Notre Dame’s Opponents: Four losses to top-20 competition with five more possible this week

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As Notre Dame’s success thus far puts more and more scrutiny on its remaining schedule, weekends like this past one stand out. The Irish opponents went 7-4 with those four losses all coming against teams now ranked in the AP top 15, including No. 6 Notre Dame itself.

Michigan (4-1): The Wolverines tried their hardest to gift a game to Northwestern, yet came back with 20 unanswered points to win 20-17. Michigan outgained the Wildcats 376 yards to 202, but three short fields gave Northwestern a 17-0 lead. Jim Harbaugh’s team could exhale only when running back Karan Higdon took a carry five yards for the 20-17 margin with 4:06 left, his second touchdown of the day.

The Wolverines now host Maryland (12 ET; ABC) as 17.5-point favorites. The combined point total over/under of 53 implies a 35-18 result.

Ball St. (2-3): The Cardinals enjoyed their best day of the season in a 52-24 victory against Kent State, snagging a conference victory in their first MAC game. Considering Ball State has not won multiple conference games since 2015, this start creates a decent chance at matching that pair, if not more.

Quarterback Riley Neal led the way by completing 30 of his 50 passes for 402 yards and four touchdowns, adding 61 yards and another score on 11 rushes.

The Cardinals now host Northern Illinois (3 ET; ESPN3) and are only 3.5-point underdogs, so perhaps they can flip the indicated 27-24 conclusion and keep the MAC success rolling.

Vanderbilt (3-2): The Commodores were not supposed to struggle against FCS-level Tennessee State. Suffice it to say, they did. It took a 68-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Shurmur to Kalija Lipscomb with 6:20 remaining to pull out a 31-27 victory. Vanderbilt had no one but itself to blame, losing the turnover battle by a negative-two margin and therefore cancelling out much of the total yardage differential, which was 553 yards for the ‘Dores and 373 for the Tigers.

From here on out, Vanderbilt gets to enjoy SEC play, and this week that means heading to No. 2 Georgia (7:30 ET; SEC Network) as a 26.5-point underdog. The over/under of 52 means bookmakers expect Georgia to struggle offensively, relatively speaking. A 39-13 Bulldogs victory would be the second-fewest points they have scored this season, ahead of only last week’s 38.

Wake Forest junior receiver Greg Dortch tied his career high with four touchdown receptions in a rout over Rice. (AP Photo/Woody Marshall)

Wake Forest (3-2): The Deacons’ efficient offensive performance in a 56-24 victory against Rice just a week after Notre Dame kept them in check speaks to the level of the Irish defense. Facing Notre Dame, freshman quarterback Sam Hartman completed 12 of 24 passes and junior receiver Greg Dortch caught only six for 56 yards. They fared better with the Owls in town; Hartman completed 15 of 17 passes for 241 yards and four touchdowns. All four of those scores went to Dortch, as did 11 completions for 163 yards.

Hartman and Dortch may need to replicate all of that against No. 4 Clemson (12 ET; ESPN) to cover a 17-point spread, especially if Tigers freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence starts. The 62-point over/under suggests he will in a 40-22 Clemson win.

Stanford (4-1): The 21-point loss handed to the Cardinal by Notre Dame was only the fifth of that magnitude during David Shaw’s tenure as head coach, a span that reached exactly 100 games Saturday. The previous four:

2011 vs. No. 6 Oregon, 53-30.
2014 at No. 5 Oregon, 45-16.
2016 at No. 10 Washington, 44-6.
2016 a week later vs. Washington State, 42-16.

In the games following those, Stanford covered the spread only in the last instance, upsetting Notre Dame, making this weekend’s 5-point edge against Utah (3 ET; ESPN) seem a bit dubious. The Utes may not win, but they should fare better than the 26-21 result expected by an over/under of 46.5.

Virginia Tech (3-1): The Hokies rebounded well after that humbling loss to Old Dominion two weeks ago. Virginia Tech went back on the road and beat a genuinely good Duke team 31-14. Starting in place of injured Josh Jackson, quarterback Ryan Willis went 17-of-27 for 332 yards and three touchdowns. It may not be accurate to say the Hokies are better off with Willis than they were with Jackson, but the thought can at least be considered after Willis’ debut, especially if remembering Virginia Tech was a 5.5-point underdog.

That same margin currently applies to the Hokies matchup with the Irish (8 ET; ABC). A 54-point over/under infers a 30-24 ending.

Pittsburgh (2-3): If possible, the Panthers’ 45-14 loss at Central Florida was worse than the score indicates. The Knights outgained Pittsburgh 568 yards to 272 and held the Panthers to 109 yards on 33 rushing attempts, an average of 3.3 yards per carry,

Pittsburgh should at least be able to score more this weekend even though they are 5-point underdogs against Syracuse (12:20 ET). Odd as it may seem, the ACC matchup is available on only regional sports networks, which is bothersome considering the possible early-afternoon entertainment value of a game cruising past its over/under of 60 points.

Navy (2-2): Coming off a bye needed simply due to travel demands that have already been quite lengthy, the Midshipmen now travel up into the Rockies to face Air Force (3:30 ET; CBS SN). Navy is favored by 3.5, and should win thanks to the week off, but a grinding, methodical afternoon will be in store. The service academies rarely combine to score more than the 49.5 expected points, a theoretical 27-23 tally.

Northwestern (1-3): Without running back Jeremy Larkin — who retired from football last Monday due to a diagnosis of cervical stenosis — the Wildcats struggled mightily to run the ball. Adjusting for sacks (of which Michigan managed six), Northwestern took 28 carries for 71 yards, a 2.54 yards per attempt average. That is how you give up a 17-point lead to a conference opponent.

Life does not get much easier for the Wildcats, traveling to No. 20 Michigan State (12 ET; FS1). The 11.5-point underdogs did cover without much trouble last weekend, and while that hardly matters in the real-world of binary results, little more should be expected from Northwestern this weekend, keeping things within the 29-18 score projected by a 47.5-point over/under.

Deondre Francois put together his most-complete performance of the season in leading Florida State to a 28-24 victory at Louisville. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Florida State (3-2): The Seminoles won an ACC game. To repeat: Florida State will not go winless in conference play. That was never a strong possibility, but losing their first two by lopsided scores left the Seminoles in position for such quips. They ended that fun with a 28-24 win at Louisville.

Quarterback Deondre Francois completed 16 of 27 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns, the most important of which came from a 58-yard completion to Nyqwan Murray with only 1:13 left.

Florida State probably will not turn the triumph into a winning streak as it heads to No. 17 Miami (3:30 ET; ABC) with the Hurricanes favored by 12.5 with an over/under of 50.5. A 32-19 loss to an in-state rival would not be a good chapter for Willie Taggart to add to his first season in Tallahassee, but expect something along those lines, nonetheless.

Syracuse (4-1): There was more to the Orange’s 27-23 loss at Clemson than the injury to Tigers freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence and the subsequent solid play from backup Chase Brice. The observant eye hardly expected Syracuse to pull off the upset even as the clock ticked into the final minute with the Orange still ahead.

That acceptance of the inevitable tied to Clemson’s success in recent years and winning ways in close games. It was a result of Syracuse kicking three first-half field goals, a tough way to find a victory on the road. And it had logic when realizing Clemson outgained the Orange 469 yards to 311 but turned over the ball three times to only one from the Orange.

Syracuse should be able to rebound against Pittsburgh, though, despite that regional sports network idiocy. At least it is better than pay-per-view.

USC (3-2): The Trojans barely got by Arizona, 24-20, but they did, and that was despite three turnovers compared to only one from the Wildcats. Running back Aca’Cedric Ware (pictured at top) paced USC with 21 carries for 173 yards and two scores, part of the team’s 47 rushes for 253 yards, a 5.4 yards per attempt average.

This win mattered more than may be realized. The Trojans got off to a slow start this season, and a 24-20 victory against Kevin Sumlin’s staggering Arizona is hardly a sign that USC has figured it out, but as long as the Trojans win their games in the Pac-12 South, they are in position to reach the conference title game. At this point, USC is 2-1 in the conference heading into a bye.

12 p.m. ET: Michigan vs. Maryland on ABC; Wake Forest vs. Clemson on ESPN; Northwestern at Michigan State on FS1.
12:20 ET: Pittsburgh vs. Syracuse.
3 p.m. ET: Ball State vs. Northern Illinois on ESPN3; Stanford vs. Utah on ESPN.
3:30 ET: Navy at Air Force on CBS SN; Florida State at Miami on ABC.
7:30 ET: Vanderbilt at Georgia on the SEC Network
8 ET: Virginia Tech vs. Notre Dame on ABC.

Favorites: Michigan -17.5; Stanford -5; Navy -3.5; Syracuse -5.
Underdogs: Ball State +3.5; Vanderbilt +26.5; Wake Forest +17; Virginia Tech +5.5; Pittsburgh +5; Northwestern +11.5; Florida State +12.5.
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Leftovers & Links: An early look at Notre Dame’s seven commits in the class of 2024, including QB CJ Carr


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

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 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.

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

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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 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
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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.

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