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Why Notre Dame can get back to College Football Playoff

Jesse Reed
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have a chance to get back to the College Football Playoff in 2020 after falling short of the goal last season.

The skinny: Brian Kelly has one of the best programs in the nation, and the Irish finished strong last year. They can take another step forward in 2020, but a few key things obviously need to happen for that to take place.

Biggest reason to believe: The most crucial key to Notre Dame having any chance at all to make the Playoff in 2020 is the return of quarterback Ian Book, who chose to come back for his senior campaign, rather than declare for the NFL Draft.

He’s one of the nation’s best passers and has elite potential if he can cut out rookie mistakes.

  • Though Book struggled at times last season, he finished the season on a hot streak, passing for 1,025 yards with 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his final four games.
  • Book isn’t just a pocket passer. Last season, he rushed for 546 yards (4.6 yards per carry) with four touchdowns.
  • Book has big-game experience and will be among the most experienced quarterbacks in the nation among contenders next season.

Offensive weapons: Though the Notre Dame offense lost some key playmakers from last year like leading rusher Tony Jones, star tight end Cole Kmet and top receiver Chase Claypool, this team has plenty of talent and depth to replace them.

  • The running back group should be fun to watch as the depth chart unfolds this summer. Look for redshirt freshman Kyren Williams to challenge for a leading role, along with redshirt sophomores Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister.
  • The receiving corps won’t lack talent with juniors Braden Lenzy, Kevin Austin Jr. and Lawrence Keys III. 
  • The 2020 recruiting class should provide a postive impact as well. Look for running back Chris Tyree, tight ends Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman, and receiver Jordan Johnson to all have a chance to make a splash.

Oh, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that all five starting offensive linemen from last year are returning in 2020. The run game should continue to be successful, and Book will have outstanding protection up front.

Defense is strong: The 2020 Notre Dame football team may not have a legendary defense as its centerpiece, but overall this unit is experienced and has the potential to be outstanding.

  • Up front, Notre Dame lost talent to the NFL this offseason but returns a ton of experienced players like Daelin Hayes, Ade Ogundeji, Isaiah Foskey and Ovie Oghoufo.
  • Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is one of the most dynamic at his position in the nation. He spearheads what should be an electric linebacking corps that should see Jack Lamb step up into a starting role.
  • The defensive secondary will have to grow up fast with a bunch of young players being thrust into prominent roles. But with cornerback Shaun Crawford and safety Kyle Hamilton leading the way, this unit could blossom in a big way.

The bottom line: The Notre Dame football program has enough talent to get into the College Football Playoff in 2020.

Whether it can challenge the likes of the Alabamas, Clemsons and Ohio States of the world remains to be seen. But this program is going strong under the leadership of Brian Kelly, who has done a great job bringing talent to South Bend.