Notre Dame Fighting Irish — 2018 Syracuse Football preview

Notre Dame
Notre Dame remains one of the best teams in college football

As we countdown to kickoff in August, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will continue its 2018 schedule when it plays Notre Dame on Nov. 17.

NEW DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko spent one season in South Bend, performing a successful overhaul of the unit before bolting to take the same position at Texas A&M. Former FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher took over there, and offered Elko $1.8 million a year over three years. Elko got the big pay day because he led the Irish defense from being 61st in the country in 2016 in scoring defense to 31st in 2017 at 21.5 points per game. Elko’s departure opened the door for a name that should be familiar to Syracuse fans—Clark Lea. Lea spent three seasons coaching linebackers at Syracuse from 2013-15, with a player list that included Marquis Spruill and Cameron Lynch. He will keep the same defensive philosophy as Elko, and returns nine starters from last year’s team. “Clark has quickly established himself as a rising star in the coaching profession,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement.

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WHO TO WATCH FOR: All eyes are on senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush after Notre Dame lost its star running back (Josh Adams) and two elite offensive linemen (Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey) to the NFL. On the one hand, Wimbush threw 16 touchdowns, while rushing for another 14 on the ground. Still, Wimbush struggled with his throwing, completing just 49 percent of his passes. The memory of Wimbush’s struggles in the first half of the Citrus Bowl is still fresh, with Wimbush eventually being replaced by backup Ian Brook, who ended up completing 14 of 19 pases for 164 yards and two scores in a 21-17 win over LSU. On defense, Lea scored a coup by having rising senior Te’von Coney and graduate student Drue Tranquill return. Tranquill finished with 74 tackles (8.5 for loss) in 2017, while Coney led the team in tackles (116) and tackles for loss (13), though he had some off the field issues.

PREDICTION: The Irish won 10 games last season for the second time in three years, and with plenty of talent returning, the South Bend faithful are looking at a repeat. But if Notre Dame wants to stay in the national title conversation, it will need to finish the season strong, unlike in 2017 when it suffered two head scratching losses against Miami (41-8) and Stanford (38-20). SYRACUSE 28, NOTRE DAME 35.

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Wes Cheng
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Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.