No. 16 Notre Dame

This ought to be interesting.

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I’m pretty sure the Irish shouldn’t be ranked this high. Then again, if Brian Kelly rolls up his sleeves, Notre Dame could reassert itself after a shockingly weak 4-8 showing in 2017.

And keep in mind that rankings are a different animal under the Golden Dome. In 1986, when I was covering the Irish for the Chicago Sun-Times, they lost their first game under Lou Holtz, 24-23, to Michigan. And went from being unranked to being No. 20 in the AP poll. With an 0-1 record.

Kelly certainly needs to feel a sense of urgency. That 2012 run to the national championship was an awfully long time ago. Even ND’s last double-digit-win season, 2015, probably is starting to get lost in the rear-view mirror for a fan base that has high expectations.

That’s because 2016 was so messy that it’s difficult to tell where the Irish are headed this fall.

There are lots of explanations for Notre Dame’s fall from grace last season. But they pretty much end up pointing at Kelly, who had a bumpy ride. Agonizingly close losses. Offensive miscues. Defensive missed tackles. In-season coaching changes. . . You get the idea.

The recent ill-advised crackdown on media coverage, a rare ND public-relations gaffe, won’t help the embattled coach, who could be gone if 2017 proves to be another under-achieving season.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Uncertainty abounds heading into this campaign. The good news is, the talent base is in place for a coaching staff that has been overhauled.

The schedule features several games that stand out. They start with Georgia in Week 2, USC on Oct. 21 and November trips to Miami and Stanford. The early meeting with the Dawgs shapes up as a huge barometer game.

The key player is DeShone Kizer’s successor, redshirt sophomore QB Brandon Wimbush. who’s experienced and mature enough to become the next great thing under the Golden Dome if the coaches and players around him cooperate.

Notre Dame returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense, which would mean a lot more if they were coming off an 8-4 season, rather than that ugly 4-8.

If Kelly has done his off-season work, the Irish can rise again. If things don’t work out, it wouldn’t be surprising if ND, which just finished paying off Charlie Weis, winds up sending checks to another ex-coach for a long time.[/membership]