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. 17 Notre Dame.
As somebody steeped in the knowledge of pompous private university dipshits, let me be the first to say that when it comes to the worst traits of the privileged student body rubbing off on the football team, Notre Dame is as bad as it gets, which, considering Stanford exists, really is saying something.
Exhibit A, via Fox Sports and possible starting quarterback DeShone Kizer.
“When you make the decision to play football for Notre Dame, you’re playing for national championships,” he said last week. “You’re not playing for conference titles, you’re not playing for bowl gifts, you’re playing for the opportunity to hang another banner in that historic tunnel that sits in the middle of God’s country.
“Anything less than that is not a good season to us.”
Hey. Hey man. You’re a football player, not a Crusader. Chill the hell out.
Considering the University president’s “North Star” is his conviction the school is under no moral obligation to share its fat TV deal money with the guys who actually provide its value, it’s surprising how hard Irish players shill for this school’s football program and its oh-so-rigorous academic standards. Although head coach Brian Kelly has cooled his jets on pushing the long-annoying trope that Notre Dame is a place of higher learning. After a pair of academic missteps, shall we call them, struck star players in back-to-back years, Kelly offered a sentiment long-rejected by Notre Dame and similar institutions that like to refer to themselves as elite. Via NDInsiders:
“I think we recognized that all of my football players are at-risk — all of them — really. Honestly, I don’t know that any of our players would get into the school by themselves right now with the academic standards the way they are. Maybe one or two of our players that are on scholarship.
While this year has seen just one major suspension due to academics—tight end Alize Jones is out for the year after being ruled ineligible—tomfoolery struck the Irish in a different manner this past weekend, with six players being arrested.
Prior to losing two key members of the defensive secondary to an unfortunate run-in with the law, the biggest question facing the Notre Dame offense heading into the offseason centered around the quarterback position. Unlike the bevy of other QB battles taking place at training camps across the country, this battle was not between a pair of unproven players looking to finally have their shot, but between a pair of quarterbacks that could both start at nearly any other program in the Power Five. In one of the more puzzling coaching decisions made this offseason, Kelly has said he plans to use both DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire in the season opener against Texas in an effort to determine who should be the starter.
Both quarterbacks have proven they are fully capable of running the Irish offense, so Kelly will need to make his decision quickly, because the pair is equally pissed about the situation. Zaire described the situation to Fox Sports as “chicken crap,” while Kizer opined, “There’s supposed to be one quarterback on the field at one time.” As far as college sports go, that’s about as spicy a take you’re going to get, save for the occasional grace of a hot mic.
Unfortunately for the two rightfully annoyed quarterbacks, playing time will not be the end of their worries.
The Fighting Irish receiving corps got all kinds of fucked up by the 2015 offseason—six of the team’s top seven producers from a year ago are gone. Senior Torii Hunter Jr. is the sole veteran with somewhat substantial receiving yards returning the group—he hauled in 28 passes for 363 yards and two scores last year and is being touted as a true No. 1 option heading into the season. Expect C.J. Sanders and Equanimeous (damn) St. Brown to see the majority of the remaining reps, though both Miles Boykin and Corey Holmes have had their names called throughout the spring and fall. Durham Smythe will be the man at tight end after Jones was ruled to be academically ineligible for the season.
Unlike the icy quarterback competition situation, the Irish have a pair of running backs in redshirt junior Tarean Folston and sophomore Josh Adams fully prepared to split time. Folston racked up a combined 1,359 yards through his freshman and sophomore campaigns, but his junior year was cut short by an ACL tear suffered in the season opener. This opened up the second running back slot to Adams, who, as a true freshman, set the school’s rookie rushing record with 838 yards. Both players are capable of approaching the 1,000-yard mark; considering the Irish are short on experience out wide, I’d tab both of them to do so. It helps that the Irish return a truly stellar offensive line, per usual, headlined by left guard Quenton Nelson and right tackle Mike McGlinchey.
Defensively, Notre Dame struggled to limit opposing offenses’s big plays in 2015, and ranked 106th in the nation in turnover margin and 45th in total offense. The Fighting Irish lost the majority of last year’s defensive stars, with Jaylon Smith and KeiVarae Russell departing for the NFL. The silver lining here is they return three players who all missed the majority of last season with injury. Nose tackle Jarron Jones and safeties Drue Tranquill and Avery Sebastian will return as presumed starters this season. Considering the Irish just lost Max Redfield to dismissal and corner Devin Butler to an indefinite suspension, those three players returning from injury should play an important role this season.
Isaac Rochell and Daniel Cage will likely line up as the team’s starting defensive ends while Nyles Morgan and James Onwualu will hold down the Irish’s second level along with senior Greer Martini. In the secondary, corners Shaun Crawford and Nick Coleman will provide a couple options alongside Tranquill and Sebastian.
(Why do all these Youtube highlight makers love Logic?)
Last year, I went with Malik Zaire as the Guy To Know and he broke his ankle two games into the season. So this year, let’s hone in on the other guy that’s clamoring to line up under center and lead what he thinks is God’s team—DeShone Kizer.
Kizer posted 2,880 passing yards to go along with 28 scores and 10 interceptions in 2015; he added another 520 yards and 10 scores on the ground. His balls could use some more zip at times, but his completion percentage as a first-time major program starter was solid at a 62.8. Whether he earns the starting nod is a mystery right now—Zaire is still very, very good and could easily nudge his way past Kizer. Still, Kizer led the Irish to an 8-3 record in 2015; with a year of experience and an offseason to work with a brand new crew of receivers, there’s no reason to think he can’t step into the role and have success.
Notre Dame’s “conference” schedule this year is a walk in the park—the Irish have Duke, Syracuse, N.C. State, Miami and Virginia Tech. Only the Hurricanes stand out as a particularly tough test amongst that crowd this year, and with games against Army, Navy, and Nevada interspersed between actual challenges against Michigan State, Stanford, and USC, Notre Dame will have plenty of games to rack up enough wins for a decent bowl game. But it hasn’t been since Lou Holtz was pacing the sideline muttering, “sufferin succotash!” that Notre Dame has posted consecutive 10-win seasons, and I don’t see the program making it through that trio without at least two losses. The Fighting Irish still have an incredible amount of talent in comparison to the majority of teams they’re going to face this year, but a playoff run doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards for this year’s squad.
I think by simply having the title “Notre Dame head coach,” one is automatically a leg up on the competition when it comes to securing our coveted dick rating. Of course, it helps that Kelly opted to make jokes about the Chicago Tribune’s budget in the wake of Lizzy Seeberg’s suicide, and took part in flaunting Notre Dame’s athletic achievements. Kelly, both by association and his own actions, is a dick.
Sept. 3: @ Texas
Sept. 10: Nevada
Sept. 17: Michigan State
Sept. 24: Duke
Oct. 1: Syracuse
Oct. 8: @ N.C. State
Oct. 15: Stanford
Oct. 29: Miami
Nov. 5: Navy
Nov. 12: Army
Nov. 19: Virginia Tech
Nov. 26: @ USC