Five things we learned: Northwestern 43, Notre Dame 40

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Apologies to Van Morrison’s mother. There didn’t have to be days like this.

Notre Dame’s overtime 43-40 loss to Northwestern Saturday is a game that defies explanation. Turnovers. Mistakes. Coaching blunders. They all add up to the worst Saturday Brian Kelly has ever had at Notre Dame Stadium, and perhaps one of the worst defeats in his 20-plus year coaching career.

Watch a replay of the game

Playing against a hapless Northwestern team, the Wildcats came back from an 11-point deficit in the game’s final minutes to force overtime. They did so courtesy of mistakes both mental and physical, by players both young and old, and a head coach who certainly should know better.

Credit Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats for pulling off the upset, keeping their dwindling bowl hopes alive by getting their fourth win of the year. But make no mistake, this game was lost by Notre Dame.

Finding new ways to stub their toes, the Irish loss pushes Notre Dame out of realistic New Years Day bowl contention, likely outside the Top 25, and into a final two-game stretch that should have everybody on “free-fall” alert.

Let’s finding out what else we learned.

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“Millions of excuses, but no single reason.” However you slice it, this loss is on Brian Kelly. 

Great Notre Dame football coaches can lose to Northwestern. So while some will want to run Brian Kelly out of town for this defeat, history won’t likely define him by this horrifying defeat. Just ask Lou Holtz.

The last time Northwestern visited South Bend, the Wildcats pulled off an even bigger upset, shocking an Irish team that was nearly four-touchdown favorites. And that means Kelly will have to endure a week like the one Holtz battled through early in the 1995 season.

But maybe Kelly can learn from Dr. Lou on how to handle this. The former Irish coach responded to a fan letter in the days after the difficult loss with this message, one Kelly would be wise to grasp:

Dear Bill:

Thank you very much for your letter. I really am sorry about the way we played against Northwestern, and yet I can’t quite understand it. I think I could give you a million different excuses, Bill, but not a single reason. All I know to do at a time like this is to follow your advice and persevere.

You were most kind to write.

That’s got to be how the Irish feel after this loss. There are millions of different excuses, but no single reason. It’s easy to point to the obvious. Bad math on a two-point play. Cam McDaniel’s game-clinching fumble. Two turnovers as the Irish are on the verge of crossing the goal line. A defense that gave up over 500 yards to the worst Power Five offense in college football.

But make no mistake. This one is on Kelly. And now the Irish head coach will have to go on a puzzling search to pick up the pieces before preparing for a Louisville team that’ll be smelling blood.

In his postgame comments, Kelly said all the right things. At his most succinct, he said the obvious:

“We’ve got to coach better. We’ve got to play better.”

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This is not the same defense we saw in September. 

Notre Dame’s self-destruction will be well-chronicled this week. And after getting past Kelly, quarterback Everett Golson and critical fumbles by Chris Brown and Cam McDaniel, the spotlight will turn to Brian VanGorder and his crumbling defense.

The shine has come off VanGorder, who went from meme to punchline in roughly 60 days. The first-year defensive coordinator watched his team give up 547 yards to a team that averages just 322 yards a game. Against the least explosive offense in all of power-five football, the young Irish defense was gashed early and often by big plays.

The razor-thin edge VanGorder’s defense lived on in September is long gone. And so is most of the personnel that had this group playing well.

Sheldon Day was in a brace from hip to ankle on the sideline, not a good sign for Notre Dame’s best defensive lineman. Jarron Jones looked like a fraction of the player who destroyed the interior of Florida State’s defensive line. The loss of Daniel Cage forced a defensive line with Jacob Matuska, Grant Blankenship and Andrew Trumbetti into action. That’s like looking at the 2007 front four.

Without Joe Schmidt, the linebacking corps look lost. That includes Jaylon Smith, who started the season on an All-American trajectory and could be lost in orbit at this point. Nyles Morgan struggled mightily again, and then lost his cool, trying even harder to find his way into the back of the doghouse.

The secondary is in even worse shape. Brian Kelly and the defensive staff decided Drue Tranquill would get the start over Max Redfield. The freshman safety, who up until this afternoon was one of the best surprises of the season, did his best to make the staff regret it nearly every play he was involved in.

And while Austin Collinsworth’s scoop-and-score was the type of senior memory the captain deserved, from that play forward, the veteran looked overwhelmed, the long layoff and shoulder injury nullifying him for most of the game. There’s enough pressure on the secondary without without accounting for a pass rush that’s non-existent.

It’s worth point out that even with these injuries, it wasn’t all bad for the defense. They forced four turnovers, keeping the Irish even in that all-important battle. Collinsworth’s touchdown recovery and Matthias Farley’s end-zone interception kept the Irish in it. Cole Luke’s interception should’ve bailed Notre Dame out again. But that feels a little bit like beautiful window dressing on a burning house.

At this point, there’s no hiding this group. Not without a base defense, a simplified scheme that can serve as the bedrock of this unit. Under Bob Diaco, the Irish had that. But with nothing but kids and leftovers on the field, there’s nothing to lean on. So VanGorder is going to have to pull a rabbit out of a seemingly empty hat these next two weeks.

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Notre Dame’s special teams finally cost them a football game. 

Heading into this season Kyle Brindza was set to go down in Notre Dame’s record books as the school’s best kicker. Now he can’t even be counted on to make an extra point or come through in the clutch — his best trait heading into 2014.

A week after a change at holder, Notre Dame’s brutal special teams unit cost the Irish dearly, with Malik Zaire fumbling an extra-point snap, allowing a Wildcat defender to block and return a point-after attempt for a two-point play. That three-point swing turned out to be rather important.

Brindza also hooked two critical field goal attempts wide left (including one in overtime, the goat to Northwestern kicker Jack Mitchell’s heroic day). The senior kicker who before this season had ice water in his veins, just couldn’t get it done in any facet, shanking a 17-yard punt when a good kick was desperately needed as well.

It’s not all on him. A kicker without confidence in his battery is a lost soul. After the game, Kelly talked about the struggles with the PAT battery when he decided to make the controversial decision to go for two in an 11-point game. That decision created a two-possession game, a margin needed for Northwestern’s comeback to even be possible.

A year after the Irish ended the season with woeful coverage units and in need of rebuilding a broken facet of the game, it looks like Notre Dame will have to do it again, only with a unit even more critical to the team’s success.

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Whatever happens going forward, Everett Golson needs to believe in himself. 

The box score will show more turnovers from Everett Golson. A fumbled zone read play that cost the Irish greatly. An interception that bounced off a lineman’s helmet and once again into the wrong team’s arms. But after hurting his shoulder early in the second half, Golson played well enough for his team to win.

A stat-line of 21 for 40 for 287 and three touchdowns and one interception on a cold, blustery day is not the problem. (There were probably five drops in that total.) Nor was his afternoon running the football, a career-high 78 rushing yards that included a 61-yard touchdown that opened the scoring.

But if there’s a worry you should have moving forward, it’s that Golson has lost some of the self-belief and unteachable football instincts that make him the dangerous quarterback that he is. And that’s something Brian Kelly can stop.

If I’m Kelly this week, I’m doubling-down on Golson. This is his team, and Golson is his quarterback. We can spend hours debating Malik Zaire and competition next year, but ultimately it’s no secret to anybody inside the program that Golson is the team’s quarterback for this season and next. So the mission moving forward is to make sure this loss is Golson’s rock bottom, and he plays out the season on an upwards trajectory.

Kelly showed that faith in his quarterback down the stretch, choosing to throw for critical third-down conversions instead of running the ball. And Golson came through. But with multiple fires burning in the Irish kitchen, Kelly should put the most talked about one out now.

Golson is his quarterback. Period.

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Next Year might still be the year. But Brian Kelly and his coaching staff are going to need to do some serious coaching, and go to see what the kids can do. 

In many ways, Cam McDaniel’s fumble might be a blessing in disguise. Because while the senior captain is a wonderful team leader and a player that deserves respect, he’s not one of the team’s best three running backs. And he’s certainly not going to be a part of the equation for an Irish team that now needs to look to a bright future in 2015.

With three losses, it’s time for Kelly and his coaching staff to make some tough decisions. And that might mean coaching for 2015. That’s not to minimize the next two football games. Both are critical to the present and the future. But in some 50-50 matchups where veterans are playing, it’s time to see what the kids can do.

That means giving Mike McGlinchey a shot at right tackle, working him into the rotation with fifth-year veteran Christian Lombard. It also means looking at players like Colin McGovern and the rest of the talented depth chart likely chomping at the bit while the offensive line plays just adequately.

If the secondary is at bare bones, let’s see Nick Watkins get in the mix in the secondary, especially with Cody Riggs injured and Watkins already playing through his freshman eligibility.

If the Pinstripe Bowl was when Kelly forced Max Redfield into the lineup, the head coach and his talented sophomore safety need to kiss and make up, because Redfield is a part of the future, even if it’s been a bumpy road the past few months. So is Tranquill, but in a role better suited for his skillset. Veteran Matthias Farley showed he’s a part of that group too, another huge game for a veteran that’s gone through the fire and emerged a better player.

The next project should be Greg Bryant. The sophomore running back showed some frustration on social media in the immediate aftermath of the football game, but he needs to play his way through inexperience. That’s easier to do with McDaniel fumbling away the game and missing pass blocking assignments as well.

After nightmares like today, looking forward is difficult. But while Saturday’s shocking loss took 2014 off track, Kelly would be wise not to let it do the same to next season.

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
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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

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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)

Leftovers & Links: Ohio State, Clemson & Pittsburgh hurt most by early NFL draft entrants among Notre Dame’s opponents

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Notre Dame at Ohio State
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The first two notable dates of college football’s offseason passed last week, the deadline for players to enter the transfer portal before the spring semester and the deadline to enter the NFL draft. The former hardly warranted much notice at Notre Dame, only three players entering the portal after the 2022 season. While plenty did transfer from other programs, a mid-May look at that movement may better serve Irish purposes, as plenty of names will eventually leave Notre Dame.

The NFL deadline has no second passing. Players are either headed toward the NFL draft by now or they are not.

The Irish lost five players to early entry to the NFL, though two of those instances were offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson and defensive end Justin Ademilola, both of whom would have been returning for sixth collegiate seasons in 2023. So in a more genuine sense, Notre Dame lost only three players early to the NFL draft: tight end Michael Mayer, defensive end Isaiah Foskey and safety Brandon Joseph.

All five would have started for the Irish next season, obviously. But at most, Ademilola’s and Joseph’s declarations were surprises, and even those were only mild at most.

College football will slowly churn back toward college careers following “normal” timelines and more tenable roster management the further it gets from the universal pandemic eligibility waiver from 2020. That will not take all the way until the 2025 season. Coaches are already leaning toward it.

While Notre Dame would have gladly welcomed back Patterson and/or Ademilola, it also knew two realities.

1) Patterson should be a second- or third-round draft pick who could have gone to the NFL a year ago. His time is now.
2) A year of Ademilola’s production would come at the expense of the development of younger players that may already be on the verge, somewhat deflating the value of his return.

In a parallel way, coaching staffs fall into two categories.

1) Either they are doing well and trust they can recruit better players than any draft debaters now. Leaning into continued successful recruiting lengthens the timeline these coaches expect to continue to succeed.
2) Or they are failing and soon fired. A new coach would rather bring in new players, “his players,” to reboot the program.

In both scenarios, fewer and fewer sixth-year players will be seen around college football long before the 2025 season rules them out entirely.

All of that is to say, when discussing entrants into the NFL draft, it is more and more accurate to focus on the juniors (like Mayer) and the seniors (Foskey, Joseph) rather than the half-decade veterans. Those losses from Notre Dame’s 2023 opponents, in order of most severe to least …

Ohio State: Losing quarterback C.J. Stroud would top this list no matter who else was on it. Stroud alone would have made the Buckeyes the title favorites next season. Receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba also jumped to the NFL, though his final collegiate season was effectively nullified when a Joseph tackle in the season opener injured Smith-Njigba’s hamstring to an extent he never genuinely returned in 2022.

Center Luke Wypler and offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. headed to the next level, as well, along with defensive tackle Dawand Jones and defensive back Ronnie Hickman.

But those latter losses are anticipated at elite programs. Ohio State has recruited to replace most of these players. The Buckeyes barely missed Smith-Njigba in 2022, and he may be the best receiver in the draft. Stroud, however, is a loss that will throw the early part of Ohio State’s 2023 into some question.

Clemson: Similarly, the Tigers losing three defensive linemen in Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee and K.J. Henry along with linebacker Trenton Simpson may be too much to overcome in stride. As Clemson has so terribly struggled — throw some sarcasm on that phrasing — to just 10 and 11 wins the last two season, it has leaned on its defensive front.

The Tigers gave up only 102.7 rushing yards per game in 2022, No. 13 in the country, and 20.9 points per game, No. 22 in the country. A year ago, Clemson ranked No. 7 and No. 2 in the respective categories.

Replacing 29.5 tackles for loss from the 2022 season including 16 sacks will be a difficult task. Perhaps “terribly struggled” will no longer warrant sarcasm.

Pittsburgh: Not many programs saw two All-Americans jump to the NFL, but the Panthers did in running back Israel Abanikanda (1,431 yards on 5.99 yards per carry with 20 rushing touchdowns) and defensive lineman Calijah Kancey (14 tackles for loss with 7 sacks in 11 games). Safety Brandon Hill also provided Pittsburgh’s defense some versatility.

USC: The Trojans also lost two All-Americans to the NFL — which, come to think of it, Notre Dame did, as well, in Mayer and Foskey — in receiver Jordan Addison and defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu. To be more clear, Addison was not a 2022 All-American, but one at Pittsburgh back in 2021. Injuries slowed him a touch in 2022, but overall, his talent is All-American in caliber.

Stanford: The Cardinal’s talent drain this offseason will warrant a deep dive. It is one to behold. The first line on it is quarterback Tanner McKee heading to the NFL with some draftniks thinking he should be an early-round pick.

When Stanford upset Notre Dame in October, McKee led the way with 288 yards on an impressive 26-of-38 completion rate. Losing him will drastically change the Cardinal ceiling in 2023, which is saying something considering how low that ceiling already was.

Central Michigan: Running back Lew Nicholls III did not have the statistical profile of someone who should head to the NFL already, with all of 616 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 2022, but look back to 2021 and his choice makes more sense. He ran for 1,848 yards and 16 touchdowns with another 338 receiving yards and two touchdowns through the air.

Navy, Tennessee State, North Carolina State, Duke, Louisville and Wake Forest did not lose players to any early NFL decisions.

If this list seems abbreviated, that’s because it is throughout college football. Name, image and likeness rights have made it more enticing for players to return to school Reportedly, fewer players entered this draft early than at any time in the last decade.

To think, so many people insisted NIL rights would ruin college football. Here is hard evidence it has upgraded the talent in the sport.

INSIDE THE IRISH
Trio of early-enrolling Notre Dame receivers most likely of dozen arrivals to impact 2023
40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part I: ND’s rushing offense hid many early struggles
40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part II: Upset losses should have been expected from a first-year head coach

OUTSIDE READING
2023 NFL Draft Big Board: PFF’s top 100 prospects
‘Everything’s on fire’: NIL collectives are the latest patchwork solution for college athlete pay
Numbers show NIL benefits college football
Has legalized betting led to more hurtful social media actions? Some admins think so.
Best college football games of 2022 season
Blazers’ Justise Winslow’s ‘giant, little steps’ out of the darkness

40 Preseason Predictions Revisited, part II: Notre Dame’s upset losses should have been expected from a first-year head coach

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To continue a final look back at Notre Dame’s 2022 season through the lens of preseason predictions and the expectations they framed …

11) The most underappreciated part of the Irish resurgence since 2017 and thus Brian Kelly’s final years coaching in South Bend was that Notre Dame won 42 straight games against unranked opponents, the longest streak in the country. It was so taken for granted, this prediction thought the Irish would run that to 50 games in 2023.

Instead, Marcus Freeman lost his very first game against an unranked opponent. (8 correct predictions out of 11.)

12) A few predictions always delve out of college football, for variety’s sake. Maybe that should be forgotten moving forward, considering the Packers neither beat the Vikings to open the season nor won the NFC North. To make matters even worse for this scribe of a lapsed Packers fan, they also were not bad enough to draft a good quarterback in 2023. (8 out of 12.)

13) North Carolina leaned on dynamic receiver Josh Downs to prodigious amounts in 2021. An early-season injury slowed him this year, thus ruining any chance of him having “the most catches in a game against the Irish this season, though not the most yards.”

He caught five passes for 32 yards.

Ohio State receiver Emeka Egbuka set the catches mark with nine for 90 yards to open the season, while BYU’s Kody Epps caught four passes for 100 yards, the season high in yardage against Notre Dame. (8/13)

14) Notre Dame played a multiple-look defense this season, a layup of a prediction given the linebacker depth and versatility led by Jack Kiser and (eventually injured) Bo Bauer. That was emphasized at USC when the Irish leaned into a 3-3-5 look without both cornerback Cam Hart and nickel back Tariq Bracy. Kiser’s speed became the defense’s best chance.

It was not enough, but it was a valiant effort, and one to keep in mind in 2023. (9/14)

15) “The math says at least one Irish player will be ejected for targeting in 2022.”

Enter JD Bertrand, twice. (10/15)

16) “Notre Dame will beat BYU in Las Vegas.”

Despite a lackluster second-half, check.

“… This space will miss at least one day of publishing the following week. Who can say why.”

Let’s check the running content calendar. For Tuesday, Oct. 11, it reads, “Vegas won this round.” Sometimes it is best to foresee your own personal failures. (11/16)

17) Marcus Freeman’s recruiting emphasis never waned, underscored by the last two years of recruiting topping anything the Irish have ever done. (12/17)

18) The only area in which Michael Mayer fell short in his Notre Dame career was of this prediction, one saying he would casually break two of his own three Irish single-season records. To do so, he needed to exceed 71 catches, 840 receiving yards and/or seven touchdowns.

The surefire first-round draft pick merely caught 67 passes for 809 yards and nine scores.

Would he have reached all three metrics if he played in the Gator Bowl? Almost assuredly. But then again, he played in only 12 games in 2021, too. The prediction was wrong, regardless. (12/18)

19) Another thought about an individual record, defensive end Isaiah Foskey did not exceed Justin Tuck’s record of 13.5 sacks in a season. He did take down the quarterback 11 times, reaching double digits for a second consecutive season while setting the Notre Dame career mark. (12/19)

20) Similar to prediction No. 11, an underappreciated part of Kelly’s final five years in South Bend were that the Irish won 39 straight games when favored at kickoff, covering all of the 2018-21 seasons.

Both to suggest that would continue and to guess how many times Notre Dame would be favored in 2022, arguing that streak would reach 48 was right in that the Irish were favored in nine of 13 games. They just happened to lose the first of those (and then again against Stanford, the fourth time they would be favored this season).

Such blunders should have been expected from a first-year head coach. Those missteps seem to catch just about every such rookie. But forgetting or overlooking that led to dashed expectations in 2022. (12/20)