Can you feel it Irish fans? That electricity in the air that grows more each day we come closer to seeing those Gold Helmets shining under Papa John’s lights in Louisville, Kentucky.
On a day in which I was feeling particularly apathetic about my hope, three Notre Dame players made some news that made me play the Victory March at my desk. The Associated Press released its preseason All-American, and to no surprise, it’s cluttered with players from Clemson and Alabama. Notre Dame didn’t end up with any players on the be 1st team All-America, but Tommy Kraemer, Julian Okwara, and Alohi Gillman all found spots on the 2nd unit.
In past years I would have been more worried about playing Louisville. Notre Dame hasn’t exactly fared well against Heisman caliber QBs from the ACC (Watson, Winston). But Lamar Jackson is long gone, and so is any hope for Louisville to beat Notre Dame. The Irish have given us plenty to worry about over the years. The 2019 Louisville game shouldn’t be one. And its three All-Americans are a big reason why.
Notre Dame fans shouldn’t be surprised to read high expectations for these three. Okwara and Gillman were recently named captains, and Kraemer is a former 5-star recruit who has started for the past two seasons.
In the grand scheme of things, pre-season All-American teams mean absolutely nothing more than validation to fans that their optimism is justified. But when you do hear those things, it gives you all the more reason to be excited.
Notre Dame will need all three to play like All-Americans if they hope to make a return trip to the College Football Playoff. Notre Dame’s defense bailed them out a lot last year, and there is no doubt that. Both Okwara and Gillman were big reasons why, but to pretend that the defense can just replace Julian Love, Jerry Tillery, Drue Tranquill, and Tevon Coney is a bit optimistic.
Notre Dame’s defense is specifically concerning up the middle with a lack of real experience at linebacker and defensive tackle. The Irish have been a tough unit to run on the past few seasons, and could possibly be again. They have potential at both positions, but early in the season, they need Khalid Kareem and Jalen Elliot along with Okwara and Gilman to play like captains.
It was a bit surprising to see Kraemer on this list and not Robert Hainsey who was recently named a captain. Kraemer’s career has been streaky at ND, but to deny the talent would be lazy. Although not named a captain in favor of the younger Hainsey, Kramer has been a versatile cog on the line the past two years wherever needed. There is optimism that Kraemer could take a big step forward in 2019 after a stellar off-season in the weight room.
Each day closer to the moment we get to see the Irish back in action gets harder and harder. As the Cincinnati Reds drive me to the bottle, the one thing I can do to stay sane is watch clips of Kizer to Fuller to beat Virginia in the final seconds. And blog about the team that gives a miserable Cincinnati sports fan a glimmer of hope that someday I might get to pop a bottle of champagne in my living room.
The Notre Dame offense got bailed out by the defense more than once last year. It would be easy to say that was the case when Brandon Wimbush was under center, and Ian Book changed that, but that is not the case.
Kelly’s insertion of Book at QB1 changed Notre Dame’s season. Still, the offense wasn’t exactly a juggernaut against Pitt, NorthWestern, or USC, and certainly was overwhelmed in the CFP.
Notre Dame built its offense around NFL caliber offensive linemen who have allowed Notre Dame to plug and play running backs. The Irish will have to rely on guys like Kraemer to push people around again this, especially considering the injuries to pass catchers in camp.
Pre-season rankings and All-American teams mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, and certainly, nobody is hanging banners because a few players made a pre-season All-America team. But it is always nice to see the Irish represented. In 2019 Notre Dame is going to play multiple teams with similar or greater talent, and they will need those players to live up the billing.