Friday at 4: 40 Predictions, finishing with Notre Dame’s offensive leaders, record and long-awaited drinks

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Notre Dame does not play tomorrow. No Irish opponent plays tomorrow. Aside from linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath starting for UCLA, there may be no Notre Dame connections in this week zero.

Though, there is an Irish connection. Nebraska and Illinois are allowed to play this early week only because that contest was originally slated for Dublin.

Anyway, college football has returned. Buckle up. Enjoy. And don’t miss much. The distortion of time in the last 18 months will dissipate a touch in football season. The next 14 weeks will go quickly, the rhythm of pregame preview into recap into mid-week chatter into pregame preview has already started to gain hold.

At the end of those 14 weeks, Notre Dame will still have a game left. Will it be a third trip to the College Football Playoff in four years? Will it be a New Year’s Six bowl? Will it be yet another trip to Orlando?

That is not prediction No. 40, but it is near there …

RELATED READING: 40 Predictions, beginning with Notre Dame’s offensive line, September and Knute Rockne

21) To pull directly from an early July entry of the “99-to-0” series, and to refuse to hedge off it by even a touch, “let’s predict (sophomore running back Chris) Tyree will gain more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage. … (Junior running back Kyren) Williams may get the headlines, and deservedly so, but Tyree being even more potent as a sophomore will play a key part in enhancing Williams’ final collegiate season.”

Sometimes a player not getting much praise during preseason practices actually belies how much faith was already put in him. There has not been an abundance of hype around Tyree this month, but that is just because the Irish already expect so much from him.

22) As for Williams, gaining more than 1,550 yards from scrimmage would not be enough to cash his 120-to-1 Heisman chances, but that would exceed the Kelly era high of 1,468 gained by Josh Adams in 2017.

23) You’ll notice neither of those predictions considers how many times Tyree or Williams will find the end zone. Notre Dame has so many potential red-zone ball carriers, the touchdown tallies will be too small a sample size to anticipate (which could directly impact those +12000 odds). No fewer than six players will score on the ground for the Irish.

That is the prediction, but to give an idea of who that could be: Tyree, Williams and senior running back C’Bo Flemister seem sure things, as does quarterback Jack Coan, even if not the mobile threat that Ian Book was. One of the two freshman running backs should pick up at least one score in a blowout, and multiple receivers are dangerous off end-arounds, namely seniors Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys, along with fifth-year Avery Davis and perhaps early-enrolled freshman Lorenzo Styles.

No fewer than six.

24) A discerning eye caught the adjective earlier in “Williams’ final collegiate season.” Both he and junior safety Kyle Hamilton will head to the NFL after this season. That is such a certainty, anyone asking about them during the season is simply wasting time on a Tuesday evening.

25) Notre Dame will return two offensive line starters in 2022, which is to say both center Jarrett Patterson and right tackle Josh Lugg will turn down their pandemic-added years of eligibility. Marshall transfer right guard Cain Madden is currently using his added year, so he has no 2022 option.

26) Fifth-year linebacker Drew White will also turn down a possible sixth season, and fourth as a starter, but only after he leads the Irish in tackles this season, which will require more than his 57 a year ago or team-leading Kyle Hamilton’s 63. That increase will not tie as much to a 13-game season — but obviously that is part of it — and instead more toward the fact that Notre Dame’s offense will not slog as much.

The exact definition of “will not slog as much” is up for debate, but for context (and not as a prediction), let’s point out the Irish averaged 73 plays per game and 6.2 yards per play last year. The latter number ranked No. 34 in the country in 2020. It should be higher this season. (With teams playing such a disparate number of games in 2020, the national ranking of plays per game was distorted a bit.)

27) If replacing four offensive linemen, the winningest quarterback in program history and last year’s two leading receivers, how in the world will Notre Dame have a more explosive offense? Williams and Tyree will spark it, and sophomore tight end Michael Mayer will take care of the rest, with or without receivers help.

Mayer will finish 2021 with at least 55 catches, 800 yards and eight touchdowns. That is actually a tempered prediction from Mayer’s mid-May “99-to-0” entry. Note: The Irish record for receiving touchdowns by a tight end in a season is a meager six, set by Ken MacAfee in 1977 and tied by Cole Kmet in 2019. MacAfee’s mark had a nice 44-year run.

RELATED READING: Lacking ‘firepower’? Kyren Williams & Michael Mayer intent on setting the Notre Dame record straight

28) As for receivers help, the perimeter players set a team’s ceiling. Notre Dame’s final two games in 2020 once again proved that. And given Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees proudly has little else to do than study football (and have his appendix removed, earlier this week), he undoubtedly saw that over and over again this offseason.

“I don’t have many obligations besides this job,” Rees said in the spring. “So I’m fortunate that I’m able to pour a lot of time into studying the game of football.”

RELATED READING: In his second year as offensive coordinator, Tommy Rees looks to study Notre Dame’s strengths more, everything else less

Let’s make a conditional prediction: If Notre Dame has a receiver — not a running back, not a tight end — with 1,000 receiving yards in 2021, the Irish will go 12-0.

That is not to say they will lose a game if they do not have such a downfield threat, but if they have one, they will not fall short on a Saturday. The perimeter sets the ceiling, and 12-0 is the ceiling.

29) But early-enrolled freshman Tyler Buchner will not be the source of many of those receiving yards. Buchner may well be Notre Dame’s quarterback of the future, but he is the third-string quarterback of the present. Getting him live snaps will hold value, but not as much value as getting more reps for sophomore Drew Pyne, one play away from taking every snap.

As a result, Buchner will not attempt more than six passes in 2021, and that number could probably be halved.

30) The best quarterbacks Irish fans will see this season will be on the opposite sidelines. North Carolina’s Sam Howell is razmataz embodied, and USC’s Kedon Slovis has moments where he looks like a prototypical NFL passer. Neither will win the Heisman. No Notre Dame opponent will.

Why use “razmataz?” Blame Paul Rudd.

31) In no small part because of them, the Irish will give up more than 20 points per game for the first time since 2017. Do not trace that to the defense, but to the offense.

A more explosive offense puts the defense on the field more often. A defense on the field more often leads to more points.

Take this as praise of Clark Lea. His run at Notre Dame was underappreciated as it unfolded. His defenses held 26 of 38 opponents below their expected point totals.

Do not take this as faulting new Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. LSU offered him $2 million per year for a reason. Notre Dame built out its offer for the same reason. His disguised pressures create enjoyable defense.

32) Freeman will hold USC below its team total, whatever that team total is on Oct. 23, yet Trojans head coach Clay Helton will still be at his post in 2022.

33) Stanford will not win more than four games. Neither will Georgia Tech.

Toledo will win at least nine games. Both Wisconsin and North Carolina will reach 10, as will Cincinnati.

34) Georgia will make the Playoff, which might seem unrelated to everything here, but given how closely the Irish played the Dawgs in 2017 and 2019, it serves as evidence of how close Notre Dame is to the top tier. It is not in it, but it is firmly in the second tier, if not at the top of the second tier.

35) The Irish have beaten 32 unranked teams in a row. That will reach 40 this year. It will remain far behind Alabama’s run of 98 and counting.

36) Notre Dame will finish 2021 with an 11-1 record. This space will not predict who the Irish will lose to, but 11-1 is the most likely record, with 10-2 more plausible than 12-0.

Notre Dame is better than everyone on its schedule, but on some Saturday, some opponent will prove to be too much. There are too many games with too comparable of talent levels for one punch to not land at some point.

37) Three of those four games are in South Bend, and thus, the Irish will not finish the season unbeaten at home. That streak is currently at 24. It will end somewhere between 26 and 28.

38) But Notre Dame will go to a New Year’s Six bowl. A coin flip should decide if this prediction sends the Irish to the Peach Bowl (Dec. 30, Atlanta) or the Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1, Phoenix), but let’s ride the Georgia thought from earlier and look forward to some barbeque.

39) In a welcome prediction, Notre Dame will not lose a game to the pandemic, be it by its own testing results, an opponent’s or even local order. The season will be played as scheduled.

40) And fans will be in the stands for all 13 games. Unfortunately, the University will not mandate vaccines or negative test results to attend games, and that will keep many fans from wanting to attend games. More than anything, that will be to the detriment of the South Bend community, bars and restaurants.

But fans will be at the games.

I’ll see some of those vaccinated on Friday nights in South Bend.

It’s been too long.