Head Coach: Brian Kelly
2016 Record: 4-8
Over 7.5 wins (-134); Under 7.5 wins (+111)
Odds to win 2017 Title: +7700
Odds c/o Bookmaker
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish had a tough 2016. An independent school with a typically rigorous schedule, it got the best of the Fighting Irish as they finished just 4-8. Notre Dame, however, should be fully loaded for a vast improvement on that, and the return of junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush will have plenty to do with it.
The focus will be on going deep and long most plays, and Wimbush has the arm and receivers to make it a smashing success, along with offensive coordinator Chip Long drawing the plays for it to thrive. Wimbush will have four starters returning on the line in front of him and a couple of them could be 2018 first round picks in the NFL draft. Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson are the most talented of that four.
The skill positions, too, have talent returning. Notre Dame operated with plenty of three-wide formations during the spring, sporting receivers all above 6’4” in height. Equanimeous St. Brown is the leading WR of that group, but junior TE Alize Mack will also be one to keep an eye on as a player who can breakout—and have a huge season. Wimbush should be more than enough to replace the departed and talented Deshone Kizer, but the story will be how well he adapts to Kelly’s play calling.
If he makes smart decisions, he has the talent available at receiver to guide a very effective offense. Last year, the Irish averaged 30.9 points per game and ranked No. 53 in the nation, and improving that is imperative if the team is to trudge through its schedule, which features Michigan State (Sept 23), North Carolina (Oct 7), and Miami (FL) on Nov 11.
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The defense has a new coordinator in Mike Elko. Elko comes from Wake Forest, and Kelly will not be patient in expecting Elko to revamp the defense. Notre Dame gave up 27.8 points per game last season, ranking No. 62, while its rush defense was ineffective in allowing 182.4 yards per game and ranking No. 72 in the nation.
Elko’s strongest position is at linebacker, where the Irish return three captains in Nyles Morgan, Drue Tranquill and Greer Martini. Morgan shined last year as the defense’s best player, and Tranquill moves from safety to linebacker, where he should be more of a difference maker, still. At OLB the Irish will need major improvement, as the team struggled in making tackles for loss last season.
The defensive line and secondary are areas of concern, however. Up front, the team will look at Daelin Hayes and Jerry Tillery. There is a lack of depth and experience on the line, and the team is not loaded with pass rushers. At back, the Irish will start three sophomores, and only one starter returns in the secondary (Julian Love).
Notre Dame is expecting improvement from its defense, but does it have the necessary components to even ensure that is possible, or it simply hoping that Elko works magic?
It is unclear.
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Notre Dame also lost its punter and kicker. The Irish allowed six special teams touchdowns last year, in units which were mostly a disaster. The team hired a new special teams coordinator in Brian Polian, who was a head coach at Nevada the last four seasons and worked under Jim Harbaugh, David Shaw and Kevin Sumlin. Justin Yoon will be the kicker again and Tyler Newsome will punt, just like last season.
Polian has his work cut out for himself in improving one of Notre Dame’s weakest points last season.
With two new coordinators and a new strength coach, Notre Dame is trying to build on a tough 2016. Kelly is in his eighth season with the Irish, but he can ill afford another losing season. NCAA football oddsmakers set the over/under at 7.5 wins, which would be a heady improvement from just four a year ago, but the schedule is tough as usual and the personnel really is not a lot better.
While Notre Dame has the potential to be an eight-win team, it does not seem likely, and there will be so many changes and adjustments to make after losing three of its final four games last year, including a 27-45 stomping by USC in its finale. Notre Dame was not selected for a Bowl game, which is a near disaster for such a storied program. We expect improvement, but Irish fans will likely be disappointed to some degree, and it seems a good value bet to go ‘under’ on 7.5 wins this season.
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