This wasn’t how the season was supposed to go. Notre Dame came into the year ranked in everyone’s top 20 and many top 10s. It was a season to build off last year’s Fiesta Bowl team. But that went quickly down the drain and now that the Irish stand at 2-5, even bowl eligibility seems like a dream.
There have been few early highlights and positives, but here is a breakdown of the season so far with a look to the last five games as well.
Offensive MVP: QB DeShone Kizer
His head coach may have criticized him at times and benched him for most of the second half against Stanford this past Saturday, but Kizer has been Notre Dame’s best player so far this year. With very little in the way of a running game, the junior from Toledo has had to carry the offense and has accounted for 21 total touchdowns.
Defensive MVP: LB Nyles Morgan
On a defense that is not loaded with superstar talent, the junior from Crete, Ill., has been a bright spot. Morgan leads the team in tackles with 56 and his two sacks are tied for the team lead. He is far from perfect, but he is closer than just about everybody else on the defensive side of the ball.
Best moment of the First Half: Second Half Effort Against Syracuse
It's pretty bad when a half of football to beat a 3-4 team is the highlight, but that's where Notre Dame is right now. After stumbling around in the first half, the defense — in the first game following the firing of defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder — put the clamps down on the Orange and got the victory.
Best Newcomer: S Devin Studstill
When safety Max Redfield was dismissed from the team before the start of the year, Studstill knew that he was going to see a lot of action. He has made some freshman mistakes, but he also has 25 tackles and an interception.
Biggest Surprise: OT Mike McGlinchey and OG Quenton Nelson
And not in a good way. The right side of the offensive line was a question mark coming into the season and though the entire front has not been good, the left side has not done its part either. When your team is 110th in sacks allowed and 89th in rushing offense, the problem is greater than one side of the line and McGlinchey and Nelson — two players that received All-American consideration before the season — have not lived up to their billing.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. Team Psyche
Obviously, this could be 1, 2, and 3. With little to play for, can Notre Dame find a reason to compete at a high level every week? Has the team tuned out its head coach? Are the Irish playing out the string and looking forward to what may come next? We will find out. Without the proper focus, motivation, and togetherness, nothing else matters.
2. Offensive Line
This group has not been good. Whoever is playing quarterback is often under pressure and the rushing yardage from the running back position has been hard to find. Plus, the center is having trouble simply snapping the ball in the shotgun formation. If this area does not improve, Notre Dame will lose the majority of its final five games.
3. Defensive Development
The Irish have improved markedly since Greg Hudson was named defensive coordinator. Granted, the NC State game was played in a hurricane and Stanford without Christian McCaffrey does not remind anyone of the 2007 Patriots. But with a bunch of youngsters on defense, you applaud baby steps.
Ranking the Toughest Games Remaining on the Schedule
1. Nov. 26 at USC
The Trojans may not be the best team left of the Notre Dame schedule, but they are probably the most talented and are rounding into form. This also may be a situation where the Irish can’t wait for the season to end when they go on the road to face their archrival.
2. Nov. 19 Virginia Tech
The two previous weeks Notre Dame will face option teams in Navy and Army. Plus, the following week the Irish head to Los Angeles to close out the season against USC. This is a tough spot for ND and the Irish will be facing a pretty good team.
3. Oct. 29 Miami
Despite two consecutive losses, Mark Richt has Miami on the upswing. The Notre Dame defense will have a hard time stopping quarterback Brad Kaaya through the air along with Mark Walton and Joseph Yearby on the ground.
4. Nov. 5 Navy (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Navy lost 10 starters from last year’s offense, including superstar quarterback Keenan Reynolds. Then his replacement, Tago Smith, went down with an injury. But Navy continues to win with Houston being its latest victim.
5. Nov. 12 Army West Point (San Antonio)
At 4-2, Army is a much improved football team, though Notre Dame will be aided by seeing the option attack for the second straight week.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.