Notre Dame Football 2017 officially kicks off this Saturday afternoon at the newly renovated Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN against the Temple Owls at 3:30pm EST. The new additions to the stadium add to the majestic look of the campus.
Head Coach Brian Kelly heads into his eighth season at the helm of the Fighting Irish after a tumultuous 2016 campaign that saw his squad finish 4-8. Rumblings from the fan base and from boosters asking for the Irish to make a change didn’t happen. Instead, Kelly brought in a new offensive coordinator in Chip Long to run the offense and former Irish signal caller Tommy Rees is taking over as the quarterbacks coach to work with an emerging and highly talented Brandon Wimbush.
Another addition to the Fighting Irish staff was the hiring of former Wake Forest coordinator Mike Elko. Coming off a season where Notre Dame ranked 103rd nationally in total defense, 101st in scoring defense and 104th in yards per play.
With the new faces on the sidelines, new faces will also be on the field. Starting with the before mentioned Wimbush taking over the quarterback position from the departed Deshon Kizer who went into the NFL. Wimbush red shirted the 2016 season and only saw the field a few times as a true freshman in the 2015 campaign. Wimbush has an very strong arm and is quick on his feet. Couple that with his powerful frame and he is a dual threat to any defense honing in on him.
Wimbush will have a slew of weapons to work with as his number one target will most likely be Equanimeous St. Brown. St. Brown was the teams leading receiver in 2016 collecting 58 catches for 961 yards and 9 touchdowns, all team highs. Josh Adams will be taking the rock from Wimbush most of the time at the running back position. Adams led the team last year with 955 yards on 158 attempts and was second behind Kizer with 5 rushing touchdowns. Also at Wimbush’s disposal will be a deep WR corps of C.J. Sanders, Chase Claypool, Chris Finke and a bevy of others. Alize Mack will be the main tight end threat for the Irish.
The most talented group on the offense looks to be the offensive line, led by senior tackle Mike McGlinchey, Sr. Combined with guard Quentin Nelson, the line should be a dominant force to not only protect Wimbush but open up those holes for the running game.
The defense should be much better this year with the addition of Elko and his system. His Demon Deacon squad put up 41 sacks last year, meanwhile the Irish had a pedestrian 14 sacks on the season. Defensive end Daelin Hayes and Jerry Tillery will look to not only pressure but bring down the quarterback. Nyles Morgan is back anchoring a deep group of linebackers. Morgan will be asked to do a lot after being the top tackler for the Irish last year. The secondary should be much better than last year as well with another year under their belts. Drue Tranquill will be the stopper at the safety position.
Special teams in 2017 will be looking to improve from a sub par 2016 showing. Kelly brought in former Nevada head coach and former Irish assistant Brian Pollen to head the Special Teams. The Irish finished the season ranked 96th in opponent kick returns and 123rd in opponent punt returns.
With all those positives looking into this coming season, i’m expecting Notre Dame to have a decent season and most likely a top 20 finish. The Irish have one of the strongest schedules once again with games at home against Georgia, USC, NC State, Wake Forest and Navy as well as away games against Boston College, Michigan State, North Carolina, Miami (FL) and finishing the season at Stanford. I have the Irish finishing 2017 with an 8-4 record. But will an 8-4 record and out of the National Championship picture keep the head hunters for Kelly’s job at bay after the season?