Notre Dame Training Camp Preview: 10 To 1
10 This will be head coach Brian Kelly’s 10th season with the Fighting Irish, a number reached previously only by Notre Dame’s football coaching Mount Rushmore of Knute Rockne (13 years), Frank Leahy (11), Ara Parseghian (11) and Lou Holtz (11).
His current contract runs through the 2021 campaign, which would tie him with Rockne for the longest tenure, but Kelly also told Blue & Gold Illustrated earlier this summer that an extension of at least two years also has been in the works.
9 Ranking of the Fighting Irish in the Coaches Poll released this week. The highest Notre Dame began in Kelly’s first nine seasons at Notre Dame by the Associated Press (which will be released later this month) was No. 10 in 2016 — the year the Fighting Irish finished 4-8.
Generally, No. 9 is the popular number in 2019. Athlon Sports, Lindy’s Sports and Phil Steele’s all had Kelly’s troops at No. 9, while a fourth major outlet, Street & Smith’s, predicted them No. 7.
8 Byes, or not playing the week prior to facing Notre Dame, that the 2019 opposition have this season. It begins with Louisville in the Sept. 2 Labor Day opener, but also includes New Mexico (Sept. 14), Bowling Green (Oct. 5), USC (Oct. 12), Virginia Tech (Nov. 2), Duke (Nov. 9), Navy (Nov. 16) and Boston College (Nov. 23).
Notre Dame’s two byes this season will be Sept. 14 and Oct. 19, the latter sandwiched in between the USC and Michigan games. Also this will be only the ninth time in its history the Irish will not have back-to-back road outings.
7 Starters returning on offense, which is expected to be the team strength this season the way defense was last year.
The seven are comprised of quarterback Ian Book, receivers Chase Claypool and Chris Finke, and offensive linemen Robert Hainsey (right tackle), Tommy Kraemer (right guard), Liam Eichenberg (left tackle) and Aaron Banks (left guard), who is coming off summer foot surgery and might be limited early in camp.
Technically, junior tight end Cole Kmet also might be classified as a returning starter because in double tight end alignments he started seven times with Alize Mack. But Kmet had only 357 snaps to Mack’s 652. Plus, Banks, who started only six times, had more snaps as a guard with 492 — which is why the word “starter” can sometimes be nebulous.
6 Starters back on defense: ends Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara, linebacker Asmar Bilal (rover last year), safeties Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman, and cornerback Troy Pride Jr. The unit has no starting experience at tackle, where it lost a first-round selection in Jerry Tillery, is in complete reconstruction at linebacker minus 2017-18 mainstays Drue Tranquill and Te'von Coney, and needs to replace a consensus All-American cornerback in Julian Love.
On the bright side, the top Notre Dame defense over nearly the past 40 years (the 2012 unit) went into the year needing to replace a three-year starting lineman (Ethan Johnson), a Freshman All-American pass rushing terror (Aaron Lynch), a top edge player at linebacker (Darius Fleming) who was drafted, both cornerbacks (Robert Blanton and Gary Gray) and a first-round safety (Harrison Smith).
5 Notre Dame will be seeking its first win versus a top-5 ranked team — at Georgia on Sept. 21, barring any major upset — since defeating No. 3 Michigan in 2005. That 13-year drought from 2006-18 is easily the longest at the school since the start of the AP poll in 1936. The previous high was the seven years from 1958-64, prior to defeating No. 4 USC in 1965.
4 Football Bowl Subdivision teams other than Notre Dame who through this decade from 2010-18 have reached the 12-0 mark in the regular season two times: Alabama (2016 and 2018), Clemson (2015 and 2018), Ohio State (2012 and 2013) and Central Florida (2017 and 2018).
3 All-time best college football winning percentage for the Fighting Irish (.72684) despite the NCAA mandate to vacate the 21 victories from 2012 (12) and 2013 (nine), which otherwise would have them at the top. At No. 1 is Michigan (.72952), with Ohio State at No. 2 (.72731).
Per our research, there is merely .00542 separation between the Wolverines at the top and No. 6 Oklahoma (.72410).
2 Years in a row Notre Dame is looking to finish in the AP top 10 for the first time since 1992 (No. 4) and 1993 (No. 2). The Fighting Irish placed No. 5 in the final standings last year.
Over the last 25 years (1994-2018), Notre Dame has actually finished in the top 10 only three times (No. 9 in 2005, No. 4 in 2012 and No. 5 in 2018).
1 The Fighting Irish will be seeking a second unscathed record — meaning unbeaten and untied — in the regular season for the first time since the AP poll era began in 1936. The last time it occurred was Rockne’s final two years in 1929 (9-0) and 1930 (10-0). The legendary 1946-49 units never lost a game, but they did have a tie versus Army in 1946 and USC in 1948.