Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2016

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

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Page 31 of 134

BY BRYAN DRISKELL N otre Dame finished the 2015 season with a 10‑3 record de‑ spite losing its starting quar‑ terback, running back, nose guard and tight end before the sec‑ ond game had come to conclusion. The returning talent and depth has Notre Dame once again poised for a run at the College Football Playoff. However, the Fighting Irish must replace 13 starters from last season's Fiesta Bowl team. New starters will have to pick up where the departed players left off — and in some in‑ stances they must perform better. Of the 13 open spots, potentially eight of them will be filled by juniors — putting a huge burden on the class that signed in February 2014. For Notre Dame to make another run at double‑digit wins and to be a legitimate threat to make the playoff, the junior class will have to shine. STAR POTENTIAL Championship football teams need star figures. The last six national champions have had three Heisman Trophy winners — quarterback Cam Newton of Auburn in 2010, quarter‑ back Jameis Winston of Florida State in 2013 and running back Derrick Henry of Alabama in 2015 — and 22 first‑round NFL Draft picks in their starting lineups. Notre Dame lost a chunk of its star power when linebacker Jaylon Smith, wide receiver Will Fuller, defensive tackle Sheldon Day and left tackle Ronnie Stanley departed for the NFL. No class on the roster has more po‑ tential impact players than the junior class with at least four: • Quarterback DeShone Kizer en‑ tered the 2015 season expecting to cad‑ die as starter Malik Zaire's backup. Late in the third quarter of Notre Dame's 34‑27 victory over Virginia — the second game of the season — Zaire went down with a season‑ending ankle injury and Kizer was thrust into the starting lineup. He lofted a long, game‑winning touchdown with 12 seconds in that game and never looked back, pass‑ ing for 2,884 yards and 21 touch‑ downs. Kizer also racked up 520 yards on the ground and set a pro‑ gram record for quarterbacks with 10 rushing touchdowns. Kizer has to battle Zaire for the starting job this fall, but if he wins TIME TO SHINE A College Football Playoff run could largely be determined by the performance of the junior class

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