Notre Dame Fighting Irish players celebrate following the Citrus Bowl against the LSU Tigers on January 1, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. Notre Dame won 21-17. Half of the Fighting Irish's 2018 opponents are ranked in this year's Statesman preseason top 25. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Football

Our 10th annual Top 25 countdown: No. 13 Notre Dame just keeps on winning, churning out draft picks

The coach is usually on the hot seat, the quarterback's erratic and a lot of players left for the NFL. Yet the Irish's schedule could be a real springboard.

Posted July 16th, 2018

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Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.

Our Top 25 — so far:

No. 25: Texas is building — but are we there yet, are we there yet?

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No. 24: LSU has a tough schedule, questions at key spots

No. 23: Oregon welcomes a new coach — again and again and again

No. 22: Central Florida is out to go unbeaten (ahem, again)

No. 21: There’s a new coach, offense and direction for Florida State

No. 20: Their big names gone, USC is reloading … or is that rebuilding?

No. 19: For West Virginia, when there’s a Will there’s a way

No. 18: For Boise State, the Mountain West sky is the limit

No. 17: Mississippi State is breaking in a new head coach

No.16: Virginia Tech’s chances hinge on an up-and-down quarterback

No. 15: TCU has been the model of consistency, but there are 2018 concerns

No. 14: Love is all you need, at least if you’re talking about Stanford’s Bryce Love

Today’s team: No. 13 Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish’s best-case scenario: Assuming erratic quarterback Brandon Wimbush drastically upgrades his passing accuracy and the depth at running back and wide receiver don’t present a problem, Notre Dame is stacked defensively and poised for a second consecutive double-digit winning season and a possible College Football Playoff berth. Running backs Dexter Williams and the late-charging Tony Jones Jr. have to step up quickly to take the pressure off Wimbush. “We played two quarterbacks in the bowl game,” head coach Brian Kelly told the American-Statesman. “We’re not afraid to play the guys who can get us wins. It’s a pretty healthy situation.”

Their worst-case scenario: If a quarterback platoon falters and it turns to true freshman Phil Jurkovec and if promoted defensive coordinator Clark Lea from linebackers coach doesn’t have Mike Elko’s same magic after the latter left to run Texas A&M’s defense, the Irish could wilt under a formidable schedule that includes Michigan, Stanford, Virginia Tech, Florida State and USC. Notre Dame also is paper-thin at the skill positions after losing its top two running backs and six of its nine best receivers.

RELATED COVERAGE: Five players who’ll impact Notre Dame’s season

RELATED COVERAGE: Projecting the Fighting Irish’s depth chart

Inside the Fighting Irish

Coach: Brian Kelly (ninth year, 48-34; 101-56 overall at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame)

2017: 10-3 (beat LSU 21-17 in the Citrus Bowl)

Returning starters: 6 offense, 10 defense

Goodbye: OG Quenton Nelson (1st, Colts); OT Mike McGlinchey (1st, 49ers); RB Josh Adams; TE Durham Smythe (4th, Dolphins); WR Equanimeous St. Brown (6th, Packers); WR Kevin Stepherson (dismissal); DC Mike Elko (Texas A&M)

Spring cleaning: Kelly doesn’t shy away from the fact that he’s perennially on the hot seat even though he has more 10-win seasons (three) than his three predecessors. “It’s always the hot seat. It’s never cool at Notre Dame,” he said. “It comes with the territory.” … Notre Dame will run the ball effectively behind a loaded offensive line after topping 3,500 yards on the ground with 35 rushing touchdowns last year. … The Irish are loaded at safety with two juniors (Devin Studstill and Jalen Elliott) and a senior (Nick Coleman) returning although none had an interception. Among the newcomers is Navy transfer Alohi Gilman, who sat out last season after making five tackles for losses as a freshman. … Notre Dame has broken ground on an indoor football facility. … The Irish resume their rivalry with Michigan after a short hiatus with home-and-away games and open the season with the Wolverines and announced dates with Alabama in 2028-29. “It’s robust,” Kelly said of the schedule. “We’ve got to start strong and finish even stronger. It’s got to stand up to national scrutiny, and I think it does.” … Wimbush isn’t all that as a passer, but he averaged 8 yards a carry. … A pair of 6-4 juniors in tight end Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin, a one-time four-star recruit, must emerge as big weapons.

Dexter Williams (2) of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates a second quarter touchdown during the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on September 23, 2017 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Returning leaders

PASSING: Brandon Wimbush, 136-275-1,870, 16/6 (1st); Ian Book, 46-75-456, 4/4 (2nd)

RUSHING: QB Brandon Wimbush, 141-803-14 (2nd); Dexter Williams, 39-360-4 (4th)

RECEIVING: Chase Claypool, 29-402-2 (2nd)

TACKLES: LB Te’von Coney, 116 (1st)

SACKS: ILB Bobby Okereke, 4 (2nd)

INTERCEPTIONS: CB Julian Love, 3 (1st); CB Shaun Crawford, 2 (2nd)

FYI

Where’s the beef: The Irish have had a very sound strategy when it comes to their vaunted offensive lines: Lose two studs, plug in two more. What’s in the water in South Bend? This has been like clockwork there with the latest departures in two top-10 draft picks. Graduate center Sam Mustipher, who didn’t give up a sack in 2017, and guard Alex Bars are next in line as possible All-Americans with 62 career starts between them, and blue-chip freshman Tommy Kraemer is a star in the making along with tackles Robert Hainsey and Liam Eichenberg.

Lone Star Irish: Notre Dame loves to recruit Texas even though none of its 27-player class in 2018 from 15 states includes a Texan. “It’s a very important state for us,” Kelly said during a fund-raising trip to Austin in June. “We’re gonna have multiple players from the state in the 2019 class. It’s been a great state for us.” … The school has had 498 players taken in NFL drafts, second only to USC’s 502.

Putting the special in special teams: Notre Dame returns both its placekicker and its punter as fourth-year starters after Justin Yoon has hit 42 of 52 career field goals and graduate Tyler Newsome has boomed punts for a 43.8-yard average although he’s not always consistent.

2017 national rankings

Scoring: 24th (34.2 ppg) — right above Nos. 25 Western Michigan and Louisiana-Monroe, right above No. 23 Texas Tech

Points allowed: 31st (21.5 ppg) — right above Nos. 32 Army and Northern Illinois, right above Nos. 29 Texas and Florida State

Passing: 102nd (178.9 ypg) — right above No. 103 Wyoming, right behind No. 101 Florida

Rushing: 7th (269.3 ypg) — right above No. 8 South Florida, right behind No. 6 Florida Atlantic

Total offense: 27th (448.2 ypg) — right above No. 28 New Mexico State, right behind No. 26 Auburn

Total defense: T-46th (369.2 ypg) — tied with Oregon, right above No. 48 Navy, right behind No. 45 Miami-Ohio

Chris Finke (10) of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish jumps over Jake Bailey (14) of the Stanford Cardinal on a punt return at Stanford Stadium on November 25, 2017 in Palo Alto, California. This year’s Notre Dame-Stanford game is in South Bend. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 1 (6:30, NBC)Michigan
Sept. 8 (2:30, NBC)Ball State
Sept. 15 (1:30, NBC)Vanderbilt
Sept. 22at Wake ForestW, 48-37
Sept. 29 (6:30, NBC)StanfordL, 38-20
Oct. 6at Virginia Tech
Oct. 13 (1:30, NBC)Pittsburgh
Oct. 27 (7, CBS)at NavyW, 24-17
Nov. 3at Northwestern
Nov. 10 (6:30, NBC)Florida State
Nov. 17 (1:30, NBC)Syracuse
Nov. 24at USCW, 49-14

Note: Notre Dame-Navy is at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego; Notre Dame-Syracuse is at Yankee Stadium

The key game: Sept. 29, Stanford. The Cardinal clocked the Irish big-time and sent them on a downward spiral toward the end of last season. If Notre Dame can get past Michigan in its opener and Stanford to close out September, it could serve notice that it’s a legitimate national contender.

The last 5 years

YEARW-LRANKINGSBOWL, RESULT
20139-414th / 20thPinstripe, W
20148-517th / —Music City, W
201510-311th / 11thFiesta, L
20164-810th / —No bowl
201710-3— / 11thCitrus, W
Total41-233-1 in bowls

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking

Our Top 25, by conferences

3 schools:

Pac-12 — No. 14 Stanford, No. 20 USC, No. 23 Oregon

Big 12 — No. 15 TCU, No. 19 West Virginia, No. 25 Texas

2 schools:

ACC — No. 16 Virginia Tech, No. 21 Florida State

SEC — No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 24 LSU

1 school:

Independents — No. 13 Notre Dame

Mountain West — No. 18 Boise State

AAC — No. 22 Central Florida

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 12 team

Want a hint?

This is one of only three schools that has won more all-time football games than Texas.

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