NCAA Football

2010 College Football Preview: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference): 6-6
Bowl Game: None
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): NR, NR
Conference finish: CN/A
Offensive rank: 8
Defensive rank: 86

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Armando Allen, 697 yards, 3 TD
Passing: Jimmy Clausen, 3,722 yards, 28 TD, 4 INT
Receiving: Golden Tate, 1,496 yards, 15 TD
Tackles: Kyle McCarthy, 101 total tackles
Sacks: Ethan Johnson, 4 sacks (3 solo, 2 assisted)
Interceptions: Kyle McCarthy, 5 interceptions

2010 Season Outlook

(* denotes conference game)

Key Matchups

September 11 vs. Michigan: The Irish have lost three of the last four to the Wolverines including last season's 38-34 loss when Tate Forcier hit Greg Mathews with just 11 seconds to go.

October 2 @ Boston College: Notre Dame holds a 10-9 series lead in the Holy War, but since the two sides began playing every year (except 2005 and 2006) in 1992, Boston College holds the lead 9-7. The Irish picked up their first win in the rivalry since 2000 last year.

October 9 vs. Pittsburgh: The Panthers have won two straight over the Irish and hope to continue the streak on their way to a Big East title. They have one of the nation's best running backs and plenty of weapons in the passing game, and will field a strong defense once again this season.

November 27 @ USC:

Preseason Rankings


Coaches': Not Ranked

Key Losses

Jimmy Clausen, QB; Golden Tate, WR; Sam Young, OT; Paul Duncan, OT; Eric Olsen, C; Kyle McCarthy, S

Key Returning Players

Armando Allen, RB; Michael Floyd, WR; Kyle Rudolph, TE; Chris Stewart, G; Trevor Robinson, G; Ethan Johnson, DE; Kapron Lewis-Moore, DE; Manti Te'o, LB; Brian Smith, LB; Darius Fleming, LB; Harrison Smith, S

Offensive Overview

The guards are back, but the Irish lose both starting tackles and their center. Chris Stewart is a 6'5 344 pound senior who returns for his third season as the starter, while Trevor Robinson also returns, but could find himself playing right tackle. The offensive line saw improvement last season over the past couple of years, but still allowed about two sacks a game and ranked 67th nationally in sacks allowed. The coaching staff may in the end opt to leave Robinson to resume his starting role in the middle, leaving question marks at both tackle spots and at center. Dan Wegner, the starter at center in 2008, has struggled to reclaim his old job with Braxston Cave fighting him every inch of the way.

The offensive line needs to mesh if they hope to protect first year starter Dayne Crist at quarterback. Crist is coming off of a torn ACL and was limited in the spring. He ran a similar offense to new head coach Brian Kelly's spread offense in high school and, combined with his offseason preparations, will enter the season with some familiarity in the system. He has some pretty big shoes to fill as he replaces Jimmy Clausen, who started nine games his freshman season and then went on to start every game in his sophomore and junior seasons before leaving early for the NFL. Crist's success and ability to lead Kelly's new offense will be the key to a good season in South Bend.

At the skill positions, the Irish return Armando Allen and Robert Hughes in the running game with wide receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph providing Crist with experienced targets in the passing game. In addition to leading the team with just under 700 yards rushing, Allen also added 216 receiving yards on 28 receptions. He's a versatile back and will team with the bruising Hughes. Hughes can also catch the ball out of the backfield, catching 19 passes for 193 yards. Michael Floyd started the season in fantastic fashion before breaking his collarbone in the third game. He was solid in his return against Navy and for the rest of the season, but was overshadowed by Golden Tate, last season's Biletnikoff winner. Kyle Rudolph is one of the premier tight ends in the nation and will give Crist a reliable option in the passing game and should only benefit from Kelly's new offense. Senior Duval Kamara, junior John Goodman, sophomore Theo Riddick and freshman Tai-ler Jones will also have the opportunity to contribute.

Defensive Overview

Defensive end Ethan Johnson was the team leader in sacks last season with four and assumes a slightly different role as a 3-4 defensive end following the switch to the new defensive scheme. Kapron Lewis-Moore also returns and could also benefit from the 3-4 defense. At nose tackle, Ian Williams looks poised for a good season in his new role as well.

The linebackers are led by Manti Te'o, who turned in a solid year as a true freshman in 2009. Te'o will man one of the inside linebacker with Anthony McDonald, Carlo Calabrese and David Poslusazy competing for playing time at the other spot. With the switch to the 3-4 defense, the outside linebackers will be counted on to rush the passer. Darius Fleming is an athletic linebacker who saw time at end and strongside linebacker last season. He could emerge as the team's premier pass rusher in 2010. Brian Smith, a senior, will likely get the start at the other outside linebacker spot.

Senior Harrison Smith returns to the secondary as the free safety after a stint at linebacker. Junior Jamoris Slaughter will start at strong safety. A pair of seniors are expected to start at cornerback in Gary Gray and Darrin Walls. Junior Robert Blanton should also see significant playing time at corner. The pass defense needs to improve after letting up an average of 228 yards per game. Returning defensive backs combined for just four interceptions last season. This season's unit needs to step up to keep pace with an impressive front seven to shore up the defense.

Special Teams Overview

Nick Tausch hit on 14 of his 17 field goal attempts and made 27 of his 30 extra point attempts as a true freshman. He even set a school record with 14 consecutive field goals. A foot injury kept him out of the final three games, but he'll return in 2010 with a year of experience and the confidence that should come with it. David Ruffer could see time at kicker if Tausch struggles, however. Ben Turk averaged less than 39 yards per punt last season, but showed promise towards the end of his freshman season.

Theo Reddick averaged 22.9 yards per kick return last season and may see the majority of his playing time come in the return game in 2010. The Irish will miss Golden Tate in the punt return game, but John Goodman, who returned five punts for 56 yards, could emerge as a formidable weapon.

Head Coach: Brian Kelly

Gone is Charlie Weiss' pro-style offense with new head coach Brian Kelly bringing the spread to South Bend. The defense will also go through a transition with defensive coordinator Bob Diaco implementing a 3-4 scheme. Kelly takes over at Notre Dame following the disappointing Weiss era. The good news, though, is that the cupboards are not completely bare with skilled players at just about every position.

Kelly was the head coach at Grand Valley State for 13 seasons before spending three seasons at Central Michigan. Following four seasons at Cincinnati, Kelly takes over an Irish team eager to reclaim their relevance on the national level.

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Armando Allen, RB; Robert Hughes, FB/RB; Dan Wenger, C; Ian Williams, NT/DT; Brian Smith, LB; Darrin Walls, CB

Season Prediction

The Irish have a promising quarterback to work with, coach Kelly has been impressed with the offensive line, and they'll have a deep backfield and some talented pass-catchers at the skill positions. The defensive front seven is solid, but if there is one area with some question marks it's the secondary where safety Kyle McCarthy is gone after leading the team in tackles with 101 and interceptions with five. There's talent, but the defensive backfield needs to show it on the field.

Even without Jimmy Clausen at the helm and minus last year's top defender in McCarthy, the Irish could see improvement over last season. They took a lot of heat in 2009 for dropping their final four games after starting 6-2, but all six losses were by seven points or less. It goes without saying, but Notre Dame needs to find a way to finish these close games. However, the offense needs to put points on the board early and the defense needs to keep opponents out of the end zone on the first and second drive to avoid an early deficit.

In five of the six losses, Notre Dame failed to score before their opponent with the lone exception being the double overtime loss to Connecticut. What's more, with the exception of a shutout win over Nevada and the Washington State (who finished 1-11), Boston College and Connecticut games, eight of the Irish's 12 opponents in 2009 scored on either their first or second drive of the game. - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

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