Notre Dame tries to overcome the distraction of an academic fraud investigation when it kicks off its 126th season by hosting Rice on Saturday. “I know that when we go through an academic process like this, that involves our honor code, that this is a process that’s out of my hands,” coach Brian Kelly told reporters. The No. 17 Fighting Irish welcome the return of senior quarterback Everett Golson, who was suspended for the 2013 season because of an academic violation.
Kelly cited Golson's leadership and his overall understanding of the offense as the main reasons he beat out sophomore Malik Zaire for the job, although Kelly said ''there was competition and there will be competition." Four players were suspended and will not play Saturday, including senior wide receiver DaVaris Daniels (49 catches, 15.2 yards per reception, seven touchdowns in 2013) and junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who started all 13 games last season. Rice, the defending Conference USA champion, looks to snap a five-game losing streak in season openers and a 21-contest slide against ranked teams.
TV: 3:41 p.m. ET, NBC. LINE: Notre Dame -20.5
ABOUT RICE (2013: 10-4): The Owls hand over the controls to junior quarterback Driphus Jackson, who threw six touchdowns as a freshman but attempted only 16 passes last season. Rice must find a way to replace the production of running back Charles Ross (1,280 yards, 15 touchdowns) and will try to do so with an attack led by 5-7, 200-pound sophomore Jowan Davis, whose 476 yards as a freshman were second to Ross. The Owls, who were picked to finish second in the Conference USA West Division, return 10 starters including five on defense, led by junior defensive tackle Christian Covington (Outland Trophy preseason list).
ABOUT NOTRE DAME (2013: 9-4): Golson will be under center for the first time since Notre Dame's 42-12 loss to Alabama in the 2012 National Championship Game. When asked what can be done to help a young and inexperienced defense led by new coordinator Brian VanGorder, Kelly told reporters: ''Score a lot of points. That will ease everybody's concern.'' Senior Cam McDaniel returns after leading the team with 152 carries, 705 yards and three rushing touchdowns in 2013.
1. LB Kendall Moore, a graduate student who played all 13 games last season, and senior DL Ishaq Williams (11 games in 2013) are the other suspended players.
2. The Fighting Irish are 104-16-5 in season openers with their last setback a 23-20 decision to South Florida in 2011.
3. The teams haven't met since 1988, with Notre Dame winning all four encounters by a combined 147-16.
PREDICTION: Notre Dame 27, Rice 14