Notre Dame, which crushed Texas in South Bend in the 2015 season opener, begins its 2016 season in Austin against Texas; the Fighting Irish, however, are only 5-14 in their first true road game of the year since Lou Holtz left. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Football

The American-Statesman’s Top 25: No. 10 Notre Dame

Posted July 21st, 2016

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Sure, it’s just July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our eighth annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last season’s four College Football Playoff semifinalists were rated Nos. 3, 6, 13 and 24 on our 2015 list.

Today’s team: No. 10 Notre Dame (Related coverage: When it comes to juggling QBs, Notre Dame must break down the math)

The Fighting Irish will contend if … their youth can find some cohesion early. The schedule is certainly beneficial for a young team finding its way. Games against Texas, Nevada and Duke give Notre Dame a chance to build some early momentum. It’s hard to imagine the Irish having more injury problems this year like 2015. Brian Kelly got that team to 10 wins. This group could post similar results.

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INSIDE THE FIGHTING IRISH

Coach: Brian Kelly (seventh year, 55-23; 108-45 overall at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame)

2015: 10-3, lost to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, 44-28

Returning starters: 3 offense, 5 defense

The key game: Oct. 15, Stanford

Hello: QB DeShone Kizer, TE Alize Jones, G Quenton Nelson, DE Isaac Rochell, LB James Onwualu, CB Cole Luke

Goodbye: RB C.J. Prosise (Seattle Seahawks), WR Will Fuller (Houston Texans), WR Chris Brown (Dallas Cowboys), LB Jaylon Smith (Cowboys), LB Joe Schmidt, S Elijah Shumate (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Spring cleaning: Kelly has won 55 games in his first six seasons in South Bend. Only Lou Holtz (56) won more. … The biggest holes appear to be on defense, as the Irish lost Butkus Award winner Jaylon Smith, captain Joe Schmidt and safeties Elijah Shumate and Matthias Farley. They were part of a defense that yielded 24.1 points per game. But don’t be fooled by a perceived lack of experience. The Irish have multiple players who saw action the last few years, and several others returning from an injury-plagued 2015. … The real news is that Notre Dame is restarting its rivalry with Michigan in 2018.

Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer, whose 2015 breakout game came against Clemson, will battle former starter Malik Zaire for the Fighting Irish's starting job. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer, whose 2015 breakout game came against Clemson, will battle former starter Malik Zaire for the Fighting Irish’s starting job. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

RETURNING LEADERS

Passing: DeShone Kizer, 211-335-2,884 yards, 21/10 (1st)

Rushing: Josh Adams (RB), 117-835-6 (2nd); DeShone Kizer (QB), 134-520-10 (3rd)

Receiving: Torii Hunter Jr., 28-363-2 (4th)

Tackles: S Max Redfield, 64 (4th); DL Isaac Rochell, 63 (5th)

Sacks: LB James Onwualu, 3 (3rd)

FYI …

  • DeShone Kizer’s breakout game came in muddy conditions against Clemson last season. He competed 19 of 34 passes for 321 yards and threw two touchdowns. Kizer finished the year completing 63 percent of his throws. Malik Zaire is back from a broken ankle suffered in week two, but it would appear Kizer has the inside track.
  • Special teams are always critical early, and Kelly has all of his specialists returning. K Justin Yoon was 15 for 17 on field goals and hit all but two extra points. Return man C.J. Sanders averaged 7.3 yards on 25 punt returns.
  • The Irish open the season at Royal-Memorial Stadium, a place expected to host its first 100,000-plus crowd for the first time in the Charlie Strong era. Since Holtz left Notre Dame, the Irish are 5-14 in their first true road game of the year. But what should trouble Texas fans is how Notre Dame’s offense has increased its scoring output three straight years despite various issues. The Longhorns will start a young defensive line, although the secondary has experience.

Notre Dame's 2016 schedule

DateOpponentLast yr's result (if played)
Sept. 4at TexasW, 38-3
Sept. 10Nevada
Sept. 17Michigan State
Sept. 24Duke
Oct. 1Syracuse
Oct. 8at North Carolina State
Oct. 15StanfordL, 38-36
Oct. 29Miami
Nov. 5NavyW, 41-24
Nov. 12Army
Nov. 19Virginia Tech
Nov. 26at USCW, 41-31

Notre Dame: The last 5 years

YearW-L/Conf.RankBowl
201510-3 / —11th / 11thFiesta Bowl, L
20148-5 / —— / 17thMusic City Bowl, W
20139-4 / —14th / 20thPinstripe Bowl, W
201212-1 / —— / 4thBCS title game, L
20118-5 / —16th / —Champs Sports Bowl, L
Total47-185 bowl games (2-3)
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking.

 

2015 NATIONAL RANKS

Scoring: 34th (34.2 ppg)

Scoring defense: 39th (24.1 ppg)

Passing yards: 35th (258.5 ypg)

Rushing yards: 27th (207.9 ypg)

TOP 25 SO FAR …

No. 25: Washington State

No. 24: Boise State

No. 23: Louisville

No. 22: Oklahoma State

No. 21: Oregon

No. 20: North Carolina

No. 19: Baylor

No. 18: Iowa

No. 17: Washington

No. 16: Georgia

No. 15: Michigan State

No. 14: USC

No. 13: TCU

No. 12: Ole Miss

No. 11: Houston

No. 10: Notre Dame

No. 9: Coming Friday. Want a hint? This school’s football stadium, named for a former athletic director and coach, features a checkerboard design in its end zones.

BY CONFERENCE

4 schools: Pac-12 (14-USC, 17-Washington, 21-Oregon, 25-Washington State)

3 schools: Big 12 (13-TCU, 19-Baylor, 22-Oklahoma State)

2 schools: ACC (20-North Carolina, 23-Louisville); Big Ten (15-Michigan State, 18-Iowa); SEC (12-Ole Miss, 16-Georgia)

1 school: AAC (11-Houston); Mountain West (24-Boise State); Independents (10-Notre Dame)

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