On Monday, DeShone Kizer declared for the NFL draft. On Tuesday, Notre Dame announced Special Teams Coach Scott Booker would not be returning for 2017. On Wednesday it was announced that Offensive Coordinator Mike Sanford would be returning to Western Kentucky University to serve as head coach. Defensive Coordinator Greg Hudson is entering his first full year as Irish Defensive Coordinator, and Brian Kelly has a brand new team ahead of him for next season.
The pressure will be immense for him, and his seat may be starting to get warm. He must succeed next year, and I think for him that means winning a New Year’s Six bowl at minimum. He’s got the coaching ability to do it, and he’s proved it before. In 2012, with brand new starting quarterback Everett Golson, the Irish went 12-0 and played for the National Championship. In 2015, behind a brand new starting QB in Malik Zaire, the Irish won their opener against Texas and then a combined effort from Zaire and Kizer following the former’s injury earned a win against Virginia. Kizer won 9 of the next 11 games, and the Irish played in the Fiesta Bowl. In 2017, Brandon Wimbush will take over. Kelly knows how to coach a first-year quarterback and Wimbush has been touted as more talented than all the aforementioned shot-callers.
Brian Kelly’s record with a returning starter at QB: 32-22 (59.7%)
Brian Kelly's record with a first-year starter at QB: 27-9 (75.0%)
— Pete Sampson … TBA (@PeteSampson_) December 12, 2016
Despite the disappointing 4-8 season, the Irish did not play bad football. According to S&P+ rankings, the Irish were 25th in the country. Ranking top 40 in both offense and defense, it was mental mistakes and big plays that killed the Irish. Despite 7 losses by 8 points or less and a tough loss against Adoree Jackson and USC, and not once did the Irish lay down, quit, or throw a temper tantrum.
The offense will be good again next year. A standout receiver core will return all key playmakers, with the exception of Torii Hunter, Jr. Josh Adams and Dexter Williams will look to run through holes created by an offensive line that hopes to be much improved from last year.
Defensively, after the tumultuous beginning to what was the end of Brian VanGorder’s reign as Defensive Coordinator, Greg Hudson took over and reformed the defense. Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini, and Te’von Coney return to lead the Irish linebacker core, and a young and beat up Irish secondary will be healthy and experienced next year.
On the Special Teams side of things, mistakes killed Notre Dame. Kickoff returns, punt returns, missed field goals, bad punts, all cost the Irish precious points on both sides of the ball. Kickoff man John Chereson is graduating, thus leaving an opening for new specialist playmakers, such as fellow walk-on Jeff Riney, Riney spent this season as the backup to Tyler Newsome, but with a new coach and player turnover, Riney may find himself taking the weight off Newsome or field goal kicker Justin Yoon.
A brand new Notre Dame team will take the field against Temple next season, but there is one key consistency: this team still believes in Brian Kelly. Despite the fairly large outcry against him, Kelly has the backing of the players, the donors, and the Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick. While there is a lot of time before the 2017 season kicks off, the Irish squadron is looking primed to succeed. I should know, I already wagered they’d finish 11-1 or better. Go Irish, beat Temple.