- The Irish must replace a lot of talent but still have QB Ian Book as they seek to improve from their season-ending blowout to Clemson.
Our college football 2019 season preview issue is here, which means we're checking in with all 25 teams from SI's official preseason Top 25 ranking. What do you need to know about each of this year's top contenders, from top-ranked Alabama down to Stanford? We'll be rolling out scouting reports for each team over the next two weeks, all of which are being collected here. Next up, it's No. 7 Notre Dame.
THE BIG STORY
The Irish were just two wins away from a national championship last season, but their 30–3 loss to Clemson in the playoff semifinal displayed the gap in talent and depth between Notre Dame and the top two—not to mention enraging Ohio State, Oklahoma and Georgia fans who felt the Irish didn't belong in the playoff in the first place. After having six players drafted (only six schools had more), Notre Dame's quest to prove it belongs among the elite will be even tougher.
Against Clemson, cornerback Julian Love missed the second quarter after being placed in concussion protocol—and Clemson reeled off 20 straight points in his absence. With Love in the NFL, the Irish have to figure out how to survive an entire season without him. The answer: senior cornerback Troy Pride Jr., who becomes the leader of the defense. Pride is a shutdown corner who covers the field like a track star—which he is, with a 4.3 40-yard dash as a sprinter on the Notre Dame track team.
Who will be the playmakers now that top rusher (Dexter Williams) and top receiver (Miles Boykin) from last season are both in the NFL? Quarterback Ian Book may have to lean on tight end Cole Kmet, who has the surest hands in an inexperienced receiving corps.
After eking out wins over Ball State and Vanderbilt, coach Brian Kelly benched quarterback Brandon Wimbush in favor of Ian Book—and completely altered the Irish's season. Book threw 19 touchdowns over nine games and completed 68.2% of his passes, which set a school record. But the offense's weakness was exposed in the playoff against Clemson, with Book struggling to throw the ball deep, with just two completions of longer than 16 yards. Big passing plays were rare for the Irish all season: just three longer than 50 yards. Offensive coordinator Chip Long has vowed to open up the playbook, but Book must also improve his downfield passing accuracy.
OVER OR UNDER?
Over 8.5 wins. Notre Dame's three toughest games—Georgia, Michigan and Stanford—all come on the road. Outside of that slate, the Irish should run the table.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The 4–8 season of 2016 is a distant memory as Notre Dame has won 22 of its last 26 games. But the Irish still haven't won a New Year's Six bowl under Brian Kelly.