*please note that stats were retrieved from ESPN.com and that all thoughts/opinions are original
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
There’s yet another competition for the quarterback position in South Bend. However, whoever wins the starting job for the Irish is more than capable of leading this team to another strong year. DeShone Kizier and Malik Zaire are both proven winners. Brian Kelly has a good problem to have. Zaire started the 2014 Music City Bowl against LSU, and led the Irish to a bowl win. Last year, he torched the Texas defense en route to a 38-3 shellacking of the Longhorns in week 1. He broke his ankle the following week against Virginia; the injury kept him out of the remainder of the season. Kizier, Zaire’s replacement, led the Fighting Irish to a 10-win season, which included close road losses to Clemson and Stanford.
The remainder of the offense holds quite a few questions. The offensive line loses 3 starters from 2015. LT Mike McGlinchey will be protecting the quarterback’s blindside and LG Quenton Nelson will be bulldozing for the Irish running backs.
RB Tarean Folston is set to return after missing the 2015 season with a torn ACL. Sophomore RB Josh Adams, who set a freshman rushing record for the Irish in 2015, will be Folston’s backup.
The biggest question mark for Notre Dame is the receiving corps. The Irish lose their top 3 wideouts from a year ago. Senior Torii Hunter looks as though he could be the next big wideout to come out of South Bend, but he must get help from the likes of WR Equanimeous St. Brown and TE Durham Smythe.
The defense looks as though it may be down in 2016. But with Brian VanGorder calling the shots, we may very well see yet another tough, hard-nosed Irish defense. Star LB Jaylon Smith is gone. He will be nearly impossible to replace. The coaching staff is confident that LB Nyles Morgan will be able to lead the defense.
The defensive line has an experienced and talented starting 4, but depth is a bit of a concern. If they can manage to stay healthy the Irish could boast one of the best defensive fronts in the nation.
The secondary returns 2 starters. Notre Dame ranked 27th in the nation is pass defense a year ago, only allowing 197.1 pass yards per game. Coaches are confident that this year’s crew will be even better, making up for the losses in the linebacking corps.
It’s no surprising that the Fighting Irish play another tough schedule. However, this year’s schedule looks a bit lighter than last year’s death schedule. Highlights of the season include the following: at Texas, Michigan State, Stanford, Miami, Virginia Tech, and at USC.
The Fighting Irish kickoff 2016 with a solid win over the Texas Longhorns in Austin. They will continue their solid start with another 5 wins. The Stanford Cardinal then come to South Bend. Stanford’s Christian McCaffery runs all over the depleated Irish front 7. McCaffery totals 300+ all purpose yards and lead the Cardinal to a big road win. The Irish follow up the loss with 4 more wins over Miami, Navy, Army, and Virginia Tech. The late season date with USC will be a must-watch game. The Trojans squeak by at home. The Irish finish 10-2 yet again. If the Irish can manage to stay healthy we could very well see a playoff team here, but a lack of depth at some key positions worries me.