And In That Corner … The Florida State Seminoles represent a welcome end to Notre Dame’s layoff

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In Notre Dame’s 30th year on NBC, it is fitting the No. 5 Irish host Florida State, the opponent in arguably the most famous of those 194 games to date. But these are not Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles of 1993. (Let’s all hope for the best for the two-time national champion coach as he, 90, battles COVID-19.)

Mike Norvell’s first year at Florida State (1-2, 0-2 ACC) has gotten off to a rocky start, both on and off the field. To better understand what lies ahead for Norvell as he attempts to revive the ‘Noles of lore, Warchant.com managing editor Ira Schoffel, previously the sports editor at the Tallahassee Democrat, joins us …

DF: I appreciate you helping out this week, Ira. I did not reach out earlier because I wanted to be sure Notre Dame would be able to play this weekend, but all signs point to football this Saturday, with the Irish awaiting only 11 players to come out of isolation or quarantine as of Monday afternoon.

On that note, let me start by quickly asking: How is Florida State faring on the coronavirus front, both overall and as it pertains to this weekend?

IS: It’s hard to know for sure. From the very beginning, Florida state has been adamant about not releasing COVID testing results for athletes and staff, citing privacy concerns — except in rare situations, such as when Mike Norvell tested positive and had to isolate. Through the first three games, they have had times where a handful of players have missed games and we’re pretty sure it was COVID-related, but that’s not confirmed. Either way, the Seminoles apparently haven’t had any major outbreaks since the team came back together. From a university standpoint, Florida State has cut back on in-person classes, so while the team is not in a true bubble, I think they are limiting how much exposure the team has to the general public and other students.

I typically try to build from micro questions to macro in these Q&As, but if the smallest detail is how the Seminoles are handling a pandemic, there is not much micro around this program these days. The defense, however, strikes me as almost a normal football topic.

Florida State placed three defenders on the preseason All-ACC first-team, led by cornerback Asante Samuel, who already has three interceptions this season. Looking through some preseason previews, my notes read succinctly, “decent, promising DL,” “experienced LBs” and “should be a good-to-great secondary.” Then Miami put up 52 points and 517 yards against the Seminoles two weeks ago. Even Georgia Tech gained 438 yards in the opener. What did those two, more specifically the Hurricanes, do to gash Florida State so readily? Where has the defense gone so awry from broad expectations?

You aren’t alone. We’re all kind of scratching our heads about the defense down here.

The secondary has been decent, but certainly not great, although Asante Samuel has been really good at one corner. Senior safety Hamsah Nasirildeen, who was one of those first-team All-ACC guys, still hasn’t suited up for a game. He was thought to be recovered from last season’s ACL surgery, but at this point, there’s no clear indication of when he’s going to come back. And the other defensive backs so far have just been OK. If it wasn’t for Samuel, the group overall would probably get a failing grade. And they’ve been the best segment so far.

The defensive line’s biggest problem has been the lack of a true pass-rusher. There were a lot of hopes junior Joshua Kaindoh could provide that — he’s a former five-star recruit who has battled injuries throughout his career — but he went down again in the season opener with a minor knee injury and missed the Miami game. He is back now and played decently against Jacksonville State, but this will obviously be a big step up in competition. The defensive tackles, led by senior Marvin Wilson, were supposed to be the strength of the defense, but that has not materialized, either. And there was hope that the linebackers would play well given their experience and what is believed to be an upgrade in position coach and defensive coordinator. Alas, that group continues to struggle. Through three games, they have tried a bunch of different players on that side of the ball, with little success. If Nasirildeen comes back, that should help … but they need a lot more than that to get back to where people thought this defense could be.

I focus on that because Notre Dame needs a get-right game for its passing attack, particularly coming off a three-week layoff. If Jacksonville State quarterback Zerrick Cooper can throw for 232 yards on 7.7 yards per attempt, should I expect Irish fifth-year quarterback Ian Book to finally get a rhythm this weekend?

I don’t see why you wouldn’t. Florida State has played very conservatively on the back end, which I think is out of concern about the lack of pass rush, so opponents so far have just thrown high-percentage passes underneath and marched up and down the field. Maybe the Seminoles are going to break out some exotic blitz packages they’ve been holding onto, but it’s hard to see them affecting Book too much with their front-four.

Jordan Travis
Seminoles junior quarterback Jordan Travis is expected to get his first start at Notre Dame this weekend, coming off sparking Florida State to a come-from-behind victory against FCS-level Jacksonville State. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Character Lines)

Offensively, I worry my line of questioning will be rendered moot by your first answer: Who is going to start at quarterback for the Seminoles? If junior Jordan Travis, the catalyst to beating the FCS-level Gamecocks, I will chuckle that Notre Dame has to face an option offense even though Navy was taken off the 2020 schedule. Travis feasted against Jacksonville State, somehow throwing for 210 yards despite his weak arm. What kind of approach will he lead into South Bend?

It’s going to be Travis. I think they’re pretty much done trying to salvage former starter James Blackman, and the two freshmen they have aren’t ready — especially for a game like this on the road. I think you’ll see a lot of zone-read and RPO stuff, and he is definitely a better runner than a passer, but Florida State’s running backs have shown some potential in the last couple of games, so I think they’ll try to get the running game going and find some opportunities for Travis to take shots downfield.

If Travis is the starter, how long or short of a leash will he have? Does Mike Norvell want to give freshman Tate Rodemaker another chance after last week’s struggles? Is James Blackman’s Florida State career essentially finished? Could highly-touted freshman Chuba Purdy’s shoulder be healthier than expected? On the surface, these wonders should fall into the “micro” category, but given how widely they could impact Norvell’s first year in Tallahassee, I see them as “macro” thoughts.

If Travis can stay healthy — injuries have been a concern and he’s obviously not a huge dude — he likely will stay out there as long as he’s willing. If they have to play someone else, I would think it will be Rodemaker. Unless maybe it’s a close game and Travis has to come out for some reason late, then maybe … MAYBE … they go back to Blackman at that point. But if they’re just going to give someone reps because the game is out of reach, my guess is it will be Rodemaker. It sounds like Purdy is close, but I would be really surprised if his first action was this weekend.

Whoever is throwing the ball, he will be trying to connect with preseason first-team all-ACC receiver Tamorrian Terry. Just how fast is Terry?

Terry has gotten off to a disappointing start, but he showed some signs of life last Saturday. He came into this season hoping to prove that he’s more than a tall, fast guy who can run takeoffs, but he had an awful drop in the opener and was a total non-factor against Miami. Norvell says he challenged Terry last week, and he likes the way he has responded. This would be a great opportunity for Terry to kind of redeem himself on a big stage. As for his speed, he is very fast when it comes to straight-line running, but he intentionally put on about 20 pounds this offseason and it seems to have slowed him down a bit.

Some of the quarterback troubles undoubtedly tie to the offensive line. It has been a problem for the last two seasons, and it does not look to have improved much. As you well know …

2018: 91 rushing yards per game, 36 sacks given up.
2019: 141 rushing yards per game, 48 sacks given up.
2020: 174 rushing yards per game, but only 130 per game against FBS opponents, 11 sacks given up in three games.

Is this still the underlying issue to the Seminoles’ ongoing struggles? Is there any reason to think the tune may change as 2020 continues?

The offensive line is still not a strength by any stretch, but that group does look better today than it has the last few years. Grad transfer Devontay Love-Taylor has been a huge addition, and he can play either tackle or guard position. The rest of the starting line is really young, as they’re building for the future. The redshirt freshman center, Maurice Smith, has shown a lot of promise, and they like several of the other young linemen. But they’ll likely have a tough time against any experienced defensive front.

Mike Norvell Ron DeSantis
Mike Norvell, forefront left, had his work cut out for him no matter when he took over this version of the Florida State program, but doing so in an offseason disrupted by a pandemic made the Seminoles head coach’s life much more difficult, not to mention his arrival served as a wanted distraction for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, right in August. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

At Notre Dame, early criticism of the offensive line was met with insistence it just needed some time to reestablish its chemistry after missing spring practice and getting only so much routine built into preseason practices. Perhaps that is true for Florida State, as well. But what is certainly true for the Seminoles is this was a terrible offseason to not have a usual offseason. On their third coach in four years, time to build a program was needed.

On top of that, Norvell put his foot in his mouth at least twice. Nationally, those missteps (one regarding the pandemic, one regarding systemic racism) came across as clear ways to lose a locker room for a new head coach. Was that overblown? Where do things now stand for Norvell in that intangible aspect?

Not having a traditional offseason was definitely a bad break for Norvell and his coaching staff. The spring would have been a great time for them to not only build stronger relationships with the players but to also get a better evaluation of how each player could best be used in their offensive and defensive schemes. Instead, a lot of that is being determined on the fly during the season.

As for the controversies, only one was really Norvell’s fault — when he misspoke about meeting with every player individually about the country’s racial strife. That seemed to get resolved fairly quickly, and I think the players were open to moving on from that. The second one was really more of a situation where the player misunderstood the COVID testing protocols and vented his concerns on social media instead of asking direct questions to the coaches or staff. Norvell never apologized for that. Instead, it was the player who had to ask for forgiveness and to be allowed back in the program. 

At the same time, it’s hard to say how close the relationship is with these players and coaches. The veterans in this locker room have been through the wringer over the last few years with lots of ugly losses and a slew of coaching changes, so some might never be totally on-board with where things are heading. And that might not be the fault of anyone on the current staff. Other players have clearly have bought in, and those are the ones I think you’ll see get more of the playing time as the season unfolds.

Coming back against Jacksonville State from a 21-7 deficit seemed to please Norvell, citing Florida State’s response to adversity. It struck me as coach-speak, but I am a skeptic like that. Is that momentum carrying forward such that the ‘Noles could make Saturday night interesting, despite the three-touchdown spread?

I think Norvell is trying to build on any positives he can find, and rightfully so. He took on a major rebuilding job when he came to Florida State, and if he didn’t know that before, he certainly does now. The Seminoles have not been even competitive against good football teams the past couple of years, so it’s hard to predict they’re going to make things interesting facing the No. 5 team in the country on the road. Their last trip to Notre Dame was one of the poorest performances I’ve ever seen from a Florida State team. Having said all that, if Travis can have some success running the offense, that would be a very big deal. A major reason for their lopsided losses in recent years has been woeful quarterback play in those games. If Travis can give the players on both sides of the ball hope, then maybe it can be a game. But it’s extremely hard to envision a Florida State upset.

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

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.

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

Marshall v Notre Dame
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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)