Notre Dame Fighting Irish Season Wins O/U Pick
Entering last season as the twelfth ranked team in the country, Notre Dame had plenty of expectations to live up to, nearly all of which they were able to exceed after finishing the regular season with a 12-0 record and earning their first-ever spot in the BCS Playoffs. They were not able to get past the buzzsaw that was the 2018 Clemson Tigers, but that doesn’t take away from all they were able to accomplish. The Irish have now gone 22-4 in the last two seasons, with all four of their losses coming against teams ranked in the top 20. This year they have holes to fill on both sides of the ball after having six players go in the NFL Draft, and with a tough schedule awaiting them, it should be an interesting year in South Bend to see how head coach Brian Kelly and the team go about tackling the issues awaiting them.
There will be opportunities all over the offense for new players to make a name for themselves after the Irish lost their top running back, receiver and tight end from 2018 when Dexter Williams, Miles Boykin and Alize Mack were all drafted back in April. There are duos at both running back and wide receiver that should provide some stabilization though. Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones return to the Irish backfield after each ran for almost 400 yards apiece and scored a combined 11 touchdowns in 2018. Notre Dame has had a good share of solo success in recent years with C.J. Prosise, Josh Adams, and the Williams as mentioned above, and with the backfield essentially all to themselves, both Armstrong and Jones will have a sure chance to make a name for themselves in 2019.
TARGETS AT RECEIVER
It has been four years since the Irish has had a wide receiver catch 60 passes or break the 1,000-yard barrier (Will Fuller). With over 110 catches and 1,250 yards in receiving lost from a season ago due to graduation, there will be plenty of additional production up for grabs to returning senior starters Chase Claypool and Chris Finke. Claypool ended last year with 50 catches for 639 yards, while Finke put up 49 receptions for 571 yards. They combined for only six touchdowns though, so both will assuredly be looking to get into the endzone a lot more in the upcoming season as they do what they can to make things easier for returning starter at quarterback Ian Book.
RETURN OF BOOK
After taking over for Brandon Wimbush at quarterback, Ian Book went 8-1 as a starter with his only loss coming in the National Championship game against Clemson. Book was efficient throughout the season, completing 68.2% of his passes, putting up a 154.0 QB rating and throwing nineteen touchdowns compared to seven interceptions. With four of his five starting offensive linemen back from 2018, Book should find increased stability in the pocket, which is something that was severely lacking against Clemson when Book found himself sacked six times and not completing over 50% of his passes for the first time all season. The losses of Boykin and Mack are tough, but with Claypool and Finke both back and a strong line in front of him, Book will have an opportunity to improve on last years’ stats, especially with the additional year of starting experience.
Six starters return to the Notre Dame defense, but how they do this season could come down to how they go back replacing those lost from a season ago. All five starters gone from 2018 are currently on NFL rosters, with three going in the draft (Jerry Tillery, Julian Love and Drue Tranquill) and the other two signed as undrafted free agents (Te’Von Coney and Jonathan Bonner). Tillery was the first one selected of the group after going 28th to the Chargers, but it’s the loss of Love that could hurt the most. It was after his departure due to injury that the team completely fell apart on three big plays against Clemson in the BCS Championship, though all hope is not lost with three of four starters back to the defensive backfield. All three are seniors and include leading returning tackler Alohi Gilman along with cornerback Tony Pride and strong safety Jalen Elliot. Plenty of production returns upfront with Julian Okwara (8 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss) and Khalid Kareem (4.5 sacks, 10.5 TFL) both hoping to offset the loss of Tillery, while senior Asmar Bilal leads the way in the middle amongst the linebackers.
The Irish benefit from a schedule that includes just five road games, but it’s two of those that loom the largest in Georgia and Michigan. As of now, Notre Dame is the expected underdog in each with both the Bulldogs and Wolverines ranked higher to begin the season. Unfortunately, they have not performed well under Brian Kelly of late in such scenarios, going just 1-9 in their last ten road games against ranked teams. And it’s not like they were overmatched in those contests either, as in six of them they were ranked higher than their opponent. To end the season, the Irish also travel out west to take on Stanford, which hasn’t gone so well for them recently having gone 3-7 in their last ten against the Cardinal, including 0-5 in their previous five trips to Palo Alto.
They are set up better at home where they should be favored in every game, though they certainly can’t take likely opponents such as Virginia, USC, and Virginia Tech, all of which could be considered top 40 teams. The Irish haven’t necessarily performed as well as a favorite of late, both against the spread and straight up, going 2-7-1 in their last ten versus the number and having eight of their previous ten regular-season losses come in games in which they were expected by Vegas to win. They also fall victim to the fact that they will face seven opponents that will be coming off of a bye week, including in four of their last five games.
This past April marked the seventh time since 2003 that Notre Dame has lost at least five players to the NFL Draft. The previous six seasons that this has happened the Irish have not always responded so well, putting up a combined 35-39 record in those instances. The heavy personnel losses combined with a problematic schedule leaves little wiggle room with their season over/under for wins set at 9.5, especially with the road trips to Georgia, Michigan and even Stanford looming. I believe too much is working against the Irish this year and would recommend going with the under for their season total.
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