The college football season can’t come soon enough. With every season comes new faces and possibilities. Who will be the teams to watch out for this season? This will be the 13th of many posts covering the top 25 teams in the country and will cover no. 13 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame was in the College Football Playoff race up until the last three weeks of the season, were they lost two games. With Brian Kelly back for another season and 14 returning starters, the Fighting Irish are trying to put themselves in a position to make the CFP for the first time.
The Fighting Irish were great at running the football last season, ranking seventh in the country. They were solid in points per game ranking 24th, but were not great at passing the football. They ranked 102nd in that category. Five starters return from the offense, which will aim to improve as a passing attack.
Brandon Wimbush was the starter last year. He provided an athletic player who could run, but wasn’t the greatest passer. He ran for 804 yards and had 14 rushing touchdowns. In the air, he threw for 1,870 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He completed just 49.5 % of his passes on 6.8 yards per attempt. Those numbers are not what is being looked for in a Notre Dame quarterback. Ian Book got some reps last season and will be able to fill in if Wimbush struggles.
Equanimeous St. Brown and Durham Smythe are gone to the NFL, but there is talent at the skill positions. Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin got playing time last season and put up decent numbers. Alize Mack takes over at tight end and has great athletic ability to produce. While the talent is there, it is very questionable as to if these players will be able to get the ball a lot given the quarterback play.
When he got the ball in 2017 Dexter Williams was effective. He played behind Josh Adams, who had a great season, but Williams had 9.2 yards per carry for 360 total rushing yards. He got to the end zone four times last year in 39 carries. Tony Jones Jr. will also get carries out of the backfield and got his feet wet last season.
The offensive line lost two all-time greats in Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, but they bring back a lot of experience and talent. Center Sam Mustipher and guard Alex Bars will anchor the line from the interior as seniors.
Running the ball will come more naturally to this team, but if they can complete passes down the field, the offense will open up.
Notre Dame’s defense was one of the most improved units in the country last season. They were a point of weakness in 2016, but were above average last season. They ranked 31st in points allowed per game, 51st against the run and 53rd against the pass. With almost all of their starters back and some new faces to add to the fold, the Fighting Irish will be tougher on defense yet again.
On the inside of the defensive line, Jerry Tillery and Jonathan Bonner returned. Tillery was good enough to go pro, but decided to go back to school. Last season he had nine tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. At defensive end, Daelin Hayes is a budding star. Even though he had just 3.5 sacks last season, that number is expected to be on the rise.
Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney also could have tried to make it in the NFL. They both decided to play for Notre Dame again this season. Coney led the team in tackles with 116 last season. Tranquill, the former safety, added 85 total tackles. Both players have already shown to be great players and leaders.
The secondary features Julian Love, one of the best corners in the country. They have ample depth at the position, as plenty of corners have gotten playing time over the last few seasons. Jalen Elliot returns at safety, but the other safety spot will be manned by Alohi Gilman. Gilman, the Navy transfer has already, drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff.
With this much talent and experience, Notre Dame should be able to take another step forward on this side of the ball.
Games against Michigan (home), Stanford (home), Virginia Tech (away), Florida State (home) and USC (away) will be very tough. Notre Dame should be the more talented team for the majority of their schedule. If they win some of their tougher games, nine to 10 wins should be expected from the Irish.
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