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Five Wide Fullbacks: The Season is Upon Us! Bold Predictions Ensue!

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Welcome to this week's edition of Five Wide Fullbacks, where you never quite know what questions will come up. Since the regular season is set to begin, we will move our all-too-versatile weekly installment to an earlier time slot. This should help ratings, right? Isn't that why TV execs do it?

Regardless, you know the drill. On to the questions!

1. Former Irish QB Dayne Crist will begin his collegiate career anew this week. The Jayhawks open a tough match-up against South Dakota State. Any predictions for Dayne this fall?

First, I wish Dayne all the best at Kansas. Unfortunately for them, their schedule doesn't include many easy games. Best case, the Jayhawks finish at 6-6 and go to a bowl game.

As for Dayne, I think it is reasonable to expect (assuming he stays healthy) that he throws for 3,200 yds and 25 TDs for Charlie Weis. After all, the Big XII isn't exactly known for its stellar defenses.

2. Any predictions on BCS conference champions this year?

Here are my official predictions*:

ACC: Florida State over Virginia Tech. Sleeper teams to watch: NC State and Virginia

Big East: Louisville seems to be the popular pick. Sleeper team: Cincinnati

Big Ten: Michigan over Wisconisn. Dark horse pick: Nebraska

Big XII: Texas, with West Virginia a close second.

Pac-12: Oregon over USC. Sleeper team: Washington

SEC: LSU over South Carolina. Dark horse pick: Florida

*Note: these predictions are essentially meaningless-unless they turn out to be correct. Then you can assume I know what I am talking about.

3. Essentially the entire starting lineup has been discussed at length. Give me some other players who need to contribute in order for the team to be successful this year.

For the record, I made a list last year with varying degrees of success. This year, I will take a page out of BK's book and talk about the kickers (first, anyway).

--Turk, Tasuch and Brindza: Turk and Brindza will be key contributors to field position, especially with the changes to the kickoff rules. Tausch has a career mark of 83.3% FGM, so to be at that level or better will be an improvement over the 62.5% Ruffer posted in 2011.

--Chase Hounshell: He saw some time last year as a freshmen, but will be a key part of the DL rotation this fall.

--Mike Golic, Jr: He won the starting RG job spot in camp and is replacing a four year starter in Trevor Robinson. While the right side of the line is entirely new, there are big expectations for both Golic and Lombard.

4. ND prognostication time. How will the defense shape up in 2012?

Last year, the Irish ended the season at #30 in total defense and #24 in scoring defense. I think they are primed to take the next step and finish in the top 20 in scoring defense (which in 2011 would have required giving up less than 20.31 pts/game-they gave up 20.69 pts/game) and total defense. I also expect an improvement in turnovers generated (they only had 14 total in 2011).

Overall, the defense will continue to improve this season and I think it is reasonable to expect them to perform at a high level for years to come.

5. And the offense?

Obviously, with Golson at the helm the offense will have a dimension that hasn't been seen in some time in South Bend-a mobile QB. As others have pointed out, he will have his good moments and his bad moments. There are so many young players at the skill positions that one has to expect turnovers. There will be moments/plays/decisions that will outright frustrate the fans (and bloggers).

All that being said, I expect a jump in offensive production-thanks in part to a new QB, but also thanks to a new offensive coordinator. In 2011, the offense averaged 160.4 yds/game on the ground (#54 nationally), 252.6 yds/game passing (#40) and scored 29.2 pts/game (#49).

I expect the biggest jump to come on the ground thanks to the deep and talented backfield along with the mobility at QB (Tommy Rees netted -56 yds rushing in 2011). An increase in 20 yds/game will put the Irish somewhere around the top 25% of offenses. I don't think that the passing game will see much of an increase (due to the loss of one Michael Floyd), but should be able to maintain the production from a year prior. Finally, I also expect a jump in scoring offense. Even a modest jump of 3 points per game will put the Irish right around the top 30 in the country.