Notre Dame made the College Football Playoff for the first time ever in 2018, just two years after a disastrous 4-8 year in 2016. They got shellacked by Clemson, 30-3 in a rematch of the famous 24-22 monsoon game a few years prior.
The schedule is tough, but with QB Ian Book back this team is probably an upset away from having a real shot at a return trip to the CFP.
My computer model was lower on Notre Dame than the polls all year, as were pretty much all predictive style models, but this was still a top-15 team in the country last year despite home scares against Pitt, Vanderbilt, and Ball State.
It’s undeniable that the Fighting Irish improved after Ian Book took over for Brandon Wimbush. Book finished the year with a 68% completion rate and a terrific 8.4 yards per throw mark. He returns two of his top three pass-catchers from last year between Chase Claypool and Chris Finke, and highly touted recruits like Kevin Austin, Javon McKinley, and Braden Lenzy will challenge for snaps as well.
In the run game Tony Jones and Jafar Armstrong, the #2 and #3 last year, both return and they add a tantalizing freshman and Jahmir Smith. Five guys with starting experience are back on the line and the depth is incredible as you’d expect from a team that recruits on the level of Notre Dame. This will be one of the premier offenses in the country
Clark Lea’s debut year as DC for the Fighting Irish was a good one, but three of the top five tacklers from 2018 are gone, including stud corner Julian Love. Troy Pride Jr. (10 PBUs) is the top returner in the secondary, and opposite him will likely start one of two sophomores between Houston Griffith or Avery Davis. Both safeties are back, as are both ends, but a hole is open for someone to step up in the middle between Jayson Ademilola, Kurt Hinish, or Darnell Ewell, or any one of a number of highly touted recruits that Kelley has brought in on the inside.
LBs Te’Von Coney and Drue Tranquill are gone too, but MLB Asmar Bilal returns. The outside linebacker spots are probably the weakest position on the team. There are a lot of highly touted underclassmen, but none are particularly proven.
With Tillery, Tranquill, Coney, and Love gone, this defense will take a step back but should still figure to have a good year.
Notre Dame will have Stanford, Georgia, and Michigan on the road this year, so making it back to a College Football Playoff will be tough, but this is still one of the most talented teams in the country. The end spot and safeties are two talented groups on the defense, but depending on how things shake out they could be a little young elsewhere. This feels closer to a NY6 team than a CFP team.
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Average Projected Record: 8.8 wins, 3.2 losses