SB Nation's Bill Connelly is one of the foremost experts on college football analytics out there today -- you'll see plenty of his numbers on this site -- so when he writes about Notre Dame, you pay attention.
And in his 2016 preview of Notre Dame, Bill C. has quite an optimistic outlook.
Still, Notre Dame features more exciting sophomores and juniors than almost any team in the country: quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire, running back Josh Adams, tight end Alizé Jones, safety Drue Tranquill, etc. If Kelly can keep his troops rallied, Notre Dame will have a serious shot at a Playoff bid, especially considering the schedule might ease up. And if the defense plays to its recruiting rankings, this team's ceiling is as high as anyone's outside of Tuscaloosa.
Give the whole preview a read, since it's packed full of good information and numbers about what Notre Dame did last year and where it's going this fall. A few thoughts on it:
-- Somewhat surprising in Bill's numbers was that Notre Dame's defense had the same S&P+ rank (57) in the first quarter as it did in the fourth quarter. Slow starts were a major problem for this group last year, one that Brian VanGorder & Co. circled as in desperate need of a fix. The fourth quarter mediocrity, though, probably was brought down by foot-off-the-gas efforts at the end of the Georgia Tech and Boston College games.
-- How does a run defense that ranked 56th in S&P+ get better when it loses so many key pieces from 2015? Bill leans heavily on the four-star recruiting rankings of guys like Nyles Morgan, Te'von Coney and Jerry Tillery, and doesn't see the Irish run defense getting any worse. But without Sheldon Day, Romeo Okwara, Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith, it probably won't get any better.
-- Bill's evaluation of the offense is pretty much on point. There's a lot missing from last year's group, but Notre Dame was extremely successful in replacing its starting quarterback and running back after the first two weeks of last season. Wide receiver coach Mike Denbrock and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand have proven themselves more than capable of developing players over the last few years, too, so even with so many new faces in those groups, it's fair to trust both will continue to be productive.
-- Now for the fun stuff. Bill's schedule breakdown is what really stands out about this preview in that Notre Dame's lowest win probability in its first 11 games is 59 percent (Week 1 at Texas). Home games against Michigan State and Stanford and a road trip to N.C. State are all in the 60-65 percent range, and Syracuse, Miami and Virginia Tech are between 70-75 percent. If Notre Dame is able to win close games against lesser opponents -- as it consistently did last year -- it very well could roll into Los Angeles 11-0. And while right now Bill only gives Notre Dame a 41 percent chance of beating USC, that's about as ideal a formula as Brian Kelly could follow to make the College Football Playoff.
-- No matter how you view Bill's optimism about Notre Dame's offense/defense/special teams, expected regressions from Michigan State and Stanford and a schedule that only has three true road games does set up well. The onus will be on Irish coaches and players to avoid an offensive regression, improve the defense and do what last year's team could've done with this schedule -- and very well could've meant making the College Football Playoff.