Notre Dame started last season slow under new head coach Brian Kelly, but the Irish rebounded in the last half of the season to win their last four games and finish the 2010-11 year with an 8-5 record. The good news in South bend is the team returns 17 starters from last years squad and start the season with three of their first four games at home.
The biggest question on offense for the Irish is who will be the team's starting quarterback. Dayne Crist started for the team last year, but a knee injury cost him several games and his style of play doesn't fit what Kelly does on offense. Crist did have over 2,000 yards passing and 15 touchdowns last season, but was inconsistent at crucial times of the game. Running back Cierre Wood led Notre Dame with over 600 yards rushing as a freshman and could become a legitimate 1,000-yard rusher this season. Senior Michael Floyd returns to anchor a solid receiver corp that will also feature Theo Riddick. The offensive line returns four starters and this unit improved dramatically last season and allowed just 20 sacks for the year.
The biggest reason for last years late season success was the play of the defense. During the first nine games of last year the defense allowed over 390 yards per game, but rebounded during the four game win streak and allowed just 233 yards per contest. Incoming freshman Aaron Lynch could be the team's best pass rusher and the Irish return two solid performers on the defensive line in Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore. The linebacking unit is led by junior Manti Te'o who had over 130 tackles last year and could be in line for All-American honors. The biggest concern on defense is the lack of depth in the secondary, so health will be a major factor for this unit in 2011. Safety Harrison Smith is the best of the bunch, but all four starters are solid.
The Irish are poised to make a run at a top 10 finish this season, but health will be a major key for a team that has limited depth on both sides of the ball. If the offensive line continues to improve, this team could be headed for a major bowl game this season.