Southern Football Report Preseason Poll: #21 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame - Fighting Man LogoThe 2014 Notre Dame season began with a lot of promise as they were ranked in the top 20, they were getting their star quarterback back from academic purgatory & they didn’t have to play a true road game until late October. What could go wrong, right? The Irish got to as high as 5th in the nation before their loss in Tallahassee and then the wheels fell off of the season. Their star quarterback Everett Golson became a turnover machine & Notre Dame lost four of their final five games of the regular season, including an embarrassing 49-14 drubbing at the hands of cross-country rival Southern California.

Notre Dame Sophomore Quarterback Malik Zaire
Notre Dame Sophomore Quarterback Malik Zaire

I’m sure the Fighting Irish coaching staff has done plenty to put last year behind them and turn towards 2015 which has a pretty bright future. Notre Dame returns 17 starters from a team who still finished 8-5, which is pretty good for a lot of programs but just not in South Bend. Head Coach Brian Kelly is in his 6th season with Notre Dame & needs to show the Notre Dame administration that he can have another non-letdown season. Everything at Notre Dame begins with the offense and believe it or not, Notre Dame had one of the best and most efficient offenses in the nation in 2014, minus the turnovers. It appears the sophomore lefty quarterback Malik Zaire will get the tap on the shoulder as the starter quarterback in 2015 and for the most part made the most of his playing time in 2014. It will be interesting to see how it works out because Kelly has been known to pull a quarterback in a New York minute so it wouldn’t surprise me to see DeShone Kizer get some significant playing time. Whoever is the quarterback will have a stable of wide receivers to choose from as the Irish return six of the top seven pass-catchers from 2014 including burner Will Fuller who accounted for over 1,000 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns. Notre Dame returns three offensive linemen from a group that paved the way for well over 100 yards per game in 2014 and add 6’5″ 325-lb redshirt freshman Quenton Nelson. They will be making a way for junior running back Tarean Folston who finished the 2014 season with 889 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns. With the returning offensive linemen and running back coupled with a fairly new quarterback, I expect the rushing statistics for Notre Dame to go up in 2015.

Defensively, Notre Dame will be much better in 2015. Last season the Irish only returned four starters from the previous season and gave up almost 30 points per game. This year, they will return ten defensive starters and sixteen of their top eighteen tacklers from a year ago in year 2 of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder 3-4 scheme. Junior linebacker Jaylon Smith leads the way with 112 tackles a year ago and will improve on those numbers in 2015 with a super talented defensive front keeping offensive lineman off of him. Nosetackle Jarron Jones is a wall of humanity up front and almost impossible to move but when he decides to move, don’t be who he’s moving too as he accounted for 7 quarterback hurries & 6 tackles for loss in 2014. In the secondary, senior safety Elijah Shumate is the unquestioned leader with 66 tackles and a nose for baiting the quarterback into dicey throws but don’t sleep on his cross-field counterpart Max Redfield who finished the 2014 season with 68 tackles.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Head Coach Brian Kelly
Notre Dame Fighting Irish Head Coach Brian Kelly

Last season was the first year that Notre Dame played in their partial ACC schedule and finished the season 2-2 in those games. This season they will play even more ACC foes as well as their perennial rivals. The season begins with a huge inter sectional game in South Bend against the upstart Texas Longhorns. The following week the Irish travel to Charlottesville, Virginia, to take on the Cavaliers at Scott Stadium. Notre Dame is just 4-14 in true road openers since 1996. The Irish close out the month of September with one very tough game against Georgia Tech & another ho-hum game against the Minutemen of Massachusetts. The first three weeks of October are extremely tough as the Irish open the month with a road game at Clemson where they haven’t visited since 1977 where they rallied in the 4th quarter for a 21-17 victory on their way to a National Championship. The following week they welcome the Midshipmen from the Naval Academy to South Bend for their annual rivalry game. Next on the schedule is none other than the hated USC Trojans who have a very strong chance of being undefeated when they make the trip to northern Indiana. I’m sure Notre Dame will be looking to get some revenge from last year’s lopsided loss at the hands of the Trojans in Los Angeles. Finally, Notre Dame will get a much needed by week before a road game to Philadelphia to take on the surprisingly decent Temple Owls who were left out of bowl season in 2014 despite their 6 wins. November begins with three ACC opponents starting with another road game into Pennsylvania to take on the Pittsburgh Panthers. Next, the Fighting Irish will play two consecutive opponents coming off of bye weeks beginning with Wake Forest in Notre Dame Stadium followed by the first ever football game at Fenway Park against the Boston College Eagles where the once again the Frank Leahy Trophy will be on the line for the first time since 2012. Notre Dame finishes the regular season all the way across the country against the Stanford Cardinal who will most likely be in the thick of the Pac-12 North divisional race.

Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly can’t afford another season like 2014 and this team is built to be much better and much deeper than last year’s team. The defense will be noticeably better and the offense will go as far as young Malik Zaire will take them. Every year, Notre Dame gets a bad rap for having a poor schedule when usually, it ends up being a pretty tough one. Other than one or two games, this year’s schedule looks very manageable and I expect the Fighting Irish to climb the rankings all season and finish in one of the New Year’s Day Bowls.

Notre Dame Stadium - Capacity: 80,795
Notre Dame Stadium – Capacity: 80,795

2015 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Schedule

Sept 5th          v. Texas
Sept 12th        at Virginia
Sept 19th        v. Georgia Tech
Sept 26th        v. Massachusetts
Oct 3rd            at Clemson
Oct 10th          v. Navy
Oct 17th          v. Southern California
Oct 24th          BYE WEEK
Oct 31st           at Temple
Nov 7th           at Pittsburgh
Nov 14th         v. Wake Forest
Nov 21st          v. Boston College (Fenway Park)
Nov 28th         at Stanford

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