The 2017 AP top 25 preseason poll was released today and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were not one of the teams included. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise after finishing last season with a disappointing 4-8 record. However, with an improved roster and reinvigorated coaching staff, the Irish will be a team to be reckoned with this season.
Explosive playmakers on offense
The Irish offense will be led by several players who all have big-play potential. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush gives Coach Kelly many of the same options he had with former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer. His big arm along with an innate ability to extend broken plays will make him an exciting young player to watch.
Wimbush’s partner in the backfield, running back Josh Adams is coming off of a solid sophomore season in which he rushed for over 900 yards on an average of 5.9 yards per attempt. Behind an improved offensive line, Adams should have no problem rushing for over 1,000 yards this season.
Wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown made it known that he is one of the top receivers in the country last season, accumulating over 950 receiving yards to go with nine touchdowns. St. Brown will not be the only receiver making big plays for the Irish in 2017. With the likes of 6’4 Miles Boykin and 4.32 40-yard dash speed of C.J. Sanders, the Irish offense will score in bunches and present opposing defenses with a grueling challenge.
An improved defense
In 2016, the Irish were inauspicious on defense, allowing opponents an average of 27.8 points per game. A bolstered defensive line will allow Senior linebacker Nyles Morgan to be Notre Dame’s leader and most explosive player on defense. Improvement among Irish defensive backs will also be noticeable, as most of them were first-year starters in 2016.
Brian Kelly’s culture change
It is difficult to coach at a school that is expected to compete for national championships but does not enjoy the same relaxed recruiting requirements as most of the teams near the top of college football. Coach Kelly knows this, and during the offseason he took the time to reinvent himself as a coach. He began spending more time with his players, something he seldom did in the past, learning about their lives outside of football.
Another area Coach Kelly has made changes is how he goes about practice. He has always been a fiery, in-your-face type of coach and this year he has cut back on yelling at his players. This has allowed everyone on the field to play more relaxed and stress-free football. Brian Kelly’s changes have gotten his players to buy into and trust his system and style of play.
A spot in the College Football Playoff is unlikely, but with four AP Top 25 teams, three of which are inside the top 15, Notre Dame will have several chances to prove themselves. The Irish will win their first big test of the season against No. 15 Georgia in week two and hold a 6-0 record when No. 4 USC travels to South Bend in October. Home-field advantage will help, but a win seems unlikely here.
The Irish will finish the regular season with a tough win over No. 14 Stanford, giving them a 10-2 record. Their only other loss coming on the road at No. 18 Miami (FL). A strong 2017 season will aid in recruiting and allow the Irish to continue building for the future.