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Entering the 10 th season of his reign in South Bend, Brian Kelly looks to have established the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as one of the best programs in the country. Fresh off back-to-back double-digit win seasons, Notre Dame enters 2019-20 looking to get back to the College Football Playoff after being bounced by the eventual champion Clemson Tigers in the first round last season. With a ton of depth returning from last year’s squad along with standout quarterback Ian Book, the prospects of it occurring once again look to be high with the teams’ season win total odds checking in at 9 at online sportsbooks and heavy juice currently riding the over. The schedule is manageable. The talent is there. Now the only thing the Fighting Irish need to do is mirror last season’s output to guarantee itself a return trip to the CFP.
Chip Long is a big believer in running the football to wear opposing defenses down over the course of a 60 minute matchup. He’s going to get the chance to do so once again this season with a bulk of last year’s offensive line returning. Both tackles – Robert Hainsey and Liam Echenberg – are back along with Tommy Kraemer and Aaron Banks who fill both guard spots. The only new face will man the center position and hand the ball off to Book who was nothing short of marvelous a season ago. The now senior was nothing short of electric in a full season of duty throwing for 2,628 yards and 19:7 TD/INT ratio while adding another 280 yards and 4 TD on the ground. While the wide receiver and running back corps loses some integral pieces to last year’s puzzle, Jafar Armstrong, Cole Kmet and Chase Claypool are all eager to step in to become the man at their respective positions.
Along with the offense dramatically turning the corner last season, the defense played a large role in sending the Irish to the CFP for the first time in program history. It ended up ranking No. 30 overall and No. 12 in points allowed. Six of the top ten tacklers and six starters return, but there’s plenty of turnover that needs to be addressed for Notre dame to once again be dominant on this side of the ball. All three levels of the defense took major hits with Jerry Tillery and Jonathan Bonner gone up front, Te’von Coney and Drue Tranquill no longer manning linebacker positions, and Julian Love taking his talents to the Big Apple to play cornerback for the Giants. Defensive Coordinator Clark Lea has his hands full revamping this side of the ball, but gets the benefit of having a plethora of solid pass-rushing talents up front in Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem and Daelin Hayes. At the very least, it should make the transition much smoother. Question marks are abound in the back seven with it young and inexperienced, but Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott still man both safety positions after doing so masterfully a season ago.
Brian Kelly best not get too comfortable regardless of the program thriving of late. The last time he lost this much talent in an offseason, Notre Dame promptly went out and lost eight of 12 played games. The scenario was much different heading into that season though, so another exponential drop-off would come as quite the surprise. Even so, it’s going to be extremely tough to mimic last year’s feat with games at Georgia, Michigan and Stanford on the docket. Count all three of those matchups as losses, and the Fighting Irish would do no better than pushing their season win total at top rated sportsbooks.