George and I have been crazy busy the last month or so, and therefore we had to take some time off from podcasting and writing. Well fear not, because as summer ends football begins, and we are back on the grind. One of the things I've been giving a lot of thought to is how much this football season could suck for me personally, since the Irish and Jets seem to underachieve year in and year out. The Jets are basically a rotting corpse of a franchise at this point, so I've already given up on Sundays, but in my dumb brain's optimism has taken hold of me for the Fighting Irish. I don't think they will finish 11-1 or make the CFB Playoff, but this is a team that returns alot of weapons and experience from last year's dumpster fire of a season. Coach Brian Kelly cleaned house and hired two up and coming coordinators, OC Chip Long and DC Mike Elko. Long ran a prolific offense in his one year at Memphis, and that was a season after QB Paxton Lynch was drafted in round 1. Elko on the other hand turned a historically terrible Wake Forest team into a top defense in the ACC. Both coaches are on fast tracks for head coaching gigs, and helping to turn around ND after one of their worst seasons in a century is a good resume builder.
The main things working against a Irish resurgence is their schedule, and the loss of QB DeShone Kizer to the NFL. Kizer had an up and down season for the Irish in 2016, but despite the awful record (caused mostly by the defense), Kizer still threw for 2,925 yards and 26 TDs, and added another 472 yards and 8 TDs on the ground. That's alot of production to replace, but that's exactly what new starting QB Brandon Wimbush is being asked to do. Wimbush is an excellent runner, and has a cannon for an arm, so he has all the tools to excel in Chip Long's offense.
As I mentioned earlier, the schedule is also going to be a problem this year. It's much more difficult than last year's, and there really isn't a break on the slate. Each team brings something different to the table, and 10 of the teams went to a bowl game in 2016. My job today is to look at this schedule game by game, and predict how ND will fair in each one, and guess what their record will be by seasons end. Let's take a look:
Week 1- vs Temple
Temple has long been a doormat in college football, but the last few years that has really changed. The Owls are riding their first ever back to back 10 win campaigns, and are no longer a push over. In 2015 Temple and ND squared off, and an incredible pass by Kizer to Fuller late in the 4th let the Irish squeak by.
However, Temple lost both their longtime QB Phillip Walker, and their head coach Matt Rhule who left to take over Felon University, aka Baylor. New head coach Geoff Collins (former Florida DC) will have the task of trying to continue to build up this Temple program, while also weathering the storm of a transitional season. That's not too say this team shouldn't be solid. They return a bunch of weapons on offense, including their top 3 WRs, and running back Ryquell Armstead who will look to build on his impressive 2016 (919 yards and 14 TDs). The defense lost first round stud Haason Reddick, but the unit should still be good, as they return many of the other starters. Believe me, this is a tough opening game, and while some schools play meatballs like Alabama St and Youngstown St, the Irish will be battling an underrated and tough opponent. However, I think the loss of Phillip Walker will effect this team early on, until they can figure out how to run the offense with a new signal caller. Temple's defense will be tough and keep the game close, but a late Irish TD will help them pull away for a hard earned victory to start the season.
Irish win 24-13 (1-0)
Week 2- vs Georgia
The Irish immediately will put their season on the line with a rare ND vs SEC matchup. Georgia is coming off an 8-5 season under 2nd year coach Kirby Smart. However, this team should be loaded in 2017, and is a favorite to win the SEC East division. On offense they return QB Jacob Eason, and stud RBs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Eason threw for 2,430 yards and 16 TDs as a true freshman last year, but only completed 55.1% of his passes. Georgia is confident he will take a leap forward as a sophomore, and if he does this offense will hum. Eason will get plenty of help from his running backs, Chubb returned from a 2015 ACL tear, but didn't miss a beat in 2016. He ran for 1,130 yards and 8 TDs, and will only be stronger another year removed from that injury. Anytime Chubb needs a breather, Michel is more than capable of breaking a game open, which he showed by running for 840 yards last year. Those three should all improve, but the thing holding them back could be their offensive line. Georgia has a big question mark in the trenches on offense, as they have little experience returning to the line. If this offense stalls out, it could be because the line isn't giving the playmakers time do to their thing. However, the defensive line is a different story. They will have one of the top run defenses in the country, and will be incredibly hard to push off the ball. The stout front is matched by a senior heavy secondary that is very experienced and talented. Moving the ball on Georgia will be no joke, and despite the Irish having the best left side of an O-line in the country, running against the Bulldogs is going to be tough. I think this will be a close, defensive matchup, but with the running game stuck in neutral, Wimbush will have a hard time putting up points.
Georgia wins 20-10 (1-1)
Week 3- at Boston College
Let's be honest, us Irish fans HATE stupid Boston College because they are always a pain in our asses. I don't know how many times we've lost to them or barely beaten them when ND has 10x the talent they do. You only have to look back as far as 2015 to find an example. Notre Dame was ranked 4th and were 9-1 when they played BC at Fenway Park. BC was 3-7 yet forced the Irish into 5 turnovers, and ND barely won 19-16 in one of the worst games I've ever watched. I'm hoping Brian Kelly plays that tape on loop, and they use it to show you have to get a team like BC early and often. Eagles head coach Steve Addazio is a great defensive coach, but they literally can't score. If you let them hang around though, that's when you get in trouble. Darius Wade is the favorite to win the QB job, but he'd have a tenuous grasp on the job at best to start the year. When you talk about Boston College, the conversation begins and ends with defense, and DE Harold Landry is the reason. Landry had 16.5 sacks last season, and is the best pass rusher in the nation. He has the ability to wreak havoc on offensive lines, and ruin a careful crafted game plan in seconds. Behind Landry is a stout secondary, led by seniors Kamrin Moore, Isaac Yiadom, and Gabriel McClary. That being said, I think Wimbush and RBs Josh Adams, Dexter Williams and Tony Jones Jr should be able to pound the rock vs BC. If they keep giving Landry Run/Pass/Option looks early, you can throw him off his game and not let him pin his ears back and rush Wimbush. Eventually I think the Irish hit a few long runs, which will open up some deep playaction looks. A close first half turns into a rout, as the BC offense once again will keep them from competing.
Irish win 37-7 (2-1)
Week 4- at Michigan St
When people think of Mich St, besides thinking "fuck them", you usually think of consistency. Under that prick coach Mark Dantonio, they seem to win 10 games a year and churn out great defenses. However, that was not the case last season. The only team more disappointing than ND last year might have been MSU. Their pass defense was atrocious, and they finished 3-9. This year could be very similar for Shartty, I mean Sparty. They have very little depth on defense, and the pass D should still be bad. Although spin zone, MSU lost 4 of their top 5 DBs, so maybe that'll be addition by subtraction, who knows. Either way they are a very, very young team on defense, and the Irish have to exploit that. If they can confuse an experienced defense with RPO looks, the big plays will come. On offense for MSU, LJ Scott is back, and he is an established playmaker. Sparty will also have QB Brian Lewerice behind center, and I'm sure he will be the next average, white, game managing QB in the long line of average, white, game managing QBs they've had for the last decade. Also let's not forget Shartty had 4 players dismissed from the team for sexual assault charges, so things are swell in East Lansing. If Notre Dame loses this game I'm going to jump into traffic.
Irish win 26-21 (3-1)
Week 5- Miami (OH)
Ahhhh the ole cupcake midseason win amiright? NOT SO FAST! Miami is a much tougher test than some may realize. First off, Miami head coach Chuck Martin is returning to South Bend to coach against his old mentor Brian Kelly. Anytime you have a young calf trying to prove himself against the old bull that could spell trouble. Secondly, after a disastrous 0-6 start, Miami won their last 6 games before losing by 1 to Mississippi St in a bowl game. That hot streak directly coincided with the return of QB Gus Ragland, who returned from injury in week 7. After Ragland took over the offense, it hummed along and put up 28 or more points in 4 of their last 6 regular season games. He also threw for 1,537 yards in those 7 games, completed 64.2% of his passes, and had a 17-1 touchdown to interception rate. I fully expect Miami to be able to move the ball against ND, as sad as that sounds. The problem for Miami is their porous run defense. Their front seven is a major weakness at stuffing the run and pressuring the QB, which are kinda the only 2 things you're supposed to do down there. The Irish should be able to pound the rock over and over, which will keep Ragland and the Redhawks offense twiddling their thumbs all night. This will be a close game early, but eventually the Notre Dame rushing attack will break a few long runs to snuff out any upset dreams.
Irish win 43-28 (4-1)
Week 6- at UNC
North Carolina is in a bit of a rebuilding year, as they lost QB Mitchell Trubisky, RBs Elijah Hood and TJ Logan, and WRs Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard and Mack Hollins to the NFL. That's a fucking ton of offensive talent to replace in just one offseason. Larry Fedora didn't just sit pat though, and brought in former LSU bust Brandon Harris to play QB. Harris does have all the tools to be a good QB, but an antiquated LSU offense didn't give him a chance to shine. UNC runs a much more spread attack, but it remains to be seen how effective Harris can be. However, the strength for UNC lies with their defense. The front 7 is very experienced, and will be among the best in the ACC. This won't be an easy game for the Irish, and the offensive line will have to bring it each and every play in order to keep Wimbush up and standing. That being said, I think ND edges out a close win, mostly because I don't trust Harris to make the big plays when necessary.
Irish win 23-13 (5-1)
Week 7- Bye
Week 8- vs U$C
Well that fun little winning streak probably ends here. USC is incredibly talented on offense, and own the best backfield in CFB with (future Jets) QB Sam Darnold and RB Ronald Jones Jr. As a redshirt frosh, Darnold took over a struggling USC team and put up excellent numbers. 3,086 yards, 31-9 TD/INT, and 67.2% completion from a first year starter is pretty amazing. Not to mention Jones racked up 1,082 yards and 12 TDs while averaging over 6 yards a carry. The Trojans do have more questions than answers along their offensive line, but I expect they will figure it out sooner than later. On defense, they lost Adoree Jackson to the draft, but Iman Marshall is a stud and will fill that void just fine. Last season USC beat ND 45-27, but that score doesn't really give the full story. ND threw a pick 6, and allowed a kickoff and punt return both for TDs. If they avoid that kind of meltdown, this could be a really good game.
USC wins 31-27 (5-2)
Week 8- NC State
ND lost 10-3 at NCST last year in the biggest farce of a game I've ever watched. This isn't even sour grapes over losing to a crappy team, no the game was literally played in a fucking hurricane. The entire field was flooded, and neither team could even run in a straight line without falling. It was a complete joke that really shouldn't have been played for the kids safety. I mean look at this shit:
Anyway, the Irish will be gunning for revenge this year when they host the Wolfpack. Ryan Findley is an efficient QB (3,059 yards, 18/8 TD/INT, 60.4%) who is a good game manager. Jaylen Samuels is a home run hitter who they use out of the slot and also as a RB. Overall they don't have an explosive offense, but they don't hurt themselves and are efficient at moving the ball. The front seven is where NC State really causes their opponents problems. Bradley Chubb (21.5 TFL, 10 sacks, 3 FF) is the anchor of a front that returns the top 5 D lineman and top 3 linebackers from last year's squad. It's a deep and experienced unit that could end up being the best in the ACC when it's all said and done. The strength of the front will also cover some of the holes in the secondary. They lost their top 3 safeties, so they could be vulnerable to big plays and miscommunication. Brandon Wimbush and the Irish will have to do everything they can to hit them over the top, because it'll be tough sledding for the running game.
Irish win 24-16 (6-2)
Week 9- vs Wake Forest
New Irish DC Mike Elko will take on his old squad, and hopefully will give Brian Kelly and the offense some tips to be able to break down Wake's tough defense. Even after losing Elko and a bunch of starters, Wake should still be stellar on D. The secondary is extremely young, and by 2018 could be one of the best in the nation, but the Irish will have to jump on them and use their inexperience against them. However, if ND manages a couple scores early, the game will be all but over. The reason for that is Wake's offense is hot trash. Year in and year out they have one of the worst offenses in the nation, and that probably won't change in 2017. The QB battle is between running QB Kendall Hinton, and experienced starter John Wolford, but neither really strikes fear into the hearts of opposing teams. Unless the ND offense totally shits the bed, they should handle this game fairly easily.
Irish win 31-16 (7-2)
Week 10- at Miami (FL)
Notre Dame plays both Miami's this year, which feels like a thing that doesn't happen often. Mark Richt is in his second year at the helm, and they had an up and down 8-5 campaign in 2016. The Canes lost longtime starter Brad Kaaya to the NFL draft, but return a boatload of talent and experience everywhere else on the team. WR Ahmmon Richards is a game changer who is about to break out this year, and RB Mark Walton is coming off a 1,100 yard season. Miami also returns an incredibly talented and experienced offensive line, that should make life easy for whoever the QB will be. My money goes on true freshman N'kosi Perry winning the job, who was a top recruit and has all the talent in the world. However, if Richt is looking for a vet to be the QB, Malik Rosier is a dual threat guy who can cause problems for defenders as well. A theme for the ND season is facing teams with very tough front sevens, and the U is no different. LB Shaq Quarterman established himself as the leader and top dog of this defense last season, all while playing as a true freshman. The kid is a certified G and a bona fide stud. The secondary did lose top DB Corn Elder to the NFL, but otherwise will be extremely difficult to move the ball on. I have a feeling we will have a chance to win this one late, but it just won't be in the cards.
Miami wins 17-16 (7-3)
Week 11- vs Navy
Urgh I hate playing these guys. They are constantly a pain in the ass with that unstoppable triple option, and now they seem to win 10 games a year as well. This year's Midshipman are led by QB Zach Abey and FB Chris High, along with the 17 other dangerous runners they have stashed away. Not much to really break down here, everyone knows what they are going to do, just a matter of stopping it. Last year Navy had a terrible defense, even by their standards, but return all their important LBs and 6 of their top 7 DBs. If they learn from last year's mistakes, this could be a decent unit, but if they don't improve teams will be able to score at will once again. These two teams seem to play high scoring shootouts each year, and I doubt this year's contest will be any different. Hopefully we are on the right side this time though.
Irish win 44-34 (8-3)
Week 12- at Stanford
Solomon Thomas and Christian McCaffrey are gone, but otherwise this team remains mostly intact. Keller Chryst returns to play QB, and his favorite target is JJ Arcega-Whiteside, which is fun to say. I sound like a broken record but the Cardinal will have an extremely tough defense. LBs Joey Alfieri, Bobby Okereke, and Sean Barton are very stout vs the run, so Josh Adams and Co could be in for rough days. Stanford also have studs in the secondary, led by Alameen Murphy, Ben Edwards, Quenton Meeks and Brandon Simmons. Watch for all those guys come the 2018 and 2019 drafts, because this team is loaded. I have a feeling this will be a really close game yet again, which is basically a yearly tradition between these two teams. The last 5 matchups have all been decided by a touchdown it less.
However, Stanford is playing at home and that defense is special, so a heartbreaking loss feels like the most likely outcome.
Stanford win 23-21 (8-4)
It's hard to know how I'd feel about an 8-4 record on the season. Obviously after last year's shitshow it would be a big improvement, and the schedule is filled with teams headed to bowl games. However, 8-4 just isn't good enough for what ND should be. This team has the talent to go 10-2, but the Irish never seem to cash in on that talent, and manage to lose a few horrible games each year. Here's to hoping for the best, but don't be surprised if we finish 8-4 and are headed for the Sun Bowl once again.
By Sean Barnet