Stayin Sharp with Evan Sharpley. Predicting the 2020 ND Football season

Predicting the 2020 Notre Dame season

So, let’s assume that football is played this fall. How do you think the Irish will fair? Vegas betting has Notre Dame’s at over/under 8.5 wins. My gut tells me to take the over. Brian Kelly has led the program to a 33-6 record over the last three years and I believe that trend will continue. I’m not the only one either.

Bruce Feldman of The Athletic wrote a piece this week titled “One tweak away: Contenders who could make an LSU-type leap in 2020.”

He starts by citing last year’s LSU team. Nobody pegged them for a championship contender at this time last year, but Ed Orgeron hired Joe Brady as his new offensive coordinator and the Tigers and Joe Burrow took off winning a national title and a Heisman trophy. So...Feldman is trying to figure out if there is another top-10-caliber program primed to make a similar leap in 2020...

Here’s what he says about Notre Dame...

“The Irish were good on offense under former offensive coordinator Chip Long, ranking No. 29 in yards per play last year. Long’s personality, though, wore on a lot of folks inside the Irish program and Brian Kelly made the big change. Young Tom Rees, the former Irish quarterback, had a strong audition as the play-caller in the Camping World Bowl romp over Iowa State. Rees earned the promotion to OC along with Lance Taylor, who helped him in putting together the gameplan for the bowl game as the new run game coordinator. John McNulty, a veteran former OC who worked with Rees in San Diego, also will bring more seasoning. Rees already had a strong connection with the players, and that should help with the transition. Word is Rees is an excellent communicator and that figures to be good for Ian Book, who was quite good last season (34 TD passes, six INTs) but needs to be sharper away from South Bend to take that next step. Rees’ bond with defensive coordinator Clark Lea, helping the young offensive coordinator get more dialed in to the way defensive coaches think, should prove beneficial.
Taylor, who spent three seasons with David Shaw at Stanford, knows all about the virtues of being committed to the ground game and that figures to be more of an emphasis in this new iteration of Brian Kelly’s offense As good as ND has been up front, at times the Irish rushing attack has faded in the games they’ve lost over the past few seasons. Also, it’ll be interesting to see how they use dynamic freshman Chris Tyree. The 192-pounder has got burst unlike any back ND has had the past couple of seasons and is similar to another back Taylor was around at Stanford—Bryce Love.
The schedule isn’t brutal. Notre Dame plays a good Wisconsin team in Green Bay in early October and hosts powerhouse Clemson in early November with its season finale at USC.Odds of having breakout offense: 25-1”

While I am not putting all my chips in the “run the table” pot, I do think the Irish are capable of winning 10+ games and going to a solid New Year’s Six bowl game. Much of that will hinge on the play of QB Ian Book. It’s been a number of years since Notre Dame has entered a season with a multi-year starter under center and nearly every starting offensive lineman back as well. Yes, there are a number of questions at the skill positions, but it bodes extremely well having veterans on the line and at QB. Defensively, if I have learned anything over the course of the past several years, it’s to trust Clark Lea. His scheme, his ability to communicate is impressive, and with guys like Kyle Hamilton at S and Rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a strong nucleus will lead the Irish defense. I like Notre Dame 10-2 during the regular season.

Who do you believe will be the Notre Dame football MVP in 2020?

Chase Claypool was the MVP last year, Book was Offensive Player of the Year, Khalid Kareem was Defensive POY, and Alohi Gilman was impact POY. Here are a few candidates pre-season:

QB Ian Book

The obvious choice. Book was Notre Dame’s offensive player of the year last year while Chase Claypool took home team MVP honors at the team’s end of season Echoes award show. He passed for more than 3000 yards with 34/6 and also ran for another 546 and 4 TDs. There’s no Claypool, no Cole Kmet and no Chris Finke this year. Those were his top-3 receiving targets last year. And of course they also lose their leading rusher Tony Jones. If the offense is going to perform to at least the same level it did a year ago and have a chance to top it, it’s going to be because of Ian Book...

WR Kevin Austin

We didn’t see Austin at all last year because of his suspension, but we did see just a snippet of him in the spring at ND’s one and only practice. He was impressive that day, but one practice does not a season make. There are a lot of expectations on him after the loss of Claypool last year, and with Austin slated to play the boundary WR, if history says anything, he will likely get plenty of targets. There are also a lot of expectations on a guy like Braden Lenzy as well, and with his speed, he could have a breakout year. I think he’s going to have a good year, but it’s hard for a receiver to be an MVP and the receivers are more likely to be sharing the receptions more this year...

Rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

It’s amazing that we’re talking about Owusu-Koramoah as an MVP candidate right now because a year ago at this time he was one of the biggest question marks on the team. Really, the entire LB unit was a huge red flag. We had absolutely no idea what the Irish would get from him, but he ends up sharing the team tackles lead with Drew White, sharing the team sack lead with Khalid Kareem, and outright leading the team with 13.5 TFL. He also had 4 PBU and forced a couple fumbles. He was everywhere. I think at the very least he has a chance to be the defensive POY, unless Kyle Hamilton continues his rise.

The Irish football team is back on campus, and Notre Dame fans continue to be hopeful that games will occur this fall. While there is still plenty of uncertainty, it’s fun to predict what the 2020 squad is capable of.

Until next time, STAY SHARP

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