The Fighting Irish had a really strange season in 2015. They began the year as one of the favorites to make the playoffs, but injury after injury cost them key players at an almost frightening regularity.
Before the season even began, they lost Cornerback Shaun Crawford and Defensive Tackle Jarron Jones.
Star Running Back Tarean Folston went down in the opening game. Starting Quarterback Malik Zaire went down in the second game along with Tight End Durham Smythe.
Safety Drue Tranquill went down in game three.
These weren’t walk-on players, or scrubs. These guys were all starters.
The season was not a total disaster, otherwise. They lost a heart breaker to Clemson in a driving rain by 2 points. In spite of losing so many starters, they won 10 games and improved to 10-1 on the season.
They closed out with Stanford in Palo Alto and they came from behind to take the win. So, they thought. But Stanford put on a miraculous last minute drive that lead to a Field Goal as time expired to give the Cardinal a thrilling 38 to 36 victory.
The Fiesta Bowl was a different story as Ohio State pretty much had their way with the Fighting Irish while winning 44-28. The game was not as close as the final score.
They finished 10-3 and obviously they didn’t meet their preseason goals.
The bright side is the experience gained by back ups and the injured players are all back and hungry to play.
At Quarterback, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has a tough decision. Malik Zaire was the starter before going down. He was replaced by DeShone Kizer who was fantastic. With both guys battling for playing time, who will Kelly pick? Kizer actually has more experience than Zaire now, but both can play. Is that a good problem to have? It wasn’t for Ohio State last season. It was more like a distraction and Kelly will have to manage that better than Urban Meyer did.
Losing Tarean Folston at Running Back after 3 carries last season was tough. But, CJ Prosise became a legitimate star and by the end of the season, so was freshman Josh Adams who would not have
played much without the injury to Folston.
Now, Folston and Adams will both play a lot at Running Back and both have a chance for a really big season.
The Fighting Irish have always had great Tight Ends. I ranked them by the order I thought they should be in here: Irish Tight Ends
Durham Smythe missed most of last year, but he is back. Smythe should be the main man here, but watch out for sophomore Alize Jones from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School. As a true freshman, Jones caught only 13 receptions, but he looks like the future here and he got more playing time because of the absence of Smythe.
Losing Defensive Lineman Jarron Jones before the season ever started was huge. However, that allowed true freshman Defensive Lineman Jerry Tillery to gain some valuable experience. Watch out for Tillery this season, the 6-6, 305 beast from Shreveport, Louisiana could be a great one.
Jones is back and ready for action in 2016.
Drue Tranquill should be back and the 6-2, 225 Defensive Back could be outstanding.
The only real negative is the losses of super stars Will Fuller at Wide Receiver and Jaylon Smith at Linebacker. These guys were among the best of the best with Fuller going in the first round of the NFL Draft to the Houston Texans. Smith was taken by the Dallas Cowboys and they only got him when they did because some teams were afraid of his knee damage.
There’s just no replacing players of this quality. Fuller was my favorite receiver to watch over the past couple of seasons and he was explosive. These are guys I will enjoy following in the NFL.
It’s never a good thing for a player to get injured, but in this case it may have helped the Fighting Irish for the 2016 season. Last season in South Bend, it really became a next man up type of situation.