Notre Dame took a huge step forward in 2018, reaching the College Football Playoff for the first time.
After getting clobbered by Clemson 30-3 in the Cotton Bowl, the Irish took eight weeks off from official workouts, but they will reconvene today for the start of the spring practice season.
Without many of the leaders that propelled it in 2018, this year's team will begin to form its own identity over the 14 spring practices.
Coach Brian Kelly spoke excitedly at his introductory press conference Friday about all the unanswered questions the team must sort out.
“We'll have some great battles,” Kelly said. “We don't have all the answers right now. We're going to let them compete.”
Here are three major storylines as the 2019 season enters its first stages:
Will there be a CFP hangover?
Notre Dame has reached a top 3 ranking in each of the last two seasons and is showing signs of becoming the kind of perennial contender that Irish fans expect. Will the Irish keep growing with a new group of leaders or will they follow an undefeated regular season with a regression from “great” to “good”?
In Kelly's mind, the signs early in the offseason conditioning program have been positive.
“I do really like this group and the way they have competed with everything we've put in front of them,” the coach said.
“In terms of competition and opportunities, it's a competitive group and I think you'll see that.
“This is a different group than last year. There's a lot of similar players, but this '19 team is showing itself as a group that loves to compete.”
What's happening at quarterback?
Ian Book enters the spring as the unquestioned starter for the first time in his career after ranking sixth in the nation with a 70.4 completion percentage and tossing 19 touchdowns in 2018.
His development will be key for the Irish offense this season.
With Brandon Wimbush transferred to Central Florida, the No. 2 on the depth chart is redshirt freshman Phil Jurkovec, who was a four-star recruit in the class of 2018.
With his unique, slingshot throwing motion, Jurkovec is one injury away from having the Irish's fate in his hands and Kelly wants him to embrace that this spring.
“Ian has some specific things he has to work on in his game to be a great quarterback,” Kelly said.“Phil has gotta gain the confidence in the offense and in the guys around him that if he's called on, he can lead us to a championship.”
Odds and ends
Kelly announced a couple of position changes. Former quarterback Avery Davis moved to running back last season and will move to defensive back this season in an effort to get his athleticism on the field. Houston Griffith, the top recruit in Notre Dame's 2018 class, will move to cornerback after playing nickel and safety last season. ... Cornerbacks Shaun Crawford and Donte Vaughn, linebacker Jack Kiser and defensive lineman Hunter Spears are among those who will be limited or out with injuries this spring. ... Of the 10 true freshman early enrollees, Kelly specifically mentioned defensive tackle Jacob Lacey as someone who could play right away.