Joe Pasquali, our resident college football analyst, is back again this year to cover NCAA college football. We will be unveiling his Big Ten team previews later this week, but to whet your appetite, here is his 2012 college football preview for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The 2011 season was a frustrating one for the Irish, a year marred by turnovers, late game collapses, and inconsistent play on the offensive side of the football. Notre Dame ranked 118th (third from the bottom) in turnover margin last year, forcing 14 while turning the ball over 29 times. Many turnovers came in crucial points in the game or in the red zone (where ND finished 88th in efficiency), making it nearly impossible to win games. This year Notre Dame returns 15 starters and a wealth of experience on both sides of the ball, making them some people’s dark horse in 2012. Though picking the Irish for a rebound seems like the thing to do every summer, their schedule makes it impossible for me to do so. With no set quarterback and the loss of Michael Floyd you can chalk up losses to Michigan State, Michigan, USC and Oklahoma. Outside of that, they still play talented teams in Stanford, Miami (FL), and BYU. Oh, and don’t forget pesky little Purdue.
Quarterback Tommy Rees decided to kick a cop and is serving a one game suspension for the Irish, though many people weren’t sure if he would have been the opening day starter anyways. Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson, and Gunner Kiel are battling for the starting position and the current word is Golson has a head up on the others. It’d be no surprise if we saw all four quarterbacks at some point this year; Brian Kelly has shown he has no qualms about switching QB’s, even mid game. Cierre Wood returns as the starting running back and impressed last year with 1,102 yards and 9 touchdowns. Tyler Eifert is an all-American and all around stud at tight end. He should make the job for whoever is throwing the ball a bit easier, he is a huge target and has great hands.
The front seven of Notre Dame is very experienced and should improve on what was a decent year in 2011. All- American Manti Te’o leads a linebacker core that is as physical and good against the run as any in the country. The front three are back as well, and though a little thin, are very disruptive. The secondary could see a lot of rotation in 2012, especially at the corner position. Juniors Lo Wood and Bennett Jackson should step into the starting roles but if they can’t stop big plays on the outside Kelly will look to younger players. Breakout player to watch is freshman Aaron Lynch who should see some time at defensive end.
Special Teams (B)
Nick Tausch looks to have regained the kicking duties after not seeing any game action last season. He made 14 consecutive field goals as a freshman before his season ended early with an injury. Ben Turk enters his third season as punter for Notre Dame and has averaged 39.0 yards a punt in his career.
Brian Kelly has had success at every program he has coached, all the way from Grand Valley State to Cincinnati. Back to back 8-5 seasons doesn’t seem that bad, but it was the way Notre Dame lost games in 2011 that left fans with a bad taste in their mouth. Notre Dame at times looked rattled and without leadership, this starts at the top. Though the schedule is brutal, people have high expectations out of Notre Dame, even if those expectations are somewhat unrealistic. You hate to say it is a make or break year for Brian Kelly, but his predecessors didn’t get long to make an impact either.
2012 Win/Loss Prediction: 7-5