#17 Notre Dame Football 2015 Preview

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Overall Rank: #17
#1 Independent

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Notre Dame got off to a good start last season, winning their first six games. In retrospect, a dominating 31-0 victory over Michigan and a 17-14 home win over Stanford were not as impressive as they may have seemed at the time. After a big loss at Florida State, the Irish slipped past Navy and then lost their last four games of the regular season, including an overtime clunker against Northwestern in South Bend. But just when we thought Notre Dame would be heading into the offseason on a low note, Coach Brian Kelly and company beat LSU in the Music City Bowl.  

2014 Record: 8-5
2014 Bowl: Music City Bowl vs. LSU (W 31-28)
Coach: Brian Kelly (45-20 at Notre Dame, 216-77-2 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Sanford
Defensive Coordinator: Brian VanGorder

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Tarean Folston, RB, 889 yards
Passing: Malik Zaire, QB, 266 yards
Receiving: Will Fuller, WR, 1,094 yards
Tackles: Jaylon Smith, LB, 112
Sacks: Romeo Okwara, DE, 4.0
Interceptions: Matthias Farley, CB, 4; Cole Luke, CB, 4

Other Key Returnees: RB Greg Bryant, WR Chris Brown, WR Corey Robinson, WR C.J. Prosise, OL Ronnie Stanley, S Max Redfield, S Elijah Shumate, LB Joe Schmit, DL Sheldon Day

Key Losses: QB Everett Golson, K/P Kyle Brindza

After the win over LSU, there was a quarterback controversy brewing. After sticking with turnover prone Everett Golson during the regular season, Coach Kelly split time between Golson and Malik Zaire in the Music City Bowl. The result was Zaire outperforming his counterpart. But after the spring, Golson opted to transfer so this offense now falls on Zaire’s shoulders. Against LSU he completed 12-of-15 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. He also led the team with 96 rushing yards and added a score on the ground. Zaire is inexperienced, but he has a lot of potential. Zaire will have William Fuller to work with. Fuller burst onto the scene as a sophomore, catching 76 passes for 1,094 yards and 15 touchdowns. The ground attack will be led by Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant. Folston rushed for 889 yards in 2014, while Bryant added 289 yards as a freshman. Behind a very talented offensive line, Notre Dame will be able to move the ball. And with Zaire, they have the potential to move the ball without the big mistakes and big turnovers.

When the Irish were winning games, the defense was playing very well. In their first five games, they allowed just 12 points per contest. But when the offenses they were facing got better, the Irish defense fell apart. Increasing the production of the front four, in the run defense and by getting to the quarterback, will help. Sheldon Day is a superb talent in the middle of the line, but the hope is ends Isaac Rochell, Romeo Okwara and Andrew Trumbetti can continue to improve and get into the backfield more often. Jaylon Smith, who led the team with 112 tackles, and Joe Schmit bring plenty of experience at linebacker. The secondary is where this group could vastly improve thanks to the return of suspended cornerback KeiVarae Russell. He will team up with Matthias Farley and Cole Luke to give Notre Dame plenty of talented options at cornerback. Safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate did not have the best seasons in 2014, but they are talented and more experience should lead to fewer mistakes.

The Bottom Line:
The Notre Dame schedule looks a bit weird this year with no Big Ten teams. It also looks more balanced than normal, with tough games sprinkled throughout instead of that back heavy slate of a year ago. The Irish begin the year hosting Texas and also play Georgia Tech, Clemson, USC and Stanford. Those are the five games that will likely decide the Irish’s fate. Win more than they lose, and this is a solid season for Notre Dame. Lose most or all, and Notre Dame could end up 8-5 for the fourth time in the last six seasons.

Projected Bowl: Music City Bowl

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 159.5 (68th in nation, 4th independent)
Passing Offense: 285.5 (18, 1)
Total Offense: 444.9 (32, 2)
Scoring Offense: 32.8 (38, 2)
Rushing Defense: 171.2 (72, 2)
Pass Defense: 233.0 (75, 2)
Total Defense: 404.2 (71, 3)
Scoring Defense: 29.2 (82, 3)
Turnover Margin: -0.23 (81, 3)
Sacks: 2.00 (74, 2)
Sacks Allowed: 2.15 (70, 3)

Madness 2016 NFL Draft Rankings:
#17 Ronnie Stanley
#21 Jaylon Smith
#46 Sheldon Day
#49 Corey Robinson
#56 KeiVarae Russell
#64 Max Redfield

Madness 2015 Recruit Rankings:
#50 Brandon Wimbush
#62 Alize Jones
#92 Dexter Williams
#97 Tresten Hoge
#117 Shaun Crawford
#138 Equanimeous St. Brown
#140 Josh Barajas
#165 Jerry Tillery
#166 Tevon Coney
#197 Miles Boykin


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