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2010 NCAA Football Preview: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2009 Record: 6-6
2009 Bowl: None
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked
Head Coach: Brian Kelly (First year at Notre Dame, 171-57-2 All-Time)
Schedule: Purdue (9/4), Michigan (9/11), at Michigan St (9/18), Stanford (9/25), at Boston College (10/2), Pittsburgh (10/9), Western Michigan (10/16), Navy (10/23), Tulsa (10/30), Utah (11/13), Army (11/20), at USC (11/27)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 30.1 points per game (32nd in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 128 (84th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game:232 (5th in Nation)
Total Yards/Game: 451 (8th in Nation) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 25.9 points per game (63rd in Nation)
Rushing Yards/Game: 170 (89th in Nation)
Passing Yards/Game: 227 (76th in Nation)
Total Yards/Game: 397 (86th in Nation)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: +0.42 per game (29th in Nation)
Penalties: 55 yards per game (73rd in Nation)

Returning Starters
Offense: 6
Defense: 9
Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Dayne Crist, Jr (10 of 20 for 130 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT)
Rushing: QB Armando Allen, Sr (142 carries for 697 yds, 3 TD, 4.9 ypc, 69 ypg)
Receiving: WR Michael Floyd, Jr (44 rec,795 yds, 18.07 yds/rec, 9 TD, 6.3 rec/game)
Tackles: LB Brian Smith, Sr (71); SS Harrison Smith, Sr (69)
Sacks: DE Ethan Johnson, Jr (4.0)
Interceptions: LB Brian Smith, Sr (2); CB Robert Blanton, Jr (2)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #26
Phil Steele: #16
Sporting News: #29

2010 Pre-Season Bowl Predictions:
Athlon Sports: Champs Sports Bowl (vs. Miami, Fl)
Phil Steele: Champs Sports Bowl (vs. Virginia Tech)

The good news for Notre Dame's defense this year is that they have 9 starters returning. Or is that bad news? Notre Dame was just not very good on defense last year. They ranked in the bottom half of the country in all major defensive categories and gave up more yardage than 3-9 Colorado State, 2-10 Maryland and 1-11 Miami (Ohio). Notre Dame made the long awaited change this off-season from Charlie Weiss to Brian Kelly. Kelly went 34-6 at Cincinnati (17-4 in the Big East) and has led his teams to 5 consecutive bowl appearances. Notre Dame has a tough but manageable schedule with the toughest match-ups looking to be against Boston College, Pitt, Utah and USC (they also start off with 3 Big Ten games and then Stanford that will really determine how good Notre Dame can be this year). An interesting note is that Notre Dame is only playing 3 true road games (2 games are at "neutral locations"). We like to get different perspectives here at CFBZ so, like we did with our Auburn preview, we turned to a fan of Notre Dame to take the proverbial temperature of the program. Here is what "Friend of the Blog" Craig Hudak had to say about Notre Dame's 2010 team:

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of Notre Dame?

Offense was the only strength last year as the defense gave up way too many points. Somehow, OC Charlie Weis and Jimmy Clausen, along with Golden Tate, Kyle Rudolph, and for a smaller portion of the season, Michael Floyd, kept the team in most of the games they played. The defense was so bad and slow last year that you have to believe that the biggest strength is still going to be the teams ability to stretch the defense. The biggest question is going to be Dayne Crist's knee though, because if that doesn't hold up, I think Coach Brian Kelly and OC Charley Molnar's playbook for offense becomes a liability. I have faith in Molnar though, given what he's been able to do with other quarterbacks.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test?

The first major test is obviously Purdue. Purdue is going to be a legit threat this year and could very well be playing in a bowl game that isn't on at 3:24 AM on the History Channel, or wherever they put the bottom of the barrel bowl games now. They're not a BCS bowl team, but they're certainly better than they were last year. They nearly beat Notre Dame last year, and unless the defense has improved, I see Purdue beating Notre Dame. And don't forget, after Purdue, there's Michigan and Michigan State. Notre Dame NEVER beats Michigan and Michigan State both in the same season. Lose to Purdue, but beat those guys, and you really start to change the culture in South Bend. It's going to be a rough few games to open the season though, and the biggest test may be keeping their health good as they play three of their biggest rivals.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

Michigan, Michigan State, Tulsa? It's a tough schedule, it's always a tough schedule because it's Notre Dame. Even when it looks weak, Notre Dame fans know that every game is a tough test and you really have to fear all of these teams.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

Duval Kamara. He's not the best player, but he's definitely the best player that no one talks about. He's a monster at 6'5" and he should be greatly improved over last year. While Floyd gets double coverage, look for Kamara going up for jump ball after jump ball. He's got a decent vertical leap, and at 6'5", who is going to get up higher than him?

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph is another in a long line of great Notre Dame tight ends. He plays as well as a wide receiver, has amazing hands, and he's built like a linebacker. He's a monster and a playmaker. Floyd is the best wide receiver on the team, but his health is always in question, and you can always count on Rudolph for that big 3rd down play.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

Manti Te'o. This is the year where Te'o breaks out. Somehow, Charlie Weis recruited a player who is perfect for Bryan Kelly. He's a beast and if he can step up for 12 games this year, the defense should be good.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

Manti Te'o. He really needs to understand who he is and lead the defense on the field. If he is playing to his full potential, far too much attention is going to be paid to him by the offense, mistakes will be made, and the rest of the Notre Dame defense should come up big.

Who do you consider to be your biggest rivals and who is the team that you just can't stand to lose to?

Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Navy, USC, etc. Out of all of those teams though, I hate losing to Michigan and Navy. Navy, for so long, was an automatic win for this team, and in recent years, they've embarrassed Notre Dame. It's so pathetic and sad. As for Michigan, well, when you're born into being a Notre Dame fan, when you live a couple minutes from the campus, and when you've seen well over 200 games, hating Michigan is only natural. Others will say USC, but in recent years, USC has been so good and so impressive, that it's only natural they would beat Notre Dame over and over again.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season?


What makes Brian Kelly's first year a successful season in your eyes?

The defense needs to come up big. The Notre Dame offense will be the same Notre Dame offense you've always seen, but the defense needs to be something we haven't seen before. If they play like a Brian Kelly defense, then this team should be OK. Anything less than 8-4 at the end of the season though, and Kelly is going to have a rough start to his time in South Bend.

Next Preview: Indiana Hoosiers

Previous Pre-Season Previews
ACC- Boston College Eagles, Duke Blue Devils, Florida State Seminoles, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Maryland Terrapins, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Big East- Cincinnati Bearcats, Pittsburgh Panthers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Syracuse Orange, UConn Huskies, USF Bulls, West Virginia Mountaineers
Big 12- Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Oklahoma SoonersTexas Longhorns, Texas Tech Red Raiders
Big Ten- Illinois Fighting Illini, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Purdue Boilermakers
C-USA- Houston Cougars,  SMU Mustangs, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Tulane Green Wave, UTEP Miners
Independent- Army Black Knights, Navy Midshipmen
MAC- Ball State Cardinals, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, Central Michigan Chippewas, Temple Owls, Toledo Rockets
MWC- BYU Cougars,  Colorado State Rams, UNLV Rebels, Utah Utes
Pac-10- Arizona State Sun Devils, Oregon Ducks, Stanford Cardinal, USC Trojans, Washington Huskies
SEC- Auburn Tigers, Georgia Bulldogs, Kentucky Wildcats, LSU Tigers, Mississippi Rebels, South Carolina Gamecocks, Vanderbilt Commodores
Sun Belt- FIU Golden Panthers, North Texas Mean Green, Troy Trojans
WAC- Boise State Broncos, Fresno State Bulldogs, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, New Mexico State Aggies

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