Written by: John Stocco
Notre Dame stands alone in my college football series of season previews. Is it because they’re part of the Independent Conference? Is it because they’re my favorite team? It might be a question where I fill in all of the above circle. Notre Dame is coming off a wildly successful first 12 weeks of the 2018 season, but then came crashing down to earth after getting smacked by Clemson in the Cotton Bowl. It’s been a struggle for the Fighting Irish as they continue to struggle to get over the hump in a big bowl game, and now in the college football playoff. Notre Dame has done it all in the regular season, and this season they have one goal. That one goal is to find a way to put themselves over the top. Let’s go ahead and dissect their schedule, their roster, and how this year’s Notre Dame team can win the big game.
2019 Fighting Irish Schedule
Key losses: Dexter Williams, Miles Boykin, Alize Mack, Alex Bars, Jerry Tillery, Te’Von Coney, Drue Tranquill, Julian Love.
Players to watch: Ian Book, Cole Kmet, Liam Eichenberg, Tommy Kraemer, Khalid Kareem, Julian Okwara, Alohi Gilman, Troy Pride Jr.
Notre Dame has a schedule that’s pretty well balanced. The Irish are looking at four primetime games which could put their resume in good shape at the end of the season. Notre Dame has seven games on their schedule that look winnable, but there are four primetime games they have that if they win could help make their case for the college football playoff. Out of those four, three of them are against rivals USC, Michigan, and Stanford, then they play one of the biggest non-conference games of the season in Athens against Georgia. The Irish are not short of any talent. By looking at their roster they have 7-10 guys who could make their way to the next level and play on Sunday’s. Starting at quarterback is Ian Book, who last year beat out Brandon Wimbush for the starting job. Book looked like an exceptional upgrade from Wilmbush as he completed 68% of his passes, threw for 2,628 yards, 19 TD’s, and 7 INT’s. Notre Dame’s offense looked completely revamped under new offensive coordinator Chris Long. This season you add in another year of experience for Book, a deep receiving core, and two all-pro offensive linemen, you’re looking at a team that could have plenty of success this season with the numbers to back it up.
The only problem the Irish face this season and that’s finding the predecessor to Dexter Williams. With how talented their offensive line is they shouldn’t have a problem running the rock, but there still isn’t that one guy that can take over a football game. The Irish are looking to Tony Jones Jr, or Jafar Armstrong, or maybe even both during this season. You’re going to see both of these running backs get a lot of work this season as it might be a two-headed monster all season out of the backfield. The defense is where life for Irish fans can become difficult. Notre Dame has lost a ton of leadership and production on this side of the ball. Jerry Tillery, Julian Love, Dru Tranquill, and Te’Von Coney have all moved on and are no longer on the team. Those are players that have the talent and the leadership qualities that are impossible to replace. Who is there to step up? On the defensive line, the Irish are high on defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem. Okwara and Kareem are athletic playmakers who combined 12.5 sacks and 80 tackles. It’s a combo that you’re going to hear about a lot if you’re watching Notre Dame football or scouting defensive ends. At the linebacker position, you have Asmar Bilal leading the way. Last year he played more of a hybrid role instead of the traditional linebacker spot. Bilal is a player who flies all over the field. He can cover space from sideline to sideline and is a vicious tackler. The secondary still looks like it’s in good shape at safety, but at cornerback, it’s a different story. At safety, it’s the Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliot show. They’re highly productive, and they’re going to be players the Irish defense relies on as Gilman is coming back as the leading tackler, and Elliot is returning as the leader in interceptions. When it comes to the cornerback position there are more questions than answers at the moment. On one side you have Troy Pride Jr, but on the other, there’s a battle between senior Donte Vaughn and sophomore Houston Griffith. One is either a player who hasn’t broken out and separated himself from the rest of the depth, and one is inexperienced. Not only just the defense, I think cornerback is the biggest weakness on this entire Notre Dame football team.
Here come the Irish. After getting smacked by Clemson it’s a big year for Notre Dame football. They have to do a lot to win back the faith in the fans, and more importantly the playoff committee. I believe the Irish will have a successful season. What’s successful for Notre Dame? Is it 9-10 wins and a guaranteed spot playing in a bowl game? Or is it 11-12 and forcing their way through the college football playoff? Notre Dame has a lot to prove, and they have the talent to prove how good they are.