Revisiting preseason predictions underscores the success of Notre Dame’s 2020

Clemson v Notre Dame
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In a season unlike any other, specific predictions may have been an exercise in setting a prognosticator up to fail. After all, absolutely nobody would have suggested Notre Dame would play in the Playoff in Dallas this season.

But in looking ahead to the Irish 2020, this space’s annual predictions fared alright, which is to say, Notre Dame had an inarguably successful season, no matter how the Thorn Bowl matchup with No. 1 Alabama on New Year’s Day may go.

Looking back at those 40 suggestions, 20 at a time, makes it clear the Irish exceeded any expectations in this chaotic year. Frankly, simply getting through 11 games in the midst of a pandemic mishandled at most turns is a mark of success in its own way.

RELATED READING: 40 Predictions, ripe with bad memories but better outcomes

1) Speaking of chaos, this space was so bold as to predict, “the entire season will be tense.” With a September outbreak leading to a canceled game in December, suffice it to say tense applied.

2) However, that sentiment did not “hover over” every NBC cutaway to the stands at Notre Dame Stadium. Senior receiver Avery Davis found the atmosphere to be far from the “disconcerting environment” herein predicted.

“Honestly, I was expecting a lot less,” Davis said after the opener. “I didn’t think there would be that many people in there, so to see them and to hear them and feel their energy, that was really exciting.”

That was the constant description this season, the only exception being the Irish trip to Boston College, which allowed no fans in the stands whatsoever. That occasion stood out enough to Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, he included it in his public calls for fans to attend the Playoff, at least players’ families, something that would not have been possible in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

3) So if the Stadium environment was tolerable from the outset, then it certainly was by October, making this prediction correct while No. 2 fell inaccurate.

4) Shutouts are rare in college football in 2020. Notching one against anyone (aside from UMass or Bowling Green) is a notable accomplishment. Thus, let’s count that as the oddity inherent to facing South Florida.

5) Did any ACC branding bother anyone at any point? The posturing about patches on the uniforms was nothing more than yelling for yelling’s sake.

6) Tony Dungy was roundly well-received alongside Mike Tirico in the booth, an enjoyed addition to the 30th year of “ND on NBC.”

7) Suggesting the Irish jaunt to Pittsburgh would be competitive is laughable in retrospect, as Kelly used that occasion to challenge his team to start thinking about Clemson, two weeks ahead of time. Notre Dame responded with a 45-3 romp of a respectable Panthers squad. Running tally: Five predictions correct, two less so.

8) The Irish dealt with muscular injuries early in the year, exactly as expected. Particularly Notre Dame’s receivers, with both Bennett Skowronek and Braden Lenzy missing time due to troubled hamstrings.

9) Though they played well, the three playmaking Irish defenders expected to get their hands on the ball routinely did not quite do so. Senior linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will end up a consensus All-American, if not a unanimous, and while he was involved in six turnovers, safeties Kyle Hamilton and Shaun Crawford managed just three. Thus, the trio ended up short of the estimated dozen. Even if Notre Dame had played its regular-season finale at Wake Forest, this thought likely would have been off-base.

10) The predicted range of fifth-year defensive end Ade Ogundeji’s sacks was not only between 4.5 and 10, but it was also argued he would lead the Irish in that regard. His 6.5 indeed fit both billings.

11) And fifth-year defensive end Daelin Hayes did indeed lead Notre Dame in ways beyond sacks, though he managed three of those, as well. As the Irish approached the ACC title game, a top-five rematch, Hayes outright dismissed the talk of big-picture narratives.

“When we (the media) talk about these narratives, it’s not real,” Hayes said after repeated questions about where Notre Dame stood in the national landscape. “All these speculation about this, that, none of that is real.

“At the end of the day, you have to go play ball. Your ball is going to speak for itself.”

12) Senior linebacker Drew White did not lead the Irish in tackles, although Crawford and Owusu-Koramoah were near the top of the ledger such that we will call this a push. Owusu-Koramoah led Notre Dame with 56 tackles, tied with Hamilton, while Crawford and White tied for third with 48 tackles. That push brings our running tally to 8-3-1.

13) If possible, the last few months included too much pizza for yours truly and not enough chicken wings. Making a pound of duck wings for Thanksgiving made up for that.

14) In mid-September, only 76 teams were expected to play this year, and Hawaii was among the other 54. In the end, 127 teams played, including Hawaii, most recently in a delightful 28-14 victory against Houston in the New Mexico Bowl held in Texas. One might sense a theme about relocated bowls and one state in particular that is welcoming them.

15) Some of this personal grading has been generous, but there is no need to be when assessing the validity of predicting Lenzy would start no later than when the Irish faced Florida State. That was his only start, so while the prognostication was correct, its spirit was woefully mistaken.

16) The preseason prediction was that Notre Dame would average more rushing yards than any other season since the Lou Holtz era aside from 2017. Specifically, more than 236.9 rushing yards per game. After rushing for 83 yards in the ACC title game, sacks adjusted, the 2020 average fell to 227.7 rushing yards per game.

Before running into Clemson’s anger, the Irish were averaging 243.3 rushing yards per game, so to some degree, this thought was well-placed, yet it will be marked as incorrect in this count.

If Notre Dame breaks loose for 327 rushing yards against Alabama on Friday (4 ET; ESPN), then we can come back and change that grade.

17) Junior tight end Tommy Tremble’s impressive season has not included any touchdown catches, let alone four. However, he has bettered his 16 catches from last season, making this a split and the current count 11-6.

18) USC will not fire Clay Helton after a 5-1 season that included a Pac-12 title game appearance, and Notre Dame’s only concern in retaining defensive coordinator Clark Lea was indeed Vanderbilt if the Commodores fired Derek Mason, as they did.

19) This fall did not feature a return to LaSalle Kitchen & Tavern, regretfully so, for all the obvious reasons. That day will come.

20) The season began with this scribe’s truck spending a long weekend in a Wal-Mart parking lot with a dead spot in its solenoid of the starter. The season ended with an appointment at a body shop the Monday morning after the final regular-season game to repair the damage done by an unidentified stranger in a rented moving truck. If only that had been the greatest frustration of 2020.

Count at our halfway point: 13-7.