Notre Dame football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Fighting Irish, best players and season prediction.
What You Need To Know About The Notre Dame Offense
The attack that came up with a nice all-around season – considering all the injuries issues – has a terrific quarterback situation, good backs to get excited about, and enough talent to be every bit as good as the O that came up with 466 yards and 34 points per game.
It starts under center where Malik Zaire is back and ready to roll, but DeShone Kizer has improved and should be every bit as solid as he was by the end of last season.
Can the line overcome the loss of Ronnie Stanley? Absolutely, with three good starters back and just enough talent and power to keep the ground attack rolling thanks to the return of Tarean Folston from a knee injury along with Josh Adams for a dangerous 1-2 punch.
Losing superstar receiver Will Fuller hurts, but there are just enough decent receivers to balance things out and be okay – depending on who the quarterback is – but it’s going to take a step back overall.
Biggest Key To The Notre Dame Offense
Can the receiving corps be okay? Will Fuller was the gamechanger, averaging over 20 yards per grab with 1,258 yards and 14 of the team’s 25 touchdown catches. Losing top targets Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle is a problem, too. That means Torii Hunter Jr. has to be a steady No. 1-caliber playmaker, and others have to fill in the gaps. The Irish should be able to run without too much of a problem when they have to, but to have any shot at the CFP, the air show has to be there, too.
What You Need To Know About The Notre Dame Defense
The defense that was good enough to get by throughout the season failed late, allowing 38 points to Stanford and 44 to Ohio State – the two worst performances last year – and to get better, it all starts against the run.
The front four loses Sheldon Day on the inside and top pass rusher Romeo Okwara from the outside, but there’s enough bulk on the inside and just enough returning depth to form a decent line. But the run D isn’t going to be better without Jaylon Smith around to clean everything up.
The linebacking corps is going to need some work and star power to help overcome the loss of Smith, but there are several good, promising options starting with Nyles Morgan, who’s just the type of popper the front seven needs.
Outside of Max Redfield, safety is the big concern on the secondary, but the corner situation is strong. The pass rush up front is the big early issue for the defensive backfield – the pressure has to come until the safeties get their feet wet.
Biggest Key To The Notre Dame Defense
The run defense has to be consistent. The defense was able to hold up against USC, and did a nice job against Christian McCaffrey in the Stanford loss, but it allowed 200 yards or more five times, had no prayer against Ohio State, and was ripped apart by the Navy and Georgia Tech option attacks. And here’s the other problem – the run D stats against some of the better teams were a mirage. USC didn’t run the ball because it bombed away for 440 yards. Stanford’s Kevin Hogan nailed 17-of-21 passes with four touchdowns. But this year, as long as the front seven can hold teams to under 200 yards, it’ll be doing its job.
Notre Dame Will Be Far Better If …
It owns the turnover margin. The 2014 defense forced 23 turnovers, and last year’s came up with 14 – to take that next step forward, that has to change. As good as the defense was at times, it didn’t do nearly enough to take the ball away and change up games. Notre Dame had a big problem in the defeats, going a -3 against Clemson and a -1 in both the losses to Stanford and Ohio State. Not generating a takeaway against the Cardinal ended up hurting in a huge way.
Best Notre Dame Offensive Player
QB DeShone Kizer, Jr. and/or QB Malik Zaire, Sr. – The running backs should shine, and the Irish have a few terrific offensive linemen to work around, but the season is all about the Kizer/Zaire dynamic. They can both play, they can both keep the offense moving, and either one could start just about anywhere else. Whichever one ends up getting the starting nod will be the best offensive player on the lot – but the backup will get his chances, too.
Best Notre Dame Defensive Player
DE Isaac Rochell, Sr. – There isn’t a Jaylon Smith-like superstar defensive talent who’ll be the sure-thing star of the Irish defense, but Rochell might grow into a terrific rock to work around. Even though he’s more like a 3-4 end and another tackle than a true pass rushing outside presence, with his experience and bulk he’s a key to the front.
Key Player To A Successful Season
WR Torii Hunter Jr., Sr. – Everything else should be in place on offense, but the attack goes to another level if one of the receivers turns into someone defensive coordinators have to worry about. Hunter has the ability to make the spectacular play, but this is his opportunity to take his all-around game to another level. The skills are there to be great.
The Notre Dame Season Will Be A Success If …
It once again comes really, really, really close to getting into the CFP. This isn’t as good as last year’s team, but there are just enough good parts to expect another rock-solid year. Last year’s defense wasn’t a killer, and the offense wasn’t always dominant, but both sides figured out how to win games – when your three losses are at Clemson, at Stanford, and in a bowl against Ohio State, you’ve done something right.
This year, the Irish have just two truly dangerous road games – starting at Texas and ending at USC – and Michigan State, Stanford and Miami have to come to South Bend. There isn’t a 2015 Clemson on the slate, and there isn’t any one team to deal with that should be head-and-shoulders better. 10-2 is about right, but 11-1 might just be good enough to get in range of the CFP.
Sept. 3 at Texas – Call this the measuring stick moment right out of the gate. Texas might not have been anything special last year, but it was good enough to beat Oklahoma and Baylor, and Notre Dame came out and rocked in a dominant 38-3 win. This time around the game is in Austin against a desperate program looking for something massive to show that this really is going to be a different sort of season. A loss doesn’t kill Notre Dame’s playoff dream, but it would leave no more margin for error.
2015 Notre Dame Fun Stats
– Fumbles: Notre Dame 21 (lost 10) – Opponents 16 (lost 5)
– Onside Kicks: Opponents 1-for-5 – Notre Dame 0-for-1
– Field Goals: Notre Dame 15-of-17 – Opponents 12-of-20
2016 Notre Dame Season Prediction
What’s going to happen to Notre Dame this season? Check out what the final record is going to be …