Blue and Gold Illustrated

June/July 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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www.BLUEANDGOLD.com JUNE/JULY 2017 37 BY LOU SOMOGYI P rior to Notre Dame's men's bas- ketball season, Blue & Gold Il- lustrated runs an annual feature on the three categories of the schedule: musts, bubbles and steals. "Musts" are the games against in- ferior competition Notre Dame can- not afford to lose. The "bubbles" are toss-ups that play a huge determining factor in how high a seed the Fighting Irish would receive in the NCAA Tournament. Finishing under .500 in these games might mean not even getting into the Big Dance. Finally, the "steals" are almost al- ways road games in which Notre Dame will be the underdog. Winning any such game merits extra credit. We've refrained from applying those same standards in football over the years because Notre Dame is "supposed to be" superior, at least on paper, to most of its opponents on the schedule, other than USC. That was the case last year too from a preseason perspective — yet the Irish fin- ished an incon- ceivable 4-8. Consequently, we have a more g u a r d e d a p - proach toward the 2017 sched- ule, dividing it into three four- part categories. From one man's perspective, we also rate from 12 to 1 an early outlook of what look like the most promising games to win: CAN'T LOSE THESE All four are at home — making for a relatively blah home slate — versus teams that recruit about four times below Notre Dame's level. A loss in any of these would have a "heads will roll" aftereffect, similar to former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder getting axed the morning after last year 's home loss to Duke. 12. MIAMI (OHIO) (6-7 in 2016), Sept. 30 Fourth-year head coach Chuck Martin, who was with the Fighting Irish from 2010-13, won the final six regular-season games last year, lost in the closing seconds to Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg Bowl and returns 16 starters, notably quarter- back Gus Ragland, who propelled last year's turnaround. However, losing at home to a Mid- American Conference team would be another "final frontier" for the Irish. 11. TEMPLE (10-4), Sept. 2 The Owls had an unprecedented run the past two years under Matt Rhule, now the head coach at Baylor, with back-to-back 10-win seasons. New coach Geoff Collins, the for- mer defensive coordinator at Florida, must rebuild the front seven plus re- place linchpins at quarterback and running back. 10. WAKE FOREST (7-6), Nov. 4 So competent was the Demon Dea- cons defense last year, their coordinator, Mike Elko, was hired by Brian Kelly this winter (as was linebackers coach Clark Lea) to help resurrect the Irish. This will be Wake Forest's third trip to Notre Dame the past five years, and it was outscored 66-7 the previous two. 9. NAVY (9-5), Nov. 18 This has not been an easy out for Notre Dame the past 20 years, and last year marked the fourth time since 2007 the Midshipmen vanquished the Irish (28-27). Still, this is a game that cannot be lost based on talent dispar- ity between the two teams. WARY UPSET SPECIALS Notre Dame should be favored in all these games to reach at least eight wins in 2017, but because most of these contests are on the road — where the Irish are 3-10 in their last 13 games when playing in the oppo- nent's home stadium — one learns to respect that aspect. 8. at BOSTON COLLEGE (7-6), Sept. 16 2016 Summary: A valid argument can be made that the Eagles belong in the lowest tier, certainly not ahead of Navy. After all, BC lost its four marquee 2016 games by a combined score of 212-24: Clemson (56-10) and Louisville (52-7) at home, and Vir- ginia Tech (49-0) and Florida State (45-7) on the road. 2017 Outlook: Fifth-year head coach Steve Addazio joins Brian Kelly on the hot seat after going 2-14 in the ACC the past two years. Perceived Strength: Seven starters return on a solid defense, paced by senior end Harold Landry, a second- team All-American whose 16.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles led the na- tion in 2016. Perceived Concern: In their 16 ACC games the past two years, the offense averaged an anemic 12.0 points in 2016 and 9.1 in 2015. 7. NORTH CAROLINA STATE (7-6), Oct. 28 2016 Summary: The Wolfpack played to the level of the competition. They lost to East Carolina and Boston College, but took na- tional champ Clem- son (24-17 overtime loss) and Florida State (24-20 defeat) to the wire. Last year, they defeated the Irish 10-3. 2 0 1 7 O u t l o o k : FOX Sports has the Wolfpack No. 24 in their preseason poll thanks to the return of 17 starters. Perceived Strengths: The defen- sive line, led by defensive end Brad- ley Chubb (22 tackles for loss last year) might be the best on the sched- ule, while quarterback Ryan Finley and tight end/fullback hybrid Jaylen Samuels headline the offense. Perceived Concern: Running back Matthew Dayes, whose 1,166 rushing yards were third in the ACC, will be tough to replace. 6. at MICHIGAN STATE (3-9), Sept. 23 2016 Summary: One year after making the College Football Playoff, the Spartans experienced a collapse like Notre Dame. Oddly, their three best games may have been the 36-28 win at Notre Dame, plus competing well in losses to Ohio State (17-16) and Michigan (32-23). It was the first FOUR-WARD MARCH The 2017 schedule can be divided into three quartets USC quarterback Sam Darnold is currently listed No. 1 on the big board of top 2018 NFL Draft prospects done by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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