national title again in 2013 with home dates against Michigan State, USC and Oklahoma and a road trip to Michigan its toughest tests.

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