Notre Dame enters 2017 looking to wash the bad taste out of its mouth after a disappointing ‘16. The Fighting Irish went 4-8 last season, prompting plenty of staff turnover and new questions as head coach Brian Kelly enters Year 8 in South Bend.
With the season quickly approaching, here are 10 Notre Dame stats you need to know for 2017.
5: Different starting QBs under Kelly at Notre Dame
That number will rise to six this season, as Brandon Wimbush is set to take over the reins after the departures of DeShone Kizer (NFL) and Malik Zaire (Florida). Whether that numbers stays at six remains to be seen, as Kelly has used the same starting QB for an entire season just twice — in 2013 with Tommy Rees and last season with Kizer.
6: Irish captains
Kelly took the unusual measure of getting a head start on the 2017 season before it even began, as he named Greer Martini, Mike McGlinchey, Nyles Morgan, Quenton Nelson, Drue Tranquill and Austin Webster captains during the 2016 team awards banquet. (He also named Kizer a captain before the QB declared for the draft.) Aside from being early — these distinctions have normally been reserved for fall camp — this also is the biggest group of season captains in Notre Dame history. (McGlinchey was a captain in 2016 as well.)
14: Irish sacks
The quickest way back to College Football Playoff contention is through the defensive line, and that’s an area in which the Irish have struggled recently. Their 14 sacks last season were tied for 118th nationally, and second worst among Power 5 programs. Perhaps as important: No returning Irish lineman had a sack last season.
5: Irish offensive coordinators under Kelly
Chip Long becomes the fifth different Notre Dame offensive coordinator under Kelly, joining Charley Molnar, Chuck Martin, Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford. Long and Wimbush are just the second new OC/new starting QB combo during this time, joining Martin and Everett Golson in 2012 — although Martin had been on Notre Dame’s staff previously on the defensive side of the ball.
38.8: Memphis’ points per game
Long comes from Memphis, which went 8-5 last season behind yet another potent offense, despite a new quarterback. The Tigers finished tied for 15th nationally in scoring offense. The team they were tied with? National finalist Alabama. The team just in front of them? National champion Clemson, at 39.2 points per game. (Notre Dame wasn’t too far behind, ranking 53rd nationally at 30.9 ppg.)
27: Turnovers forced by Wake Forest
Mike Elko is the Irish’s new defensive coordinator, and his work with the Demon Deacons was nothing short of magnificent. The Deacs were tied for 10th nationally in forced turnovers last season. Notre Dame, by comparison, was tied for 104th, with just 14 takeaways. That needs to change, and Elko looks like the perfect guy to engineer a turnaround in the turnover department.
11: Bowl teams on Notre Dame’s schedule
The only team the Irish will play in the regular season that did not go bowling in 2016 is Michigan State, which, despite going 3-9, beat Notre Dame 36-28 last September. The last time the Irish did not go to a bowl was in 2009, after the firing of Charlie Weis, despite going 6-6. (The last time they didn’t qualify was in 2007 after a 3-9 season.)
43.6%: Percentage of Irish yards returning
This is from college football guru Phil Steele, a statistical category in which the Irish rank 106th nationally. This is thanks in large part to the departure of Kizer, a two-year starting QB. Just look at the teams ranked Nos. 128-130 in this category: Clemson (goodbye Deshaun Watson), North Carolina (same, Mitch Trubisky) and UAB, which did not field a team in 2016. Steele uses another formula to come up with his two-deep class breakdown, where the Irish rank tied for 112th.
66: Years since Notre Dame had won exactly four games
What’s that mean? Nothing, really. But for a power program as storied as Notre Dame, this came off as a bit of a statistical oddity. The Irish’s 4-8 2016 campaign was their first four-win season since 1950, when Frank Leahy’s preseason No. 1 squad went 4-4-1 after going 36-0-2 the previous four seasons. Notre Dame had had seasons of two, three, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11 and 12 wins since 1950.
4: Kelly assistants at Notre Dame who have become head coaches
Sanford became the latest Kelly protege to become CEO of his own shop after spending time at Notre Dame, as he took the Western Kentucky head job this offseason. Previously, Molnar (UMass), Martin (Miami of Ohio) and former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco (UConn) became head coaches. Kelly will face Martin and Miami on Sept. 30.
— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.