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Syracuse football 2018 opponent preview: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

We meet again, non-conference conference-mates.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame vs Syracuse Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange football season doesn’t kick off until August 31. But let’s not pretend that stops me from discussing the team at all -- and it hasn’t. We’re already nearly done with opponent previews for 2018.

Syracuse faces yet another challenging schedule this year (and odds say we’re looking at something between four and five wins). So it’s not going to be easy, even with an improved and/or healthier team. Still, we’re looking at the positives wherever possible. Today’s foe:

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

School: University of Notre Dame

Mascot: Fighting Irish

#BRAND Slogan: “Go Irish”

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: “We moved this game to be closer to our fans” OR “Rated 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.”

Recommended Blog: One Foot Down

Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference Independent (been crashing at ACC’s place for awhile now, but won’t admit it to their parents)

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Notre Dame vs Louisiana State Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Coach: Brian Kelly, 9th season. Kelly played linebacker for Assumption (DII) from 1979-82, then immediately started coaching their defense and linebackers. He’d leave for Grand Valley State after four years, and worked his way up to head coach by 1991. Following 13 years and back-to-back (DII) national titles, he moved onto Central Michigan in 2004. A MAC title in 2006 earned him the Cincinnati gig, and the Bearcats went a stunning 33-6 (plus two Big East titles) in three full seasons with him at the helm. Notre Dame came calling, and he’s been there ever since, getting angry and vacating wins while doing just enough to avoid getting fired. Also presided over one of the most bizarre things to ever happen in college football (which is saying a lot).

2017 Record: (10-3) (N/A)

Recapping Last Season:

Notre Dame was actually fun to watch, to be honest. The Irish scored over 34 points per game, and topped 40 five separate times (including a season-high 52 against Miami-Ohio). Though they showed up in a big way against top teams like Michigan State, USC, NC State, and LSU, Notre Dame also laid a couple eggs against more aggressive defenses like Miami (FL) and Stanford. They finished 11-3 and No. 11 in the country, which is pretty good.

On offense, the run game was front and center, putting up 269.3 yards per game. Josh Adams led the way with 1,430 yards and nine scores, while quarterback Brandon Wimbush added another 803 yards and 14 touchdowns. Notre Dame’s passing game was not all that dynamic (179 yards per game), but that was enough to keep things honest and preventing them from stacking the box to stop Adams or the bruising Wimbush.

The Fighting Irish improved by leaps and bounds defensively, finishing top-50 in yards per game allowed and allowing just 21.5 points per game. Notre Dame wasn’t much of a pass-rushing team (just 24 sacks) and didn’t necessarily force many turnovers. However, they did enough to be an average unit while the offense did the rest. When you have a high-powered offense, that’s really all you need.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame Spring Game Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

2018 Season Outlook:

Notre Dame finds itself up against a bear of a schedule this season, upping the level of difficulty as they look to replace numerous key pieces from 2017. After starting with four of five at home, four of the last five games are away from home — including two neutral site games (versus Navy in San Diego and Syracuse in the Bronx). Still, if any team can handle it, it’s probably this one which the S&P+ sees as the No. 7 team in the country going into 2018.

Wimbush is back and should start once again, though it’ll be much more difficult to replicate last year’s success. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are gone off the line, and Adams is no longer handling running back duties. Those are three NFL-caliber players gone, along with a good deal of last year’s catches. If the run game looks like it did last year (and it could with Dexter Williams and Tony Jones), then that won’t present many issues. If they need to throw more... things could get interesting.

Defensively, last year’s team was good but not great — and now, they bring back nearly everyone to that group. A familiar face, Clark Lea, takes over defensive coordinator duties too, which means what we see in November could potentially be familiar to anyone (most of us) who were around for the Scott Shafer years. Expect the defense to hinge on middle linebacker Te’Von Coney (a long-lost cousin?), who skipped the draft to rejoin the Irish this year. He’ll have help up front from what should be an aggressive group.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, November 17

Location: Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y.

Odds of Orange Victory: 15 percent

Very Early Outlook:

Lea taking over this defense could go one of two ways: the Irish blitz the hell out of Syracuse and put this improved Orange line to the test all day, to our ultimate demise. Or SU is able to protect against the pressure and finally get that quick passing game going en route to a surprising performance. Some of that will depend on the weather, admittedly. If we’re looking at something a bit wetter (and colder) side, that will certainly favor Notre Dame’s run-heavy attack. I’m not banking on this one to be an upset, but perhaps the difficult road schedule to close the season finds a way to scuttle even a top-10 Irish squad?