Delayed accountability is better than no accountability, and with the modern college football calendar, this accountability is barely delayed. Notre Dame’s season may have ended nearly three weeks ago, but the combination of the College Football Playoff and the ever-flowing transfer portal kept those three weeks busier than not.
By hauling in five starter-quality transfers, the Irish and the modern college football calendar provided some newfound content in the stretch. That does not mean 40 preseason predictions should be forgotten.
Acknowledging each mistake should never be skipped, particularly since many of them shed light on where Notre Dame fell short in Marcus Freeman’s debut season. All 40 will be tackled in time. For today, the first 10 …
1) The first preseason prediction tied back to Freeman’s first day as the Irish head coach, expecting the highlight of his introduction to his new team to be featured on the first two broadcasts of Notre Dame’s season. NBC had the raspy introduction in hand for the opener, but I am not certain it actually aired. (o/1)
2) The expectation that Notre Dame’s rushing effectiveness would improve compared to 2021 took some time to bear fruit, and that delay clouded the statistical betterment. In 2021, the Irish finished No. 99 in the country in expected points added per rush. This past season, that rose to just No. 89.
Blame the first three games. At Ohio State, Notre Dame gained only three first downs via rush and then eight (compared to 11 passing first downs) against Marshall in Freeman’s home debut. The Irish averaged 2.5 yards per rush against the Buckeyes, 3.5 against the Herd and 3.6 against Cal.
That all changed at North Carolina, exploding for 287 rushing yards on 51 carries, gaining 17 first downs on the ground. In the following nine games, only twice would Notre Dame fall short of at least 4.4 yards per carry: Leaning on the passing game to blow past Navy (1.9 yards per rush) and on the same aspect to try to keep up at USC (3.5 yards per rush).
The Irish averaged 4.6 yards on 532 carries with 139 first downs. Let’s put those into some comparison. Adjusting for sacks, Notre Dame gained 20 more yards rushing than passing and averaged 5.06 yards per carry. It gained 16 more first downs on the ground than through the air. Oddly, the Irish scored 25 touchdowns through each method.
The preseason prediction emphasized, “Reclaiming effectiveness on the ground will be crucial.” Some of that is relative, but in this instance, relative to 2021.
A year ago, adjusting for sacks, Notre Dame gained 1,803 yards fewer rushing than passing. It gained 167 first downs passing and just 92 rushing. Touchdowns tilted toward through the air, 30, rather than rushing, 23.
The Irish returned to the ground in 2022, partly because its change in quarterback demanded it and partly because that will forever be how offensive coordinator Tommy Rees prefers to operate. (1/2)
3) “Sophomore Audric Estimé could be the key to the Irish ground game.”
He led Notre Dame with 920 yards, 5.9 yards per rush and 11 rushing touchdowns. Nailed this one. (2/3)
4) “The Irish will score first [at Ohio State].” Blake Grupe’s 33-yard field goal made this accurate, but stay tuned on the sentiment. (3/4)
5) “And they will still lose at Ohio State.” That 21-10 momentary moral victory was still a loss. (4/5)
6) “The Buckeyes will make the College Football Playoff.” Not all these predictions will be so clearly correct. (5/6)
7) And Playoff expansion will once again dominant too many thoughts in the season. This will be the case until the first season of the 12-team Playoff. And when that day comes, for the sake of enjoying unique football atmospheres, let’s hope Notre Dame is one of the top-eight teams in the country, thus hosting a quarterfinal Playoff game most likely on Dec. 21.
There is precedent for the University allowing students to stay an extra day for a sporting event the weekend before Christmas. When the Irish hosted UCLA on Dec. 19 — the day after classes had ended and when students are usually required to be out of the dorms by the afternoon — anyone going to the men’s basketball game could stick around until Sunday. (6/7)
8) Did you stay tuned on that score-first sentiment?
“Notre Dame will score first in at least nine games this season.” The opening script used to be a Rees strong point. It was not in 2022. Yet, the Irish still almost made this prediction correct, even if the sentiment was wildly off base.
The Irish would not score again in the first quarter until the fifth game of the year, against BYU, another Grupe field goal. They would not enjoy a first-quarter touchdown until the seventh game, against UNLV.
Charitably, Brandon Joseph’s 29-yard interception return for a touchdown at Syracuse came on the game’s first play, but then Notre Dame’s offense would need until halfway through the second quarter to find points. The same could be said against Clemson, a punt block in the first quarter that summed up the game until a last-minute touchdown before the half.
A strong first half against Navy and a shutout of Boston College changed this trend, but then this prediction died an early death when the Irish fell behind early at USC, though they did the same against South Carolina.
All in all, Notre Dame scored first seven times this season, but the prediction was worse than simply being off by two given the repeated first-half struggles from Rees’ offense. (6/8)
9) The Irish were expected to be heavily favored against Marshall, predicting by at least 17 points. They were favored by 20 points.
Separately, prediction No. 9 simply said, “Some favorite of at least 13 points will lose by the end of [the second week of the season].”
This is, uhhh, awkward … (7/9)
10) “Jac Collinsworth will provide the one characteristic that is most vital to a broadcast booth. He will be excited to be there at Notre Dame Stadium.”
Collinsworth absolutely provided that excitement in the broadcast booth, the one characteristic that no production magic can manufacture. (8/10)