Expectations for the Fighting Irish

We’re officially 9 days away from kickoff in Austin. Notre Dame has had quite the interesting offseason, whether it was an exodus of seniors through the draft, off the field issues, quarterback controversy, and so on.

I’ve looked at the Irish’s schedule up and down, and I can basically reason 3-4 games that could result in a loss. Michigan State and Stanford, while they’re home games, are obviously going to be tough ones. Going away to USC is never an easy obstacle. But this opening game trip to Texas is a trap game right off the bat. Texas is not a pushover, and despite their lack of recent success, they’re not an easy team to play against.

Offensively speaking, the Irish will look very different. Gone are their top three wideouts from last year, their top rusher, as well as Corey Robinson, who retired due to concussions, and Alize Jones, who is academically ineligible. Recently-named captain Torii Hunter Jr. is really going to have to pick up the slack as the senior member of this receiving corps. Immediately behind him are junior Corey Holmes and sophomores Miles Boykin and CJ Sanders. There’s no lack of talent with these guys, there’s just a major lack of experience, which obviously leaves them with a massive question mark. A boost can come from Tarean Folston, who returns to action after suffering a gruesome knee injury last season. He doesn’t have to carry the full load, either, as sophomore Josh Adams, who really impressed many fans down the stretch, will challenge for touches.

Gone is Ronnie Stanley, who was debatably the best left tackle in college football last season. However, ND typically has a very deep, talented offensive line, and this season should be no different. Mike McGlinchey, a senior captain, replaces Stanley on the left side. In all, the line is made up of two seniors and three juniors, which is definitely encouraging in terms of the experience department.

I’ve gone this far into the season preview without even touching the quarterback discussion. Basically, Coach Kelly has said that he’s giving both DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire the opportunity to play. I think that’s an awful, awful idea, regardless of how close the competition has been reported (and by all accounts, it’s as close as it can get). Neither lack in talent, neither lack in confidence, and neither lack in the ability to win. However, I maintain that I would rather have Kizer start in order to grow up with this receiving corps. Ohio State tried the two quarterback system last year, and it held them back from their championship potential. That’s not to say that I think the Irish will be in the National Championship, or even the College Football Playoff for that matter. But playing two guys can really screw with them and it can really screw with offensive tempo. So Brian? Don’t. Like, please don’t.

Defensively this group just wasn’t that great last year. Losing Butkus Award-winner Jaylon Smith, captains and leading-tacklers Sheldon Day and Joe Schmidt, and all of their secondary doesn’t help. What also doesn’t help is when Max Redfield and Devin Butler, two guys who at the very least bring some sense of senior leadership and experience, get into legal trouble. I’m not going to get into my opinion of what was right, wrong, indifferent or whatever. Either way, on the field is what I care about, and they’re both gone. This defense is young, inexperienced, and prone to error. I’m really curious about who, if anyone, they can stop this year.

ND does have some things going for them, however. For one, they have 3 ½ road games this year (the Shamrock Series game against Army is in Texas, which is technically a home game but actually isn’t). As far as projections go, I don’t think they have a hard schedule in comparison to last year. They shouldn’t struggle with the NC State’s, Syracuse’s, Nevada’s, Army’s, Navy’s and Virginia Tech’s of the world. In terms of the way that their team is made up, they can still win by emphasizing the run, controlling the clock, and limiting the time that their porous defense has to be on the field.

That’s basically what I expect for the Irish this coming season. For their regular season record, I’ll give them 9-3. In games that they lose, they simply will have not had the ball long enough/enough times, and their weaknesses on defense will be exploited as a result. A more specific preview of Texas will come later this week, but until then, go Irish.

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