Can you feel it? Can you smell it? Football is in the air. As the 2019 Notre Dame football team has left the Culver Academies, we are less than one month away from the start of the regular season. With the team heading back to campus, the question on Irish fans’ minds across the country is whether or not the 2019-20 team will make another College Football Playoff run. What does this season have in store? Will the luck of the Irish prevail? These are the questions that we will soon find out the answers.
Unfortunately the team is not leaving Culver completely healthy, but that’s a harsh reality of the game. A season ending knee injury to offensive lineman Quinn Carroll and a broken collar bone suffered by tight end Cole Kmet are among the more significant injuries to keep an eye on. With quarterback Ian Book coming in as a second year starter and the offense hoping to put up some explosive scoring numbers, junior Brock Wright will be taking the majority of snaps at tight end in the absence of Kmet – most likely 1 to 2 months. From reports coming out of the early parts of fall practice, the offensive line has been playing very well and look to build upon their performances from last year. This will be another important aspect allowing Book adequate time to read coverages and throw especially against the likes of Michigan and Georgia.
On defense, the Irish will be needing to fill the big shoes of NFL draft picks Jerry Tillery, Julian Love, and Drue Tranquill among others. These veterans supplied the leadership and reliability on last year’s defense that Irish fans are hoping to see others like Khalid Kareem, Julian Okwara, and Alohi Gilman pick up this season. Junior cornerback Donte Vaughn and freshman safety Kyle Hamilton have been catching the eyes of reporters at Irish practices and both, especially Vaughn, will need to play key roles for the Irish defense to compete throughout the ’19-20 season.
Special teams, especially the kicking game, is an area that may also be a bit more concerning than in past seasons as the Irish graduated punter Tyler Newsome and kicker Justin Yoon. Both of these players have been extremely reliable over their career and are being replaced by freshman punter Jay Bramblett and junior kicker Jonathan Doerer. This would be both Bramblett and Doerer’s first collegiate season as full-time starters.
Overall, Irish fans should be relatively optimistic about the upcoming year. The offense should be taking another step forward and the defense, although potentially not as strong as last year, should not be a cause of absolute concern. With the heavy hitters of Georgia on September 21st and Michigan October 26th, the Irish (as always) will be getting their opponents best shots. Georgia is clearly going to be the biggest challenge on Notre Dame’s potential road to another undefeated season, but games like Virginia following an emotional Georgia game should not be overlooked either. If the Irish hope to continue to land big name recruits like they did this offseason with Chris Tyree, it will be imperative that Coach Kelly, entering his 10th season at Notre Dame, has the team playing to their full potential again this year. Barring any significant injuries, I expect the Irish to finish the season no worse than 9-3, but 10-2 or 11-1 being more likely. This should put Notre Dame squarely in contention for a New Year’s Six bowl and potentially the College Football Playoff mix.