When discussing the possible four teams who could make the College Football Playoffs in 2016, the names that come to mind are the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers--the two teams that played in last year's national championship game. But what other teams can make the playoffs this upcoming season.
Well there are plenty of teams you could throw into the last two remaining prediction spots: Ohio State, Florida State, Michigan, Oklahoma, heck--maybe even Houston. But when discussing the College Football Playoffs, people should not count out the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
On paper, the Irish are one of the most talented teams in the nation. They have two talented quarterbacks and running backs, one of the best offensive lines in the country and a quality defense. Not only does Notre Dame have one of the most talented rosters in the country, but it has a 2016 schedule that is comparable to its 2015 calendar.
While everything on paper looks in the Irish's favor, it doesn't always mean it translates to the on-the-field play.
So how can Notre Dame take that on paper stuff and translate it into a playoff berth in 2016? Well, here are the three keys for the Irish claim a playoff spot this upcoming year.
3. New faces on defense need to learn quickly
This offseason, the Irish saw a lot of talent from last year's defense depart from South Bend.
They lost the nation's best linebacker Jaylon Smith, defensive linemen Sheldon Day and Romeo Okwara and cornerback KeiVarae Russell due to graduation or leaving early for the NFL Draft.
Two-year starter linebacker James Onwualu is capable of picking and replacing some of Smith's production, but he is no Smith. However Kelly raved about young linebacker Nyles Morgan this offseason. And if Morgan can emerge as a dominant force this year for the Irish, this year's defensive unit could enter the realm of one the country's elite defense.
The defensive line looks solid. Isaac Rochell pretty much locked up the strong side defensive end position. Russell was fifth in tackles, with 63, last year on Notre Dame's roster. The Irish get Jarron Jones back from injury this season and young tackle Jerry Tillery is expected to make a big impact in his second year in South Bend.
And in the secondary, if it can stay healthy this year, Notre Dame has the talent to have a quality back four.
2. Somebody needs to take command of the quarterback position
When Malik Zaire went down with an season-ending ankle injury against Virginia, DeShone Kizer had the luxury of having an experience receiving corp to help him through the growing pains as a first-time starter last year. However, the Irish only return one receiver who has more than one career receptions in 2016.
Both Zaire and Kizer had strong spring practices and offfseasons for Kelly and company. But once Sept. 3 hits and Notre Dame has to take the field against the Texas Longhorns, Zaire or Kizer need to take control of the starting signal caller position. The reason for that is because the connection between a quarterback and receiver is crucial to an offense's success. And if the Irish's receivers have to keep on maintaining a connection with both signal callers, it could hurt Notre Dame's success this upcoming season.
1. Beat the big four on its schedule
In the playoff format, teams that claim multiple, highly respectable wins typically earn a berth into football's Final Four.
Alabama dominating LSU--who was No. 4--by 14 points. Michigan State squeaking wins out against the likes of Oregon, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa. Oklahoma coming from behind Tennessee at Tennessee. And Clemson barely beating Notre Dame, claiming a 10-point victory against Florida State and escaping North Carolina in the ACC Championship. All four playoff teams claimed big time wins.
Looking at Notre Dame's 2016 schedule, there are four games that will make or break its playoff chances: Michigan State, Stanford, Miami (FL) and USC.
The good thing for the Irish is that they get three of those opponents (the Spartans, the Cardinal and the Hurricanes) at home and the Hurricanes are the only team to return its starting quarterback. However, Miami does have a new head coach in Mark Richt.
So if Notre Dame can get over these four bumps and the other two factors, the Irish may claim one of the four spots in the College Football Playoffs this upcoming season.