2011 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Predictions and College Football Futures Odds
by Alan Matthews - 7/27/2011
Make no mistake about it: Nothing short of a major bowl is expected in South Bend this season after Notre Dame finished 2010 on a roll, capped by a thumping of Miami (Fla.) in the Sun Bowl for an 8-5 overall record. With 18 projected starters back (one kicker), the Irish do appear poised to have a legitimate shot at their first BCS bowl game since the Sugar Bowl five seasons ago.
It’s sometimes amusing to see/hear how fickle college football fans can be. When the Irish lost back-to-back games last midseason to unranked Navy and Tulsa, some Notre Dame fans were complaining that perhaps Brian Kelly wasn’t a great hire as the head coach. But then Kelly's first Irish team showed a lot of promise late in the 2010 season, winning its last four games after a 4-5 start, including ending a long losing streak to Southern Cal and that 33-17 rout of Miami. That was only the Irish’s second bowl win since 1993.
Notre Dame fans may want to temper their expectations. Ty Willingham’s first season as the Irish head coach in 2002 led to a misleading 10-3 season. That was followed by 5-7 and 6-6 years, and in came Charlie Weis. He rebuilt expectations with a 9-3 record in 2005 and then 10-3 and a Sugar Bowl loss to LSU in 2006, but the Irish then went downhill.
This unit has two major questions heading into fall camp: Who starts at quarterback and how long (if at all) will star receiver Michael Floyd be suspended?
Under center, the Irish will pick a starter among Tommy Rees, Dayne Crist and youngsters Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson during camp. In reality, it’s down to Crist and Rees. Crist was Notre Dame’s starter at the beginning of last season. But then he suffered a season-ending knee injury in that Week 9 loss to Tulsa. He completed 174 of 294 passes for 2,033 yards, throwing 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Rees came on to start the last four games of 2010, and the Irish won all four. Look for Crist to win the job.
As for Floyd, he had another alcoholic-related run-in with the law this offseason, reportedly the third such incident since arriving in South Bend. Last year, Floyd caught 79 passes for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns in being named team MVP. Many thought he would opt for the NFL Draft like star tight end Kyle Rudolph did (he will be tough to replace on offense). Floyd was allowed to stay in school, but he remains suspended indefinitely by Kelly, who says Floyd has to prove he has made some life changes. But Kelly did eventually let Floyd participate in some voluntary workouts with teammates. So it’s pretty obvious Kelly is going to let Floyd play, although I’d expect him to at least be suspended for one game.
Starting RB Cierre Wood (119 carries for 603 yards and three touchdowns last year) is back as are four starters on the offensive line. Notre Dame does need to run better after ranking 92nd out of 120 FBS teams with 127 yards per game in 2010.
A lot of Notre Dame's success will depend on its defense, which should be better after the addition of several young linemen – that was the strength of Kelly’s incoming recruiting class (three of the Top 10 DL recruits in the nation signed). That defense did improve as last year went on, allowing only 39 total points combined in the final four games. The Irish have a legitimate superstar in junior inside linebacker Manti Te’o, whose 133 tackles were the most by an Irish defender in 27 seasons. And safety Harrison Smith is another likely future NFL player. He finished second on the team with 93 tackles and led the team and finished fourth in the FBS with seven interceptions. Five of his seven interceptions came in the final four games.
The Irish have one of the best place-kickers in the nation in David Ruffer. He set a Notre Dame record by making his first 18 field goals before finally missing one against Miami in the Sun Bowl.
2011 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Schedule Analysis
As usual, the Irish schedule is loaded by power teams from all over the country. The only two cupcakes are likely Wake Forest and Purdue, and both those games are on the road. South Florida, a Big East contender, could definitely give the Irish fits in the opener, especially if Floyd sits out. Then there’s the back-to-back games vs. the two Michigan Big Ten schools before having to go to Pittsburgh and then Purdue. If Notre Dame can get through that at 4-1, a BCS bowl is very possible.
The second half of the schedule has just two true road games, at the Deacons and Stanford. If the Irish can beat USC at home on Oct. 22 they could run the table in South Bend if they manage to beat Michigan State in Week 3. The Irish also have a nonconference game at FedEx Field outside of Washington D.C. vs. Maryland.
2011 Notre Dame Fighting Irish College Football Futures Odds
The Irish’s ‘over/under’ for wins is 8.5, with the ‘over’ a -130 favorite. Notre Dame is 28/1 on Bodog to win the National Championship. Floyd is +2200 on WagerWeb to win the Heisman Trophy.
2011 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Predictions for Football
Again, it’s difficult to predict what Notre Dame does without knowing their quarterback or Floyd’s status. But, as noted above, I expect Crist to start and Floyd to at worst be benched for the opener vs. USF. I think the Irish win nine games – losing to one of the Michigan schools, Southern Cal and Stanford. That season-ending loss to the Cardinal likely will cost ND a BCS bowl. And Floyd won’t be winning the Heisman in 2011.
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