With the opening of camp at Culver Academy just days away pre-season football hype is at a frenzy. Depending on who you listen to, Notre Dame is a potential playoff team (Phil Steele) or they will not win 10 games (Stewart Mandel). There will be others who are high on Notre Dame and those who have them rated low. Most national publications have them ranked between 12 and 15. So can the Irish reach the playoffs? Here are three ways they make the playoffs and three ways they miss.
Notre Dame is in the Playoffs:
- Brandon Wimbush fulfills all expectations and is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. This seems pretty far-fetched given that Wimbush hit only 49.5% of his passes last year and was yanked from the line-up in two of his last four starts at the end of last season. According to Brian Kelly, Wimbush has the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country. If this happens, Notre Dame is a playoff team. From everything I have read, Wimbush has made a number of tweaks to his game. Most notably, he has enlisted the help of quarterback coaching guru Taylor Kelly to improve his game. I also believe most quarterbacks make a major jump in their second year as a starter. I’m hearing all the right things, but will it translate into results?
- The Defense with 9 starters returning is every bit as good and maybe even better than last year. Notre Dame was in the top half of the nation in most defensive categories. They also had an excellent scoring defense giving up just over 21 points per game. I think Notre Dame has upgraded the safety position and defensive stalwarts Jerry Tillery, Drue Tranquill, and Julian Love all return. If they can push that defense to even greater heights under first-year Defensive Coordinator Clark Lea, I believe Notre Dame will make a playoff run.
- Like every other team with top talent the Irish avoid major injuries. One of my biggest concerns with the Irish is depth particularly at some of the skill positions. For example, they lost their top rusher in Josh Adams. They also lost Deon McIntosh. The only returning running backs with legitimate game experience are Tony Jones Jr. and Dexter Williams. I’m hearing Williams may sit some games early in the season. The wide receiver position lacks similar experienced depth. It will be absolutely critical that Notre Dame avoids key injuries particularly at these two spots. With the talent they have I do believe there is enough to make a playoff run if they keep their top players mostly upright.
Notre Dame is not in the playoffs:
- Too much change…again. The losses were huge. The Irish lost two of their best offensive lineman in recent memory. Maybe more importantly they lost offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and defensive coordinator Mike Elko. While both losses were big, the loss of Hiestand who consistently developed Notre Dame lineman was huge. This is also the second defensive coordinator in two seasons. Add in changes on the offensive line and a quarterback with a ton of questions, it may be too much to overcome.
- November Pain. In Brian Kelly’s first four seasons he was 10-1 in November. Since that time he is 9-12 and is 0-5 versus ranked opponents in November. Notre Dame closes with four games in November (2 are on the road and one is a neutral site). History is not on side of a playoff run, given Notre Dame’s recent November performances under Brian Kelly.
- Notre Dame Football 2018 North American Tour. North American tours are fantastic particularly when they involve your favorite rock band. I don’t recommend them when you are making a playoff run. I hate the late season travel for Notre Dame. The final 28 days in the season include two trips to California, a close trip to Chicago, and a trip to New York. During this stretch the Irish play only one true home game. This late season travel gauntlet may keep the Irish out of the playoffs.
On August 2nd hope abounds, and with all options on the table what begins to unfold at Culver Academy will write the music for Notre Dame’s 2018 football season.