2019 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2019 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 131 of 163

130 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY BRYAN DRISKELL N otre Dame earned its first Col- lege Football Playoff berth after a 12-0 regular season in 2018, giving the program its first back- to-back double-digit-win cam- paigns since 1992-93 (the Fighting Irish were 10-3 in 2017). Notre Dame also finished in the top five for the second time during head coach Brian Kelly's tenure. The national college football preview maga- zines don't see the Irish making it back to the College Football Playoff, but a second straight top-10 campaign is expected. Here is what those publications had to say about the upcoming season: ATHLON SPORTS Athlon Sports College Football Preview projects Notre Dame to finish the 2019 regular season with a 10-2 record, with losses coming at Georgia and Michigan. The Bulldogs are the preseason No. 3 team according to Athlon, and the Wolverines rank No. 4. Georgia is projected to lose to Ala- bama in the SEC title game, and Michigan is prognosticated to beat Nebraska in the Big Ten championship contest, with both teams advancing to the College Football Playoff. The publication has the Irish making a sec- ond straight appearance in the Cotton Bowl, squaring off against Central Florida. Virginia (No. 25) is the only other 2019 op- ponent to rank in the top 25, but Virginia Tech (No. 26) and Stanford (No. 34) aren't far off. No. 43 USC, No. 61 Boston College, No. 66 Duke, No. 81 Louisville, No. 102 Navy, No. 113 New Mexico and No. 125 Bowling Green round out the schedule. Despite not picking Notre Dame to be a playoff team, Athlon believes the 2018 success will carry into this season. "Is Brian Kelly on the verge of compet- ing for a CFP spot on a regular basis, or is a market correction due?" the magazine asked. "Based upon the talent returning from a 12-1 squad that lost to eventual national champion Clemson, the depth accrued by Kelly and his staff, and a schedule that looks manageable, the arrow is pointing up." The publication named senior safety Alohi Gilman a preseason first-team All-American, while senior end Julian Okwara was named to the third team. " … They've got freak defensive ends, guys who can really disrupt," an anonymous coach told Athlon. "All of their best guys are coming back." Notre Dame's defensive front was ranked No. 10 in the nation and was the lone Irish unit to appear in the magazine's position group ratings. Georgia boasted five units (offensive line, running back, linebacker, quarterback, second- ary) ranked in the top 10, while four Michigan position groups made the cut (wide receiver, offensive line, quarterback, linebacker). Boston College (running back), USC (wide receiver) and Virginia (secondary) each had one in the top 10. USC head coach Clay Helton and New Mexico head coach Bob Davie were named by Athlon as the top two coaches on the hot seat heading into 2019. Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield was listed as the best offseason hire for coaches at new programs. LINDY'S SPORTS Like Athlon, Lindy's Sports ranks Notre Dame as the No. 9 team in the country head- ing into the season. Two opponents (No. 3 Georgia and No. 5 Michigan) are ranked ahead of the Irish, and another (No. 22 Stanford) also cracked the top 25. The magazine believes the 2019 Fighting Irish offense could be the best in Kelly's 10- year tenure. "With four starters returning along the line, a cadre of receivers, a deeper running back corps and a triggerman with nine starts under his belt, Notre Dame's offense has a chance to exceed the high-water mark for scoring during the Brian Kelly era — 34.2 points per game in 2015 and 2017," the publication noted. Athlon and Lindy's are both bullish on the Irish defensive line, but the latter believes the inexperience at the next level could prove prob- lematic. "The Irish appear vulnerable at linebacker, where two new starters and a starter chang- ing positions have created a concern," Lindy's wrote. "Playmaking ability and depth on the interior defensive line leave questions, too." Senior defensive end Julian Okwara was named a preseason second-team All-American by the magazine and the No. 6 overall defen- sive end in the country. In another list, linemate Khalid Kareem was named as the third-best senior end prospect for the NFL Draft. There were three other Notre Dame defend- ROLLING ON Notre Dame is projected to have a second straight top-10 finish Senior defensive end Julian Okwara was named to the Lindy's Sports (second team) and Athlon Sports (third team) preseason All-America squads. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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