The Irish, coming off a disastrous 4-8 season in 2016, are looking to make some noise again this year. They do have some new pieces as we have discussed already in the last couple of weeks, so let’s delve into the first six games of the year, get some predictions, and find out a little about what the Irish will be up against during the first half of the 2017 season.
Week One: September 2, 2017 – Temple Owls
Preview: The owls come in to the 2017 season after a 10-4 2016 season, with new Head Coach Geoff Collins looking to get Temple off to a good start by knocking off the Irish.
The Owls’ biggest strength will come from the defensive side of the ball (17th against the pass last year) , as they return most of an experienced secondary unit. However, replacing Hassan Reddick (13th overall pick overall by the Arizona Cardinals) will be tough. They do have some turnover on the front seven as well, having to replace four starters from last year’s team.
On the offensive side of the ball they return the talented Ryquell Armstead (156 attempts for 919 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2016), and a talented trio of receivers that combined for 123 catches, and 2,017 yards. But without a clear starter at quarterback the offense may be slow out of the gates, and that could spell trouble in South Bend.
Prediction: The Irish will roll out their shiny new digs, and Josh Adams and Co. prove too much for the the Owls in the season opener as the Irish open the season with a 38-17 victory.
Week Two: September 9, 2017 – Georgia Bulldogs
Preview: Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs invade South Bend for the first night game at the newly renovated stadium in week two of the 2017 season.
The bulldogs clear strength is within the front seven (the entire front seven is returning from the 2016 season). This could be a big game for either team, one that could make or break a season, just two games into their respective campaigns. On the offensive side of the ball, the bulldogs are just as loaded with Nick Chubb (224 attempts, 1,130 yards, and eight touchdowns last year), along with Jacob Eason (2,430 yards passing, and 16 touchdowns) under center.
The offensive line is a question mark, as they ranked 82nd in yards per game last year, and now have to replace three starters. But if they can open a few holes, Chubb will find them. On defense, the front seven could end up being the best in all of college football. The Irish, with an inexperienced quarterback, and a new defensive scheme, could be in trouble if they don’t strike early.
Prediction: In front of a pretty raucous night crowd , with the jumbotron fully lit, the Irish will strike early, and put this tough Georgia front on its heels. The Irish hang on for the much needed 24-21 victory to go to 2-0 on the season.
Week 3: September 16, 2017 – Boston College
Preview: The Irish travel to Boston College for an early game, coming off a possible huge win against Georgia, leaving the Irish ripe for the upset.
Boston College is always a thorn in the side of Irish fans. However, outside of all word-end Harold Landry, they have little to topple the Irish.
Prediction: I fully expect Landry to wreak havoc all day long, finding a way to single handedly keep the Irish offense on its toes in the first half, but the Irish come out strong and cruise in the second half on their way to a 38-10 victory.
Week 4: September 23, 2017 – Michigan State
Preview: The Irish go on the road with a possible 3-0 record in week four, awaiting them is Mark Dantonio and the Spartans of Michigan St.
By this time, Brandon Wimbush will have a road win under his belt, and will look to move the Irish to a possible 4-0 with a win in East Lansing. This isn’t your typical Michigan St team, they are inexperienced, with turnover at quarterback, receiver, O-line and the secondary.
Things could get dicey for Dantonio. They return L.J. Scott ( 184 attempts, 994 yards rushing, and six touchdowns in 2016) and Brian Lewerke (55.4 completion percentage, 381 yards passing, and three touchdowns in 2016). They do have Brian Allen, a two-year starter on the offensive line, but their leading receiver only has 12 career catches. Mark Dantonio has his work cut out for him on the defensive side of the ball, replacing more than half of his starters will be a daunting task.
Prediction: However, he [Dantonio] has always found a way to win close ball games, just doesn’t find a way this year against the Irish. Josh Adams punishes the Sparty defense all night long. Irish win, 31-20.
Week 5: September 30, 2017 – Miami (OH)
Preview: Chuck Martin gets his first look at the new stadium, and just how much talent the Irish have to use.
The Redhawks have Gus Ragland who stepped in after injury in 2016 and threw for 17 touchdowns against just one interception to close the season. They have their top two wide receivers returning in James Gardner and Jared Murphy (combined 88 catches, 1,314 yards, and 11 touchdowns in 2016). A good stable of running backs led by Alonzo Smith (163 attempts, 709 yards, and three touchdowns), and Kenny Young (88 attempts, 557 yards, and two touchdowns).
Prediction: The Redhawks just don’t have the bodies to bang with the Irish. Irish win an easy one by a score of 42-13 to open the season 5-0.
Week 6: October 7, 2017 – North Carolina
Preview: At this point the Irish are sitting a possible 5-0 as they head into their matchup with the Tarheels of North Carolina, led by Larry Fedora, and coming off of an 8-5 season.
This is where the Irish stumble, North Carolina will be up for the challenge, and they jump on the Irish defense early and often. On the offensive side of the ball, it’s transfers galore for the Tar Heels. Transfer quarterback Brandon Harris (2,158 yards, 13 touchdowns in 2015 for LSU), Auburn transfer running back Stanton Truitt, as well as O-line transfers Cameron Dillard (Florida) and Khaliel Rodgers (USC).
If they can put it together the offense will be able to make holes, if they do not, the pressure may be seen from a young receiving core. On the defensive side of the ball, the Tarheels have a young, but more experienced front seven, anchored by Malik Carney (8.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks last year), while the linebacking group of Cole Holcomb, Andre Smith and Cayson Collins combined for 15 TFLS, and eight pass breakups.
Prediction: So with an athletic quarterback, which always means trouble for the Irish, and a pretty athletic defense, the Tarheels seal it late with a turnover. Tarheels win, 27-20.
So we took a look at the first six, I have them sitting at 5-1 going into the USC game. Some ups and downs, and a tough loss along the way, and the Irish have their hands full with a largely back-loaded schedule in the second half.
Stay tuned as we dive head-first into the second half next week, and as always, Go Irish!