Don’t look now, but Notre Dame football is right around the corner. The Fighting Irish will start the season off ranked as a Top 10 team in the country and will be looking to bounce back from a nasty loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoffs last season.
Notre Dame will get things started on the road in Louisville before their home opener against the New Mexico Lobos onSeptember 21.
But after those two games, things get real interesting. In the third week of the season, the Irish make their way to Athens to line up against the #3 Georgia Bulldogs. If Notre Dame is going to have a shot at returning to the playoffs, this game has to be a must-win.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier as the season goes along. The Fighting Irish host Virginia the following week, the USC Trojans on October 12, and make the trip to Ann Arbor on October 26. The rest of the season isn’t to be overlooked by any means. If Notre Dame can finish the season without a loss, they should have no problem when the playoff committee locks themselves up to discuss the four-team playoff field.
While junior Ian Book will return as the starting quarterback in 2019, he will be without a few weapons from last season. Both Dexter Williams and Miles Boykin are no longer playing at Notre Dame after both leaving for the NFL.
Williams led the ground attack for Notre Dame last season with 941 yards on 142 carries. He was able to cross the goal line a total of 12 times. Boykin was the go-to man for Book, hauling in 54 receptions for 803 yards and eight touchdowns. If the Irish are going to make any noise this season, these two gaps have to be filled.
At running back, look for Tony Jones Jr to put a ton of work in this year. Last season, he was able to gallop for 392 yards on 83 carries. I know I know. Those aren’t exactly huge numbers. But, if you do the math, the kid averaged 4.7 yards when he touched the ball. With Williams gone, expect his numbers to be much higher in 2019.
Regardless of how strong his arm is, Book won’t go far at QB if he doesn’t have a target he can rely on. Either Chris Finke or Chase Claypool will take on the role as the go-to receiver this season. Last year, Claypool was able to haul in 48 receptions for a total of 631 yards and four touchdowns. Finke was only one cath behind with 47 receptions, giving him 547 yards and a pair of TD grabs.
It’s yet to be determined just how big of a threat the Notre Dame offense will be. However, one thing is certain. The defense of the Irish is flat out mean. The boys hit and they hit hard. Not only can the secondary and linebacker corps take the ball away, they know how to run with the rock once they have it.
The Irish will be looking to beat the 12 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles they had last season as a squad.
In 2018, the strength of the Notre Dame defense started up front on the line. This year will be no different. Both Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara will be a handful for every offense they line up against. Last year, Okwara was able to wrap up 26 tackles. He had an interception and was able to get to opposing quarterbacks for eight sacks.
Kareem was just as solid with 23 tackles last year. He had four and a half sacks of his own to go with a forced fumble. Between the two of them, along with the rest of the defensive line and ND’s speedy linebackers, there should be no excuses for the defense not to be making noise in each of their opponent’s backfields.
It’s been a while since the Irish have started a season ranked as high as they will be in 2019. With big wins against both Louisville and New Mexico, a victory against the Bulldogs at Georgia would surely put Notre Dame in the top three or four. According to the pre-season polls, which will look completely different, 7-25, by week five, Notre Dame only plays two ranked opponents other than number three Georgia. The Irish play #7 Michigan October 26 and #17 Stanford November 30.
If the schedule remains that weak as the season plays out, Notre Dame will need to be making a lot of noise against a lot of teams. Losing a game isn’t an option.