We’ve (almost) made it through another offseason, but now the longest week of the year is upon us. But, for the first time since December, it’s a different type of week for the Notre Dame football team: Game week.
So close, yet so far. Even though we can now count down the hours until a Notre Dame Football kickoff, there are still plenty of questions to be answered.
Some of those questions will be answered before week one, others not until January.
It’s time for our last pre-season installment of Fact or Fiction, with some help from Carlee North, JP Scott, Jack Leniart, Nathan Erbach and Paul Walsh.
The schedule is always a big talking point, especially among independents. Of course, most of the talk surrounds the likes of Michigan, Stanford and USC.
Fact or Fiction: The toughest game on the schedule that nobody is talking about (trap game) is Northwestern.
Carlee: Fact. This came close between Pittsburgh and Northwestern but because away games tend to produce more upsets. Because Northwestern is after the triple option against Navy, it’s hard not to consider this the biggest trap game on the schedule.
JP: Fact. It’s a road game against another team in the Chicagoland region. Everyone gets hyped for Notre Dame and it’s not like Pat Fitzgerald’s teams need more motivation. This one will be mentally and physically exhausting for the Irish. It may not be decided until late in the fourth quarter.
Jack: Fact. I think the “under the radar” games in 2018 include: at Wake Forest, home against Pittsburgh, at Northwestern, and Syracuse at Yankee Stadium. Out of that group, I believe Northwestern to be the best team. Even though a game in Evanston will be a less-than-hostile environment, the Wildcat defense is the real deal. Given the uncertainty on the offensive side of the ball for Notre Dame, I think opponents with great defenses with give the Irish more trouble this season than opponents with great offenses. On top of all that, this game falls right after the Irish take a trip out to San Diego to play Navy.
Nathan: Fiction. I don’t see Northwestern as a trap game for three reasons. 1) ND has struggled with them in the past. 2) It’s a road game. 3) it’s not sandwiched in between 2 powerhouses. The biggest trap games for me are Pitt and Syracuse.
Paul: FACT. Oh, sleepy Evanston. I have one thing to say here: 2014. Enough said.
Sonny: Fact. I have the Wildcats winning 7 games, but have a ceiling of 10 and there’s no reason this can’t be one of them, especially if Clayton Thorson is healthy. The defense is usually pretty good, and they have 14 starters back from a 10 win team last season. Plus, the game is sandwiched between Navy and Florida State.
Fact or Fiction: Tony Jones, Jr., who is currently penciled in as the starting running back for week one, will lead the team in rushing yards against Michigan.
Carlee: Fiction. I think Wimbush is the one with the most yards on the ground. The running backs will be pretty much even in carries, so I think that takes away from the yards on the ground as individuals. As for Wimbush having the most yards, it’s a really good thing in my eyes because if that is indeed the case, Notre Dame wins the game by double digits.
JP: Fiction. I believe it will be a running back by committee scenario, and Brandon Wimbush actually leads the team in rushing yards due to a necessity to scramble from an elite pass rush.
Jack: Fiction. I think Tony Jones, Jr. will lead all running backs in rushing yards against Michigan, but I think Brandon Wimbush will lead the team in that category. Jones should get the bulk of the carries in Notre Dame’s season opener, but there are plenty of capable backs in the running back group that should all get a chance to contribute. Wimbush, on the other hand, will be the point man of the Irish offense for all 60 minutes. With designed runs, read options, and scrambles, he should finish the game as the team’s leading rusher.
Nathan: Fact. I believe if Jones Jr. will start against Michigan, receive the bulk of the work, and do well with this opportunities. However, Armstrong and Davis are breathing down Jones’ neck for early playing time and that could put a damper on his season if they take a lot of his reps.
Paul: FICTION: My money is on Jafar Armstrong here. All indications point to him being a phenomenal athlete who can be utilized in multiple situations.
Sonny: Fiction. I’m all in on Jafar Armstrong this season, and I think it starts against Michigan. I think Brandon Wimbush may lead the team in carries, but not yards.
Fact or Fiction: Avery Davis has a better future at Notre Dame as a running back rather than quarterback.
Carlee: Fact. Absolutely I believe this will be the case. I never thought Davis would even see the field as a Notre Dame quarterback. I think his athleticism and knowledge of the backfield makes for a perfect fit to become a solid college running back.
JP: Fact. You want to get him on the field any way you can, and the future is loaded and bright at the quarterback spot.
Jack: Fact. Barring injuries, transfers, and decommitments, it will be extremely difficult for Avery Davis to win the starting quarterback job. Brandon Wimbush still has two years of eligibility including this season, and Phil Jurkovec and Drew Pyne are in line to be his successors. I think there is a real chance for Davis to make an impact as a hybrid running back/receiver. He’s an athlete that can make defenders miss, and he’s always a threat to throw the ball, which will keep defenses on their heels a bit.
Nathan: Fact. I believe he has made a full move to the skill position side of things. I never thought Davis would get much play at QB to begin with.
Paul: FACT: Book and Jurkovec are the future here.
Sonny: Fact. Notre Dame is loaded at quarterback, especially with Phil Jurkovec patiently waiting behind Wimbush and Ian Book. It would have been though for him to see much playing time at quarterback anytime soon.
Fact or Fiction: Notre Dame’s defense exceeds last year’s mark of 24 sacks by getting at least 25 sacks this season.
Carlee: Fact. Mike Elston and the staff have been praising this defensive line group from the start. Add some sacks in from the second level guys, I think they will definitely get it done and get over the 25 sack mark, a nice jump from the past few years.
JP: Fiction. The strength of the defense will be the linebackers and their ability to both cover and clean up plays sideline to sideline. There are enough mobile quarterbacks on the schedule to prevent the Irish from getting to 25.
Jack: Fact. The 2018 defensive line is legit. Not only do they have stars in the starting group, but they also have guys who can make an impact in the second and third-string spots. Many fans believe this group is as good as the 2012 group that was the foundation of a National Championship run. Getting to 25 sacks won’t be easy, but it’s certainly feasible. I thought they would end up somewhere in the mid to high-twenties, but I’ll drink some more kool aid for this one and say they crack 30.
Nathan: Fact. This will be Notre Dame’s best pass rush since 2012, and maybe even better.
Paul: FACT. The 2012 squad recorded 33.5 sacks. I think this defense is the best since then. I say this team records 25 sacks.
Sonny: If last year’s team recorded 24 (which they did) then there’s no reason this shouldn’t be a Fact. The defensive line will be dominant, and don’t forget about Te’Von Coney rushing in from the middle. I think they can chase the 33.5 sack record from 2012.
Fact or Fiction: Notre Dame will be in the top 4 at some point this season (based off ESPN’s prediction that Notre Dame is the 4th most likely team to reach the College Football Playoff).
Carlee: Fact. I’ve had the Irish going 11-1 for a little while now and that hasn’t changed. I definitely believe the Irish will be in the top 4 this season. When that will happen for the first time this season? I’d say after the Stanford game.
JP: Fact. Even if the Irish lose to Michigan to open the season, I don’t believe it will be a bad loss. The schedule is good enough to climb back up the rankings before the end of November. With the parity in all of the Power 5 conferences, a lot of teams will be dropping out of the top ten every week.
Jack: Fiction. I think Notre Dame would have to win their first seven games to have a shot at cracking the top four, and I don’t see that happening. I think they drop at least one game before their bye week. If they’re 6-1 following their bye week, they would need to get to 9-1 or 10-1 to have another shot at occupying one of the four CFP spots. That won’t be easy to do. The Irish certainly have a strong enough schedule to earn a spot in the top four this season, but I think it will trip them up before they reach that point.
Nathan: If they beat Michigan, they could be top 4 heading into Stanford. I’ll say Fact, but I’m not confident.
Paul: FACT if they beat Michigan. FICTION if they lose game one.
Sonny: Like Carlee, I have Notre Dame going 11-1 this season with their only loss in November. I’m not sure if they can jump Alabama or Clemson, but I think they could jump ahead of Wisconsin. Everyone else in the country (except for maybe Boise State and UCF) SHOULD have at least one loss in that point. I’ll go Fact on this one, although I can’t see them reaching number 1.