Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Head Coach: Brian Kelly
2014 record: 8-5 overall
2014 Postseason results: Beat LSU 31-28 in the Music City Bowl
2015 returning starters: 6 offense, 10 defense
Odds to win 2016 College Football Championship game: 32/1
Regular season wins: over 9 -125 /under 9 -105
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Last year, Notre Dame started off the season 6-0 but would go 1-5 in the second half of the season. The second half of the season included narrow losses to Florida State, Northwestern, and Louisville by a total of 10 points. Notre Dame was also blown out by Arizona State and USC. The only win in the second half was against Navy. The Fighting Irish ended a four game losing streak by upsetting LSU 31-28 in the Music City Bowl.
Sixteen starters are back for coach Brian Kelly, including ten on defense. Irish fans think their team have a legitimate shot of making the playoff.
Notre Dame averaged 445 yards per game on offense, including 286 passing and 160 rushing yards. The Fighting Irish averaged 33 points per game. Notre Dame was in the top 40 nationally in total offense, passing, and scoring. However, the Irish had far too many turnovers with 26.
Kelly demoted offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock to wide receivers coach. Kelly hired Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, Jr. as the new coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Six starters are back on offense for the Irish.
Quarterback Everett Golson was supposed to be back for his senior year but he decided to transfer to Florida State in May. Golson threw for 3,445 yards with 29 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, and also rushed for 283 yards on 114 carries with 8 touchdowns. Golson was going to compete with junior Malik Zaire for the starting job, mainly because of all the interceptions Golson threw. Zaire split time with Golson in the last two games against USC and LSU. Zaire threw for 266 yards with a touchdown, and also rushed for 187 yards on 33 carries with 2 touchdowns. Zaire will be the full time starter.
Junior running back Tarean Folston returns after rushing for 889 yards on 175 carries with 6 touchdowns, along with 18 catches for 190 yards and a touchdown. Junior Greg Bryant is also back after he had 54 carries for 289 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with 5 catches. He will be suspended for the first four games for violating team rules. Zaire will also get a lot of carries as he had 33 last year in basically two games.
Receiver William Fuller is back for his junior season after making 76 catches for 1,094 yards with 15 touchdowns. Chris Brown is also back after making 39 catches for 548 yards and a touchdown. Corey Robinson (son of NBA Hall-of-Famer David) had 40 catches for 539 yards and 5 touchdowns. C.J. Prosise had 29 catches for 516 yards and 2 touchdowns, and also rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown. Amir Carlisle had 23 catches for 309 yards and 3 touchdowns. Tight end Ben Koyack is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Sophomore Durham Smythe should get plenty of targets as the new starting tight end.
Three starters are back on the offensive line. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, center Nick Martin, and right guard Steve Elmer are all back and should anchor a strong line.
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Last year, Notre Dame gave up 404 yards per game on defense including 233 passing and 171 rushing yards. The Fighting Irish allowed 29 points a game. Those numbers were slightly below average as Notre Dame ranked between 73 and 84 in all four categories out of 128 teams. In the first five games of the season, Notre Dame gave up 60 points total. However, it was no surprise that when the defense went in the tank (allowing 319 points in the last 8 games) so did Notre Dame’s record.
Ten starters are back on defense for second year coordinator Brian VanGorder. The Irish look to play like they did in the first five games last season if this team is going to truly contend for the playoff or a New Year’s Six Bowl game.
All four starters are back on the defensive line. Tackles Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones are very talented. Day had 7.5 tackles for loss and 9 quarterback hurries. Jones is coming off a foot injury though, but is expected to ready for the regular season. Freshman nose tackle Jerry Tillery will also get time in the rotation. End Isaac Rochelle also had 7.5 tackles for loss with 10 hurries. Romeo Okwara and Andrew Trumbetti will split time at the other end. Despite all the hurries, Notre Dame had only 26 sacks in 2014, a number that needs to improve.
All three starting linebackers are back as well. Jaylon Smith led the Irish with 112 tackles including 9 for loss. Joe Schmidt missed the last five games with a broken ankle, but was still named the team defensive MVP.
Three starters are back in the secondary. Actually, that number is more like four because star cornerback Kei’Varae Russell returns after missing all of last season due to academics. The other corner Cole Luke had 4 interceptions, 15 passes defended and 11 pass breakups. Safeties Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield struggled at times in 2014 but look to improve this season.
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Kicker Kyle Brindza is now with the Detroit Lions. Freshman Justin Yoon will likely take over for Brindza. Freshman Tyler Newsome will assume the punting duties. Carlisle will return kicks again after averaging 21.7 yards per return last year. Bryant was supposed to return punts and it is unclear who will handle the job during his suspension.
Notre Dame has three home games in September against Texas, Georgia Tech and Massachusetts, plus a road game at Virginia. In October, the Irish have road games at Clemson and Temple, sandwiched around home games against rivals Navy and USC. In November, Notre Dame travels to Pittsburgh, hosts Wake Forest, plays Boston College at Fenway Park, and travels to Stanford. It is the first time in 41 seasons that Notre Dame is not scheduled play Michigan.
This team has questions at quarterback but their are plenty of talented skill position players to take the load off a mostly untested Zaire. The defense will have to play much better. I think this team wins around 8 or 9 games and will play in a bowl like the Russell Athletic Bowl.
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