On the heels of a 4-8 record in 2016, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly revealed to Bleacher Report that in-season fundraising for a new football-only facility was a key reason why his team struggled.
“It f–ked up last year’s team,” Kelly said before the 2017 season, referring to himself as “the absent professor.”
“I wasn’t paying attention to the details that we needed. There were internal issues that—if a guy is on it, and he’s doing his job as the head coach, he would’ve seen those things early. My flawed philosophy was, ‘We’re going to score points early while we’re figuring it out on the other side with a young defense.’ Well, that didn’t happen. We gave up way too many points early, we lost three games, and now we’re in trouble.”
Kelly received pushback from fans and pundits for his comments, but got the last laugh in 2017 by leading the Fighting Irish to a 10-3 record with all three losses coming against ranked teams.
But now that the new college football season is almost upon us, what should we expect from Notre Dame?
In Las Vegas, the professional bettors are fading the Irish, as proven by Notre Dame’s season win total already being bet down from 9.5 to nine games.
Notre Dame has also been bet down in five of the games in which they opened as favorites, most notably in their rivalry showdown with the Wolverines.
*Week 1 vs Michigan: Opened as ND -7; Bet to Michigan -2
*Week 5 vs Stanford: Opened as ND -8; Bet to ND -5
*Week 10 at Northwestern: Opened as ND -7; Bet to ND -6.5
*Week 11 vs Florida State: Opened as ND -9; Bet to ND -7
*Week 13 at USC: Opened as ND -1; Bet to USC -1
That season opener against rival Michigan is the 32nd matchup between the two schools since 1978, but it’s the first time they’ve played each other since 2014.
During the 2018 American Century Championship, Kelly spoke to Golf Channel about renewing the storied rivalry with Michigan.
“We’re playing a great team. Obviously Jim Harbaugh has done a great job with the program,” said Kelly. “We wanted to get that game back, ya know? It’s one of those rivalry games. It’s a great opener, and it motivates your team in the offseason because you know you gotta play Michigan right out of the gates.”
Notre Dame enters that Week 1 matchup having lost two reliable offensive linemen to the NFL: Quenton Nelson was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts and Mike McGlinchey by the San Francisco 49ers. Both were top-ten picks.
With his stud linemen gone, Kelly will lean heavily on QB Brandon Wimbush, who was just named to the Maxwell Award watch list a year after accounting for 30 total touchdowns.
Despite those impressive stats, Wimbush ended 2017 by being benched in the Citrus Bowl.
A late-season skid inspired Wimbush to connect with QB whisperer Taylor Kelly. Kelly works for 3DQB, a training facility whose clients include Tom Brady and Matt Ryan. He’s hoping to improve Wimbush’s technique and throwing mechanics.
“When I watched him and talked to him, his whole thing was, ‘I know what I’m doing. I just don’t know how to fix it. I feel off,'” Kelly told ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg.
“But because of his ability to know his body so well — he separates himself from a lot of guys in college and the NFL in how he’s aware of his body and his surroundings — he’s able to adapt very fast.”
Wimbush can’t wait to get back on the field and show off his new game.
“I can be one of the top quarterbacks in the country,” Wimbush said to ESPN. “I know I can… That’s where I have to be to go where we want to go.”
If Wimbush backs up his talk, Notre Dame could be on the verge of having double-digit wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 25 years, making that disastrous 2016 campaign feel like a thing of the past.