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After finishing 4-8 in 2016, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish had a bounce back year in 2017, ending the year with a 10-3 record and a Citrus Bowl victory over LSU. The team was solid in September and October, but fell off a bit in November, getting blown out by Miami, barely getting by Navy, and ended the regular season with a loss to Stanford. This isn’t a new issue for them, as they have lost their last five regular season finales. Head coach Brian Kelly is entering his ninth season as the Notre Dame head coach, and will be looking to lead his team to their first College Football Playoff birth.
The Irish will be looking to build on a successful season, but may still have some issues. Projecting how Notre Dame will fare in 2018 will be tougher after some of their losses through the NFL Draft, but they still have the pieces for a solid season.
Notre Dame lost a key player in just about every offensive position. Now that RB Josh Adams, WR Equanimeous St. Brown, and Linemen Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are all gone. The Fighting Irish only contain three receivers that had double-digit catches in 2017. That is a lot to lose, but a tenth-ranked recruiting class (according to 247 sports; Rivals has them ranked 11th) should help ease the blow. Despite all their loses, the quarterback position is the biggest question for this team.
Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book both saw time at the position last season, but four-star recruit Phil Jurkovec could also be in the mix for playing time in 2018. Wimbush was decent running the ball, averaging 5.7 yards per carry, and scoring 14 touchdowns on the ground. As a passer, he struggled by only completed 49.5% of his passes. Due to his struggles, Wimbush was replaced by Book in the Citrus Bowl. It will likely come down to the two for the starting quarterback gig, but the edge has to go to Wimbush.
This should be the strength of the Fighting Irish in 2018. Even though former Defensive Coordinator Mike Elko left for Texas A&M during the offseason, Notre Dame promoted linebackers coach Clark Lea to Elko’s position, and Lea shouldn’t be making too many drastic changes to the defense. Nine starters are set to return to a defense that ranked 31st in points allowed in 2017, including one of the best cornerbacks in the country in Julian Love.
The safety position will be the biggest concern for this unit, as none of the returning safeties recorded an interception last season. The experience throughout this group should help carry them to, at the very least, the same success that they had last season. The front seven is deep, and the corners can continue to be part of a top ten pass defense. If one of their players at safety can step up in 2018, this could be an exciting unit to watch.
There was nothing wrong with losing to Miami, Stanford, and Georgia; and there won’t be much shame in losing to many opponents on the Fighting Irish schedule this season either. Notre Dame will be hoping to make the four-team playoff this year, and strength of schedule should definitely help their case if they manage to run the table. The good news is that they get to play Michigan, Stanford, and Florida State at home, but the bad news is that Notre Dame has to play USC and Virginia Tech on the road.
Add in a visit from Vanderbilt, and trips to play Northwestern and Navy (in San Diego) and Notre Dame should have a good enough schedule to make it into the playoff if they win out. However, it’s possible they might be trying to do too much with their schedule this season. Since 1994, the Fighting Irish have played both Michigan and USC in the same season seventeen times, but have only defeated both in the same season once (their 2012 BCS Championship run).
Overall, Notre Dame looks capable of matching their 10-3 record from 2017, although it will be tougher this season. The team hasn’t put together a full, solid regular season since their 2012 year. So it will be interesting to see how they fare this season. Will this team be more like the one we saw in September and October last year? Similar to the team we saw in November? Or the lackluster 4-8 team from 2016?
Prediction: 11-1, New Years Six Bowl Game
Photo Source : Matt Cashore/ USA Today Sports