11 Fearless Predictions for Notre Dame Football in 2016

Notre Dame LB Nyles Morgan (Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
Notre Dame LB Nyles Morgan (Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

The long national nightmare known as “summer” is almost over and the wait for football is coming to an end.  Notre Dame kicks off its 2016 season in just a few days and the Irish will be looking to win 10 games in back to back seasons for the first time in 23 years this fall.  By now you all know all of the story lines so it’s predictions time.

1. Nyles Morgan will have 100 tackles

By half-time of the season opener, we may all be wondering why Morgan didn’t play more in 2015.  Well, we’re all actually wondering why that is already, but by half-time in Austin we’ll just be wondering even louder.  Morgan racked up tackles as a true freshman filling in for Joe Schmidt when he barely knew what he was doing.   Morgan has by all accounts had a dominant camp and looks ready for a breakout season.  To reach 100 tackles, Morgan will need to average just 7.7 a game.  That won’t be a problem.

2. CJ Sanders will score a touchdown rushing, receiving, and returning

I am a big fan of CJ Sanders.  Last year he returned both a punt and kickoff for touchdown.  In 2016, Sanders will get at least one return touchdown this year (most likely more than one) while adding both a receiving and rushing touchdown as well.  With Sanders’ speed and dynamic ability in the open field, he is going to be a lot of fun to watch this year.  Sanders took over the #3  jersey from Amir Carlisle.  Don’t be surprised if he makes bigger plays than his predecessor already this fall.

3. Miles Boykin will score five touchdowns

Miles Boykin won’t start for Notre Dame this fall baring injuries, but he will score more touchdowns than at least one starting wide receiver.  Boykin is a monster of a target and while he needs work to round out his game, I can’t think of a single reason for him to not be a primary target for Notre Dame in the red-zone this year.  Boykin won’t have as many catches as his fellow classmate receivers, but he will make the ones he makes count.

4. Daelin Hayes will have at least 6 sacks

Maybe I’ll file this into a prediction based on hope, but if all accounts of Hayes are even close to true, he could be the type of pass rushing threat Notre Dame desperately needs.  Reaching six sacks as a true freshman isn’t out of the realm of possibility either.  Prince Shembo had 4.5 as a freshman in 2010 and Aaron Lynch had 5.5 in 2011 as a frosh.  Hayes will be counted on as more, if not more than either of them were as freshmen.

5. Jarron Jones will have 15 tackles for loss

I was expecting a huge season out of Jones in 2015 before his MCL injury.  My expectations were tempered a bit when Kelly spoke so cautiously of him in his opening camp presser, but as camp has worn on, Jones has started to emerge again.  The injuries he suffered could make for a slow start in 2016, but by the end of the season Jones will be back to looking like the man-child he looked like that October night in Tallahassee back in 2014.

6. And so will Isaac Rochell

Jones won’t be the only monster on the defensive line for Notre Dame this fall.  Isaac Rochell is primed for a big time senior season as well.  Much like Sheldon Day in 2015, Rochell will essentially double his previous career high in TFL this fall.  Rochell reportedly played with some minor, nagging injuries that limited his work in the weight room the last few seasons.  Rochell might still be more of an interior lineman than a SDE but he will have a monster season this fall.

7. Nic Weishar will lead the tight ends in receptions

With Alize Jones lost for the season due to suspension, Notre Dame is in need of someone to emerge at tight end.  While Durham Smythe is the more complete tight end and better inline blocker, Weishar is the most athletic tight end on the roster for the 2016 season.  Weishar got lost in the mix with all of the excitement over Alize Jones a year ago, but people tend to forget he drew a lot of favorable comparisons to Tyler Efiert coming out of high school.  Weishar will emerge as a pass catching threat for Notre Dame at tight end this season and lead the group in receptions.

8. Tarean Folston & Josh Adams will both run for 1,000 yards

Notre Dame nearly had a pair of 1,000 yard rushers last season with CJ Prosise topping 1,000 and Adams coming up just a bit short.  Even with Tarean Folston back from injury this year we’ll see both backs get plenty of carries.  Notre Dame will run the ball early and often in 2016 and if both backs stay healthy, they both should top 1,000 yards this season.  If you think that’s far fetched, the Irish almost did it a year ago and would have done it in 2013 with Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood as well had Gray not gotten hurt on Senior Day.

9. Torii Hunter Jr will notch 1,200 yards receiving

Even with all of the running, Notre Dame will still find time to pass.  Brian Kelly always finds time to pass the ball.  When the Irish do put the ball in the air, Torii Hunter will be the leading receiving and will top 1,200 yards.  That number might seem high given that Will Fuller barely topped 1,200 last year, but Notre Dame had a deeper group of receivers last year.  Hunter is the most experienced receiver by far and will be the go to option for whoever is throwing the football for the Irish.  What Hunter won’t have this fall are Fuller’s highlight reel touchdowns.  Hunter is a different receiver and won’t get behind defenses as much.  He will rack up more receptions than Fuller had last year though and as a result will pile up the yards.

10. Malik Zaire will eventually be the starting quarterback

Speaking of quarterbacks, I’ve kept relatively quiet about the quarterback derby and Brian Kelly’s decision to play both Malik Zaire and Deshone Kizer against Texas so it’s time to change that.  Look for Zaire to be THE quarterback for Notre Dame by the end of the season – probably much sooner.  It’s not that Kizer isn’t capable.  He’s a future NFL quarterback.  Zaire just has the “it” factor that isn’t quantifiable in any stat or distinguishable in any practice.  When the lights go on Sunday night in Austin, Zaire will light up the South Texas sky just as he did a year ago to the Longhorns in South Bend.

11. Notre Dame will win at least 10 games

Even with 12 new starters.  Even with an unsettled quarterback situation.  Even with a defense that has underwhelmed despite NFL talent.  Notre Dame will win at least 10 games this year.  On paper, there isn’t a single game in which Notre Dame will be outmanned this year.  Between having just three true road games and facing a slew of first time starting QBs and first year head coaches, Notre Dame’s schedule is set up for it to go on another run.  IF – and it’s a big IF – Notre Dame can avoid an early season hiccup, the Irish will be a damn tough team to beat by the time the roll into Los Angeles Thanksgiving weekend.

Week 1 currently scares me the most because of all of the moving parts, but since Texas isn’t exactly the model of stability right now, the Irish should be able to get by the Longhorns and set the stage for a playoff run in 2016.   They will need a little bit of the luck of the Irish to make the playoffs though.  I expect Notre Dame to cap its regular season 11-1 and that won’t be enough to make the College Football Playoffs unless one or two opponents vastly outplay their pre-season projections.

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  1. Hmmmmm.
    I like the Morgan bet, but I’d one up your prediction, and say he’ll lead in both tackles – and sacks. BVG loves to pressure from that mike spot, and while Schmidt’s lack of athleticism is beaten to death, he also faced a host of seasoned and poised QB’s. Morgan will not. I’d expect him to make his presence very painfully felt in the first few Texas possessions, and throughout the season. That guy’s going to make some snot bubbles this year.

    Folston will be lucky to break 500 this year. Adams will break 1000, barring ramifications Dexter will bump up against 800. Tarean just hasn’t shown the power and balance to be a consistent inside guy. Sure, he does some fun stuff with a big hole, but fails to find the creases, bounce out of initial contact, or just truck a guy. Emmitt Smith he is not. I hope I’m wrong.

    The TE game will find its place again. Both Weisher and Smyth will be dangers for opposing DC’s and secondaries, largely because of the passing of Kizer…but I’ll get to that.

    Torii Hunter will be lucky to get near 1000. When I watched his first TD I was astonished at the athleticism. (Go back and watch that one on the official ND site that gives a good view. He can see the DB coming in hard, and still manages to keep composure, make the grab, then twist 360, and still keep his feet through contact.) I thought then, that guy is a star. But since, he’s underwhelmed. They’re going to have to spread it around this year. Even more so than last year. Fuller, he is not. Which brings up the QB dilemma.

    Kizer will be the QB of the year. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Zaire starts, and begins to fail in making reads, flushes the pocket too quickly, can’t make his check downs against a more experienced secondary. The test then ends, and Kizer does what he’s proven that he can do. If there’s been a year in recent memory that ND needed a QB that could make his reads and check down to the open receiver, this one is it. The offense practically demands a QB that can keep poise and play pro level football. Let the RB’s and OL do their job – and the QB be a true QB.

    If the Irish make it through MSU unbeaten, they’ll go to the Coliseum unbeaten, to take on what will be a running juggernaut by then. If they lose, it’ll be a tough 9 win season.

  2. Just really hoping we can get by Texas, show up big against MSU, Stanford, and USC, and please do not sleep on any of the others. Could be a big year for the Irish!

  3. I want Jarron Jones to have a big year. When he went down with an injury last year, that stung. Hopefully he performs at a high level and can be force on the line.

  4. I think we go undefeated if we don’t have a loss after a big win… And the defense doesn’t give up a big chunk yards game… pressure and close the 15 and in open middle on third and fourth downs… We will be in the final four at the end of the year and it will also take fast starts and get our two deep off the field… we will go into the playoffs fresh and ready to rock our way to National Champions!!!GOOO IRISH!!!

  5. Zaire definitely as the It factor but if Kizer doesn’t…then maybe we aren’t talking about the same thing.

    I hate when the “It” factor is just thrown out there …just because.

    Because…if you watched Kizer last year..from the game winner vs Virginia – to his run vs Temple, game winning throw, the eagle flap — to coming out blazing vs USC to the game winning drive vs Stanford to not backing down to Ohio St…

    Yea he had his issues as you’d expect a redshirt Freshman to have but the IT factor…he’s got plenty.

  6. It will be a blessing if Zaire does indeed win the job. He is the one that can beat a team in the playoffs because of all the different things he can do as a college QB. Kizer is capable of leading us in the season but I don’t think we beat a more talented team in the playoffs like we could with Zaire. Remember Kizer was a little fortunate last year against Ohio State when Bosa’s penalty eliminated an interception that would have absolutely killed us when it happened and Fuller turned a 15 yard pass into an 80 yard TD. Clemson went into a prevent defense and quit using their QB as a running threat which enabled us to get back into that game. Also remember, Greg Kelly we had a lot of turnovers in the red zone last year against teams like Temple and BC and were able to overcome one against Georgia Tech. Also we had a devastating turnover just before the half against Stanford.

  7. Schmidt junoir year made ya think..shit he couldnt see the field his soph year..? Not like Carllo or other dude played all that great..then Schmidt last year was still hurt imo..and Morgan cant get in at all..? Kelly sometimes just doesnt seem to have the best eleven on the field cause of seniority..cant blame the kids at this level schmidt played his tail off..just didnt play all that well..

  8. @westcoastirishfan Seems like a rush to judgment to me. If Morgan turns out great this year, that’s no guarantee that he was better than Schmidt last year. Maybe Kelly was right when he said that he played Schmidt because he was the better player. It is certainly true by all accounts that Morgan is the better athlete of the two, but it seems equally certain that Schmidt was a whole lot better at getting the other players in position. Sort of a Tommy Rees vs. Everett Golson thing back in 2012; I wouldn’t be surprised if Schmidt got into coaching in the next couple of years like Rees already has.

    Some kids are pretty mediocre until they suddenly put it all together when all the pieces fall into place, and some kids start out good and continually improve, because they are more instinctive and can improvise their way through what they don’t know. From what I’ve been reading about Morgan, he’s in the former category.

  9. “Zaire” eventually become the QB is only possible if Kizer gets injured. In a losing cause to Ohio State last year, Kizer stepped up and showed it is HIS job. He has much un-finished to attend to.

  10. If you’re 75% accurate, there should be a lot more than 10 wins. And, if Morgan is anywhere close to your prediction, I certainly hope the press hits BVG and Kelly pretty hard about their love affair with Schmidt last year. His play contributed big time to both regular season losses.

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