By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
SOUTH BEND —
On a wall in the auditorium at the Gug – where the Notre Dame football team makes its home on campus – the schedule for the upcoming season is listed.
In past years, the 13th slot on the board had a spot that simply stated, “Bowl game.”
This year, that slot has kicked expectations up a notch. It says, “BCS National Championship Game, January 7, 2014.”
That, perhaps more than anything else, is an object lesson in how high the bar has been raised at Notre Dame by the Fighting Irish’s 2012 season – which ended with a perfect 12-0 mark in the regular season and slot in the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama.
That game, Irish fans will ruefully recall, did not end so well for Notre Dame, with an obviously superior Crimson Tide squad dominating the Irish and winning, 42-14.
Thus commenced a tumultuous offseason for the Irish: A brief dalliance with the NFL by head coach Brian Kelly, via an interview with the Philadelphia Eagles; the bizarre, Twilight Zone-flavored madness of the Manti Te’o fake girlfriend story; and sophomore QB Everett Golson’s banishment from school for academic reasons this season.
But this weekend, all that is finally in the rear-view mirror as the Irish players report to South Bend for fall camp.
On Monday, they’ll head south to Marion for four days at Shiloh Park and Conference Center.
The idea of getting away from home for a few days is not a new one, and Kelly says it’s something that has worked for him before.
It’s good for a team to eliminate distractions – and that includes cell phones, texting, Twitter and Facebook.
On Friday, Kelly told the media at his season-opejning press conference that the Shiloh Park site has Wi-Fi access, but he “anticipated it to crash within the first 20 minutes.”
The line elicited a laugh from the assembled sports media representatives — but it was one of those things that makes you wonder if Kelly was only really half-kidding.
Players these days have more on their plates that in past years, more ways to get in trouble — and more ways for the rest of us to find out about it when that happens.
If Kelly and his staff can assemble their team and make them focus on football, football and more football for four days, more power to them.
Expectations, obviously, are sky-high.
And as the Irish open fall camp, they do so with some holes to fill.
Senior Tommy Rees is the starter at quarterback – at least for the opener against Temple. That’s not exactly the strongest vote of confidence, but Rees is a guy who knows how to win, knows the offense, and can get the job done.
There are question marks on both sides of the ball, and over the next few weeks, position battles will rage all over the field.
And on Aug. 31 at Notre Dame Stadium with Temple in town, it will be time to answer those questions the only place it matters: On the field.
Contact sports editor David Vantress at 533-2151, ext. 325 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org