Note: Over the two weeks leading into the first full slate of college football games, we will take a look at 14 of the top teams heading into 2016 and analyze their chances at making the 2016 College Football Playoff. We continue this series with Notre Dame, a team that finished 10-3 last year and is ranked 10th in the 2016 AP preseason top 25 poll.
|ND will make the 2016 CFP because...||ND won't make the 2016 CFP because...|
Ryan Cooper: Things are really starting to heat up in our countdown as we enter the realm of teams that are increasingly difficult to find major faults with. Today's installment features Notre Dame, which opened up at No. 10 in the AP poll.Last season was a successful one for the Fighting Irish after a couple of off years. Sure, they finished with three losses, but those were to three Playoff contenders in Clemson, Stanford and Ohio State, the first two of which they lost to by just a combined four points. What that showed me was a team that was just a fingertip away from elite status, and now with a year of experience and confidence under its belt, I see Notre Dame as a strong College Football Playoff contender. Janie, why am I wrong?
Janie Harris: While, as you said, Notre Dame is among the teams with few faults, it still has faults. And Notre Dame’s few may cost them making it to the CFP.
You mentioned experience. With few starters returning, the Fighting Irish seem to lack the experience needed to start the year off strong. They have the talent, but I’m not sure that they will be able to utilize that talent early on.
Specifically, Notre Dame’s wide receiver position remains a worry for Fighting Irish fans. They lost Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle. This year, the team is trying to fill the gaps these left with sophomore Miles Boykin, junior Corey Holmes and senior Torii Hunter Jr. Boykin prepares now for his first collegiate start. Holmes played in two games his freshman year then redshirted in 2015. And Hunter, while he did split time with the former WRs, has only had 35 receptions for his college football career.
The questions surrounding this position could ultimately cause trouble for the Fighting Irish. The run game might be strong coming into the 2016 season, but the team can’t run the ball the whole time. To compete with the other powerhouse teams hoping to head to the Playoff, Notre Dame will have to produce more depth in its passing game. Otherwise, I don’t think they will make it to the CFP.
RC: Fuller was an absolute beast last season and losing him is not something to be taken lightly. But at the same time, someone like Hunter can't be faulted for being lower down on the depth chart because of older talent in front of him. He still managed to make a decent impact as the No. 4 option, and with his big-play ability Hunter is primed for a strong senior year.
JH: Notre Dame’s run game will probably be the highlight of its 2016 season, especially if you see Zaire or Kizer thinking on their feet and running for a few yards. Both of the quarterbacks are strong players, but from what we have heard this preseason, head coach Brian Kelly wants to split time between the two. And, that decision might be a game changer for the Fighting Irish.
Traditionally, teams choose a single quarterback to give that starter the confidence some believe is needed to perform well. By splitting time between two quarterbacks, Kelly may be taking some power away from the two, making that questionable receiver position a bit more worrisome.
Still, Notre Dame’s offense over the years has been solid, averaging about 33 points per game over the last 26 games. But, even if an offense is performing well, a team’s defense can make or break a game.
Last year, the defense allowed multiple teams to post more than 30 points on the game. Also, it failed to post than 14 turnovers in the season. While last year may have seemed rough, after losing a lot of starting talent, Notre Dame’s defense doesn’t look as if it is going to improve much early on in 2016. And, since the team plays a few key games early on against Texas and Michigan State, the margin for error may be narrow.
RC: That's true, and like Fuller on offense, losing Jaylon Smith is a massive blow to the defense. Romeo Okwara (eight sacks) and Sheldon Day (four) graduating certainly doesn't help any matters either. But there are still some players who I am very excited to watch in a bigger role, particularly linebacker James Onwualu and defensive end Isaac Rochell. Notre Dame's defense won't be great, but it wasn't last year either. What it does know how to do (just like the offense) is enough to win games, and that is a testament to the excellent coaching staff led by Brian Kelly.
Now when you talk about that schedule, yes, the early games against two strong opponents isn't ideal for a team that might need to find its footing a little. But as a whole, I love the way the schedule looks. I think it's a perfect balance of resume-building games without any that the Fighting Irish should look overmatched in. They can certainly afford to lose to either Michigan State or Stanford, in my opinion, as long as they take care of business the rest of the way against some good-but-not-great teams like Texas, Miami (Fla.) and USC.
JH: I do agree that their schedule this year seems a lot less daunting than 2015’s. However, it still might prevent them from competing in the CFP. Looking at the record entering the Playoff of the teams that competed in the CFP last year, Oklahoma’s 11-1 trailed Clemson’s 13-0, Alabama’s 12-1 and Michigan State’s 12-1, and Notre Dame posted a 10-2 at the time. One game separated them last year, and one game could do it again.
Because of the team’s loss of starting talent, the Fighting Irish could take a step back in 2016. While the Fighting Irish look to have a solid, winning season ahead of them, I don’t think it’s enough to make it to the College Football Playoff.
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RC: That's very fair, and I think your thought process is much in line with the AP voters' when they put Notre Dame at the very end of the top 10, thinking of it as a squad that is talented but not quite there yet. I can admit that it's going to be a struggle for the Fighting Irish to make this year their year, but due to some fresh, high-ceiling talent, great coaching and a nice schedule, I think Notre Dame can sneak in as the fourth Playoff team.