Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 PRESEASON 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED N ine returning starters on defense, an offense loaded with talent — albeit unproven in some spots — and a kicking game that should rival any in the country are just a few reasons why Fighting Irish fans are convinced this year's team can become the first in 25 years to win at least 10 games in back-to- back seasons. "I want to give you the definitive about this team," Irish head coach Brian Kelly said early in August to open training camp. "They love to compete, they enjoy being around each other and they relish the opportunity for the challenge that's in front of them." We fell one game short on our pre- season prediction last season, calling for eight regular-season wins when the Irish delivered nine (the 10th vic- tory came in the bowl game). So lets reload this endeavor for 2018 and outline a season for a team that is deep enough where anything short of a Big Six bowl appearance would be a big disappointment. Sept. 1 vs. Michigan A marquee slugfest between two almost identical teams that feature stellar defenses and quarterback ques- tions, this game will set the course for two programs before Labor Day even arrives. Home-field advantage is the difference. ND 21, Michigan 17 Sept. 8 vs. Ball State The first-ever meeting between these two Indiana schools, this game is the easiest on the Irish schedule. Ball State lost its final nine games last season, many in blowout fashion. This one follows suit. ND 42, Ball State 6 Sept. 15 vs. Vanderbilt A second straight September breather, Vandy won only once in SEC play last season. Steady senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur returns for the Commodores, but with little support around him the Irish roll. ND 41, Vandy 13 Sept. 22 at Wake Forest Tricky road opponent with a high- powered offense and some program momentum, Wake Forest managed eight wins and a bowl victory over Texas A&M last year. Not an easy win, but talent overcomes. ND 38, Wake Forest 28 Sept. 29 vs. Stanford A snapshot into why ND has beaten Stanford only twice in nine tries, the Irish allowed three fourth- quarter touchdowns to the Cardinal last season to blow a late lead. Re- venge looms. ND 28, Stanford 24 Oct. 6 at Virginia Tech In what could be considered the most difficult contest on the schedule because it will be played in one of the toughest environments in college football, these are the games the Irish need to start winning to become elite. Not yet. Virginia Tech 24, ND 21 Oct. 13 vs. Pittsburgh The silver lining for Pitt in a dif- ficult 5-7 season last year was the momentum it found with a shocking 24-14 win over undefeated No. 2 Mi- ami in the season finale. That upset should help hold Notre Dame's at- tention. ND 34, Pittsburgh 13 Oct. 27 vs. Navy (at San Diego) The good news is the Irish get their bye the week before this tough an- nual tussle. The bad news is this cross-country trip be- gins a cruel stretch of four games out of the last five played away from home. ND 28, Navy 21 Nov. 3 at Northwestern A n u n d e r r a t e d p ro - gram, the Wildcats have won 10 games three times since 2012, the same as Notre Dame. Additionally, Northwestern carries an eight-game winning streak into the season, the longest among Power Five schools. Notre Dame 35, North- western 27 Nov. 10 vs. Florida State As it has often in the past, this game could again have major playoff and bowl game implications because of the late date. An opponent from the South on a cold November night could mark an Irish advantage. Notre Dame 27, Florida State 20 Nov. 17 vs. Syracuse (at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, N.Y.) The Irish will bust out pinstriped uniforms for the return of the Sham- rock Series. Syracuse isn't a formi- dable opponent, but the timing of the game in between FSU and USC is noteworthy. ND 42, Syracuse 24 Nov. 24 at USC A season finale that very well could determine if Notre Dame is playoff bound, Kelly's Irish have played the Trojans well, winning five of their eight meetings. That said, when the stakes are the highest, Notre Dame is often at its lowest. USC 31, ND 28 A 10-2 regular season isn't exactly what Notre Dame fans are hoping for with a team defensively built to com- pete for a national title. But to win at least 10 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since Lou Holtz led it in 1992 and 1993 will show this program is on the rise, and hopefully here to stay. ✦ Irish Poised To Bust 25-Year Curse UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at The toughest game on Notre Dame's schedule might be at Virginia Tech because of the venue. The Hokies beat the Irish 34-31 in South Bend in 2016. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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