Notre Dame Football: Gee Gee Greene

It has been eight long months but the waiting game is down to two days. Forty-hours from now the Irish will kick their season off in Ireland, facing a Navy team that has topped them in three of the past five years. Can Notre Dame make it two in a row against the Midshipmen? Let's take a look.

When Notre Dame has the ball: All eyes will be on Everett Golson, who is appearing in his first college game and, just maybe, possibly, is Notre Dame's quarterback of the future. Coach Brian Kelly said he expects the turnover plague of last year to be curtailed so long as Golson plays within character. That means not too many risks against an experienced secondary, and plenty of ball control against a team that loves to hang on to the ball itself. Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III will be a key to taking the pressure off Golson, as both are replacing the suspended Cierre Wood and must, first and foremost, secure the football.

When Navy has the ball: If ever there were an ideal time to break in two new starting cornerbacks -- including a converted running back who just got to campus three months ago -- well, this might be it. The Midshipmen's triple-option offense can be confusing and maddening all at once for a front seven that can't afford to hesitate. Fortunately for the Irish, much of the unit that held Navy to just 14 points last season is back up front, with Ben Councell likely the only first-time starter among the defensive linemen and linebackers. Also working in the Irish's favor: Navy returns just one starter up front, left guard Josh Cabral. Keep an eye on senior slotbacks John Howell and Gee Gee Greene, who is the team's top returning rusher.

Intangible: Navy made eight consecutive bowl games before a 5-7 campaign in 2011. That season featured five losses by three points or less. Like the 2011 Irish, this was a more talented team than its record indicated, as it finished fourth nationally on the ground. There's also the not-at-all overlooked fact that this game will be played a 9 a.m. ET, in another country. Kelly cut the Irish's originally scheduled seven early-morning practices down to one -- the Wednesday his team took off for Dublin, so that the players could sleep on what was basically an overnight flight and be ready to go Thursday upon its 6:30 a.m. (local time) arrival.

Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Navy 17. The talent gap here is too wide, and the Irish have learned their lessons from recent mishaps against the Midshipmen to not take them seriously.

ND's 2012 opponents, Week 1: Navy

July, 16, 2012
Week 1: Sept. 1 versus Navy (at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland)
Time/TV: 9 a.m. ET, CBS
Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 72-12-2
2011 record: 5-7
Head coach: Ken Niumatalolo (32-21, four years)
Returning starters: Offense: 4; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Trey Miller, RB Gee Gee Greene, WR Brandon Turner, WR Matt Aiken, WR Casey Bolena, LT Graham Vickers, LG Josh Cabral, DE Wes Henderson, LB Brye French, LB Matt Warrick, LB Matt Brewer, CB Jonathan Wev, CB David Sperry, CB Parrish Gaines, S Tra'ves Bush, S Chris Ferguson, P Pablo Beltran

Key losses

QB Kriss Proctor, RB Alexander Teich, C Brady DeMell, G John Dowd, RT Ryan Basford, NG Jared Marks, DE Jabaree Tuani, LB Caleb King, LB Jarred Shannon, CB Kwesi Mitchell, K Jon Teague

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Proctor (914 yards)
Proctor (787 yards)
Receiving: Turner* (300 yards)
Tackles: Warrick* (103)
Sacks: Tuani (5.5)
Interceptions: Mitchell, Bush*, Ferguson*, Sperry* (2)

Three questions for ... College Football Nation blogger Andrea Adelson:

Versus Notre Dame in Ireland, at Penn State (following a bye). One can think of easier ways to open the season, but Navy has laid a tough task ahead of itself. What can this program take away from those games and environments early on, and do the Midshipmen actually have a shot of stealing one?

Andrea Adelson: Navy is no stranger to playing tough games. This is a program that continually challenges itself. The Midshipmen nearly upset South
Carolina early last year, and have beaten Notre Dame twice in the last three years. If anything, I think opening the season with two incredibly tough games will set this team up for the rest of the season, even if it loses both. There are some young players that are going to get valuable on-the-job training against two traditional power teams and to me, there is no substitute for that as the season moves on. Can they steal one? Absolutely. Last time I checked, neither team is Alabama. I never count Navy out of a game.

Quarterback Trey Miller got thrown into the fire early last season following Kriss Proctor's injury. How much will that help Miller this year, especially with running an offense as sophisticated as Navy's?

AA: I spoke with coach Ken Niumatalolo during the spring, and he is really excited about having Miller start this year. Niumatalolo called Miller's performance against Notre Dame last year "baptism under fire," so I think he learned a valuable lesson from that experience. Any time you can go into the year with some game experience as the bona fide starting quarterback, it helps. But no question, opening the season on the road against the Irish is going to be a huge task for Miller and the entire offense.

There's no beating around the bush. Navy, due to turnovers and poor execution, often beat itself last season. (That may sound familiar to readers of this space.) With five of last season's losses coming by three points or fewer, just how close is Navy this year to getting back on track and returning to a bowl game?

AA: I think Navy will get back to a bowl game. What really surprised me about last season is Navy rarely beats itself. In fact, Navy is usually one of the most disciplined teams in all of college football. Niumatalolo basically went back to the basics this spring and stressed that discipline. "We are paying more attention to detail," he told me. "I know we lost close games last year and there are small little things we missed that cost us a game, and I think that resonates with our guys because they know losing five games by 11 points, they saw all the little things we could get better."


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