After a 4-8 season in 2016, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly made a bunch of changes. They worked as the Fighting Irish went 10-3, the third time in eight seasons that the Notre Dame has won double digit games under Kelly.
This season the Irish will try to post 10 or more wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1992-93, when Lou Holtz was the head coach. Can they do it?
The schedule, which includes Michigan, Stanford, at Virginia Tech, at Northwestern, and at USC, says no.
I say yes. And here are three reasons why:
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1--Quarterback Brandon Wimbush needed to get better and he got better: There is no question that Wimbush is the most athletic quarterback in the program but Kelly found it hard to live with a 49.5 percent completion rate. Ian Book had to come off the bench to win the Citrus Bowl against LSU but Wimbush has impressed Kelly in the preseason and should be the guy. If he can get his completion percentage into the high 50s, Wimbush will be hard to handle.
2--Notre Dame won't miss Mike Elko as much as I thought: Elko did a masterful job as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator last season as the Irish went from giving up 27.8 points to 21.5 points per game. It would be Elko's only season in South Bend as Jimbo Fisher lured Elko to Texas A&M for a big payday ($1.8 million per season). But Notre Dame's defense is going to be just fine as Clark Lea, who worked under Elko as linebackers coach last season, was elevated to coordinator. Nine starters return from last season. Linebacker Te'von Coney led the team in tackles (116) last season. In fact, nine of the top 11 tacklers return.
3--Notre Dame will figure out what happened in last season's November swoon: If not for a 20-19 loss to Georgia in the second game of the season, Notre Dame would have been 9-0 when it played at Miami on Nov. 11. The Irish got waxed 41-8 and two weeks later got manhandled at Stanford 38-30.
Notre Dame has a second-year strength and conditioning coach in Matt Balis and I believe that after two full off-seasons in this program the Irish will have a little more left in the tank for a November stretch run that goes: at Northwestern, Florida State, Syracuse (Yankee Stadium), at USC.