Notre Dame rebounded in 2017 after winning just four games two seasons ago. The Fighting Irish reeled off a 10-3 campaign. And it’s worth to mention how Brian Kelly’s team did it amidst a tough schedule.
The Fighting Irish played six ranked teams last season. They wound up 3-3 in those matchups. And Notre Dame has a chance to be even better in 2018.
They’re currently favored in every single game on their schedule for the upcoming season. The Fighting Irish also get to play three of their four toughest games – Michigan, Stanford, and Florida State – at home in 2018.
Notre Dame lost a lot of talent on offense to the NFL over the offseason. However, they’re ranked No. 1 in the nation in returning production on the defensive side of the ball.
If the Fighting Irish can build depth at wide receiver and running back, they project to be pretty stout on offense. Notre Dame returns senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who threw 16 touchdowns to six interceptions a season ago. If Wimbush can raise his completion percentage from 49.5% to the mid-50s or low-60s it would reap big rewards for this offense.
Wimbush loses six of his top nine receivers from a year ago but the Fighting Irish signed four four-star receivers and one four-star tight end during the 2018 recruiting cycle. That influx of talent could help them find consistency at the positions sooner rather than later.
Notre Dame leaned heavily on their rushing attack last season, averaging 269.3 yards on the ground to 178.9 yards through the air. They should see more of a balance this season with an improved Wimbush and lesser-known options at tailback.
Senior Dexter Williams and junior Tony Jones will likely lead the way there. Williams could develop into a threat if he can stay healthy. The offensive line will still be solid. Notre Dame returns two seniors with ample experience, a rising sophomore who started every game, and multiple blue-chip pieces to fill in the rest of the puzzle.
Defensively is where the Fighting Irish could really earn their keep this season. They ranked just No. 46 in total defense in 2017, allowing 367 yards a game. The real question is how this unit will respond to new leadership.
Kelly promoted linebackers coach Clark Lea to defensive coordinator after old friend Jimbo Fisher hired Mike Elko to join him in College Station. The talent is certainly there for this Notre Dame defense. Six of the top eight defensive linemen, four of six linebackers, and the majority of the defensive backfield return for the Fighting Irish in 2018.
The only real concerns may be depth among the defensive line. The top three tacklers on the defensive front are back and some rising young talent is beginning to develop behind them.
All in all, there are very few qualms amongst this unit. It’s up to first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea to keep the momentum going.