Notre Dame was in the conversation for the College Football Playoff for most of last year, but two road losses did them in, both by two points at Clemson and Stanford. The Fighting Irish ended up losing to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, but it was a solid season nonetheless, considering the injuries at important positions. Even without many returning starters, they’ll once again compete near the top of the rankings.
UND’s biggest question on the offensive side is at quarterback where they’ll have two guys fighting for the starting spot. Malik Zaire got hurt last year and was replaced more than ably by DeShone Kizer (21 TDs, 10 INTs). Kizer had the supposed lead after spring, but the decision is far from over, as Zaire gets closer to 100 percent.
While that’s going on, a new top receiver needs to stand out. That could be Torii Hunter Jr. (363 yards, 2 TDs) or one of the younger options like Alize Jones or Miles Boykin. Running back will be in good hands with Josh Adams (835 yards, 6 TDs) coming off a great freshman campaign and Tarean Folston returning from injury. The line will have experience on the left side led by guard Quenton Nelson, but this is Notre Dame and they have decent talent in the waiting.
Defense will probably be the bigger issue, considering the massive talent lost on that side at every level. The line will have a couple seniors to work with in end Isaac Rochell and tackle Jarron Jones. Senior linebacker James Onwualu steps in as the leader of the group with another senior at cornerback in Cole LUke. The Irish got the job done last year outside of their final two losses, but with so many new faces in the starting lineup, it’s hard to see them being as good. Even that first Game at Texas should be a good test to see just how good the defense can be after allowing 24.1 points per Game.
The Irish beat the Longhorns 38-3 last year, but expect a little different result in Austin this season. Notre Dame only has three true road Games this year, which is a bit ridiculous, even with another three coming in neutral-site contests. Because of that, the Irish could easily finish the season undefeated with their toughest Games being at Texas and USC, to start and close the regular season. Michigan State and Stanford will be tough, but the Irish will be favored at home.
The Fighting Irish have a younger than usual team, but with studs at quarterback and running back, will be one of the best in the country again. Their National Championship odds are around the ninth-best at most places, mainly because of all the new starters. Their over/under was sitting at 9 wins and over was -135 at 5Dimes in early June and that could easily go up, especially due to their friendly Schedule.
2016 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Schedule
Sept. 4 at Texas
Sept. 10 vs. Nevada
Sept. 17 vs. Michigan State
Sept. 24 vs. Duke
Oct. 1 vs. Syracuse (MetLife Stadium)
Oct. 8 at NC State
Oct. 15 vs. Stanford
Oct. 29 vs. Miami (FL)
Nov. 5 vs. Navy (EverBank Field)
Nov. 12 vs. Army (Alamodome)
Nov. 19 vs. Virginia Tech
Nov. 26 at USC