Key returning starters: QB DeShone Kizer, LG Quenton Nelson, LT Mike McGlinchey
The Irish might have to win with offense, so Kizer (3,404 total yards as a sophomore) and Adams (freshman-record 835 yards rushing) are a good start. Replacing five of the top six receivers and three linemen with 106 combined starts is the issue.
Key returning starters: DE Isaac Rochell, CB Cole Luke, S Max Redfield
A unit that lost 57.6% of its tackles and 64% of its sacks needs career years from everyone. Start with a 290-pound senior who must far surpass his one sack in 2015, and Redfield, a former five-star recruit who has started 22 games but hasn’t hit his ceiling as a senior.
Leader in rushing: Josh Adams. The 219-pound sophomore has incredible burst—witness a school-record 98-yard TD last November. He will be pushed by senior Tarean Folston, who comes off an ACL tear.
Leader in receiving: Torii Hunter, Jr. If the senior isn’t quite a deep threat (13.0 yards per catch in ’15), he’s reliable enough to be targeted enough for a 1,000-yard season.
Leader in tackles: Nyles Morgan. An understudy no longer after just four starts in two years, the junior will be in the middle of a blitz-happy scheme that sets him up to make stops.
Leader in interceptions: Luke. The senior has six career picks. Teams won’t hesitate to challenge him, so he’ll get chances for more.
Opposing coach's take
“I’m curious about their starting quarterback. DeShone Kizer obviously led them to the Fiesta Bowl last year after Malik Zaire’s early season-ending broken [right] ankle, but I think Zaire’s the better runner and can really hurt you. They’re really going to feel the losses of [left tackle] Ronnie Stanley and [receiver] Will Fuller, both first-round picks. I’m not sure who their game-breaking receiver is now.
Let’s not kid ourselves: They’re still Notre Dame. [Senior left tackle] Mike McGlinchey is good, but they’re transitioning on the offensive line. Who’s the running back going to be? They’ve got a lot of questions to answer. The influence of offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. is apparent in the passing concepts they use, with the high crosses and shots down the field, as well as in the formations and motions. Yet there are still the staples of coach Brian Kelly’s running game and quick passing game.
Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is like everybody else on first and second down, but he’s more exotic than almost anybody on third down. He’s got different fronts, and they blitz from everywhere. You have to get out in space and make them miss or max-protect and beat them one-on-one down the field.
Could they have a 10–2 record this season? Sure, but they could just as easily be 8–4."
A preseason MCL tear limited Jarron Jones to a 13-snap Fiesta Bowl cameo in all of 2015. A stress fracture in his foot idled him for spring practice. Now Notre Dame needs the 6’ 5”, 315-pound senior to recapture the momentum of 2014, when Jones posted 7.5 tackles-for-loss. His length makes him difficult to contend with in interior spaces and it makes him a bit of a secret weapon, too: Jones has four career blocked kicks.
18: Total catches in '15 for the 12 receivers on the roster other than Torii Hunter Jr., who had 28 grabs for 363 yards as a junior
835: Rushing yards gained by running back Josh Adams, a school record for a freshman
106: Starts by three offensive lineman who are no longer on the team. Four of the top five receivers are gone too.
18: Combined starts for quarterbacks Malik Zaire (senior) and DeShone Kizer (junior). Zaire is 5–2 as a starter, while Kizer is 8–3.
56.7: Percentage of tackles made last season by players no longer on the roster. And 64% of the sacks left South Bend as well.
|Sept. 4||at Texas|
|Sept. 17||Michigan State|
|Oct. 1||Syracuse (in East Rutherford, N.J.)|
|Oct. 8||at N.C. State|
|Nov. 5||Navy (in Jacksonville)|
|Nov. 12||Army (in San Antonio)|
|Nov. 19||Virginia Tech|
|Nov. 26||at USC|
Top 25 rankings
|24||San Diego State|