Welcome to the Deadspin 25, a college football poll that strives to be more democratic and less useless than every other preseason poll. Leading up to the college football season kickoff, we will give you previews of the 25 teams that you, the readers, voted to be most worthy of writing about. Now, No. 12 Notre Dame.
Some people seem set on believing this is Notre Dame’s year. Those people exist every year, though, so who gives a shit? The Fighting Irish are going to disappoint them once again, and we, the general public, will get to chuckle at all those sad Notre Dame bros.
In 2014, the general consensus was that the Fighting Irish had what they needed to make a run at the playoff. And for eight games, that pretty much held up. Notre Dame opened 7-1, with its sole loss coming at the hands of Florida State, a game they only lost by four on account of a touchdown-negating offensive pass interference call.
Notre Dame rebounded the next week, taking down Navy 49-39. Then the wheels fell off.
The Fighting Irish went on a four-game losing streak, falling to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville, and USC. During the stretch, they allowed an average of 44.5 points per game and dropped from No. 8 to unranked. Quarterback Everett Golson’s play was erratic during the stretch, as he tossed seven touchdowns to seven interceptions and completed just 52.9 percent of his passes, which led to his benching.
With a win over LSU in the Music City Bowl, the Fighting Irish finished the year a disappointing 8-5. But while the season had taken a serious nose dive, there was a silver lining: Malik Zaire.
After Golson’s shitty play got him benched, Zaire, a freshman at the time, stepped in during the bowl game and showed flashes of what Fighting Irish fans will hope to see more of this season. Notre Dame lost Golson to Florida State via transfer this past May, making Zaire the new starting quarterback. Golson was always a very good quarterback on his good days. Bet when things broke down in the latter half of the season, his mistakes, which to up until that moment had been inconsistent, became the norm.
The Notre Dame defense shit the bed last year, allowing 44.5 points per game and doing the offense no favors. With his team constantly down, Golson had to be channel is inner Jay Cutler. Then came interceptions and fumbles, which led to more points, which led to more gun slinging, and on and on the sick cycle went.
If the Fighting Irish want to be a national competitor this year, their front seven will have to get its shit together. The good thing is the unit is mostly intact outside of defensive tackle Jarron Jones, who was lost to a torn MCL. With nine returning starters, led by linebacker Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame’s defense, along with the play of Zaire, will be key to whether or not it can make it through the season without another colossal collapse.
The offense, on the other hand, rarely had an issue scoring, as it only had two games in which it was held to less than 25 points. Zaire’s is the big variable here, but the offense should be just as good this year, returning seven starters. Running back Taraen Folston is back, and so are Notre Dame’s top four receivers from a year ago. William Fuller will be the most notable returnee of the bunch, as he finished 2014 with 76 catches for 1,094 yards and 15 touchdowns, which tied a school record.
Malik Zaire will be as good a guy to know as any when it comes to Notre Dame.
Our view of Zaire is very limited his efficiency against LSU in the bowl game was impressive. He completed 12-of-15 passes for 96 yards and a score—I know, I know, that ain’t much—and rushed for another 96 yards and a score. It wasn’t exactly a huge coming out party, but he did enough to lead the team to a 31-27 win. Zaire will need to step up, but he doesn’t have to come out and sling the rock for 400 yards a game in order to pile up 10 wins. He just has to be consistent and smart with the ball, and the Fighting Irish offense will roll along just fine.
Notre Dame’s schedule as a whole isn’t too difficult, with games against Virginia, Temple, and Wake Forest sticking out as cake walks. Aside from those easy wins, I count four games on the schedule that I see as going either way, and there’s a very low chance that the Fighting Irish win them all with a new quarterback.
Georgia Tech, Clemson, USC, and Stanford are all top-25 teams, and like Notre Dame, all are playing under the illusion that they can make the playoff if everything goes their way. The Fighting Irish get the benefit of hosting the two tougher teams, but even so, I’m going to say that Notre Dame loses at least two of those games and gets bumped out of playoff contention.
I think the Fighting Irish will end up in a New Year’s Day bowl game, but the playoff isn’t happening this year.
Sept. 5: Texas
Sept. 12: @ Virginia
Sept. 19: Georgia Tech
Sept. 26: UMass
Oct. 3: @ Clemson
Oct. 10: Navy
Oct. 17: USC
Oct. 31: @ Temple
Nov. 7: @ Pittsburgh
Nov. 14: Wake Forest
Nov. 21: @ Boston College
Nov. 28: @ Stanford