2012 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Preview

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2011 Record: 8-5 overall Independent

2011 Bowl Result: Lost to Florida St 18-14 in Champs Sports Bowl
Head Coach: Brian Kelly
Odds to Win 2013 BCS Championship: 25/1
Over Under Regular Season Wins: Under 8 1/2 -205 / Over +165
All Odds Courtesy of Bovada

 

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o leads a defense that was one of the best in the country last year. Notre Dame looks to improve on an 8 win season from last year, but the schedule is very demanding.

Last season, Notre Dame went 8-5, and all five losses were by 14 points or less. It was amazing how the Fighting Irish could even walk at the end of the season, because they had so many self inflicted gunshot wounds in their feet. In all of their losses, Notre Dame had some brutal momentum killing turnovers.

Against South Florida the Irish outgained the Bulls by 254 yards, but 3 red zone turnovers including a fumble returned 96 yards for a touchdown, gave Notre Dame a 23-20 loss. Against Michigan, Notre Dame blew a 24-7 lead in the third quarter thanks in part to two more red zone turnovers in a 35-31 loss. Against USC, Notre Dame was driving to tie up the game in the fourth quarter, and yet another red zone turnover was returned 80 yards for a touchdown. The Trojans won 31-17. In the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida St, the Irish scored a defensive touchdown and held the Seminoles to 290 total yards. However, Notre Dame had two turnovers inside FSU’s 30 and the Seminoles won 18-14.

So if you are keeping score, Notre Dame, coached by Brian Kelly, could have easily been 12-1 last season. Notre Dame was never in the Stanford game, as the Cardinal jumped out to a 21-0 lead, and ended up winning 28-14.

The Fighting Irish hope their luck changes this season. They certainly have the talent but the schedule is absolutely brutal. Notre Dame plays 3 top 10 teams, 2 additional top 20 teams, and 8 teams that went to a bowl last year. (USC and Miami-FL also would have gone to a bowl if they were eligible.)

Let’s take an in-depth look at Notre Dame’s offense, defense, special teams, and schedule.

Offense

Regardless of the high expectations for Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish will go nowhere if they don’t settle on a quarterback. Last season, there was a battle between Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees. Crist was named the starter for the opener against South Florida. He was ineffective and Kelly benched him in favor of Rees. Rees became the starter for the rest of the year. Crist transferred to Kansas , now coached by former Irish coach Charlie Weis. Rees was very inconsistent last year. He completed 65.5% of his passes for 2,871 yards, with 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He also lost 5 fumbles. His job as the starter wasn’t really that secure, and he didn’t help his case when he was arrested for allegedly hitting a police officer after being arrested at an off campus party in May. Kelly announced this week, that Rees will be suspended for Notre Dame’s first game in Dublin, Ireland against Navy.

The starter for the Navy game hasn’t been determined but it will come down to junior Andrew Hendrix, redshirt freshman Everett Golson, or true freshman Gunner Kiel. Hendrix was the back-up for most of last year, after Kelly demoted Crist to third string. He threw a touchdown and 2 interceptions in limited action last year. He also is dangerous with his legs as he was the third leading rusher for the Irish despite having just 25 carries. Golson was impressive in the spring game. Kiel was the highest recruited quarterback last year, and had offers from USC, Oklahoma, LSU, Alabama and the rest of the big schools. He originally committed to his home state university of Indiana, but changed his mind and chose Notre Dame. With all that talent Rees might not regain his starting spot.

Notre Dame must replace their All-time leading receiver Michael Floyd who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in April. Floyd had 100 receptions last year for 1,147 yards and 9 touchdowns. He also had a rushing touchdown. Tight end Tyler Eifert is one of the best tight ends in the country, and does return. Eifert had 63 catches, 803 yards, and 5 touchdowns. The top returning receivers are T.J. Jones, Theo Riddick (now a running back), John Goodman, and Robby Toma. However, none had more than 38 catches last year, or averaged more than 6 yards per catch. Freshmen DaVaris Daniels and Davonte Neal will most likely also crack the rotation.The passing game has a lot of questions with the uncertainty at quarterback and wide receiver.

There are no such questions in the running game though. Junior Cierre Wood was the leading rusher last year. He returns after he had 217 carries, 1,107 yards, and 9 touchdowns. Back-up Jonas Gray is gone after 12 touchdown runs and 791 yards last year. However, sophomore Amir Carlisle, a USC transfer, should be a capable replacement for Gray. He averaged more than 6 yards a carry 2 years ago as a freshman at USC. Riddick and George Atkinson III will also get carries. Riddick will be able to help with the passing game as well as he had 38 catches last year. Atkinson is very fast and has big play capability.

The offensive line was one of the best in the country last year. They do lose two starters but should still be very good led by tackle Zach Martin and center Braxton Cave.

Defense

Notre Dame runs a 3-4 system under co-defensive coordinators Bob Diaco and Kerry Cooks. Notre Dame had the 15th ranked defense last year nationally. The run defense was one of the best in the country, but the pass defense gave up some big plays.

The Irish lost defensive end Aaron Lynch who transferred to South Florida. He will be difficult to replace because of his excellent pass rushing skills. nose guard Louis Nix III does return as do ends Kapron Lewis-Moore and Stephon Tuitt. The line shouldn’t regress too badly if they can improve the pass rush that wasn’t fantastic last year even with Lynch.

Eight of the top nine¬† linebackers return from a year ago, with the exception of Darrius Fleming. The linebacking corps will be led Manti Te’o, a for sure first round pick when he leaves South Bend. Sophomore Ishaq Williams will also make an impact. Prince Shembo, Dan Fox, Danny Spond, and Carlo Calabrese will also get plenty of playing time. Calabrese is also suspended for the Navy game.

The secondary must replace 3 starters. Notre Dame has quality safeties in Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta. The corners should be led by Bennett Jackson, Lo Wood, and Josh Atkinson, but the three will compete for the two starting spots in fall camp.

Notre Dame only forced 8 fumbles last year, a problem when your offense turned the ball over 29 times. Notre Dame was great on defense despite the lack of forced turnovers. It doesn’t look that will change this year.

Special Teams

Kicker Kyle Brindza has a strong leg. He handled kickoffs last year, but will take over as the placekicker from David Ruffer. Senior Nick Tausch was the kicker as a freshman, and made 14 straight field goals at one point. He suffered an injury and lost his job to Ruffer, and never got it back. He could step in Brindza struggles.

Punter Ben Turk averaged over 40 yards a punt, and pinned 18 kicks inside the 20. However, Notre Dame’s punt coverage wasn’t good so that affected his net yards.

George Atkinson is an explosive kick returner and had two long touchdown returns last year. Unfortunately, the punt return unit was awful, as they had only 48 punt return yards total in 13 yards. Michael Floyd had a punt return of 41 yards, last year, by the way. Take that away and Notre Dame would have averaged 0.23 yards per punt return. New Mexico was last in the FBS at 1.33 yards a return.  Look for Riddick to handle punt returns.

Schedule

Notre Dame always has a tough schedule because so many schools want to play them because they know it will be a huge money maker. However, this year’s schedule is brutal. They open in Dublin, Ireland against rival Navy. They don’t even get a week off to travel back to South Bend, as they play Purdue at home the next week. The Boilermakers played in a bowl game last year. Then the Irish travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan St, a top 15 team. Notre Dame then gets a four game home stand against Michigan, Miami-FL, Stanford, and BYU. The Irish then make a much anticipated trip to Oklahoma to take on the #4 Sooners. Notre Dame hasn’t played in Norman since 1962. The Fighting Irish close at home against Pitt, travel to Boston College, host Wake Forest before ending the season at #1 USC.

Outlook

Notre Dame certainly has the talent be one of the best teams in the country. However, there are some questions about the passing game and turnovers on both sides of the ball. These issues need to be solved quickly. Games against Navy and Purdue aren’t too taxing, but then the schedule gets really rough. With that schedule, I don’t see more than 8 wins for this team.

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