The authors at One Foot Down are back for our annual prognostications. Just for reference, we had these made early last week...before certain events transpired.
Overall Average: 9.5 wins
Best Record: 12-0
Worst Record: 8-4
The Irish come out strong starting 4-0 then play a few close games in October, including a tough loss to FSU on the road. The Irish regroup to finish strong and Everett Golson is invited to New York after the season ends. When all is said and done the Irish nab a #4 seed to the playoffs for rematch against Winston's Seminoles. This time, will the result be the same as two months ago?
The schedule is really interesting. I have a hard time seeing a less than 4-0 record in September; if it's even 3-1, then 9-3 even feels like a stretch. They gotta get at least 1 in October, but that's no easy task. I have a bit of a feeling that FSU/Stanford this season are like USC/OU from 2012, just impossible to predict victory in the preseason, but things happen and I have a hard time seeing FSU replicate last season and, well, ND was able to beat Stanford at home last time around. In November, I really think there are three relatively easy victories (I really think Louisville is going to suck this year), but the Pac 12 games are tough. Ultimately, this season will be about how ND does against the Pac 12. I'll guess a loss to FSU, lose to 2 of 3 Pac 12 teams, and sweep the rest of them.
9-3, and I think that has to be the floor for this season. Another 8-4 season give Kelly records of 7-5, 8-4, 12-0, 8-4, and 8-4 at Notre Dame. Suddenly that 2012 season is looking more and more like a flash in the pan. Yeah yeah, Tommy Rees and injuries, but we need to see results eventually. Luckily, I think this team has the talent to provide those results. I love the tools we have on offense and I think our defense can be good even if the depth isn't really there.
FSU scares me, Stanford isn't a great matchup, and Michigan is still the boogeyman. Plus USC, ASU, Louisville, and North Carolina will all be tough. But I think this team can be very good. 9-3 would be a solid outcome to the season, but 8-4 or worse would be a disappointment.
I think people are severely underestimating what a quarterback duo like Golson and Zaire can do a team that has talent everywhere else. Those second and sevens that break down become easy little eight-yard scampers and a first down. Rees won a lot of big games during his ND career, but he was limited in so many ways. Golson isn't limited, and he has an offense around him that has juggernaut potential. The defense has some holes and is thinner than you'd like at the line, but if the offense is rolling, they might just need to break serve a couple times, and they have a few guys who seem capable of blowing up an opposing offense (Russell, Smith, Day, Redfield, Ishaq). The schedule is brutal so I think this team will be better than its record, which is okay when you consider that most of this squad will be back in 2015.
Eric Murtaugh: 8-4
I've been stuck on 8-4 all summer. The schedule looks like a killer. And not like a typical Notre Dame "well it's another tough road ahead" schedule. More like one of the toughest in 30 years. We can always fall back on the position that some teams won't pan out as predicted, which is usually true. But this 2014 schedule would need about 4 or 5 teams (USC, North Carolina, Louisville, Michigan, maybe Navy) not to live up to expectations for this schedule to gain some breathing room and then fall back to just difficult instead of crazy difficult. And oh by the way, there are still 3 other games against pre-season ranked teams in Florida State, Stanford, Arizona State. I look back at last year and am pleasantly surprised the Irish went 3-1 during a 4-game stretch against Michigan State, Oklahoma, Arizona State and USC. Yet, the team still ended up with 4 losses at the end of the year. Schedules like this are just a brutal grind for a team that has a lot of question marks on defense and it doesn't leave me very optimistic.
All that said, the offense should finally come together this season. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 36 points per game is attainable, but again, with this schedule something like 33 points per game is going to be really, really good and I think that's more realistic. A more comfortable, mature, and experienced Golson should be able to do some fantastic things for this offense. He also has enough weapons and speed at the playmaking positions to put a hurt on many defenses.
Defensively, I think there will be some challenges. Right now, my guess is that the Redfield-Collinsworth safety duo will have us pulling our hair out. The corners look very good and should have a nice season. As a whole, the front seven should be solid but we can't afford more than a couple injuries plus Jaylon Smith really has to take over some games this fall. Add it all up and this could be a very average defense against our schedule.
I look at the wildly talented 1991 team and even that squad lost 3 out of the 5 games they played against ranked teams. That team ended on a high note with a Sugar Bowl victory over Florida, and while I don't think Notre Dame can lose that many games and still face a premier team in exhibition season, my feeling is that a same sort of season is the ceiling for the 2014 Fighting Irish. That is, a pretty mediocre season for the standards of the era that in retrospect won't look as terrible as it will feel in the moment.
With my record prediction some might think I'm saying we're not very good. Au contraire! I think this will be a very fine football team. If we were playing Michigan's schedule 11-1 would definitely be in play. But we're not. We're playing 8 teams in the pre-season Top 45. I think the season could be judged as somewhat successful if the Irish can go 3-2 against the 5 pre-season ranked teams (FSU, Stanford, USC, ASU, UNC) and beat Michigan.We went a game over .500 last year against ranked teams so it's possible to do it again in 2014. But can we really take down Michigan? Will we not trip up against someone like Syracuse, Northwestern, or Navy?
It will be a tough pill to swallow. We should finally see an offense that will look productive and sexy instead of being undervalued in perception through advanced stats. I just don't trust this defense with a new defensive coordinator against this schedule. They're just kids and we're asking a lot of them to go out in 2014 and be a playoff contender. With a defense that is going to feature starters without much career production like Okwara, Ishaq, Jones, Schmidt, Turner, Luke, and Redfield I just don't see any scenario where 10+ wins during the regular season is realistic. So many things would have to fall in place, so many players would have to considerably up their game, and most of the roster would have to stay healthy and I just don't see it happening.
The fan in me wants to say 9-3 but like I said I haven't been able to shake 8-4 out of my brain for months. I'm not sure how it will happen but we better hold on tight if we lose to Michigan again.
Jamie Uyeyama: 9-3
There are too many "ifs" for me to say 11-1 or 10-2. The defensive line is not only thin, but unproven. Notre Dame was able to get away with a similar type of circumstance at cornerback in 2012, but I just can't see that happening again at defensive line.
Unless the defense produces a lot of turnovers and gets to the quarterback more often than expected, I think the offense is going to have to outscore a lot of teams on the schedule. Games at Arizona State, at USC, and at Florida State are going to be extremely tough to win. The home schedule is no picnic either. My heart says 11-1, but my head says 9-3.
Jim Miesle: 10-2
The schedule is brutal, but sets up pretty well for the Irish. If they can make it through September unscathed, they have an outside shot at being in the conversation for the inaugural playoff. This team is inexperienced but very talented--a recipe for some exciting games and close finishes. Realistically, 9 wins should be considered the floor in Year 5 of the Kelly regime--does the program take the next step toward perennial contender? I think so.
This is exponentially more difficult than last year because it might be the most "bipolar" set of expectations I've experienced. On the one hand, I think 11-1 is a distinct possibility. These guys are good. There's talent on both sides of the ball, and I think this offense could put up video-game numbers throughout the year. Defensively, Day, Smith, Russell, and Redfield could all become breakout stars. However, the defensive line is paper-thin, and we don't have a QB who's taken a college snap in the last 12 months. Oy vey, that schedule! ESPN have the Irish favored in 6 of its 12 games, meaning 6-6 is in play. The truth must lie somewhere in the middle. I think the Irish go .500 against the top half of the schedule and handle their business versus the lower half. A 9-3 season leaves ND outside the playoff picture, but sill represents a good base for this young squad to build on.
11-1. And I had to talk myself down to get there... The obvious loss is to FSU. I could buy 10-2 with a surprise other loss, but if that happens I don't think it'll be Michigan, Stanford, or USC. That's the Cliff Notes - for the TL:DR, read on...
Rice - W: Nice aperitif.
Michigan - W: Time to shift the Team Hoke Tailspin from "subtle" to "Goose is dead." Gardner obviously used the last of his NZT-48 stash for the ND game last year. The entire team got significantly worse as the year went on in 2013, losing 6 of their last 8; the two wins were against Indiana, to whom they allowed 47 points, and a 3 OT affair against Northwestern. They lost the only two offensive linemen they had that were above average, their top running back in Toussaint, their top receiver in Gallon, and they inexplicably moved their best pass rusher, Jake Ryan, to MLB. As for Nussmeier vs. Borges, Saban thinks he upgraded by hiring Lane Kiffin. Let that sink in. And Bama fans are not crying to see Nussmeier go, either. I will be stunned if this is less than a double-digit win.
Purdue - W: Probably going to be one of the worst teams in the country. Hazell is on the hot seat to start his second year. Enough said.
Syracuse - W: I love Syracuse. They're my second favorite school. I almost went there. I can tell you almost as much about Ernie Davis, Jim Brown, and Art Monk as I can about George Gipp, Angelo Bertelli, and Joe Montana. This one still won't be close.
Stanford - W: Now we're getting interesting. I expect a tough game, but I'm not quaking in my boots over these guys. Yes, the offensive line is talented, but very green and, according to early reports out of practice, not jelling yet. They lost three starting OL to the NFL, which is an awful lot to replace. The least experienced guy is the new center. Hogan is what he is at this point - Tommy Rees with better wheels. Meh. Losing Tyler Gaffney will be a major blow to that offense. On the other side, Skov, Murphy, Gardner, Mauro, and Reynolds are an awful lot of talent, experience, and leadership to replace. I can't see how the defense won't take a step back. Last year, on the road, with I think 53 players dressed, no Big Lou, and Tommy No! at QB, twice we had the ball in the last seven minutes with a chance to tie. Yes, I expect a hard-fought game, but I also expect an Irish win. Time to restore order.
UNC - W: I would be concerned about trap game potential if this just fell after Stanford or before FSU. Being sandwiched between them, yeah, it's a worry. I almost think we're talking ourselves into fearing them, though, much like many otherwise reasonable people thought ASU would blow us out last year. I think the program is at a point where, in games like this, we'll take care of business.
FSU - L: Sigh. I really wanted to call this one a win, but I know that's the starry-eyed optimist in me. I think we'll be competitive and we'll surprise some people, but ultimately FSU is just too strong. For now.
Navy - W: With Golson, I think we'll be able to jump out to that early two-score lead that will make this game much easier.
ASU - W: They lost a TON on defense. I believe actually a
four-letter word poop ton, in fact. (It's a family site.) And Marion Grice on offense - and probably other people, but Grice was the engine. I think we'll handle them easily.
Northwestern - W: I just want to see Fitzgerald cry. Please.
Louisville - W: I originally thought we would hammer the Bridgewater-less Cardinals, but I'll admit to a nervous gulp when I heard they had rehired Petrino. Especially with the game falling late in the season, I'm concerned about how well he might have that offense humming when we play them. On the other hand, they really haven't been that good - they've played one of the worst schedules of any top 25 team the last few years. I don't think Strong ever beat a ranked team there (or maybe a team that finished ranked). Much like UNC, I think we may be talking ourselves into a little too much fear here and that we'll take care of business.
USC - W: They should be down to, what, about 40 guys by then? Agholor scares the crap out of me. Everyone else, not so much. Even before the injuries they looked potentially weak in the trenches, and there's no reason to believe that's different now. I don't think Sark is really any different from Kiffin, either. They're USC so they'll always have talent, but again I'd be surprised if, all things considered, this is less than a double-digit win.
The schedule scares the hell out of me.
Paul Rigney: 8-4
8-4 because everyone will flip out over it.
All jokes aside, I just don't see us beating Stanford, Wristbands McGee and #AskJameis. I think we'll beat USC but we'll lose to someone stupid like Pitt again for the 4th loss.
However, the circumstances of our losing will be different from last year. I look at it like Holtz's first and second years. The team will look legitimately better from week to week but we'll go through some growing pains at key positions.
Face it: this is the second year that Kelly will have what he wants at skill positions. 2010 and 2011 were dumpster fires at the quarterback position and 2013 was effectively a lost season due to Golson's departure (lol no we were not going to win 10 games with Tommy at QB). This season we'll have Golson back and strength across the offense, but Golson has to prove himself all over again (and keep his head screwed on). Defensively, I don't know what to think because BVG could be amazing or he could be Jon Tenuta Part Deux. We just won't know until Michigan probably.
So I'm going with 8-4. Ideal scenario would have us go 10-2 or 11-1 but I'm assuming the worst.
9-3 with the caveat that I have no idea what the defense is going to be like this season. That could bump this number up to 11-1.
I don't think we beat Stanford or FSU, and we most likely drop one of ASU or USC on the road. If our defense comes out and surprises me (especially stopping the run), I think the ASU/USC games are both wins, and we have a much better shot of taking Stanford down. FSU is still FSU.
I really think the true "everything went horribly wrong and this is the worst season possible" record is 7-5. Given our schedule, that is damn impressive if everything really went wrong. I think a 7-5 season puts CBK on the warm seat, and certainly explodes ND Nation, but it doesn't preclude us from going 12-0 in 2015. It ALL hinges on the defense in my opinion - and that is what I will be watching most closely throughout the opening weeks.
pburns2010 added a side note later to burger23's predition stating: " Another 8-4 season give Kelly records of 7-5, 8-4, 12-0, 8-4, and 8-4 at Notre Dame. Suddenly that 2012 season is looking more and more like a flash in the pan."
If you told me the day we fired Weis that we would be 43-17 in the five years after he left, I would have taken that in a heartbeat. Stabilizing the smoldering crater that was ND football after Daviweisingham is an impressive job. That being said, I do think he needs to take a step up to a team that is consistently getting 10 wins each season (if that's possible with our scheduling) and in the conversation for the playoff each season. That step needs to happen this year or next, otherwise we may need to try and upgrade to a bigger coach who can push us over the edge (if that is even the problem).
Punter Bro: 14-0
I am a blind homer and fully expect us to win every game.