Welcome back to our 2019 Football Season Preview. To view our preview table of contents and read already-completed pieces, click here or on the Series button above.
Counting down the days until the season kicks off, we're ready to start breaking down the schedule game-by-game, with summaries of each team we'll face and our confidence level in the Hoos to get that win. Today, we'll tackle the Middle four games of the 12 game slate.
Date: Saturday, September 28th, 3:30 PM
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Location: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Indiana
2018 Record: 12-1
Last Meeting: Notre Dame 34 - 27 Virginia, 09/12/15 @ UVA
Athlon Preseason Ranking: 9th
Athlon team preview: Notre Dame Fighting Irish Preview
CFN Preseason Ranking: 15th
CFN team preview: Notre Dame Fighting Irish Preview
The strength of this edition of Notre Dame football boils down to three position groups: quarterback, offensive line, and defensive end. When you recruit like Notre Dame does, the rest of the roster will be stocked with highly regarded players too. There may be some questions regarding experience, depth, or some combination thereof in other areas. But it's the quarterback, offensive line, and defensive ends that leave very little room for concern for Irish faithful. And when you're trying to win football games, you want a talented QB, and offensive line that wins the line of scrimmage, and to be able to get after the opponents' QB with your pass rush.
At QB, Ian Book is back for his senior season. During his junior year, Book took the starting QB job away from Brandon Wimbush who has since transferred to UCF. Book's seizing of the job prior to the Wake Forest game helped Notre Dame's offense find its footing when things sputtered a bit out of the gate. He ended up completing 68.2% of his passes on the season for 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns against 7 interceptions. Book also rushed for 280 yards and 4 touchdowns. Book finished the 2018 season ranked 12th nationally in Total QBR.
On the OL, Notre Dame returns four of five starters from an offense that ranked 19th in offensive efficiency in 2018 per ESPN.com. The Irish averaged 31.4 points per game (42nd nationally), passed for 257.5 yards per game (37th nationally), ran for 182.6 yards per game (51st nationally), converted 43.0% of their third down opportunities (31st nationally), and ranked 35th nationally in total offense. They must replace last season's starting center, Sam Mustipher, however. It will be interesting to see how quickly the new Irish center adjusts to his responsibilities.
At defensive end, the Irish are set with returning starters Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem. Okwara (6-5 240) is a senior out of Charlotte, NC. Last season, he tied for the team lead in sacks with 8 while leading the Irish with 12.5 tackles for loss. He also intercepted one pass, forced one fumble, and registered one pass break up. Okwara's returning bookend is senior Khalid Kareem (6-4 262) from Detroit, MI. Kareem was the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week in last season's opening week win over Michigan where he had 8 tackles, 1 QB hurry, 1 sack, and 1.5 tackles for loss. On the season, Kareem was third on the team in sacks with 4.5 and tied for second on the team with 10.5 tackles for loss. Kareem also forced one fumble and was credited with an impressive 5 pass break ups.
When you build a defense, you want the middle to be stout, especially in the front seven. In Notre Dame's case, that would be your front six as they run a 4-2-5 alignment. Unfortunately for the Irish, those four players that manned the middle of their 2018 defense have departed. Starting defensive tackles Jerry Tillery and Jonathan Bonner were stalwarts for the Irish. Tillery, in particular, will be especially difficult to replace as he shared the team lead in sacks with returning defensive end Julian Okwara. Tillery's 10.5 tackles for loss was also tied for second on the team with the other returning Irish defensive end, Khalid Kareem. Bonner cashed in with an undrafted free agent contract with the Washington Redskins. Tillery was a first round pick of the Los Angeles Chargers.
Replacing departing linebackers Te'von Coney and Drue Tranquill will also be a challenge for the Irish. The pair combined for 209 tackles last season. Coney's 123 total tackles led the team while Tranquill's 86 were good for third. The dynamic duo also combined for 7.5 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss, 2 fumble recoveries, 8 pass break ups, and 1 interception. Tranquill was a 4th round pick of the Los Angeles Chargers while Coney received an undrafted free agent deal from the Oakland Raiders.
Getting the first shot at replacing Coney and Tranquill figures to be redshirt senior Asmar Bilal and junior Jordan Genmark Heath. Bilal and Genmark Heath combined for just 66 total tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and no sacks in 2018.
This will be UVA's first trip to Notre Dame Stadium in program history as the two teams have only played twice before. The last meeting was at Scott Stadium in 2015 while the first was at the old Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey in 1989. In each of the previous instances, the Irish were arguably the best team UVA played that year. That doesn't figure to change this season either, at least based on preseason expectations.
A number of national media outlets have highlighted this game as a possible upset pick. I can see where they're coming from as the Hoos should be able to hold their own. If they can attack the soft middle of the Irish defense, force a linebacker to account for Bryce Perkins instead of the fifth defensive back, and not let the Irish offensive line steamroll the UVA defense, there's no reason that this game shouldn't be competitive heading down the stretch.
Playing early in the season before Indiana turns into a frozen tundra should be advantageous too, assuming that the game isn't played in monsoon conditions like last season's trip to Bloomington.
Like most UVA fans, I have this date circled on the calendar.
Win Confidence (1 to 10): 3
Date: Friday, October 11th, 8:00 PM
Location: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida
2018 Record: 7-6 (4-4)
Last Meeting: Virginia 16 - 13 Miami, 10/13/18 @ UVA
Athlon Preseason Ranking: 28th (3rd in the Coastal)
Athlon team preview: Miami Hurricanes Preview
CFN Preseason Ranking: 22nd (Tied 1st in the Coastal)
CFN team preview: Miami Hurricanes Preview
Two position groups at Miami look to be the definitive strong point for this season's edition of the Hurricanes. On offense, it's the receivers. And on defense, it's the linebackers.
The receivers will be led by junior Jeff Thomas and redshirt senior KJ Osborn. Thomas led Miami in receptions (35) and yards (563) last season. He also pulled in 3 receiving touchdowns. But at the end of the season, the East St. Louis, IL native was set to transfer to Illinois. When Manny Diaz was hired to replace the retiring Mark Richt, Thomas rejoined the Hurricanes. His return will be a welcome addition to a passing game that needs help.
KJ Osborn is one of many transfers, graduate or otherwise, that joined Miami in the offseason. Osborn joined the Hurricanes after taking a grad transfer from Buffalo where he was one of the top wide receivers in the MAC. Last season he caught 53 balls for 892 yards and 7 touchdowns.
And sophomore Brevin Jordan, a TE, will join the duo at receiver to give the winner of Miami's latest QB derby a trio of highly regarded options in the passing game. As a freshman, Jordan won Second Team All-ACC honors. The TE from Las Vegas made 32 catches for 287 yards and 4 touchdowns.
At linebacker, no one would bat an eye if you suggested that Miami's starters were the best in the conference. They may be the best in the nation, in fact. The senior trio of Shaq Quarterman, Zach McCloud, and Michael Pinckney were highlighted as a team strength in last year's preview. So it makes sense that they'd return as a strength this year with the unit intact. In 2018, they combined for 200 tackles.
Quarterman, the unquestioned leader of the Miami defense, was First Team All-ACC in both 2018 and 2017. In 2016, he was also Third Team All-ACC as well as a Freshman All-American.
Name the last Miami quarterback that struck fear in the hearts of opposing fans. It's probably Ken Dorsey back at the turn of the century, right? And even then, you didn't really fear Dorsey himself but the options he had available on offense. And none of the QB options on this Miami team has shown anything on the field yet to give opponents cause for concern.
The three candidates to be named the opening game starter for Miami all have recruiting accolades attached to their names. But that's about it so far. Jarren Williams, a 247 Composite 4 Star, took a redshirt as a freshman last year. N'Kosi Perry, a 247 Composite 4 Star, was given ample opportunities to lock down the QB job as a redshirt freshman. However, he completed only 50.8% of his passes for 1,091 yards with only 13 touchdowns against 6 interceptions. Enter Ohio State transfer, sophomore Tate Martell who left the Buckeyes when Justin Fields announced his own transfer to Ohio State from Georgia. Martell, also a 247 Composite 4 Star, was given immediate eligibility for this season by the NCAA. Until someone seizes the reigns and shows it on the field, it's difficult to have anything but doubts at the QB position at Miami. On August 12, it was announced that Williams won the competition at QB and will start in Miami's opener against Florida.
Continuity, or the lack thereof, among the players in the program is the other issue facing the Hurricanes this season. There's some institutional familiarity still within the program with Manny Diaz taking over for Mark Richt but there was a good deal of player turnover within the program. In total, there are currently sixteen transfers, incoming or outgoing, tied to the program. Not counting Jeff Thomas who was going to transfer to Illinois before coming back to Miami, the Hurricanes brought in eight transfers. And one of those, running back Asa Martin, has already left the program as a transfer (destination yet unknown).
Of course, hitting the transfer market hard worked for Texas Tech men's basketball. But it remains to be seen if Manny Diaz is even half the coach as Chris Beard.
Miami is replacing five of their top seven offensive lineman per Athlon. Things were still unsettled coming out of spring practice. Miami also experienced personnel losses at QB, RB, and WR although as indicated previously the QB loss (Malik Rosier) wasn't likely too big of a deal. On defense, Miami is replacing three of their four starting defensive backs from last season. And on the defensive line, there are two starters to be replaced.
With all of the turnover in coaches and personnel, it's not difficult to see this as a transition season for Miami. They're getting a good deal of national attention as a surprise team or possible ACC Coastal winner. It feels like people are seeing the typical Miami flash, the bevy of name transfers incoming, and assuming it will all work out because The U.
I like their returning linebackers a lot. But after that? I'm not buying.
Manny Diaz is installing a completely new offense with new coordinator Dan Enos. There are big losses on defense and the OL to account for. And then all of the transfer action. I don't see how they craft a coherent team together that has good chemistry given all the variables in play.
Also relevant is that Miami plays the Hoos with just six days rest after a rivalry game with Virginia Tech. UVA, meanwhile, will be coming off a bye week.
Win Confidence (1 to 10): 6
Date: Saturday, October 19th, Time TBA, Family Day
Duke Blue Devils
Location: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Virginia
2018 Record: 8-5 (3-5)
Last Meeting: Virginia 28 - 14 Duke, 10/20/18 @ Duke
Athlon Preseason Ranking: 66th (5th in the Coastal)
Athlon team preview: Duke Blue Devils Preview
CFN Preseason Ranking: 52nd (4th in the Coastal)
CFN team preview: Duke Blue Devils Preview
Coach David Cutcliffe enters his twelfth year at the helm of the Blue Devils as the unquestioned face of the program. The work he's done in Durham deserves everyone's respect. Coach Cut will get the absolute most out of his teams and this year figures to be more of the same. His in game tactics are rarely matched. And that ability to scheme, especially on the fly, allows Duke to punch above its weight class. His record at Duke speaks for itself: six bowl games in eleven years including three bowl wins in row. Duke will face talent deficits this year, but Coach Cut will find a way to frustrate the better opponents while often out-foxing the equal or less talented teams on Duke's schedule.
The trio of senior quarterback Quentin Harris, junior running back Deon Jackson, and junior running back Brittain Brown should combine with three returning OL starters to give Duke a credible rushing attack. Harris, a dual threat quarterback, had 46 carries for 195 yards in 2018 (4.2 yards per carry average). Harris had a long rush of 28 yards and chipped in 5 rushing touchdowns. Duke often used Harris in the redzone as a change of pace from departed QB Daniel Jones. He's got the experience to run Duke's offense and it will be tailored to his talents.
Deon Jackson, Duke's leading rusher from 2018, returns and will likely be the focus of the offense. He posted 847 yards on 161 carries last year. That was good for a 5.3 yards per carry average. Jackson added 7 rushing touchdowns for the Blue Devils and had a long run of 75 yards. He'll share the backfield with fellow junior Brittain Brown. As a sophomore understudy to Jackson, Brown was second on the team with 369 rushing yards on 80 carries (4.6 yards per carry). Brown had a long run of 43 yards in 2018 while adding 3 rushing touchdowns.
Duke's rushing attack, unfortunately, looks to be hamstrung by its passing attack. Harris had a fine TD to interception ratio with 7 touchdown passes on the season versus only 1 interception. But his 50.0 completion percentage (34 for 68) raises an eyebrow. Coach Cutcliffe has a well-earned reputation as a quarterback guru, so he figures to do excellent work with Harris heading into the season. Where Duke is going to have issues is finding credible receivers throw the ball to.
Backup junior TE Noah Gray is the top returning pass catcher with 20 balls caught in 2018. Those 20 catches translated into 234 yards and 1 touchdown. At wide receiver, the top returning pass catchers are sophomore Jake Bobo and redshirt senior Aaron Young. In 2018, Bobo caught 10 passes for 167 yards and 1 touchdown. Young caught 7 balls for 139 yards and 1 touchdown. Making matters worse for Duke, Bobo is out indefinitely after suffering a fractured clavicle during a recent practice and Young missed most of the 2018 season with a knee injury.
Like on offense, Duke's defense has a handful of talented players but lacks the talent and depth across the board needed to be a top team this season. Make no mistake, corner Mark Gilbert, defensive end Victor Dimukeje, defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo, and safeties Dylan Singleton and Marquis Waters are upper echelon ACC caliber players. But things quickly manifest themselves into questions and unknowns after that. Good offenses will be able to scheme around those players and attack the weak links on Duke's defense.
Coach Cutcliffe has worked miracles at Duke. He certainly upset the apple cart in the Duke-UVA football rivalry. When he was hired at Duke prior to the 2008 season, the Hoos had won 17 of 20 including 8 in a row. Duke then won 6 of 7, including the first 3 with Cutcliffe on the sidelines. Things are trending in the opposite direction again as UVA has won 4 in a row now.
All things being equal, a committed UVA football program that is investing a reasonable amount of resources into the program should be able to best Duke unless there are some extenuating circumstances in play. Extenuating circumstances are not in play now and that's reflected by the recent win streak. Look for it to push to 5 in a row this year.
Win Confidence (1 to 10): 8
Date: Saturday, October 26th, Time TBA
Location: Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Kentucky
2018 Record: 2-10 (0-8)
Last Meeting: Virginia 27 - 3 Louisville, 09/22/18 @ UVA
Athlon Preseason Ranking: 81st (7th in the Atlantic)
Athlon team preview: Louisville Cardinals Preview
CFN Preseason Ranking: 58th (Tie 6th in the Atlantic)
CFN team preview: Louisville Cardinals Preview
Coming off a 2-10 season, it's hard to find a lot of strengths at Louisville. But the new coaching staff will be one of them. The Cards made the smart decision to get rid of Bobby Petrino and crew. He probably should have never been hired to replace Charlie Strong, but that's water under the bridge now. The Cards tried to replace Petrino with favorite son Jeff Brohm but could not lure the former Louisville QB from the head job at Purdue. Instead, they hired Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield who should be an immediate upgrade over the shady Petrino. Satterfield arrives with an offensive background and a .680 winning percentage in six seasons as App State's head coach. Progress will be slow because Petrino left a dumpster fire in his wake, but Satterfield and staff will be a bright spot moving forward.
Louisville has a player here or there that has all league talent but, there's not much in the way of standout position groups. If dual threat quarterback Malik Cunningham wins the starting job over Jawon Pass and true freshman Evan Conley, or simply gets considerable playing time, then Louisville may have a respectable rushing attack. Cunningham returns as the Cards' top rusher in 2018 where he gained 497 yards at 6.3 yards per carry. He had a long rush of 75 yards and contributed 5 rushing touchdowns. Louisville's second leading rusher in 2018, Hassan Hall, also returns in 2019. A speed back, Hall rushed for 303 yards at 4.3 yards per carry in 2018. He also added three rushing touchdowns. Power back Colin Wilson also returns as the third option in the running game. He managed 208 yards in 2018 at 5.3 yards per carry while scoring one rushing touchdown.
Louisville's offensive line will blunt any success the team has trying to run, or pass, the ball this season if they do not improve in a hurry. Besides the familiar Mekhi Becton, the line was a mess in 2018. They're only returning three starters from a unit that gave up 43 sacks (ranked 127th in FBS) and 93 tackles for loss (ranked 122nd in FBS). They can't get much worse in 2019 but it's also doubtful that they'll make the type of improvements necessary to be a credible unit in 2019 while trying to integrate two new starters. The best news for this unit is probably that new offensive coordinator / OL coach Dwayne Ledford has coached the OL at the ACC level before. Ledford was NC State's OL coach since 2016 before moving over to Louisville.
Like the Louisville offense, there are parts here and there on defense that are talented. But as a whole, the entire unit leaves much to be desired. They had one of the worst defenses in all of FBS in 2018 giving up 50 or more points in seven of twelve games. Opposing quarterbacks completed 65% of their passes and the run defense gave up 200 or more yards rushing eight times. As a whole, the rush defense gave up over 6.0 yards per carry. The Cards' defense was last in all of FBS in third down conversion rate surrendering first downs on 52% of all third down attempts. And against fourth down attempts, the defense was 119th in FBS. It all adds up to the 121st ranked total defense and 122nd ranked defensive efficiency in 2018. And one of the most glaring issues with this crew was often a total lack of effort and passion on the field. There wasn't a huge influx of talent in the offseason either as Cards' recruiting class was ranked 69th overall and 14th in the ACC. New defensive coordinator Bryan Brown will have his work cut out for him this year.
This is a total rebuild project. The culture, the talent, and the systems all need to be built up again from the ground floor. It was rumored that Jeff Brohm didn't want to leave Purdue for his alma mater because the athletic department wasn't willing to add enough guaranteed years on his contract to ensure that Brohm would have time to undertake what he believed was as a massive rebuild. Most in college football agree on the state of the program at Louisville. Still, the Cards did land a credible coach in Scott Satterfield. But will he have enough time to see the fruits of his labors? That's not for us to worry about. But like any quality rebuild, a full demolition must take place before a new, lasting structure can rise from the ground. The assumption is that Satterfield will try to build this program the right way, so expect Louisville to take its lumps this year as they try to establish a baseline and internal expectations for this program.
Win Confidence (1 to 10): 8