2011 Record: (8-5)
Head Coach: Brian Kelly (16-10 at Notre Dame, 187-66-2 Overall)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Champs Sports Bowl: lost to FSU 18-14
Revenge: 9/22 vs Michigan, 10/13 vs Stanford, 11/24 at USC
Swing Games: 9/15 at Michigan St, 10/6 vs Miami (FL)
Stat to Cheer: had 216 plays of 10 or more yards in 2011 (22nd in Nation- one behind Arkansas, four spots behind Clemson and five spots behind WVU)
Stats to Fear: Turnover Margin was -1.15 in 2011 (118th in Nation); only created 14 turnovers (112th in Nation)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 8; Defense: 6; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Manti Te'o (128 tackles, 5 sacks), LB Dan Fox (48 tackles), DE Stephon Tuitt (30 tackles, 2 sacks), DT Louis Nix (45 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Cierre Wood (1102 yards rush, 9 TD), TE Tyler Eifert (63 rec, 5 TD), WR TJ Jones (38 rec, 3 TD), RB/WR Theo Riddick (38 rec, 3 TD)
Inside Scoop with the Subway Domer:
CFBZ: Over the last two years the QB position has been a bit cursed for the Irish. How do you see the position playing out in 2012?
Subway Domer: I'm not quite sure if I can answer any part of this question without A) Laughing and B) Crying. It's a situation that is entirely screwed up. One thing is absolutely certain, and that is that Gunner Kiel will not be the starter- and I can't even say that with 100% certainty... kill me now.
Here's the thing; we still don't know exactly what is going to happen with Tommy Rees and his legal situation. Honestly, before that mess, I would have said the starter would be Tommy but with a shorter leash than what we have seen in the past. Maybe even Crist-leash size. However, there was a mess and that is creating an even bigger mess for Kelly, even though most of the fanbase saw it as a blessing in disguise (an easier choice).
So here we are. Running in circles. Rees has the most experience and has shown he can win a ballgame- as well as a penchant for giving the ball to the other team. Hendrix has a wee bit of experience is more athletic than Rees and has a stronger arm- but he has accuracy issues and is still a little raw. Golson is even more athletic and accurate than Hendrix and has a cannon for an arm- but somehow he doesn't know the plays. Kiel has the biggest upside and the fastest 40 time and will probably be the QB of the future for ND- but he is still a freshman and he really could use a year to learn and grow.
Hendrix starts the season & Golson takes over at some point- maybe even after the first half of the Navy game. No one knows, and Kelly probably doesn't either. My vote is with Golson. Dumb the offense down and let a playa play.
CFBZ: Besides the QB position, what are the biggest areas of concern for the Irish this season?
Subway Domer: As if who throws the ball isn't worrisome enough, who the QB has to throw it to piles it on. Floyd is gone and although there is talent both already there and in freshman just arriving, wide receiver could be a trouble spot (Thank god for Tyler Eifert). Someone has to step up and most importantly... two need to step up. Brian Kelly has always said that his offense needs about seven WR's to function correctly, but I'm just looking for two.
Stepping over to the other side of the ball, and we see Notre Dame will have two new starters at cornerback. The best candidate to emerge is Bennet Jackson who flipped to corner from WR in spring of last year. After that it's probably a battle between Josh Atkinson & Lo Wood for the other spot. My money is on Atkinson, but any way you slice it... it doesn't look too pretty right now.
CFBZ: Who are some under the radar players to keep an eye on this year?
Subway Domer: I'll take the easy route and go with WR DaVaris Daniels (son of former NFLer Phillip Daniels) & CB Josh Atkinson (son of former NFL George Atkinson II). Daniels is the heir apparant at WR in the eyes of most Irish fans and could blow up- provided someone with a pulse throws him the ball. With Atkinson, I see him becoming the starter opposite Jackson and even emerging as the best of the pair. Anyways...they got NFL blood so they gots to be good son!
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2012 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Subway Domer: I really want to say 9-4 with a bowl win, which against this schedule is pretty damn good. However, my gut is screaming for another 8-5 season with a bowl win.
A success? As ridiculous as it sounds, for me, success would be 10-3 with a bowl win. However, it must also include at least one win over Michigan or USC. Both would be orgasmic. Beating both USC & Michigan in the same year has not happened since 1993. Dear Touchdown Jesus, please slap the crap out of me now.***
***ND & Michigan had two 2 year breaks since 1993. 1995 & 1996 was the first, and ND was 1-1 versus USC (the '95 loss was the first against USC in 11 years). The second was in 2000 and 2001. Notre Dame beat USC in both years.
Love them or hate them, and generally speaking there is no middle ground when discussing the Irish, college football is better when Notre Dame is good. Brian Kelly is two years in as coach for the Irish and he has produced two 8-5 seasons.
Last year, the Irish really hurt themselves by losing two games at the beginning of the season that they should have won. After letting those two games slip away, they righted the ship and went 8-2 to close the regular season with losses to very good teams (USC, Stanford) and a victory over a top 15 team in Michigan State.
A big key for Notre Dame in 2011 was turnovers. In their five losses they turned it over 19 times and only gained 6 turnovers. In wins, they lost 10 and gained 8. It's not that simple because you also have to look at the level of competition but if the Irish can fix the turnover issue they could be in for a drastic improvement in 2012.
On offense, quarterback is a problem spot and the Irish also lose Michael Floyd (100 receptions in 2012). The good news is that the Irish have two great players in Tyler Eifert (63 receptions) and Cierre Wood (1102 yards) and they will help to settle the new QB (or returning QB depending on what happens with Rees) in. Notre Dame is not a particularly experienced team but they have some experience on the offensive line and that should help out whoever ends up at QB. One area Notre Dame is doing very well is with recruiting as Brian Kelly continues to get in players that will fit his system. This year we should start to see players that were specifically recruited for his system getting more and more playing time. That's could provide a bolster for the offense but it all comes back to the QB position and whether or not the Irish can find somebody who gives them an advantage, or at least not a disadvantage, at that position.
On defense, Notre Dame lost a lot of production as five of it's top seven tacklers were seniors. That being said, the group that was lost were not playmakers or game changers. Manti Te'o made the decision to return for his senior season and he will be a huge key for the defense as their backbone and leader. The strength of this defense is in the middle at the linebacker position but in order for them to be more effective and change games, the defensive backfield and maybe more importantly the defensive line need to take a step forward this season. The front seven will miss Aaron Lynch (5.5 sacks as a freshman) and need highly-touted sophomore Stephon Tuitt, who had two sacks in the last three games he played last year, to develop into a menace for opposing teams quarterbacks. Getting better quarterback pressure will greatly aid the young corners. I think the defense at worst will be about the same as last years version. The upside is there, they just have to turn the corner.
Notre Dame's schedule is pretty tough this season. There really aren't any freebies although Boston College fans might argue with me on that point. The key for Notre Dame is to get out to a good start in their first six games. I know that sounds pretty basic, but after they lost their first two games in 2011 they put themselves into a difficult spot to get out of. Even though the Irish handled Navy and Purdue last year, those teams are no joke and it's critical they don't overlook those two games (being that the Navy game is in Ireland I don't think that will be overlooked but the Purdue game reeks of a classic trap game). After that the Irish play what could be the best two teams in the Big Ten in Michigan State and Michigan. I see those two games as the lynch-pin of the schedule. Win both of those and we will have to peel Irish fans off the ceiling. If they lose both of them then we will have to stay with them late at night to make sure they don't do anything rash.
If the Irish had a proven QB this year, they would definitely have been included in our pre-season Top 25. As it is, they only received votes from one of our four voters. The Irish seem to be flying a bit under the radar this year and I think they have the tools to be a very good team this year but the schedule has the ability to turn on them pretty quickly. Give Brian Kelly two more years and I believe he is back in the double-digit area code but I just don't see it happening this year unless one of the young kids comes through at QB.
2012 Prediction: 8-4
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