The case for
Stephon Tuitt swears it was a healthy, enriching experience, one to be filed away for future reference and guidance. Even though the Fighting Irish were manhandled by Alabama in the BCS national championship game, he points to one positive he and his teammates took away from that 42--14 blowout in Miami: They know what to expect the next time they play for the national title, which, according to Tuitt, will be in January. "Now we have a taste of what it's like to be in that game, we all want to get back, and we're working harder than ever to do that," says Tuitt, a junior defensive end who led Notre Dame with 12 sacks last season. Though the Irish must replace eight starters from last year—including quarterback Everett Golson, who was suspended for the season for academic reasons—there shouldn't be a significant drop in overall talent because Brian Kelly's past three recruiting classes have been among the best in the nation.
The case against
Losing Golson, a difficult-to-defend pass-run threat, is a significant blow. Senior Tommy Rees, who has started 18 games for the Irish, isn't a running threat (--71 yards career), but he's the son of a football coach and usually makes sound decisions. His confidence could be low after he was benched last year.
Entering your fourth year, do you think your program-building is ahead of schedule?
You could make the case that we are, but there's much more work to be done. We need more depth, and that was really exposed in the national championship game. When you have 42 days to practice, you need the ample depth to tackle and be physical, and we just weren't there yet.