In 2016, we’ve penned in eight teams (possibly nine) that will appear on our schedule more than one time. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages we’re hearing about as these teams prepare for their upcoming spring practice sessions. It’ll give us and idea of what the teams will be focusing on before we get to see them in the fall.
Appropriately, Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame lose a slew of talent to graduation after 2015 from a team that finished 10-3 and ranked No. 11 in the final CFP rankings. Ten former players are currently working out at the NFL combine, and HC Brian Kelly will have a lot of competition going on among talented but inexperienced college players in South Bend this spring. The credentials among the talent waiting to step up and the talent waiting to start school in the fall are top notch. One position that is well-stocked for the Fighting Irish is at QB. Junior DeShone Kizer returns after filling in for the injured Malik Zaire after the returning starter went down in the second game last season. Kizer displayed his talents rushing for 520 yards and ten TDS. He completed 211 of 335 passes for 2,884 yards and 21 TDs. We saw his star shine in the 24-20 win over Temple at The Linc last season. Kizer passed for 299 yards and a TD and put on his best rushing performance with 143 yards and two scores on 17 carries. Malik Zaire and he could share duties as the senior returns healthy and ready to go. A third option for Kelly is sophomore Brandon Wimbush, a graduate of St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City. During the pre-spring press conference, his HC noted that he has the best arm among the three. Red-shirting could be an option later in the season if the first two can remain healthy. The line in front of them needs to fill in for some prime losses. Among RBs, Soph Josh Adams returns with the most experience a year ago rushing for 835 yards and six TDs. In addition, Tarean Folston returns after sitting out last season. In 2014, he set the Irish rushing record for a sophomore with 889 yards and six TDs. We saw him run for 73 yards and a TD in the Irish win over LSU in the Music City Bowl that season. WR Torii Hunter, Jr., a senior, returns as the most experienced wide-out with 363 yards and two TDs. He’ll be playing baseball for the Irish during the spring while also focusing on spring football practice. He leads a fast bunch of speedy, young receivers including Junior Corey Holmes who was clocked at 4.39 in the 40. The Fighting Irish will have a lot of competition this spring at the wide receiver positions. We look forward to seeing the passing attack they will bring to The Meadowlands next October. Defensively is where Kelly has a lot of developing and evaluating to do to get the Irish up to speed to maintain or improve the 24.1 points per game his D allowed last season. The leading returning tackler is Safety Max Redfield who racked up 64 hits and one INT in 2015. DL Isaac Rochell followed him with 63 stops. Frosh LB Daelin Hayes may see some action this season as he and four other early signees will be at the Notre Dame’s spring camp. There will be a lot of competition to replace stalwart LBs Jaylon Smith and steady Joe Schmidt. Some freshman may have opportunities to step in at LB positons and in the secondary where a lot of talent needs to be replaced. ND specialists return to provide a solid kicking game. Junior Tyler Newsome returns with his 44.5 yard punting average and kickoff experience. Soph Justin Yoon will continue on track having converted 15 of 17 FG attempts and 52 of 54 PATs a year ago.
The Irish will have leadership under center to pull things together on offense. Their speed at WR and in the backfield will be looking for protection from a new set of linemen. Their defense will have to be ready with new talent at most positions. The Irish will open at Texas building under HC Charlie Strong in his third season at Austin. Michigan State, Stanford, and USC are key matchup’s this season intermingled with five contracted ACC foes and traditional rivals Army and Navy.
Notre Dame games we plan to see this season: October 1, vs. Syracuse at MetLife Stadium; October 15 vs. Stanford in South Bend.
Spring game: April 16
Next up: Stanford