Sitting at 8-1 with a 1-point loss to Georgia as its only blemish, Notre Dame looked set to get back into the College Football Playoff discussion heading into November last season.
But after the team dropped two of its last three regular-season games, any discussions of a top-4 playoff spot went out the window. The team did, however, recover to win the Citrus Bowl against LSU.
While the Fighting Irish defense wasn’t great — it allowed just under 370 yards a game in 2017 — it wasn’t terrible. It ranked in the high-40s in rushing and passing yards allowed per game. They’ll look to climb back up the FBS rankings, but new faces will need to emerge among the defense.
Here are three Notre Dame players who could enjoy breakout seasons on defense in 2018:
Asmar Bilal, linebacker
As a player who saw time behind Drue Tranquill at linebacker in 2017, Asmar Bilal did well, recording 17 tackles, 1.5 for a loss.
This year, though, will be Bilal’s true chance to show what he can do. He didn’t play in 2015 and spent 2016 on special teams before his role changed last year as a junior. So if he was a little overlooked during his first few years in South Bend, that’s why.
He won’t be overlooked in 2018. If Bilal can perform at a serviceable level, the Irish will be fine here.
Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
It was possible that Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa was going to be a starter at defensive end heading into the 2018 season. But with Jonathan Bonner returning for his final year of eligibility as a graduate student, the sophomore will see his role increase in the defensive line rotation by moving inside to play defensive tackle.
Notre Dame coaches knew that when they signed Tagovailoa-Amosa in 2017, they were getting a player ranked as one of the better defensive ends in the country. After being switched to the inside in college, the Hawaii native responded with 13 tackles and 2 tackles for a loss.
While his cousin, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, made headlines as a freshman, Tagovailoa-Amosa will look to make waves of his own as a member of the Irish defense.
Donte Vaughn, cornerback
Julian Love has developed into one of the top cornerbacks in the country for Notre Dame. He followed up his Freshman All-American campaign with another strong season in 2017, making 68 tackles, 3 interceptions and recording 20 defended passes as he developed into a nightmare matchup for opposing receivers.
It’s too early to tell whether Donte Vaughn will have that same production as he career goes on, but he’ll get a chance to develop into another reliable option in the Irish secondary after Nick Watkins transferred out of the program. Vaughn played in four games last season, making 6 tackles as his playing time dipped from eight games in 2016.
But with Watkins no longer with the program, look for Vaughn to get on the field more — and much more.