As the beginning of August approaches, most college football programs face at least a handful of uncertainties heading into the 2015 season, and the Irish are no different. Whether it be who emerges at tight end, can the Irish generate a pass rush, or can the program as a whole avoid the injury bug that plagued them in 2014? These are all legitimate questions that will play out over the duration of the season, but lack expedited resolutions.
The one area that does provide some immediate gratification is the schedule for the upcoming season, and while a fluid situation due to position battles and unforeseen injuries, the 2015 season schedule is at least set in place by name and date. We wanted to take a look at the top five intriguing games that the Irish will face, and the unique challenge each team will offer.
Over the course of the last four years, Clemson has won at least 10 games every year. They are looking to do that again in 2015, and beating the Irish would surely help in obtaining that goal.
Why Clemson Could Win – How potent the Clemson offense is in 2015 is predicated on the health of Deshaun Watson. When healthy Watson is one of the true talents in all of college football, and coupled with the weapons he has around him, the Tigers have to ability to push opposing defensive coordinators to the brink. If Watson stays healthy Clemson will be one of the toughest opponents the Irish face all year. Add in the fact that the Tigers have two very talented and different style of running backs in Wayne Gallman, and Tyshon Dye, the Clemson offense could be the biggest challenge the Irish defense will face – hands down.
Why Clemson Could Lose – Even if Watson stays healthy, the Tigers were hurt on defense by graduation. The losses on defense and the fact they will be replacing three starters on the offensive line is why the Irish are favored by -4.5 as of now. The Irish have enough talent, depth, and experience to go into Death Valley and win. If Clemson can’t find answers early on to some of these questions, we expect the Irish to do just that – in a close one.
For the first time since 1956 the Rambling Wreck are coming off a major bowl victory, beating MSU 49-34 in the Capital One Orange Bowl, and look to continue that success in 2015.
Why Georgia Tech Could Win – It all starts with Tech Quarterback Justin Thomas, who helped lead the Jackets to 11 wins in 2014 – only the fifth time in the school’s history of doing so. Tech runs an offense that no one ever wants to see, and given the fact that they have two games against Tulane and Alcorn State to prepare for the Irish in week three, they should be a cohesive unit as they march into South Bend. Tech set a school record with an average of 340 yards on the ground per game in 2014, and Thomas was a huge part of that. Rushing for 1000 yards, and throwing for just over 1700 yards, the Alabama native is the true definition of dual-threat quarterback, and should give the Irish defense all they can handle.
Why Georgia Tech Could Lose – Despite having Thomas back behind center, the Rambling Wreck lost their top three running backs, All ACC guard, Shaq Mason, as well the teams top two receivers in DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller. The game is being played in South Bend, and unlike Georgia Tech, the Irish will already have a faced a true challenge in Texas. We like the Irish to win this game, as they have the speed to cover sideline to sideline, which should help nullify the option a bit.
With a record of 9-4 and a drubbing of the Irish in the coliseum in 2014, the Trojans make the biennial trip to South Bend, in a game that has the potential to decide one of the four playoff spots.
Why USC Could Win – When you return 16 starters, such as USC is this year, it always a good start. Now take into consideration one of those returning starters is Trojan quarterback Cody Kessler, who recorded the most efficient passing season in USC history in 2014, and this game suddenly becomes one of the most dangerous on the schedule for Irish fans. It gets no easier on defense, as the Trojans return seven starters, including S/OLB Su’a Cravens, a candidate for the Bednarik and Nagurski Awards. They may have lost Leonard Williams to the NFL Draft, but there is still plenty of talent to give any opposing offense trouble.
Why USC Could Lose – It never hurts having this game in South Bend, and although location hasn’t been a huge factor recently in this series, it could be of great benefit come this year. Talent will not be a deciding factor, but depth still might. Although the repercussions of the previous NCAA sanctions are coming to an end in Southern California, it still will play a small role this year. Losing their top rusher from last won’t help USC, but what they lack in experience, they make up for in talent. The Irish are talented and deep, and this game has all the makings of a 12 round heavyweight fight(is that still a thing?)
While this may not be the Texas Longhorns of 2005, the Charlie Strong led program still presences a formidable challenge to the Irish.
Why Texas Could win – The real strength of the Texas offense will come from the backfield. Strong has three talented backs to turn to in 2015, in the likes of Johnathan Gray, D’Onta Foreman, and Donald Catalon. Although the offensive line has seen some changes, they are still a solid group and have the ability to open up holes for the trio of Longhorn running backs.
Why Texas Could lose – Although both are talented, the Texas staff is still choosing between Tyrone Swoops or Jerrod Heard as to who will lead the Longhorns under center, and uncertainty is rarely a positive at the quarterback position. Talent is not an issue on the defensive line for Texas, but depth and experience is. If you factor in the how potentially good the Irish offensive line could be, it could make for a long day for the Texas defensive front line. If the Longhorn defensive line loses steam throughout, it really opens up both the running and passing game for the Irish. This would explain the early Vegas line of Notre Dame by -12.5
The only thing worse for Irish fans than playing USC at the end of the year, is playing Stanford, but the Irish will look to change their recent fortunes on the West coast in 2015.
Why Stanford could win – The Irish are riding a three game losing streak in Palo Alto, and Irish fans can actually feel the hatred that permeates Stanford Stadium, when the team hits the tunnel. The Cardinal return seven players on offense, and while it was an offense that struggled at times in 2014, experience could be a factor. Let’s not forget that Stanford also will have the luxury of having Kevin Hogan back behind center, after his decision to return for his senior season.
Why Stanford Could Lose – As much experience as the Cardinal have returning on offense, they have equal the amount that have departed on defense. Having lost three starters on the defensive line, and four of its top six secondary players from 2014, combined that could add up to long year from an defensive perspective, when talking Cardinal football. The Irish should be able to dominate this game in almost all facets, assuming they are healthy. Playing the last game of the season on the road is never easy, but if things go correctly, the Irish should be ending the regular season on a positive note.
As with any college season, it’s fluid throughout the duration. As Irish fans painfully know, it simply takes a couple of injuries along the way to change the entire landscape of that season. Even with so much uncertainty still out there for all teams, it’s always fun to take an early look at what lies ahead, and for us at least, these are the top five most intriguing games we see for the upcoming season.