With the Notre Dame Stadium atmosphere receiving nothing but positive reviews from all involved last week and Irish junior receiver Braden Lenzy slated to start tomorrow against South Florida (2:30 ET; USA Network), seven of last week’s initial 20 predictions have already borne out accurately.
The odds of that land somewhere between a blind squirrel finding a nut and a million monkeys at a million typewriters eventually writing Shakespeare. Even getting No. 8 correct, “Expect a few muscular injuries early in the season,” hardly warrants praise. It was nothing more than following the logic of 2020’s inconsistent timelines, and by no means was it a silent nod to the hamstring that would hold out Lenzy in the opener.
Just as he hopes to through the top of the Bulls’ secondary this weekend, let’s go full speed ahead with the back half of our 40 preseason predictions, listed in chronological order of when they’ll occur.
21) The praise heaped on Notre Dame’s offensive line all preseason will be deserved, even after its slow start against Duke. It did find its form in the second half. Some of that early hesitation traces to first-year offensive coordinator Tommy Rees’ altered approach.
“We’re in a new running game relative to our scheme,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Monday. “Give these guys an opportunity to really work through it, and they did. We looked so much better in the second half because we needed — you have to have live reps.”
Fifth-year left tackle Liam Eichenberg points more toward the lack of competition than the new scheme, but gradual growth came all the same.
“I hate to say it, but it takes a couple drives to get up to game speed,” the three-year starter said Tuesday. “We definitely started off slow as an offense, the first couple drives, the first quarter, but as the game went on, we started to run the ball a lot better. We started to attack our targets a lot more.”
Expect more of last week’s second half and less of its first quarter moving forward.
22) Much like Isaiah Foskey’s pivotal punt block at Stanford last season, freshman defensive end Jordan Botelho will make an impact at some point this season. Both players arrived on campus as physical specimens with one unique quality, Foskey’s length matched by Botelho’s aggressive play. It is forgotten to time — understandable given all that has happened in this world in the last 10 months — but Foskey’s punt block turned a worrisome game at The Farm into an Irish rout.
“That play was a lot of fun,” Foskey remembered this week. “… It was just a great moment, perfect timing as everything just turned around. It was great to just get that blocked punt, have Justin (Ademilola) recover it, everyone celebrating on the sideline, getting everyone’s heartbeats back up.”
Rattling off Foskey, Ademilola and Botelho as backup defensive ends underscores Notre Dame’s depth up front. Defensive line coach Mike Elston rotated in 11 defensive linemen in the opener. That may not continue at quite that rate all season, but the depth will still preserve both the starters’ and the reserves’ legs.
“Getting that many guys in the rotation allows us to develop our football team throughout the duration of the season,” Kelly said.
If Botelho remains quiet into late October, that may simply mean he will be 100 percent fresh in November, not something to take for granted with any freshman. If he takes a quarter’s worth of snaps this weekend, that will keep fifth-year end Daelin Hayes that much more clear of wear-and-tear for games that are actually competitive. As long as that depth is used, there is no usage of it that is not a positive.
23) After a few weeks, once we have a better idea how this season will progress amid a pandemic — nearly a third of expected games to date have been postponed or canceled — the biggest question of the season will pivot toward how scholarship limits will be handled in years to come, given the eligibility mulligan granted by the NCAA for all players this season. If the scholarship ceiling remains hardlined at 85, that mulligan becomes more an “in spirit” proposition than anything else.
24) This space will pay more attention to the NBA Finals than the World Series, no matter the participants, primarily because the former (Sept. 30 – Oct. 13) coincides with Notre Dame’s first off week, while the latter (Oct. 20 – Oct. 28) overlaps with two road games that may worry the Irish.
25) Between the Finals and the World Series, Kelly will tie Ara Parseghian for third all-time in career victories at Notre Dame, winning No. 95 against Florida State on Oct. 10, though it will go with little celebration, if any, from the University for two reasons. First of all, Kelly should also catch Lou Holtz (100 wins) this season, so it would be reasonable to withhold any applause until then. Secondly, these Kelly totals include the 21 wins the NCAA vacated from 2012 and 2013. The Irish may acknowledge the larger totals, anyway, but will be required to include some degree of an asterisk in doing so, just as is still done in the media guide every season.
“Includes 20 regular-season wins and two postseason appearances later vacated under discretionary NCAA penalty. See Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. statement.”
26) We are only a week or two away from routinely rattling off a new record approach for fifth-year quarterback Ian Book. For example, he now has 58 career touchdown passes. With four more, he will be second all-time in Notre Dame history, trailing only Brady Quinn’s 95. He should end up in the same position relative to passing yards, completions and attempts in a career.
More notably, Book is only nine wins away from the most career wins as the Irish starting quarterback, currently at 21 with three tied at 29 (Quinn, Ron Powlus and Tom Clements).
27) Vaguely tied to those thoughts regarding the 85 scholarship limit, the Irish will have no two-time captains in 2021, compared to the two this season. All five captains (Eichenberg, Book, right tackle Robert Hainsey, defensive ends Ade Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes) will be drafted in the next NFL draft.
28) Clemson will arrive in South Bend as the No. 1 team in the country on Nov. 7, making it the first top-10 opponent at Notre Dame Stadium since No. 7 Stanford’s visit in 2018, a 38-17 Irish victory, and the first top-ranked foe in the House That Rockne Built since USC’s infamous appearance in 2005.
29) Arguably the biggest college football game of the year, that top-10 matchup will end with a score more similar to the “Bush Push” than the 2018 Playoff semifinal, but both were Notre Dame losses and this will be, too, snapping a home winning streak at 22 games, the second-longest in program history.
30) The Irish will not have sellers’ remorse when they head to Boston College a week later, led by former Notre Dame backup quarterback Phil Jurkovec.
Phil Jurkovec on leaving #NotreDame: "The main reason why I left was the frustration of not progressing. … In quarterback play, I think I regressed in certain areas over time. … It got to the point where I could not even throw the ball at all."https://t.co/tVNCgLRVgG
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) September 17, 2020
31) Despite the loss to the Tigers, the Irish will be in the top 15, and perhaps the top 10, of the first College Football Playoff poll, released Nov. 17.
32) No one will be accustomed to Notre Dame playing on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but we will all find the second plate of leftovers to be the ideal complement to a tight game at North Carolina, presumably in primetime given a spot in the ACC title game Will Likely be up for grabs.
33) Finishing the season against Syracuse will drudge up plenty of memories of snowballs in 2008. In fact, when discussing the 2011 South Florida rain delays these last two weeks, that 2008 game was brought up more than once in direct comparison to the misery involved.
34) The only thing more miserable than the idea of snow and Syracuse will be the morale in the Orange locker room by that point of the season. There is a non-zero chance Dino Babers’ team outright gives up by then, quite frankly.
I cannot help but shake the thought of a team starting 0-2, 0-3 or 0-4. At what point does that failure, combined with the mental toll of *this* season, become too much for a locker room? Literally speaking.
Yes, I'm talking about Syracuse.https://t.co/emHsdI0H4h
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) September 16, 2020
35) Finishing a season with such an anticlimactic game will leave all Irish fans missing USC more than any other game this season, including the trip to Lambeau Field. With the possibility of the Pac 12 playing back on the table, Clay Helton’s tenure could reach its end without Notre Dame influence, and that would feel like a chapter missing from the rivalry’s long history.
If this piece began with praise of correct predictions, it is only fair to note last week’s rendition also included, “Since USC did not fire Clay Helton following 2019, it would be hard to justify doing so without a 2020 season.”
36) Beating a succession of conference rivals (Yes, Florida State and Pittsburgh are now conference rivals.) will lead to some early-season optimism for Notre Dame fans, and a chance at a conference championship will stoke those fires, but it will be tempered when they realize the national championship game this season is in Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
37) The few examples of team win total over/unders available at particular sportsbooks featured the Irish at 8.5 wins. The over was the correct play.
38) Notre Dame will end the regular season 10-1, furthering its habit of winning the games it should win, something that was long a lost art in South Bend. The last time the Irish lost to an unranked opponent? Nov. 19, 2016 against Virginia Tech. Currently, that streak is at 25 games, and it could reach as high as 31 this season.
39) Simply due to the usual rotation, there will be more New Year’s Six bowl opportunities available to Notre Dame this season, not to mention the Orange Bowl slot tied to temporary ACC membership. That is the most likely destination for the Irish (Jan. 2; Hard Rock Stadium, Miami), but one way or another, they will end up in a New Year’s Six bowl.
40) All in all, Notre Dame will play 13 games this year, just as they would in any other year, making this both the boldest and the most boring of these 40 predictions.
But these 1,800 words included multiple mentions of Hard Rock Stadium, flashbacks to 2011 South Florida, 2008 Syracuse and 2005 USC, and brought up the NCAA sanctions that cost Brian Kelly 21 career victories. You already poured yourself a drink, didn’t you? Enjoy it.