Picture: Mel Evans / AP
@KeeganSports1: Hello everyone and welcome to this Lodgepodge. Today we are lucky enough to have Ian Boyd with us. Ian writes for SB Nation as well as Inside Texas. The topic of conversation today is my favorite college football team, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Ian what leads you to believe that ND will not make the College Football Playoff this upcoming season?
@Ian_A_Boyd: Happy to be here! I’ve got five reasons I don’t think Notre Dame will make it to the playoffs this year. The first is that Will Fuller and Jaylon Smith, the best players on the team last year, are now gone. Now I know Notre Dame always has talent coming up the wings, but those guys were major impact performers.
The second is that I worry the QB controversy will hurt the team in developing a clear identity in the offseason. It’s hard to develop key role players without a strong, established identity for everyone to fit into.
The third is that college football looks loaded in 2016 with Clemson and Bama returning tons of talent while several other teams should improve.
Fourth, Notre Dame has a tough schedule with multiple possible losses. It’ll be hard to get through that schedule unscathed.
Finally, what reason do we have to believe that the defense will be elite? They weren’t elite last year and the best players are moving on.
@KeeganSports1: This is a valid point about the key losses of Fuller and Smith; however, there is plenty of talent to fill the holes that those two leave behind. At wide receiver, Corey Holmes, Equanimeous St. Brown, Miles Boykin and Torii Hunter Jr. all return in 2016. And don’t forget Alizé Jones, former number one Tight End recruit in the country. You can’t honestly tell me that none of those guys will step up to fill the Fuller role. As far as Jaylon Smith’s replacement goes, Te’Von Coney is an absolute stud. Coney was a 4-star linebacker recruit from Florida and from what I’ve seen, Coney is the real deal.
Next, I disagree that the QB controversy will hurt this team going into the season. I get the feeling that you bring that up because Ohio State didn’t fulfill expectation last season, but that was a one-time thing. Notre Dame handled last year’s controversy just fine and I expect them to do the same this offseason.
Thirdly, the college football season is long. All of the teams we think are a sure bet right now might slip at some point during the season. I mentioned Ohio State earlier. They seemed like a sure bet to make the playoff at this point a year ago. That obviously didn’t work out for them. Not to mention, Alabama is losing a lot of talent themselves. In my mind, there is no way they get through the SEC without a loss.
Next, Notre Dame’s schedule is not as hard as it has been in the past and it looks very manageable on paper. The Irish do play Stanford and Michigan State this year but both of those games will be played in South Bend. The only true road test is USC and who knows how good they will be, come late November. Overall, this year’s schedule isn’t all that scary and it’s one of the main reasons I think the Irish will crack the top-4.
Finally, I respect your point about the defense because it has been a bumpy ride defensively ever since Brian VanGorder took over. However, their offense can keep the defense off the field and score enough points to win football games. Also, I think you would be surprised how good they can be considered they lost half their defense to the injury bug last year.
@Ian_A_Boyd: Notre Dame might get good WR play next year, but I just can’t accept they’ll have someone as good as Fuller on the roster next year. Te’Von Coney could be another future NFL draft pick but will he be that by the time the season starts? Jaylon Smith wasn’t a superstar until his third year in the program.
Notre Dame under Brian Kelly seems to get QBs in game ready shape quite well, and they adopted last year from the switch to DeShone Kizer from Malik Zaire, but much of that was made possible due to a veteran OL with a day one draft pick at LT and then day one draft pick Will Fuller out wide. How well can they navigate a change in QBs next year?
Some of the good looking teams may not get it right next year but why do we believe Notre Dame would be one of the teams that will?
The Irish schedule may not have the obvious heavy hitters but it has a ton of games where even a really good team could be tripped up. At Texas is probably another nice opening win but the Longhorns are no longer at a talent deficit, just young. Stanford, Virginia Tech, and Miami are all strong teams and I’ve been in South Bend and know that atmosphere isn’t necessarily the most hostile place in the world. Traveling to USC could be a letdown game with one or both teams underachieving or it could be a major game in which USC has everything to play for.
The defense has had poor luck with injury each of the last two years, but they’re also losing the four best players. Russell, Smith, Day, and Schmidt. It’s almost impossible to win the playoffs without a great defense and who are the Irish building a great defense around?
@KeeganSports1: Okay, so I’m not all that worried about the wide receiver play at all so I think we can move on from that. Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, TJ Jones, Will Fuller are all fantastic options at WR that have gone through the Notre Dame program. I guarantee that someone will step up. Even if that guy isn’t on Fuller’s level, there will be someone. Also, Coney might not be a superstar next season, but he will be an every-down linebacker that has potential to be an impact player. He showed flashes of greatness last season and give him an offseason to improve, Coney will be ready to go.
Regarding the offensive line, sure they lost some talent, but Notre Dame has officially earned the title “Offensive Line U”. Just look at this year’s recruiting class. Notre Dame picked up three 4-star offensive linemen recruits and will be loaded with talent at that unit. Both Zaire and Kizer are extremely reliable options at quarterback and when you put all that talent around them, there is nothing to worry about.
As far as hiccups and strength of schedule go, we can knit pick that all we want but you could play that game with every team in the county. When it comes down to it, Notre Dame will take care of business and get into the playoff whether that be with no losses or one loss, they will get in.
I understand that they are losing talent on defense but just take a look at the studs that remain on the roster. Issac Rochell, Daniel Cage, James Onwualu, and Jay Hayes are all solid plug and play guys. Not to mention, Cole Luke and Jerry Tillery are bound to have breakout years. Mark my words.
@Ian_A_Boyd: I know Notre Dame is loaded with talent, and they have a good track record of doing some plug n’ play on offense, but I don’t see any reason to give them the benefit of the doubt as a top-4 team next year. What reasons can you give for assuming Notre Dame will be one of the top-4 teams next year?
1. Whether you agree or not, the schedule is as favorable as it’s been in years.
2. The running back tandem of Tarean Folston and Josh Adams is as dominant as it’s been in years.
3. Both guys competing for the starting quarterback job are outstanding talents and early Heisman candidates.
4. The Irish have improved a little bit every year under Brian Kelly and this will be the year they breakthrough.
5. The defense gets some key pieces back and contain more depth going into the 2016 season.
@Ian_A_Boyd: If all those things work out, which I’d concede is possible, then the Irish could have a special year. Personally, I’m not going to bet on it, though.