Previewing Notre Dame, Georgia’s first huge football test of 2017 season

Georgia-Georgia football-Notre Dame
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly

While Georgia’s game against Notre Dame isn’t the Bulldogs’ first of the 2017 football season, it might be one of the most important. And with today being St. Patrick’s Day, there isn’t a better time to preview the Bulldogs’ Week 2 matchup.

For those who don’t pay attention to Notre Dame football, the Fighting Irish went 4-8 last season. But Notre Dame might not be as bad as its record indicated. Of those eight losses, only one was by double digits. And the defeats wee to teams including Southern Cal, Stanford and Virginia Tech.

Following a disastrous season, Notre Dame made a number of staff shakeups and figures to have different chemistry in 2017. Mike Elko was brought in from Wake Forest as the defensive coordinator. Elko replaced Brian VanGorder, who was fired midseason. Chip Long came in from Memphis to be offensive coordinator after Mike Sanford left to coach Western Kentucky.

Notre Dame also must replace starting quarterback DeShone Kizer, who might become a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Malik Zaire transferred out of the program as well, likely meaning that Brandon Wimbush will be the starting quarterback. Wimbush, who has not officially been named the starter, was the No. 3 dual-threat quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class. He has thrown just five passes in his time at Notre Dame.

Related: Georgia depth chart analysis

Even with the loss of Kizer, Notre Dame returns a number of talented offensive players. Leading receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and leading rusher Josh Adams are back. St. Brown had 9 touchdown catches last season and finished with 961 yards, while Adams had 933 rushing yards. Notre Dame also returns four starters on the offensive line. Among them: left tackle Mike McGlinchey, who some thought would be a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Notre Dame faces Temple in Week 1, so the Georgia defense will be a challenge for a player likely making his second career start. That would be especially if standout defensive tackle Trent Thompson comes back in the fall for the Bulldogs. Georgia is expected to bring back 10 starters from last season’s standout unit and complement them with a number of talented freshmen.

Related: Trent Thompson will ‘hopefully’ return to the team this summer

As for defense, Notre Dame hopes Elko can fix a unit that struggled last season. Other than a 5-sack outburst against Miami, Notre Dame had just 9 sacks in 11 games. The Fighting Irish welcome back seven defensive starters, but that unit surrendered an average of 27.7 points per game. Given that Notre Dame struggled to rush the passer last season, Georgia’s offensive line could get a chance to change the narrative about its struggles.

Over the past few seasons, Notre Dame recruited at a top 15-level, so the team isn’t devoid of talent. And after a 4-8 season, Brian Kelly is one of the few coaches in the country who might have more pressure to perform than Kirby Smart. Neither team has a cupcake in Week 1 — Temple and Appalachian State both won 10 games in 2016 — but with a prime time kickoff, Georgia-Notre Dame figures to be one of the most exciting early season games of the 2017 season.

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