College Crosse's Impossibly Early, Definitely Perfect (Sort of), Rock-Solid (Maybe) Pre-Fall Ball Top-20: Number 4 (Notre Dame)

The 2013 season is six months away. Let's punch fate in the face and make wild assumptions about what could be the best 20 teams in the country next year.

Team: Notre Dame

Rank: 4

Important People: Sean Rogers (A); Jim Marlatt (M); Matt Miller (D); Stephen O'Hara (D); John Kemp (G); Matt Kavanagh (A)

Formerly Important People: Kevin Randall (D); Max Pfeifer (M); Eric Keppeler (M); Devon Dobson (SSDM); Bobby Smith (LSM)

Final 2012 Poll Positions: Media: 3; Coaches: 5

2012 Record: 13-3 (6-0, Big East)

2012 Snapshot: You're full of rainbows!

* * * * *

Nightmare Fuel

Unlike the deference that I will give to Notre Dame's defense, Notre Dame's offense is still one of those things that makes me understand that there's evil in the world and there's little I can do to eradicate that fact (unless I buy a fancy utility belt or something). Rogers returns for a fifth year, Marlatt developed nicely during his sophomore campaign last season, and Conor Doyle, Westy Hopkins, and Ryan Foley are nice players. But . . . this was a trash fire offense for much of 2012. On the year the Domers ranked only 48th in raw shooting percentage at a putrid 26.90 mark. Even worse, the team's offensive share rate was around the 10 worst in the country. Even worse than that last even worse point, only 10 teams had an extra-man conversion rate lighter than the Irish's 25.71 percent mark. Even worse . . . you get the point; I'll stop.

I really do expect Notre Dame's offense to improve over the fall and early spring, but how much improvement are we talking about here? This was an offense defined best as "meh, I'll pass" last season; any movement toward success is good movement, but this is still a major concern -- what kind of production and where will it come from -- that is going to dog the Domers for at least the early part of the year.

(And if that Notre Dame defense somehow falls apart in 2013, that puts a lot of pressure on the Irish offense -- along for the ride for much of 2012 -- in a difficult position to start generating wins.)

A Thousand White Doves

Randall, Smith, and Dobson depart what was arguably the best defense in the country in 2012 (and, for what it's worth, one of the best defenses of the last decade or so), but so much remains to build upon: John Kemp -- the nation's leader in save percentage and one of the most important players in the country in terms of his value to his unit's (and his team's) overall success -- is back between the pipes; Miller and O'Hara -- two big, athletic, and ornery defensemen -- will again team-up to play in close for their, respective, senior and junior campaigns; and, most importantly, Gerry Byrne is back to coordinate the Irish's defense and pretty much be a sadistic psychopath. You can't discount the fact that Notre Dame lost two big pieces to its defense in Randall and Smith, but given the defensive resume that Notre Dame has put together over the last few years, I want to see the Irish falter defensively before assuming that this is finally the year that Notre Dame doesn't snap necks on one end of the field. This unit is still the reason that the Irish are among the top-five teams in the country; they may not approach what they accomplished in 2011 in terms of production, but this is still a strong unit filled with a lot of athletes -- not to mention pure size, of which I am to assume that the Domers are among the biggest in the land -- that Byrne is more than capable of getting to perform.

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