The Journal Gazette
Sunday, September 01, 2019 1:00 am

Notre dame breakdown

As Notre Dame prepares for its season opener Monday against Louisville, here is a primer of things to know about the Fighting Irish.

5 facts

• Notre Dame is coming off its first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff and second undefeated regular season under Brian Kelly. Kelly is the fourth Irish coach to go undefeated twice, joining Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian. He is entering his 10th season leading Notre Dame.

• The Irish are ranked No. 9 in the AP Poll to start the season. It's the highest they've been ranked in the preseason under Kelly and the highest overall since 2006, when they were No. 2.

• Notre Dame won 12 games in 2018 and 10 in 2017. The Irish have only won double-digit games three years in a row once in their history, from 1991 to 1993 under Lou Holtz.

• With the graduation of Carroll product Drue Tranquill, the Irish do not have a player from Fort Wayne on their roster for the first time since 2007.

• Notre Dame has not won a national championship since 1988, the longest drought in program history. 

4 games to watch

Sept. 21 at Georgia: The Bulldogs enter the season ranked No. 3 in the country, coming off back-to-back 11-win seasons and a trip to the national title game in 2017. They beat the Irish in South Bend 20-19 in September 2017.

Sept. 28 vs. Virginia: This could be a trap game for the Irish, coming off the prime-time showdown with Georgia. Virginia is looking for a breakthrough season under third-year coach Bronco Mendenhall and went 8-5 in 2018.

Oct. 26 at Michigan: The Irish and Wolverines renewed their rivalry in 2018, with Notre Dame winning 24-17 in South Bend. No. 7 Michigan is in a prove-it season under Jim Harbaugh and expects to be a factor in the national title race. Notre Dame has to go to the Big House.

Nov. 30 at Stanford: The Irish easily dispatched the Cardinal in 2018, but must travel to Palo Alto this season. If Notre Dame gets here with one loss or fewer, it could be in the CFP with a win. Stanford is No. 25 in the preseason AP Poll.

3 key players

QB Ian Book: There is some preseason Heisman buzz surrounding Book, who completed more than 68% of his passes last season for 8.4 yards per attempt. He'll have to be more aggressive pushing the ball downfield this year.

C Jarrett Patterson: The Irish offensive line returns four starters from the group that ended 2018 as first-stringers. Patterson, a redshirt freshman who had never played center, is the one newcomer. If he steps up, the Irish could be fearsome up front.

CB Shaun Crawford: Crawford earned the starting spot at boundary corner opposite Troy Pride Jr. The fifth-year senior is replacing Julian Love, who holds records for season and career pass breakups at Notre Dame. Crawford doesn't need to be Love, but he has to hold his own on the outside.

2 points of concern

Who's catching the ball? Chase Claypool and Chris Finke are known commodities at receiver, but expected contributors Michael Young, Kevin Austin and tight end Cole Kmet are all out for the foreseeable future. Can redshirt freshmen Lawrence Keys III and Braden Lenzy be effective enough to open space for Claypool?

Special teams: The Irish are replacing four-year starters at punter (Tyler Newsome) and kicker (Justin Yoon). Kicker Jonathan Doerer and punter Jay Bramblett, a freshman, seem to be effective replacements, but they are still inexperienced. 

1 major issue

Beating the best: Notre Dame lost big to Clemson in the Cotton Bowl last season, falling 30-3. The Irish are convinced the talent level was closer than the score and that they can play with the best teams in the country. They'll have a chance to prove it against Georgia in Week 3. The team's main focus for this season is “finish.”

– Dylan Sinn, The Journal Gazette

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