Fighting Irish out to replicate — and even build upon — 2017 success
Fresh off the sweet taste of a thrilling victory against LSU in the Citrus Bowl to finish a 10-3 season, Notre Dame looks to prove that a disastrous 4-8 record in 2016 was nothing more than a fluke.
The Fighting Irish will have high expectations in 2018, and the roster combines enough returning talent with some skilled incoming freshmen to be very dangerous come their season opener on Sept. 1 vs. Michigan.
With the advent of a new season rapidly nearing, here are 10 Notre Dame statistics that you need to know for 2018.
163: 2017's rushing "benchmark"
ast season, the Irish were undefeated when they rushed for at least 163 yards, winning all nine games in which they surpassed the mark. In the four games in which they found themselves under that total, the Irish were just 1-3. With Josh Adams departing early for the NFL, it will be crucial for the Irish to establish the run game early and often, even if it is by more of a committee approach than last season.
43.5: Percentage of Irish receiving yards returning
The Irish lost a pair of receiving threats in Equanimeous St. Brown and Durham Smythe to the NFL. Citrus Bowl hero Miles Boykin (12 receptions, 253 yards, 2 TD) and Chase Claypool (29/404/2) project to be the team's leading receivers in the fall, alongside tight ends Alize Mack, Nic Weishar and Cole Kmet.
8: Number of 2018 opponents who made a bowl game in 2017
Another year, another tough slate on Notre Dame's docket. Ball State, Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh and Syracuse are the Irish's four 2018 opponents that failed to reach a bowl game last season. Of those four, only Syracuse appears on the second half of Notre Dame's schedule. That is a good indicator of how tough Notre Dame's schedule is every year, which happens to foreshadow the next stat...
.552: Average winning percentage of Notre Dame's 2018 opponents
Notre Dame should find easier games early on in its schedule against the likes of Ball State, Vanderbilt and Pittsburgh. But even with their subpar performances last season, the average win percentage of Irish opponents is still above .500. Thus, even the average team on the Irish's 2018 schedule was bowl eligible, signaling just how difficult this slate will be.
143: Total career rush attempts by returning running backs
Senior running back Dexter Williams has tallied just 99 rushing attempts in his career, 39 of which came last season. Tony Jones Jr., a junior in 2018, has 44 career carries, all in 2017. Compare those figures to Adams, who had 206 by himself last season and averaged 160 carries per season in his three years (2015-17) in South Bend.
3: Notre Dame quarterbacks with 500 rushing yards and 1,000 passing yards in same season
With 1,870 yards passing and 803 yards rushing in 2017, Brandon Wimbush joined some rare company in Irish history. Tony Rice accomplished the feat twice -- in the national championship season of 1988 and again in ‘89 -- and DeShone Kizer did it in 2015 after stepping in for the injured Malik Zaire.
25: Years since Notre Dame has posted consecutive seasons of double-digit wins
The last time the Irish posted two straight seasons of 10 or more wins? You have to go all the way back to the seventh and eighth years of Lou Holtz's tenure in 1992 and '93. In that two-year span, Notre Dame was a combined 21-2-1 with a pair of Cotton Bowl wins. Of the Irish's four previous 10-plus-win seasons -- 2002 (10-3), 2006 (10-3), 2012 (12-1) and 2015 (10-3) -- they only followed that up with a winning record once (9-4 in 2013). They'll break that trend and the longer drought if they can post another strong season in 2018.
.682: Notre Dame's all-time win percentage against its 2018 opponents
The Irish have played 381 games against this year's schedule, with Navy (90 meetings), USC (88) and Pittsburgh (70) their most frequent all-time opponents. Only Michigan (24-17-1) and Florida State (6-2) have winning records against the Irish, while Notre Dame has dominated the Midshipmen (76-13-1) and Northwestern (37-9-2) in its storied history.
7: Consecutive seasons in which at least one captain has been an OL
Offensive linemen are often overlooked in the box score and on the stat sheets, but they have consistently been Notre Dame's leaders in the locker room and on the field. Graduate student Alex Bars moves from right guard to left guard for his final season in South Bend, and he was selected as a captain on the day of Notre Dame's Blue-Gold Game in April. This also marks the second straight year in which Notre Dame will have two offensive linemen as captains, with graduate student Sam Mustipher joining Bars this year after Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson (both top-10 picks in the 2018 NFL Draft) captained the Irish a season ago.
1: Number of true home games (excluding Shamrock Series) per month in October and November
Last year's team got off to a strong start in September and October, resulting in an eventual high-water mark of third in the College Football Playoff rankings. However, once the calendar turned, so did the Irish's momentum. The team's ranking plummeted in the final month, as Notre Dame lost twice on the road (by 33 at Miami and by 18 at Stanford) in the final three regular-season games. This has been a common theme in recent years, so scheduling only one home game in each of the final two months may come back to haunt the Irish.
If they can survive that daunting slate, then this could very well be a magical year when the Irish shake down the thunder, catch lightning in a bottle and make a run at a national championship.
-- Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and works for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.