Notre Dame enters the 2014-2015 campaign without eight players who were selected in last year’s NFL Draft, but the Fighting Irish should still reach double-digit wins this season. The most promising news for Notre Dame is the return on quarterback Everett Golson, who was suspended last May due to academics and missed the entire season.
Reports indicate that Golson has put on at least 20 pounds during the offseason and has displayed a level of maturity and self-awareness that did not exist last year. Golson is primed for a breakout season after working with quarterback specialist George Whitfield last season and I expect the Irish to put up the best quarterback numbers in over five years.
Notre Dame’s backfield is anchored by sophomore Tarean Folston, who garnered 291 yards in the final three games last season and is this year’s projected starter. With two of their top three running backs returning this season, I expect improved numbers from this unit in 2014. The main concern about Notre Dame’s offense is its receiving corp., which lost over 50% of its total offense. The loss of both TJ Jones (#6 draft choice; Detroit) and Troy Niklas (#2 draft choice; Arizona) certainly hurts the Irish, but the return of Chris Brown and DaVaris Daniels leaves Notre Dame with a very strong receiving unit.
Some college football experts have raised concerns about Notre Dame’s offensive line following the departure of two starters to the NFL (Chris Watt & Nick Martin), but I still believe the Irish will field a Top 25 offensive line behind three returning starters. The mobility of Golson will also allow the offensive line to improve upon its statistics from last season.
Notre Dame’s defense is defined by one of the nation’s best secondaries that returns seven of its top eight performers from last season. The addition of Florida transfer Cody Riggs, who made eleven starts in 2013, further bolsters this outstanding unit. The Irish also field an outstanding group of linebackers despite losing three starters in Prince Shembo (#4 draft choice; Atlanta), Carlo Calabrese (thirteen starts) and Dan Fox (ten starts). The biggest issue facing Notre Dame’s defense this season is its defensive line, which loses two players to the NFL Draft.
While I am a huge fan of head coach Brian Kelly, who led Cincinnati to back-to-back BCS bowls between 2007 and 2009, the coaching staff’s continuity is disrupted by the arrival of two new coordinators in Mike Denbrock (offense) and Brian VanGorder (defense). The Irish also play the nation’s most difficult schedule, including road games against Florida State and USC. Despite that fact, I still believe that Notre Dame will improve upon last year’s 9-4 record in 2014.