Pregame Six Pack: Time for the Trojans

14 Comments

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then The Observer’s Irish Insider saved me a few columns. As Douglas Farmer and his crew aptly note, “the wait is over.”

Sure, it’s been tough waiting those 21-odd years for a night game, but I’m just happy we’re finally approaching the annual Notre Dame vs. USC game. In a series marked by dominant stretches between teams, the Irish might be primed to finally flip the script on a story that’s long been dominated by Pete Carroll and the renaissance he brought to Heritage Hall.

Yet those glimmering days where SC dominated the talent pool not just in their Notre Dame match-up but in just about any game they played is over. A long contentious fight with the NCAA, the removal of Mike Garrett from the athletics director’s chair, and Carroll’s well-timed departure to the NFL have all contributed to the current probationary plight of the USC — a school that has already seen its NCAA missteps trampled by places like Ohio State, Miami and almost Auburn.

If there’s been luster lost on this rivalry, you’d have a hard time proving it. While the 83rd meeting between the Trojans and Irish is only the 10th time in the intersectional battle that neither team is ranked, the nation’s attention — not to mention its blue-chip recruits — will be watching.

As always, here are six fun facts, tidbits, leftovers and miscellaneous musings as Notre Dame prepares to take on University of Southern California at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. (Live blogs to follow!)

***

After a long stretch of dominance the tide is turning in the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh. 

For much of the last decade, while the Irish recruiting classes may have looked comparable to the Trojans, once the two teams got on the field, the personnel difference was overwhelming. As Pete Carroll continued to hand-pick elite athletes from Southern California and pluck others from around the country, there was a noticeable difference in the athletes wearing cardinal and gold from those wearing the blue and gold.

Not any more.

“To me, I think Notre Dame has a higher talent level right now,” NBC analyst Mike Mayock said. “USC is comparative at the wide receiver position – two very gifted kids with Woods and Marqise Lee. They’re as good as anybody in the country. So at wide receiver it’s similar. However, I think Notre Dame’s offensive line is better than USC’s defensive line. And I think their front seven is better than USC’s front seven. I think where USC has the edge right now is the quarterback. He’s a three-year starter and a potential All-American. And a better quarterback is a great equalizer.”

We’re saving up some thoughts on Tommy Rees for tomorrow, but let’s finish the exercise.

Quarterbacks:USC (Top player: Matt Barkley)
Running backs: Notre Dame (Top player: Cierre Wood)
Wide receivers/tight ends: Even (Top players: Michael Floyd > Robert Woods, Tyler Eifert > Rhett Ellison)
Offensive line: Notre Dame (Top Player: Matt Kalil > Zack Martin)
Defensive line: Notre Dame (Top Player: Nick Perry)
Linebackers: Notre Dame (Top Player: Manti Te’o)
Secondary: Notre Dame (Top player: Harrison Smith)

If my talent evaluations leave a little to be desired, let’s let the best evaluators in the world determine things: Las Vegas. If you’re looking for a statistical trend, take a look at the point spreads from the last four match-ups between Notre Dame and USC:

2008: Opening line — USC -28.5. (Final score: USC 38, ND 3)
2009: Opening line — USC -10.5 (Final score: USC 34, ND 27)
2010: Opening line — USC -4.5 (Final score: ND 20, USC 16)
2011: Opening line — USC +8.5

We’ll see how Vegas did tomorrow night.

***

The balance of the Irish offense could be the difference on Saturday night. 

When Brian Kelly made the controversial decision to replace senior Dayne Crist with Tommy Rees, he mentioned giving Tommy the ability to play with a balanced offense. In the Irish’s four game winning streak, that balance has been pretty amazing.

The Irish have scored 18 touchdowns in their wins over Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Purdue and Air Force. Nine have come on the ground, while nine have come through the air.

The run-pass mix has been close to perfect as well: The Irish are running on 48 percent of their plays and throwing on 52. Even more incredible, during this four game run, the Irish have averaged 6.4 yards a rushing play and 6.5 yards a play when passing. (Kudos to Andrew Hendrix’s long gallop for making the stats work just so.)

Mayock mentioned that in his conversations with the Trojans defensive architect Monte Kiffin, the thing that impressed him the most was the balance the Irish displayed on offense. It’s also what could be the Trojans demise.

If USC has to commit seven men to stopping the run, the passing game with Floyd, Eifert, Theo Riddick and TJ Jones will be tough to stop. If the Trojans try to roll coverage over Floyd and employ a nickel base, Notre Dame could run all over Southern Cal.

It’s balance that’s been key to the offensive renaissance in South Bend. It could also spell trouble for an SC defense that is far from dominant.

***

It could have been a much different story for Manti Te’o and Michael Floyd. 

It’s not much of a leap to say that Manti Te’o and Michael Floyd are the two most irreplaceable players on the Irish roster. They’re also the two guys on the Irish team that were most likely to be donning the cardinal and gold, with both Irish stars having eyes for Southern California before ending up in South Bend.

Earlier in the week, Brian Kelly allowed himself to wonder openly what life would be like without Te’o. While losing the production on the football team would’ve obviously hurt the Irish, the linebacker brings so much more to the team.

“We could have lost Manti Te’o in terms of the football player,” Kelly said. “What we would have never overcome is the leader that he is.”

In many ways, it seems like Lane Kiffin is still feeling Te’o’s absence, with the middle linebacker (along with Arizona State’s Vontez Burfict, another last minute USC defector) haunting the Trojan head coach.

“USC thought they had him locked up three years ago,” Mayock said of Te’o. “And Lane Kiffin the other day was like, could you imagine us with Manti Te’o on our team?  You know, I mean, he’s – and then he went on for about three minutes describing Manti Te’o and how great a football player he is.”

Of course, the Irish could also be game planning for life against Michael Floyd, a treacherous thought when paired with Robert Woods. Floyd had eyes for the Trojans as a prep star at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, but struggled to get the attention of the Trojans coaching staff.

Floyd’s high school coach reached out to a former player and certain new resident to Los Angeles’ South Bay, asking for help to get his star player’s recruiting tapes into the hands of the Trojans’ offensive staff. (I’m proud to say that I gave less than my best effort.)

Both Te’o and Floyd’s names will go down in the Irish record books at Notre Dame. They could’ve just as easily been enshrined in Heritage Hall.

***

Both teams had gotten off to quick starts. It’ll be the team that finishes that wins the game. 

Trudging deep into the numbers gives you an interesting look at both Notre Dame and USC six games into the season. First, the resounding similarity: Both teams get off to fast starts.

The Trojans have come out of the gates smoking, out-scoring their opponents 46-10 in the first quarter. Likewise, Notre Dame has been just as impressive, shaking off a -13 opening stanza against USF to outscore their opponents 63-22 in the first quarter.

Here’s a quarter-by-quarter look at what both teams have done this season:

1st Quarter

USC 1Q: 46-10 (+36)
ND 1Q: 63-22 (+41)

2nd Quarter

USC 2Q: 56-36 (+20)
ND 2Q: 49-32 (+17)

FIRST HALF TOTALS:

USC 102-46 (+56)
ND 112-54 (+58)

3rd Quarter

USC 3Q: 44-52 (-8)
ND 3Q: 42-6 (+36)

4th Quarter

USC 4Q: 34-43 (-9)
ND FQ: 44-62 (-18)

SECOND HALF TOTALS:

USC 78-95 (-17)
ND 86-66 (+20)

Obviously, Notre Dame’s fourth quarter totals are dragged down by the implosion against Michigan and the garbage time touchdowns by Air Force. But for a team with a 5-1 record, the fact that the Trojans have played losing football in the second half of games has to be a major source of concern.

There’s winning football games and then there is finishing football games. After the 28-7 beating the Irish took in the fourth quarter in Ann Arbor, they’ve rallied, and their third quarter scoring margin (a staggering 42-6) is a testament to how well coached this football team is.

If the Irish can keep Matt Barkley and the Trojans from jumping out to a fast start, they should feel really good about their ability to win this game in the second half.

***

 The Irish need to take advantage of the Trojans’ mediocre red zone play.

If you’re looking for another trend that’s kick-started the Irish, take a gander at their red zone offense. After two of the most horrific games you could ever put in your stats ledger, Notre Dame is starting to play some efficient red zone football.

The Irish have scored on 13 of their last 14 trips inside the red zone. More importantly, they’ve cashed 11 of those 13 scores in for touchdowns. After a slow start to the season, Tommy Rees has piloted the Irish offense to 10 straight scoring drives inside the opponent’s twenty yard-line, with nine of those scores going for touchdowns.

Here’s a closer look at the work the Irish have been doing on both sides of the ball in the red zone, courtesy of the Sports Information Department at Notre Dame:

source:

Meanwhile, the Trojans have been mediocre on both sides of the football. Whether its a lack of a consistent running game or lapses in Matt Barkley’s accuracy, the Trojans are 92nd in the country in touchdown percentage offensively and their 76% scoring clip only barely ekes out the Irish’s 72% rate that’s still weighed down from six early and ugly turnovers.

If the offensive numbers are surprisingly bad for the Trojans, the defensive numbers are down right ugly. USC is 107th in the country, giving up scoring drives 90% of the time their opponent gets inside their 20 yard-line. They get even worse when it comes to giving up touchdowns, with 15 of 20 drives going for at least six points, good for 109th in the nation.

In a rivalry match-up like this, the Irish absolutely need to take advantage of what looks like a fatal flaw in the Trojans.

***

USC’s sour grapes is just part of the Trojan’s charm. 

Driving through Michigan City last night around 2:30 a.m., I felt like stopping by to see if Kiffin and the Trojans were enjoying the sights and sounds. Because if you actually listened to Kiffin, you’d think the Irish pulled a fast one on Southern Cal, forcing them into town early with nowhere to stay, then changing the kickoff time at the last minute for an additional home field advantage.

“I wish they would have told us before,” Kiffin complained about the “unexpected” night start. “We wouldn’t have left a day early. We’ll just have to figure out something to do in Michigan City.”

As our friends over at Her Loyal Sons pointed out, the Trojans might need a new travel coordinator. The Irish didn’t exactly spring this change on USC, they did announce it almost seven months ago.

Funnily enough, even then USC was complaining about it.

USC’s game at Notre Dame will kick off at 7:30 p.m. (EDT), the first home night game for the Irish in 21 years. The idea was not warmly embraced by USC athletic director Pat Haden, who worked as a broadcaster at the Irish’s last home night game against Michigan in 1990.

“We won’t get back until three or four in the morning,” Haden said. “That could be a long week for our players.”

USC did not have a say in the start of the game but Haden understood the move was made by Notre Dame for financial reasons.

“I wish we could play every game at 12:30 p.m.,” he said. “But I’d also like to triple our rights fees.”

I poked a little fun at Haden back then and he probably deserves a little more now. The 7:30 start is earlier than any of the games the Irish played in the Coliseum in recent memory, when you take into consideration a little concept called time zones. The Trojans also are flying home to the West Coast, earning back three hours on the way. When USC put the Irish on a red-eye after last year’s game I don’t think they were too worried about the sleep patterns of the Irish players.

Still, consider the Trojan gripes just part of the “charm” in this rivalry. Hopefully the late start lets Trojan fans enjoy more time on Michigan Avenue.

The lull of National Signing Day underscores need to move the early signing period

Getty Images
5 Comments

The early-morning chaos of today’s National Signing Day did not disappear with the implementation of the December “early” signing period in the 2018 recruiting cycle. It just moved six weeks earlier.

In 2014, waking up at 6:45 a.m. ET to be logged on and publishing at 7 a.m. led to noticing one expected recruit had not yet signed with Notre Dame by 8 a.m. Pointing that out and reminding the world Michigan State was making a late push led to an Irish media relations staffer reaching out to quietly say something to the extent of, “Just letting the young man have his moment at school.”

In 2017, less than two weeks after taking over this gig, waking up at 3 a.m. CT to churn through 2,000 words before signings could begin becoming official eventually led to napping through Brian Kelly’s Signing Day press conference.

Nothing changed 10 months later. That December, the afternoon of Dec. 22, the Friday before Christmas, was spent waiting for receiver Braden Lenzy to officially choose Notre Dame over Oregon. Sitting at your parents’ kitchen table not helping your niece make a gingerbread house because recruiting-obsessed fans harassed a player through two de-commitments is not a strong way to conjure up holiday spirit.

Coaches across the country advocated for the earlier signing period, claiming it would allow high-school seniors to make their collegiate decisions official earlier on in their senior years, particularly when the prospects had already made up their minds on where to play football at the next level. That was all optics, if even that.

These high schoolers now make their decision official just six weeks earlier. In the preps football calendar, those six weeks are meaningless. Both the December signing period and today, the traditional National Signing Day, come well after the high-school seasons have ended.

The truth was, coaches across the country did not want to tend to their solid commitments over Christmas and New Year’s, particularly not amid bowl prep. It was self-serving at best and short-sighted at worst.

First of all, when the December signing period became reality in 2017, one-time transfers were not yet allowed without losing eligibility the following season. Secondly, no one predicted the early signing period would lead to the coaching carousel beginning earlier and earlier in the season. September firings used to be the result of only off-field scandals, not outright expected from half a dozen programs each fall. Athletic directors now want that headstart on hiring a new coach so he can have time before the December signing period commences.

Exhibit A: Notre Dame may have ended up with Marcus Freeman as its head coach after Brian Kelly’s abrupt departure following the 2021 season, but if the primary signing date had not been lingering just a few weeks away, Kelly likely would not have jumped to LSU before the College Football Playoff field was set, and Irish director of athletics Jack Swarbrick would have taken more time in choosing his next head coach, more than the 48 hours he used last December. After all, Swarbrick took 10 days in hiring Kelly in 2009.

Lastly, with a 12-team Playoff coming in 2025, December will become only more hectic.

Those head coaches who wanted a little less stress over the holidays will then have to deal with, in chronological order:

— Keeping their own jobs.
— Securing their recruiting classes in the days immediately preceding Christmas.
— Preparing their teams for bowl games.
— Preparing their teams for up to four games if in the Playoff.
— Re-recruiting any players considering entering the transfer portal before the winter window closes.
— Winning a bowl game.
— Retaining their coaching staffs.
— Oh, and celebrate the holidays with their families, as was their want when they hollered for the early signing period.

Most of those tasks are immutable and inherent to the sport.

But one can move. It already has once.

The logic is too clear. Nothing was gained in moving up the primary signing date by six weeks. And sanity was lost.

This is, of course, a sport that prefers to ignore logic, but usually that is charming. A mustard bottle on the field is quirky; lacking a worthwhile voice of authority is stubbornly stupid.

So the early signing period may not move as soon as it should (now), but it will move. There are no anti-trust worries tied to it, fortunately.

And aside from the logic, cramming more content into December costs the media, too. Spreading out that context through the vacuum of mid-January to mid-March will be much appreciated.

Leftovers & Links: An early look at Notre Dame’s seven commits in the class of 2024, including QB CJ Carr

26 Comments

The traditional National Signing Day is this Wednesday, and for yet another year, Notre Dame has no intentions of inking any high-school recruits on the first Wednesday of February. The recruiting calendar has so changed that the Irish have not signed a recruit in February since 2021, when running back Logan Diggs pondered a late LSU push before doubling down on his Notre Dame commitment. Before that, not since 2019, when defensive end Isaiah Foskey publicly did so in order to be a part of his high school’s ceremonies.

Notre Dame turned its focus entirely onto the class of 2024 following December’s early signing period, when it inked a class of 24 players that ranks No. 9 in the country, per rivals.com.

Now with nearly 10 months to go before the next decision day to influence the narrative around Irish head coach Marcus Freeman’s recruiting focus, he already has pledges from seven players in the class of 2024. Class rankings this early in the cycle are rather meaningless, but for the sake of thoroughness, the Notre Dame class of 2024 is currently ranked No. 2 in the country, behind only Georgia with nine recruits pledged to date.

One player stands out among the early Irish seven. He stands out to such a degree this space broke from usual form when he committed in early June. To pull from that opening,

“This space has a general rule to not report on recruiting developments classes ahead of time. Worrying about the thoughts of high school seniors is enough of an oddity; focusing on juniors and underclassmen is outright absurd.

“But exceptions exist to prove rules, and Notre Dame landing the commitment of the No. 3 quarterback in the class of 2024 — prospects entering their junior years of high school — is such an exception.”

Consensus four-star quarterback CJ Carr is now only the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the class and the No. 14 recruit overall, but he is the kind of key piece to a recruiting class that the Irish lacked in 2023, despite Freeman’s continued excellence hauling in defensive prospects. Carr has been an active and vocal recruiter on his own for Notre Dame, not an unusual occurrence from an early commit but a habit the Irish have not garnered out of a quarterback in quite some time. Even Tyler Buchner, due to both the pandemic and his own soft-spoken nature, was not the loudest campaigner among his peers.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame beats out Michigan for Lloyd Carr’s grandson, QB CJ Carr

At 6-foot-3, Carr looks the part of a prototypical quarterback, and his arm strength fits in line with that thought. He has downfield touch that would open up Notre Dame’s playbook in a way entirely unseen in 2022.

The other six early commitments to the Irish in the class of 2024 …

Consensus four-star running back Aneyas Williams (Hannibal High School; Mo.), ranked as the No. 1 all-purpose running back and No. 106 recruit in the class, per rivals.com: There will be many comparisons to former Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams when Aneyas Williams arrives on campus, and though they are from the same state, there is no relation. The younger Williams can do a bit of everything while his 5-foot-10 frame carries plenty of punch. He lacks truly elite speed, as Kyren did, but obviously that did not kept the elder Williams from cracking 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.

Consensus four-star receiver Cam Williams (Glenbard South H.S.; Glen Ellyn, Ill.), ranked as the No. 11 receiver and No. 102 recruit in the class: The Chicagoland product visited Iowa a handful of times and took looks at Michigan and Wisconsin, seemingly intent on staying in the Midwest. Williams has all the fundamentals wanted of a receiver, 6-foot-2 size combined with a comfort catching the ball. Time will reveal what part of his game, if any, develops into his specialty.

Consensus four-star tight end Jack Larsen (Charlotte Catholic; N.C.), ranked as the No. 7 tight end and No. 187 recruit in the class: Whether Larsen will be the next piece of “Tight End U” or not is a premature thought, but at 6-foot-3 and an ability to snag passes downfield over defenders, Larsen already looks the part. Credit a basketball background for that aerial ability.

Four-star offensive guard Peter Jones (Malvern Prep; Penn.), ranked as the No. 4 offensive guard and No. 99 recruit in the class: Jones plays tackle in high school, nearly an absolute requirement for any offensive line prospect chased by Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, but his playing style suggests a future on the inside of the line.

Consensus four-star defensive tackle Owen Wafle (Hun School; Princeton, N.J.), ranked as the No. 10 defensive tackle in the class: Pronounced like playful, not waffle, Wafle should add weight to his 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame as he grows from a high-school junior into a college player. That may seem obvious, but the quality of that weight he adds in the next 20 months will be what most determines how quickly he can contribute in South Bend.

Consensus three-star cornerback Karson Hobbs (Archbishop Moeller; Cincinnati): Anyone committed right now has made a decision relatively early in the recruiting cycle, yet Hobbs was committed to South Carolina for three months before he flipped to Notre Dame in early November. Seeking out a committed three-star more than a year before he can officially sign may strike one as foolish, but Irish cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens has earned some leeway in his evaluations, given the early impacts of Benjamin Morrison and Jaden Mickey in 2022.

INSIDE THE IRISH
Ohio State, Clemson & Pittsburgh hurt most by early NFL draft entrants among Notre Dame’s opponents
40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part I: Notre Dame’s rushing offense hid many early struggles
Part II: Notre Dame’s upset losses should have been expected from a first-year head coach
Part III: Notre Dame’s November far from the expected disappointment
Part IV: Notre Dame’s 2022 ended where it was always expected to

OUTSIDE READING
How QB Sam Hartman found trouble with turnovers in 2022
College QB Austin Reed got transfer portal offers comparable to late-round NFL draft picks
I requested my Notre Dame admissions file
Boston College, offensive coordinator John McNulty parting ways after 2022 struggles
Hamlin’s injury highlights precarious position of many young N.F.L. players
On the Broncos’ head-coaching finalists
Bally Sports RSNs headed for bankruptcy
Auditor: LSU overpaid Brian Kelly by more than $1M in 2022

40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part IV: Notre Dame’s 2022 ended where it was always expected to

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - Notre Dame v South Carolina
Getty Images
6 Comments

Notre Dame did not get there in any way expected, but the Irish season ended about where anticipated in the preseason. Psychological studies could spend hours disagreeing if it would have been better for Notre Dame to go 10-3 with its three losses coming to three top-10 teams or if a 9-4 season with a top-10 upset is better for Marcus Freeman’s program in the long-term.

But either scenario was going to end with the Irish in the Gator Bowl, a likelihood as far back as August.

To finish this recap of 40 preseason predictions

32) “A freshman defensive back will intercept a pass this season, becoming just the second freshman to do so” since 2017. Notre Dame’s defensive backfields have been far from liabilities during this resurgence since the 2016 faceplant, but they have lacked young playmakers, Kyle Hamilton aside.

Enter Benjamin Morrison and not one, not two, not three … but six interceptions in his freshman season. Unfortunately for your prognosticator, that does not equal six correct predictions. (15.5/32)

33) “The spread when the Irish visit the Trojans will be more than a field goal but less than a touchdown.” And indeed, USC was favored by four when Notre Dame visited the weekend after Thanksgiving, in what may have been the last visit the weekend after Thanksgiving. Logic says the Irish and Trojans will continue playing regularly, but USC’s joining the Big Ten in 2024 could change the timing of the meetings, and NCAA rule changes have removed Notre Dame’s want to be on the West Coast that particular week.

The Irish used to disperse their coaches from Washington to Arizona to recruit the Pacific time zone immediately after the season-ending game in California. In a literal sense, it saved those coaches 12-24 hours to not have to travel to Seattle or Phoenix from South Bend, particularly vital in a crucial recruiting window.

But now, the days after Thanksgiving are a dead period, so the coaches cannot make those visits. They flew back with the team this year.

Combine that with the Big Ten flux and perhaps Notre Dame starts heading to USC at a different point in the calendar in 2024. (16.5/33)

34) “USC will not make the College Football Playoff.”

Between this, suggesting Ohio State would make the Playoff and mistakenly thinking Clemson would, as well, these preseason predictions accurately predicted the season conclusions for two of the three biggest Irish opponents in 2022. Already suspect the 2023 version will include none of the three making the Playoff. (17.5/34)

35) Sophomore receiver Lorenzo Styles’ disappointing 2022 — 30 catches for 340 yards and one touchdown — cost him any semblance of NFL draft buzz a year before he is eligible for the draft. A breakout 2023 would obviously change that, but that was not the prediction. (17.5/35)

36) Blake Grupe fell two makes short of the predicted 80 percent field-goal rate, finishing at 73.7 percent on 14-of-19. A career 74.4 percent kicker before he arrived at Notre Dame, the Arkansas State graduate transfer’s 2022 fell in line with his career. (17.5/36)

37) Arguing Notre Dame would score fewer than 32.8 points per game in 2022 was based on the lack of depth at receiver, subsequently underscored by Styles’ struggles. Expecting the Irish to slow things down made a lower-scoring season a strong thought, though perhaps not as low as the 31.4 scored per game in 2018, the low of the last six years.

Notre Dame threaded that needle with 31.8 points per game, a number buoyed, though not shockingly, by the punt-block unit and Morrison’s contributions. (18.5/37)

38) The Irish had gone 54-10 in Brian Kelly’s final five years in South Bend, winning at least 10 games each year. Predicting a sixth season of double-digit wins was a mistake largely thanks to Audric Estimé’s fumble in the fourth quarter against Stanford. (18.5/38)

39) This final stretch of predictions focused on hitting a few tight windows. The spread against USC, the exact scoring average and … where Notre Dame would play in a bowl game.

“Notre Dame will play in Florida before New Year’s.”

As complicated as bowl scenarios get during the season and then even the week of selections with the Holiday Bowl in San Diego reportedly campaigning hard for the Irish, sticking with initial expectations would have been a smart travel-planning strategy. (19.5/39)

40) 

(20.5/40)

40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part I: Notre Dame’s rushing offense hid many early struggles
Part II: Notre Dame’s upset losses should have been expected from a first-year head coach
Part III: Notre Dame’s November far from the expected disappointment

40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part III: Notre Dame’s November far from the expected disappointment

Clemson v Notre Dame
Getty Images
2 Comments

Recapping these preseason predictions bit by bit has emphasized how much of a see-saw Notre Dame’s 2022 was. They expected decent Irish success at Ohio State to open the season, which was realized. They then plainly assumed Notre Dame would continue to wallop overmatched opponents as Brian Kelly made the default.

Instead, Marcus Freeman stubbed his toe twice as first-year head coaches are wont to do, rendering that stretch of predictions largely flawed.

Now, the predictions tilt into early November, expecting little from the Irish. Of course, that was exactly when Freeman delivered the defining moment of his debut campaign.

21) “Notre Dame will top last year’s 41 sacks, which was a Kelly Era high. The Ademilola twins, junior defensive end Rylie Mills and at least one linebacker will each make at least three sacks.”

The first part of that fell inarguably short, 38 clearly less than 41. But the next sentence held more merit. Defensive end Justin Ademiloa and twin brother tackle Jayson Ademilola each had three sacks while Mills added 3.5. No linebacker reached three unless willing to still count Jordan Botelho as a linebacker with his 4.5 sacks. Given two of those came in the Gator Bowl when Botelho was clearly a defensive end, that would be generous grading. Instead, this entire prediction should be considered wrong, alas. (12/21)

22) Did this space continue publishing as planned after the Minnesota Timberwolves home opener? The running content calendar says a “Leftovers & Links” column ran on Oct. 20, the day after. Take the wins where you can find them, especially as a Timberwolves fan. (13/22)

23) The Irish had won 25 straight regular-season games against ACC opponents entering the season. Predicting that would reach 27 meant predicting Notre Dame would beat North Carolina and Syracuse. Check and check. (14/23)

24) That did not push the Irish into the top 10 of the initial College Football Playoff rankings, as predicted, thanks to the mishaps against Marshall and Stanford. (14/24)

25) And here comes a stretch of predictions predicated in pessimism, focused on how Notre Dame would fare against Clemson. The Irish had won 16 straight games in November entering the 2022 season. Suggesting that would end at 16 was suggesting Notre Dame would lose to Clemson on the first weekend of November.

Rather, that was the win in Freeman’s first season that will be long remembered. (14/25)

26) That expected loss was based on Clemson’s defensive front holding Notre Dame’s ground game in check. There was no expectation the Irish would dominate there with 264 rushing yards on 46 carries after adjusting for a single one-yard sack. Logan Diggs ran for 114 yards on 17 carries while Audric Estimé took 18 rushes for 104 yards. (14/26)

27) That loss did not knock Clemson out of the College Football Playoff. The Tigers messing around and finding out against South Carolina did that. But regardless, predicting Clemson would return to the Playoff was ill-fated. (14/27)

28) Notre Dame was 30-1 in its last 31 home games entering the season. Predicting that would reach 35-2 in step with suggesting the Irish would lose to the Tigers was wrong in all sorts of ways, most notably in that the stretch is now 34-3 after Notre Dame went just 4-2 at home last season. Again, Marshall and Stanford. (14/28)

29) Boston College receiver Zay Flowers did not have the predicted 40-yard catch on Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium. He had a long of 39 yards on a snow-covered field playing with a backup quarterback.

The spirit of the prognostication was valid, but alas. (14/29)

30) Former Irish tight end George Takacs did not catch a touchdown in his return with the Eagles. No one did. (14/30)

31) And former Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec did not have a “perfectly adequate day in his return to South Bend, not dramatic enough in any regard to confirm or deny anyone’s expectations for him that day.”

Jurkovec did not play at all, so let’s call this wager a push. He did, however, make some headlines from the sideline.

There is a strong chance this prediction is rerun in its entirety in 2023 with Jurkovec and Pittsburgh heading to South Bend on Oct. 28. (14.5/31)