The 2015 Notre Dame Football season begins next Saturday. Our One Foot Down writers predict the final Irish regular season record.
I've tried all summer to convince myself on 10-2 but couldn't pull the trigger. I've tried to come up with something deep and insightful to explain this record and have failed. It's simply in line with expectations in Vegas, as well as with the averages we've come to see from the program over the past few seasons. In other words, we're looking at 4 ranked opponents (which we'll ultimately split) plus we'll lose an additional winnable game to an unranked opponent.
I'm counting USC as a loss. I just can't see the team coming back from Death Valley followed up by Navy to have enough in the tank over a 14-day period to re-group beat the Trojans. And the percentages seem very high that if the team loses 2+ games as I'm predicting then a couple defeats will come over this 3-game stretch.
I do think a 4-0 start is quite possible, with a victory over Georgia Tech far more likely than most Irish fans realize. That leaves one more loss and the road trip to Heinz Field feels about right with Zaire banged up and missing a lot of time, or something along those lines. For additional thoughts on this prediction refer to Wednesday's Rebuilding Notre Dame Part III post.
This is the year.
My blue-and-gold-colored glasses are on - quite contrary to Eric, I tried to talk myself down to 11-1 and I couldn't do it. Going by four-game chunks:
September: I like Charlie Strong, but Texas is still just too much of a mess. Win. Virginia the next week has me more concerned - they could be good enough defensively to be annoying. Still, though... Win. Paul Johnson's "resurgence" at Georgia Tech is vastly overrated; prior to last year's 11-3 record against a down ACC, his season records are 9-4, 10-3, 6-7, 8-5, 7-7, and 7-6. Meh. And more on the option in a bit. Win. UMass... Man, I feel bad for those kids. Win. So then we're 4-0 heading into...
October: Clemson loses a ton of starters from last year, plus they've been hemorrhaging depth since the end of the season. Deshaun Watson could be an equalizer, but I think the Irish have a chance to put up a surprising performance here. Win. The only thing that concerns me a bit about Navy is that Niumatalolo gets to see our option defense against Johnson first, but I think we'll come out efficient and brutal in this one. Win. Now... USC. I'll admit that I waffled a lot on this one, which for an eternal optimist has to be worrisome. And I hate that we're playing them after Navy. But... Assuming we can figure out how to have even an average pass rush by the time we get to them, I'm going to say... Win. Thankfully we have a bye week after the Death Valley/knee hunter/Trojan stretch, so we can regroup for Temple. Win. SERIOUSLY, WHO MADE THIS SCHEDULE? Nonetheless, that brings us to 8-0 as the calendar turns to...
November: If for no other reason than muscle memory, the Pitt game scares me. We need to pummel a few "overmatched" Panther teams before I get past that, and the Narduzzi hire isn't exactly giving me the warm fuzzies. Still, they are overmatched on paper, and I think we'll ultimately take care of business at the confluence of the three rivers (I love saying that). Win. Wake Forest will put up the fight we've come to expect from them, which is to say, not much. Win. Boston College could actually be an interesting game given their running game, but I think we'll get the usual Shamrock boost from the unusual circumstances and dispatch the Fighting Fredos with relative ease. Win. Count me among those not so impressed with Stanford - I think last year wasn't an aberration, but the begin of the long-predicted post-Harbaugh/Luck decline. In fact, I think there's the potential for a bloodbath here at the hands of the Irish. Win.
12-0, baby, and ticket punched for GLORY.
Returning to the option briefly... It seems from some snippets that we've seen that Kelly & Co. have taken a new, more intensive approach to preparing for it. Bob Elliott has reportedly been working obsessively with the kids on option strategy. We have a new preferred walk-on quarterback from an option offense who was recruited specifically to run the option on the scout team. It appears that Kelly has gone over to the window, thrown it open, leaned his head out, and yelled that he's mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore. I like it, and I like what it potentially means for our option defense.
When I started thinking through this, I thought of a number first and landed on 10-2 with one loss to USC and one fluky loss to a lesser team. That's in line with Brian Fremeau's FEI-based prediction for the season, which puts our highest-probability record at 10-2. As I went through each game, though, I just couldn't help it. I really think we look as good, in the preseason, to finish the regular season undefeated as we've looked in the last 23 years.
I was torn between 9-3 and 10-2, but went optimistic since I think this team has the most leadership and depth since 2012. A quarterback who can scramble can be a big advantage in close games, and I think Malik Zaire will be good enough with his arm (and a plethora of weapons) to split the four toughest games.
I'm counting Georgia Tech and USC as the two losses - I just think the Jackets will be very tough to slow down and put a lot of pressure on the offense to make every possession count. I believe in the game after Navy curse and think USC will really test the Irish safeties, who I don't have a ton of confidence in.
But I think 10-2 is huge progress, especially since it means winning all the game Notre Dame should (BC, Pitt, Texas, UVA, Navy, Temple). With the right breaks in health, turnovers, and the schedule it's a playoff contender, but with the wrong breaks 8-4 feels like the floor.
I would love to be optimistic. I badly would. But every time I let it happen with this group it seems I get kicked in the teeth.
I originally put 8-4 here, but upon reflection the November schedule is manageable and I don't see it as likely that we lose more than once in the final month. I do think we enter November with 2 losses - we'll split the Clemson and GT games and probably lose to USC. For the moment I think there is too much talent on this roster to drop a stupid game a la Northwestern or Pittsburgh 2013 or USF 2011.
I look at this team and while they certainly look good, there are warts the national guys don't seem to believe are there. The secondary has question marks. With Jones out for the season, the D line will have at least one inexperienced player. I love Zaire and have sky-high hopes for him, but I'm not sure lightning can strike twice as far as the QB that's never done it before leading us to a perfect season. Bryant's departure leaves us depending on Prosise and likely a freshman for a lot of carries.
These aren't glaring problems, and if Coach Kelly can gloss over them well enough, great things are possible. But I think the combination of imperfect coaching, Zaire's inexperience and the bad luck that has plagued much of the Kelly era will combine to make this year merely good and not the special year it could be.
I'll hopefully spend the next 13+ Saturdays dining on a delicious plate of crow, because I'd love to be very very wrong.
I don't see how the Irish get past USC when it's the week after Navy. The results of post-Navy games under Kelly (three losses, two one-score wins against Purdue and Wake) just make me feel like it is an impossible mountain to summit. If they manage to slip past Cutty Sark and the Trojans, the two ACC games and the road trip to Stanford are a tough triumvirate to see this team navigating since they're already down two defenders and I just assume some other terrible thing will happen. That being said, they are going to be really good. Potentially elite units at offensive line, wide receiver, cornerback and yeah, I'll say it, quarterback. Plenty of depth elsewhere. Let's do this.
Admittedly, I've followed less off-season coverage than in years past (thanks @NDMBB), and this looks like another bipolar year with enough talent, experience and depth to be successful and a tough enough schedule to create disaster. I like what I'm reading and seeing out of Irish camp. I'm going to go with 11-1. First, the team has found excellent vocal leadership on both sides of the ball. Second, I think the offensive line lives up to its billing and lets Kelly control games. However, it is really hard to see us shaking the post-Navy curse and beating USC. Finally, 11-1 creates a ton of chaos. Should USC finish the season as Pac12 champ, having them be the lone blemish on the Irish schedule will make for some very interesting selection committee deliberations.
Young Curmudgeon: 12-0
Optimistic? Certainly but I think it's happening. Getting by USC will be tough, but I don't care who you are: Alabama, anOSU, Oregon, whatever...great teams are going to find a way to win even if the match-up is not ideal. I think this can be a great team. The defense will be above average which is all we need. The biggest factor for me is red zone offense. We weren't great last year but this year should be a different story. Every year we hear about new schemes and plays and get a lot of mediocre results. This year, in addition to schemes and plays, we have the athletes to do it at the QB position, TE, a stud offense line and some bigger backs. Finally, I think teams are going to find it difficult making us one-dimensional on offense. True, they could stack the box, but we're not Wisconsin; we still have guys like Will Fuller, Chris Brown, Corey Robinson, ESB, etc, etc just praying for a defense to sell-out to stop Malik and Tarean and CJ and Dexter and Josh.
Yes, George Michael, it is.
I don't like that we're already without Jarron Jones and Shaun Crawford. I believe in Malik but I don't think anyone in his position with this much pressure and this little game experience is going to be immune to costly mistakes early on. I feel the same can be said about Yoon despite the recurring dream I've been having since January wherein he nails a 50 yard game-winning "Canadian" field goal (there is only a single upright yellow pole that you have to hit squarely - this is probably influenced by reading the Tebow Chronicles). I just feel like UT is going to be a scary game, and I agree that post-Navy USC will prove to be too much especially after we spend our energy in South Carolina pummeling Dabo for mouthing off about our scheduling. I also feel like debris from the Campus Crossroads Project will come into play at some point, just something weird like an errant shingle storm somehow effects the outcome of a game.
Like so many others, I am between a 9 win and 10 win season. I expect a big improvement from a defense forced to drink from a firehose in '14. The offense may lose a little of the explosiveness sans Golson, but should do a better job of taking care of the football. If the last few years are any indication, this team will win a game or two they shouldn't and then turn around and drop a very winnable game or two.
Yes, the Canadian is being a little pessimistic. My prediction is less of a comment about the 2015 Irish football team and more of a comment on how difficult it is to win in division one football. It's really hard to play at a high level on a week to week basis and this schedule provides very little room to falter. Unfortunately, I think we will lose to Georgia Tech, Clemson and Stanford. One bit of good news though. We will beat USC. Why the confidence? Because I will be at the game and Notre Dame doesn't lose when I'm in attendance. That is a fact. Boom. Done. You're welcome.
I see two ways this season plays out. One is we drop all of our 50/50 games (Clemson, USC, Stanford) and lose a game we shouldn't and end up 8-4, another example of the floor of this program under Brian Kelly. The other option is we win all of our 50/50 games and head into the second edition of the College Football Playoff swinging a big stick.
I'll split the difference on those and assume that we're going to lose 2 of the toss-up games this season. I'd assume USC after Navy and Stanford after Boston College will prove to be a surprisingly hard test after playing against physical teams the week before. Add in the travel element of Stanford (to Boston, then to ND, then to Stanford), and I think that's a tough game to win. It will be really tough heading into USC at 6-0 and dropping one, then clawing back to 10-1 with a shot at a playoff berth only to lose at Stanford, but it is an entirely plausible scenario.
That being said, my heart still thinks we've got what it takes and I'll be a complete wreck come November 28th when we're undefeated and playing Stanford for a shot at a title.
After beating LSU in the Music City Bowl, I am excited for the Malike ZaiEra (Copyright Ty Hildenbrandt, all rights reserved, Solid Verbal Media). However, let us not forget the stretch of games that preceded that bowl win. The bowl win does not erase the late errors by the Irish. That win did show the team was capable of getting over mental mistakes.
The young guys from last year have another year as football players which usually means becoming better football players. The veterans who had NFL draft buzz last season return as potential early picks. There are concerns, but there are concerns with every football team. The cornerbacks should be good, but safety play is not as clear. The offensive line and receivers are exciting, but running back depth and Zaire's inexperience could be an issue. The linebackers should be stout, but the defensive line is still taking shape. There's enough talent and experience on this team to overcome some of the headaches of previous Brian Kelly seasons. There are still opponents that will give Notre Dame fits. Through the trials of the triple option or the talent of a Clemson/ USC/ Stanford, I think Notre Dame loses two games this year and is able to get to ten wins.
Punter Bro: 12-0
I am a blind homer and believe we will never lose, ever. Analysis, shmanalysis. Glory.
Like my fellow hoops bros CW and JoeSchu, I am optimistic about this team and believe in most of the hype but am also wary about the fact that we play our toughest opponent the very next week after trying to save our knees from Ken's boys.
However, I believe that the loss to Southern Cal will be a close one - possibly a heart breaking one where we turn the ball over while on a potentially game winning drive - and the Trojans' talent will carry them to a PAC-12 title.
BUT- not all hope is lost - I'm going to predict that:
1) a little chaos happens over in the B1G and Big 12 (say, Sparty over OSU, UM pulls a miracle over Sparty- TCU's defense is maligned all year etc.)
2) Knowing an impressive win could potentially get them the benefit of the doubt from the committee, BK leads a thrashing of Stanford, putting up 600 yards of offense in a blowout win to close the season out and vault ND back into the playoff discussion...
Then a few weeks later... bring on the #1 seed- ND makes the College Football Playoffs in its second year.
I think this is the most talented roster Brian Kelly has had from top to bottom since he's been at Notre Dame. In fact, it's probably the most talented roster for Notre Dame since 1993. They are deep at several positions and have several players on offense that can turn what should be short gains into touchdowns. There is a lot of speed on offense and it's going to be exciting to watch.
In other years, I think this might have set up for an undefeated season. This year, though, I don't think the schedule breaks the way most ND fans would like it to. They have to be on and playing well just about every week to get through Texas, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Navy, and USC. It's the latter three in a row that really worries me. If they go 3-0 during that stretch, then 11-0 going into Stanford is a good possibility in my opinion.
I don't know if 11-1 is going to be good enough to get into the playoff because a lot depends on how the other teams on their schedule do. If they win 11 games and beat the Pac-12 and ACC champ, then I'm sure they'll get in. We'll just have to see how the season unfolds, but I would be surprised and disappointed if this team didn't win ten games and I wouldn't be surprised if they won 12. I'll split the difference and go with 11.