Oh what sweet, sweet music. Absolutely breathtaking. Beautiful just beautiful. Would you give me just one moment?
Sorry for that. It’s been awhile since I’ve heard that played. Luckily for me, and other Notre Dame football fans, we will be able to hear it in just over a week when the 2018/19 college football season begins.
After a surprising 10-3 2017/18 season, concluding with a Citrus Bowl win over LSU, there is a lot of hype surrounding this Notre Dame football team. Many believe this team could possibly give Notre Dame their first back to back double digit wins since Lou Holtz was called coach. And while the hype may seem real, we have to remember that this team is just a season removed from going a dismal 4-8 in 2016.
The good that comes with this team gives the hype surrounding them some credibility. The bad, or questionable, that comes with the team, makes me nervous. Can this team repeat or even do better than last year, or are we on the verge of another terrible season?
The Offensive Line
Nothing is sexier to the average football fan than a discussion about the offensive line. And nothing will get you to continue reading this article than by discussing the big boys up front. Just a group of stars who get all the attention. It’s why that one guy from Ole Miss got his own movie.
But in all seriousness, there is a lot to like about this line. Last year, the offensive line dominated games, leading to a top ten rushing attack of just under 270 yds/gm. They created holes the injury cart could’ve driven through untouched and made more pancakes (blocks) than a diner on a Saturday morning. Yes, Notre Dame did lose two Top Ten draft picks on the line, but the guys replacing them are considered good with a ceiling of being great. Sam Mustipher, who was solid last season, leads the line at center and is projected to be the best in the country at his position. The guys around him are highly touted and are expected to create a force that should mirror what they did last year.
In what might’ve been the biggest surprise for this team last year, the defense appears to be on track to have a repeat performance. Last year, the defense was stifling, making it impossible for their opponents to move the ball and score. They kind of crumpled against Miami and Stanford to end the season, but despite those setbacks, still only gave up 21.5 points per game and were in the Top 25 for yards given up per play.
They do lose their coordinator, Mike Elko, who left to coach the defense for Jimbo Fischer at Texas A&M, but Clark Lea, the old linebackers coach, plans on keeping the 4-2-5 defense they ran last year. The team also returns 9 of their top 11 tacklers. This defense has an opportunity to be elite this year and they expect nothing less heading into this season.
It’s cliche to say the success of the team lies on success of the QB, but nothing could be more true for this team. The O-line and defense can be one of the country’s best, but if Wimbush doesn’t produce, it will be a long year. Wimbush has an immense amount of upside. He is highly considered the best running QB in the country and has the wheels to validate that statement. Wimbush has potential to throw and run over 1,000 yards this season. He was just 197 yards short of accomplishing that feat last year.
Despite his skill set on the ground, it’s his arm that’s in question. His accuracy was a problem, completing just under 50% of his passes last year. He’s going to have to rectify this in order for this team to be successful this year. It’ll be extremely hard to replicate the running game they had last year if defenses aren’t afraid of Wimbush’s arm.
Who are they? Right now, I’m not sure. WR Equanimeous St. Brown, who should’ve got a Heisman for his name, and RB Josh Adams, who at one point had Heisman rumors to his name, both left to go pro. Those are two incredible weapons gone from the line-up. Two holes that need to be filled. Yet, I’m not sure who can fill them. Brian Kelly and company have thrown names out there but I couldn’t tell you the first thing about them.
Coach Kelly and the rest of his staff claim the RBs have potential if they can be healthy, the TEs are supposedly reliable, and the WRs could be great playmakers. The problem is that none of these players have been given a lot of opportunity in the past. With no history, it’s hard to pick which one will be the next St. Brown or Allen. Notre Dame will need those holes filled in order to have a successful season.
Notre Dame has gotten criticized in the past for not having a competitive schedule. They won’t this year. Their season opener is against a Michigan team who has every intention in being in the playoff hunt come November. They end the season against a USC team looking to do the same. In between those two games, they see FSU, Virginia Tech, and Stanford, all Top 25 caliber teams. There isn’t a lot of room for error in this schedule. They also lose a home game by playing at Yankee Stadium in November against the Syracuse. Notre Dame is going to have to work in order to be considered for a playoff spot at the end of the year. Really any of the teams they’ll face, with the exception of maybe Ball State, have an opportunity to beat a Notre Dame team not firing at all cylinders.
The buzz around this team has gotten me extremely excited. 7pm on September 1st can’t come fast enough. I’ve been missing those golden helmets in my life, I’ve been missing Mike Tirico’s voice as a Notre Dame running back breaks out for a big play, and I’ve been missing Liam McHugh’s rosy cheeks updating me of other scores at halftime.
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