2019 Notre Dame Football First Look Season Preview

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The 2018 Notre Dame football season ended in a manner that no one affiliated with the program wanted- a very lopsided loss to #2 Clemson in the Cotton Bowl semifinal. The end result was a margin of defeat that was only one point better than the 2012 BCS National Championship game.

Naturally, lots of 2012/2018 analogies have been made, but that narrative has plenty of limitations, as Notre Dame football has changed so much since then.

“If you look at the last two years, this is a team that’s won 22 out of 25 games,” Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly said after the Cotton Bowl.

“It’s a really good, strong, solid football program that needs to continue to work towards a championship. We don’t play for a conference championship. So it’s the ultimate goal. We’re in here licking our wounds after being one of the four teams.”

“That’s a good place to kind of take restock and get stronger from it,” he added.

For fans, the dud of an ending shouldn’t completely take away from the rousing success that was a perfect regular season. With seven starters returning on both offense and defense, expectations are very high in South Bend next autumn.

“It’s been a dream this year,” All-American cornerback Julian Love said after the game. “It’s been so fun. And we wish we could keep going and, obviously, end it on a better note. But there’s more to come next year.”

Unfortunately for ND, Love decided to forgo his final season of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft. Given the kind of season he had, and the sky high value of his draft stock right now, no one can blame him for turning pro.

On the way out, Love gave words of encouragement and positivity:

“We got our shot, but we’re going to build on it, and you’ll see us back here for sure.”

julian love

2018 Season Recap: Two programs, Alabama and Clemson, have accounted for nearly half the College Football Playoff berths (9/20) thus far. They meet in the national title game for the third time in four years on Monday. Notre Dame, like everyone else in college football, is trying to play catch up.

That includes Ohio State, who at least on paper, are in the same rarified air as CU and Bama in terms of talent. These three teams have all beaten the Fighting Irish soundly in headliner bowl games since 2012.

Overall, the Irish are now 0-6 in bowl games that fit the CFP, BCS and New Year’s Six designations- that’s the bad news.

The good news is that Notre Dame football is at least back to the level where they earn match0ups against the elite of the elite come bowl season. Very few programs have accomplished two undefeated regular seasons in the past seven years.

Key Players Returning: QB Ian Book, RBs Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr., OL Aaron Banks, DL Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara, DBs Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliot

WRs Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool have not officially declared whether they will stay or go yet (go here for more on that, as well as more on our list of key Notre Dame football players returning in 2019)

Key Players Gone: CB Julian Love, QB Brandon Wimbush (go to this link to take a look at six potential landing spots for him), RB Dexter Williams, TE Alize Mack, DL Jerry Tillery, LB Te’Von Cooney and Drue Tranquill

OFFENSE

QB- The most important position in all of sports is in great hands, as Book returns with plenty of big game experience under his belt. The Sacramento area native was the 5th most accurate passer in the country this season. 

ian book notre dame

As for Wimbush, you can’t blame him for going elsewhere in order to find a QB1 role again. He’s been a model student-athlete in every sense of the term and he deserves a chance to be the BMOC in his final season of eligibility. The highly rated and very promising Phil Jurkovec is the new QB2.

WR/TE- It doesn’t look like Boykin and Claypool will be leaving early, and it is probably in their best interests to stay. Both should have a decent NFL future, potentially, but another year in South Bend should help round out their respective games.

Chris Finke, who sort of gives ND what Hunter Renfrow provides for Clemson, and Michael Young return to round out the receiving corps. Mack is gone, as is Nic Weishar, but Cole Kmet is back.

Overall, the receivers should be one of the strongest position groups on this Notre Dame football team.

OL- Banks returns as the starting left guard, as does Liam Eichenberg, the starting tackle next to him. On the right side, guard Trevor Ruhland and Robert Hainsey return while backup RG Tommy Kraemer could have some NFL Draft stock down the line.

Obviously, this unit will miss Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher, both on and off the field.

RB- Armstrong and Jones Jr. will compete for the starting gig with Williams gone, while Avery Davis and C’Bo Flemister will see carries as well.

Overall, it looks like the offensive unit will be the stronger side of the ball next year, as the defense will need to do some retooling; given how their individual losses will hit harder.

julian love

DEFENSE

DL- With all the experience coming back, expect this unit to be the strength on this side of the ball. Kareem, Okwara. Jonathan Bonner and Daelin Hayes all have starting experience.

Of course, Tillery will be missed.

“I know that this program is in position and a good spot to move forward and win those big games in the future,” he said in Arlington after the season ended.

LB- Asmar Bilal is the only returning starter, so now is the time and place for plenty of the younger guys to step up. Guys like Shayne Simon, Bo Bauer, Jordan Genmark Heath and more will have their chances. Replacing Tranquill will be job #1 here.

DB- How much did Love mean to this team? Well, take a look these statistics, tweeted by Notre Dame football SID Michael Bertsch after the Cotton Bowl. This says it all about the Westchester, IL native, who was perhaps the best cover corner in college football this past season:

Donte Vaughn filled in, but not so admirably, and he kind of struggled during the season as well. Not just against Clemson. DBs Coach Todd Lyght has some work cut out for him at that corner slot. Troy Pride Jr. returns at the other corner. Elliot and Gilman are too solid safeties.

How this unit responds to Love lost will be key to how the season goes.

todd lyght

ST- 2019 will see plenty of position battles among the specialists as they will need to replace both the all-time leading scorer in Notre Dame football history, PK Justin Yoon, and another co-captain in punter Tyler Newsome.

Bottom Line:

Athlon ranks Notre Dame football #11 in their way too early rankings, and come June, one should expect to see the Fighting Irish in pretty much everybody’s top 10, if not top 8. Perhaps the Irish will be able to use the Cotton Bowl as a teachable moment going forward.

“We’ll get better because of this,” Kelly said in postgame.

“Losing gives you a perspective. It’s not great. No one ever likes to go through losing to gain perspective. Our guys saw that they could win a game like this, and we’ll go to work on that.”

A New Year’s Six bowl berth should be expected, with a return to the playoff not out of the question either.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, regularly appears as a guest pundit on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation. 

He also contributes sociopolitical essays to Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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