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Notre Dame Preview

   by Matt Fargo - 07/11/2007

Maybe someday we won’t have to cover the Independents in college football but with the traditions of Notre Dame, Army and Navy, it is likely the trio isn’t going anywhere soon. The Irish have always had the upper hand between the three teams even though it officially isn’t a conference but Navy has closed the gap while Army is an improving team and should be better again. The Independents lose Temple to the MAC this season but gain Western Kentucky, who will join the SBC in 2008.



Notre Dame Fighting Irish



Fargo’s Take



The magic was thought to have returned to South Bend as hopes of a Heisman winning quarterback along with a National Championship were the dreams of many. Those dreams were dashed in the 3rd game against Michigan where the Irish were hammered by 26 points and then losses in their final two games by a combined 85-35 does not bring in a lot of momentum into 2007. Head coach Charlie Weis is known for his ability to make his teams overachieve and he will need his best performance ever this season. Both offense and defense are going through major changes but this is when Weis is at his best so don’t count the Irish out just yet.



Returning Starters on Offense – 5



Talented but inexperienced is the best way to describe the four-way derby set up to determine who replaces Brady Quinn. Junior Evan Sharpley, sophomores Zach Frazer and Demetrius Jones and freshman Jimmy Clausen will battle for the starting spot with Sharpley the likely opening game signal caller. The backfield loses Darius Walker but Travis Thomas, James Aldridge and speedster Armando Allen will make sure he is not missed and the running game should be even better. Not only is Quinn gone but so is Jeff Samardzija, Notre Dame’s all time leading receiver. The returning receiving corps is thin so the Irish are going to have to put an emphasis on the running game, at least early on until some chemistry is established. Davis Grimes is the best hope outside while tight end John Carlson is a downfield option as well as a safety net for the new quarterback. The offensive line returns only two starters but center John Sullivan is one of the best and will anchor a solid line.



Returning Starters on Defense – 5



Notre Dame finished 65th in total defense last season so the hiring of Corwin Brown as defensive coordinator signals a change in defensive philosophy and scheme for the Irish. They finished 61st in rushing last season so replacing most of the defensive line might not be such a bad thing. Making up for the line will be the linebackers, who are not very big but make up for it in quickness. Maurice Crum is an All-American candidate and will lead the unit. Tom Zbikowski leads an experienced secondary where six of the eight in the two-deep are either juniors or seniors. The Irish allowed 21 or fewer points eight times last season and with an offense that is very green this year, a similar effort might be needed for Notre Dame to make it back to a major bowl.



Schedule



It is a tale of two seasons for Notre Dame this year. The Irish will face eight opponents that played in bowl games last season which is nothing new as the schedule is stacked every season. The problem is that it is very top heavy which is not good for a team that is rebuilding a lot. Notre Dame starts at home with Georgia Tech before traveling in four of its next five games - three at Big Ten schools as well as UCLA – before finally coming home. The problem is those home games start with Boston College and USC. The Irish have an easy November with games against Navy, Air Force, Duke and Stanford. By then however, it could be too late.



Quick Hitters



The 10 returning starters are the fewest since 1999 when Notre Dame went 5-7…With the loss against LSU in the Sugar Bowl, Notre Dame has gone 13 years without a bowl win with the last five defeats all being by at least 14 points…The Irish are 6-20 ATS prior to a bye week since 1991 (USC this season)…Notre Dame is 3-8 ATS in the last 11 meetings with the Trojans…The Irish have won 43 straight games against Navy but are just 5-12 ATS the last 17 meetings.

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