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2017 Notre Dame Football: What to expect in a pivotal year for the program

We can’t wait for the season to start, so we can stop talking about last season.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame Spring Game Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

We are almost there. The Irish kick off in just over two weeks, and the mayhem of college football makes its triumphant return. As we all know, the beauty of college football chaos is much easier to appreciate when the Irish are doing well.

That didn't happen last year, but with an overhaul of the coaching staff and some new blood set to take the field on September 2nd against Temple, there is reason to hope that the darkness of the 2016-17 season is officially behind us. Hopefully.

My Hard-Hitting, Scintillating Take on the 2017 Season

Breathe easy. I can’t see the Irish giving us an encore performance of last season, which would just be too painful to relive. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish football program showed a commitment to making the team competitive again, bringing in new coaches with new ideas. Maybe the shiny new, cozy locker room will help team performance as well; who knows? In any case, this season is bound to be an improvement, and a step in the right direction.

However, a step is not a leap, so let’s manage our expectations and recognize that greatness takes time to build.

Sure, the Irish have plenty of talent that was not always used the right way, particularly at the defensive end position. New defensive coordinator Mike Elko is bringing a new system that can't fail to show some type of improvement, given the dumpster fire that was last year’s defense. The loss of James Onwualu hurts the linebacker core, but I expect Nyles Morgan to be a beast this year, along with an improved defensive line. Hopefully, the front seven will make things easier for a secondary that is going to experience growing pains. We might suffer a painful loss or two thanks to some home run passes that beat the Irish secondary, unless the front seven can apply enough pressure to force quicker throws.

On the offensive end, the Irish boast a talented receiving core, a business-as-usual offensive line that figures to impress, and a very strong running core led by Josh Adams. The X-Factor is new quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who will be a legitimate threat to run and could help the Irish immensely in third-and-short situations. Still, this will be his first year under center, so let’s once again manage those expectations. With some tough games on the schedule, the Irish will find themselves in a lot of close contests, and we can’t expect Wimbush to make the right decision every time when the game is on the line.

Looking at the schedule, I can see the ceiling at 8-4 this season, a 180-degree turn from last year. Temple should be a good opportunity for the Irish to show their improvements and start the season off on the right foot, but Georgia in Week 2 is a tall task, even at home. The Bulldogs are a tough opponent for an Irish team that will still be trying to hit their stride and find their new identity early in the season. It will likely be an exciting and close game, and there will be a lot of reasons to be optimistic if the Irish come away with the win.

Michigan State on the road could be another tough test early on, but the Spartans will likely experience a down year and don’t scare me too much. That should be a win, barring a bunch of defensive breakdowns. North Carolina is a road game that could spell trouble, and Stanford on the road in the season finale would take an epic performance to come away victorious. USC should be their toughest opponent of the season. Although it’s in South Bend, I don’t think the Irish are ready to climb that mountain just yet.

The point is, the signs of improvement will be there. No, Irish fans will likely have to wait another year before having the opportunity to shove it in Trojans' and Cardinal's fans' faces again, but if fans go into the season with a realistic mindset, it will be an enjoyable journey to watch. The turn back in the right direction starts in September, so let’s all remember that a strong foundation has to be put in place before a rebuild really takes off. The Irish will spend the 2017-18 season laying their foundation, and if you squint, you may just see the start of something special. Just not New Year’s Six special this season.