Blue and Gold Illustrated

June/July 2017

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

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38 JUNE/JULY 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED time in head coach Mark Dantonio's 10 seasons the Spartans didn't make a bowl. 2017 Outlook: A tumultuous and scandalous offseason continued to add to MSU's misery. The return of only nine starters (124th in the Foot‑ ball Bowl Subdivision), make return‑ ing to .500 seem like renewed pros‑ perity. Perceived Strengths: A strong run‑ ning backs corps led by L.J. Scott (994 yards in 2016), with wideout Donnie Corley (four catches, 88 yards and a TD at Notre Dame) as a complement in the passing attack. MSU also will have an extra week to prepare for the Irish. Perceived Concerns: Finding con‑ sistency at QB, where three different players started in 2016, and overcom‑ ing the residue of a horrid campaign and just as bad offseason. 5. at NORTH CAROLINA (8-5), Oct. 7 2016 Summary: The Tar Heels were in the driver's seat to win the ACC Coastal Division after defeating Flor‑ ida State (37‑35) — but suffered the classic letdown with a 34‑3 loss the next week versus Virginia Tech. It still was sitting pretty in November at 7‑2 before getting upset by Duke (28‑27) and NC State at home (28‑21). The 8‑5 campaign concluded with a 25‑23 loss to Stanford in the Sun Bowl. 2017 Outlook: It has the feel of a rebuild with six players taken in the NFL Draft, most notably quar‑ terback Mitchell Trubisky (who was the No. 2 overall pick). Also lost to the NFL were running backs Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan, and wideout Ryan Switzer. Perceived Strengths: Four start‑ ers return along the offensive line (just like Notre Dame). Seven starters are back on defense, led by top tack‑ lers Cole Holcomb and Andre Smith at linebacker, plus cornerback M.J. Stewart, although a new coordinator has replaced Gene Chizik. Perceived Concerns: Finding play‑ makers on offense and stability at quarterback. There were three can‑ didates under center in the spring — and then LSU graduate transfer Brandon Harris was added to the mix this summer. Harris started a couple of years for the Tigers — in‑ cluding in a 31‑28 loss to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, 2014 — but lost his starting position early last year. MARQUEE MATCHUPS The outcomes here will determine whether Notre Dame can return to its 2015 form of legitimately vying for a Big Six Bowl, or maybe even a College Football Playoff berth, come November. ESPN's post‑spring outlook had all four among the top 16 teams nationally. The Irish have to start winning at least 50 percent of such contests to regain credibility in the polls, and beyond. 4. GEORGIA (8-5), Sept. 9 2016 Summary: A disappointing 7‑5 regular season under first‑year head coach Kirby Smart received some salve with a 31‑23 victory ver‑ sus TCU in the Liberty Bowl. The lows included a 45‑14 blowout loss to Ole Miss, a 34‑31 defeat to Ten‑ nessee on a last‑second "Hail Mary" pass and a 17‑16 setback at home to Vanderbilt. Losses to rivals Florida (24‑10) and Georgia Tech (28‑27) also dampened the regular season. 2017 Outlook: Among more than a dozen early prognostications, Geor‑ gia has a No. 14 cumulative rank‑ ing, as high as No. 10 by Sporting News and not lower than No. 18 by CBS Sports. The Bulldogs and North Carolina State are two Irish foes tied for third nationally with the most starters returning from 2016 on of‑ fense and defense with 17. Perceived Strengths: Running back possesses one of the nation's best one‑two punches with Nick Chubb (1,130 yards, 5.0 yards per carry) and Sony Michel (840 yards, 5.5 yards per carry). Defensively, 10 starters return, led by outside linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, both of whom opted to return to school. Perceived Concerns: The offensive line is in flux, there isn't a proven go‑ to receiver and the nation's No. 1 quar‑ terback prospect in 2016, Jason Eason (2,430 yards passing, 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions), could be chal‑ lenged by freshman Jake Fromm. 3. at MIAMI (FLA.) (9-4), Nov. 11 2016 Summary: After a 30‑27 loss at Notre Dame, the Hurricanes con‑ cluded head coach Mark Richt's first season with a five‑game winning streak, capped with a 31‑14 victory versus West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The No. 20 finish in the Associated Press poll was the program's best since No. 19 in 2009 and only the second time since 2006 the Hurricanes placed in the final national rankings. 2017 Outlook: Led by a strong front seven on defense, Miami is ranked No. 15 by ESPN with the re‑ turn of 15 starters (seven on offense, eight on defense). Perceived Strengths: Line play/ experience. In addition to the defen‑ sive front seven that helped record 108 tackles for loss (fifth nationally), the offensive line returns 100 career starts and adds LSU transfer George Brown Jr. at tackle. The skill positions include junior running back Mark Walton (1,117 yards rushing in 2016) and wideout Ahmmon Richards, whose 49 catches as a freshman aver‑ aged 19.1 yards. Perceived Concerns: Finding a re‑ placement at quarterback for three‑ year starter Brad Kaaya is the top storyline, although head coach Mark Richt is good in that area. Redshirt ju‑ nior Malik Rosier has the most expe‑ rience with 61 career passes, but only four last year. The secondary must replace three starters and have gone the transfer and junior college route. Wide receiver Ahmmon Richards, who averaged 19.1 yards on his 49 catches as a rookie, is part of a talented group of Miami skill players. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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