No. 9 Notre Dame at Florida State: Time, TV, Preview & Prediction

Notre Dame Florida State
ACC Media

It is not a top-5 matchup a la 2014, and it is not a top-2 matchup like 1993’s “Game of the Century.” More importantly, it will not be played in a stadium where the empty seats outnumber the fans by tens of thousands as was obviously the case last year.

But No. 9 Notre Dame’s visit to Florida State tonight brings with it plenty of intrigue, as the Irish look to a new quarterback who will rely on an unproven yet tantalizing receiver, hoping to embark on winning 10-plus games for a fifth straight season while the Seminoles will trot out up to a dozen transfers in a real-time roster rehaul.

In those respects, while this may not have the obvious markings of a game to be long-remembered as past matchups in this rivalry have, it should set a tone for both Notre Dame’s and Florida State’s seasons.

TIME: The broadcast will begin at 7:30 ET, with kickoff likely about 12 minutes later. Maybe 13. How do we know that exact mark this week? Seminoles head coach Mike Norvell expects to name his starting quarterback a minute or two later.

Setting aside the 50/50 chance Florida State even receives the opening kickoff — Irish head coach Brian Kelly has long preferred to start with the ball if he wins the toss — informed speculation increasingly expects sophomore Jordan Travis to start for the Seminoles.

Central Florida transfer McKenzie Milton may or may not play, but either way, him simply getting to the point of being in a full-preseason quarterback competition deserves credit after Milton suffered such a devastating knee injury in 2018 that he nearly lost his leg.

TV: ABC has the primetime broadcast, part of the six-day long debut week for college football, and it should also be available via the ESPN app. While you are at it, maybe take this long day of waiting for kickoff to sign up for Peacock and install the app on your TV or phone if need be to make it that much easier to watch Notre Dame’s home opener against Toledo in a week (Saturday, 2:30 ET), which will be available exclusively on Peacock.

PREVIEW: The Milton question persists for Florida State, in part because he should have a higher ceiling than Travis’ run-dominant quarterbacking, and in part because Milton’s comeback from injury is the kind of story that makes college football worthwhile.

The Irish defense has not shut out a Power Five opponent in seven years; new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman logged just two shutouts in his 49 games as Cincinnati’s defensive lead, two opponents in 2018 that combined to go 9-16 that season. The Seminoles will almost certainly score tonight, and even a Notre Dame fan should appreciate it if Milton is the one to find the end zone.

If Milton does not start — or even play that much — it may be a reflection of a talent mismatch that would put his knee at great risk, not necessarily something to do in his first live action nearly three years after his injury. Florida State’s four-year downfall (going 21-26 since 2017) has tied to its offensive line more than any other position. When Dillan Gibbons was passed over by an early-enrolled freshman on the Irish starting offensive line, he opted to transfer somewhere he might start. The Seminoles were waiting.

“The (Florida State) offensive line is much improved from last year,” Kelly said this week. “A lot of it has to do with the continuity. They all return.

“We all know that Dillan Gibbons has transferred there, and he’s a solid player, as well. He adds experience to their group, a group that’s now been together.”

Obviously, Notre Dame’s offensive line is perennially among the country’s best, but when a “solid” reserve is a shoo-in for a starting role at a nominal blue blood, that makes it clear the latter’s offensive line is lacking.

Meanwhile, the Irish defensive line has become nearly as reliable as its offensive line. During the exact same stretch Florida State has faltered, Notre Dame has gone 43-8, and throughout that stretch, defensive line coach Mike Elston has developed talent.

“They have great length, they play extremely hard,” Seminoles head coach Mike Norvell said of the Irish defensive front. “A physical bunch up front, coupled with what coach Freeman has shown to do with different movements up front and the way that he’s able to disguise some of the ways that he’s going to bring pressure, whether it’s blitzing linebackers or different run stunts up front.

“He does a great job with his disguises. I’m expecting multiple fronts, to be able to jump in and out of three- and four-down sets. They have really good depth, they have guys that have great experience and have been productive throughout their careers at Notre Dame. This is going to be a great challenge for our guys up front.”

If that challenge were to overrun Gibbons and his new teammates, and Milton does not yet fully trust his knee or instinctively shies from contact, avoidable disaster could mar the welcomed return of college football in full force.

Beyond that Milton thought — and it is more likely Travis either beat him out or Milton is not full-go just yet — the discrepancy in the trenches will define this tilt.

Freeman’s multiple looks and aggressive fronts will catch Irish fans’ eyes, but the sheer talent disparity should allow his Notre Dame debut to be straightforward. The Irish defensive line will overpower Florida State’s offensive line. And Notre Dame’s offensive line will control the Seminoles’ defensive line.

As detailed Friday, the talent gap in the trenches goes beyond Elston’s development or the Irish offensive line reputation. It is thorough and nearly comprehensive.

In more precise terms, college football analyst Seth Varnadore puts together a database ranking every single position group in the country based on their exact recruiting rankings. His numbers consider Notre Dame’s offensive line the No. 4 most-talented front in the country, development and experience notwithstanding. The Irish defensive line comes in at No. 12 among defensive fronts.

Florida State ranks No. 18 and No. 22, respectively.

Notre Dame’s offensive line may need time to gel, with four new starters essentially meaning none of the players in that group have played together, and it may include a freshman starting the season opener for just the second time in program history in left tackle Blake Fisher, but its raw abilities should be enough to keep Florida State defensive end Jermaine Johnson, a transfer from Georgia, in check.

Likewise, the Irish defensive line may be trotting out a converted tackle at end in fifth-year Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, and junior end Isaiah Foskey may have underwhelmed this preseason to the point that earlier this week Kelly went ahead and said, “He has not reached his ceiling,” but simple scheming should allow that front to put Gibbons & Co. on its heels.

PREDICTION: If Notre Dame can control the trenches to that extent, it should have little trouble controlling the game. This analysis can be that simple.

As of early Sunday morning, PointsBet considers the Irish to be 7-point favorites with a combined point total over/under of 55.5. That spread may drop by half a point by midday, but it would likely bounce back to 7, if so. Either way, those numbers suggest a 31-24 conclusion, a close enough game that would no doubt delight ABC and ESPN executives.

If Notre Dame has such a distinct edge on the line of scrimmage, why is it favored by only a touchdown? Blame the timing of the game.

Preseason lines are based nearly entirely on algorithms that produce numbers commonly referred to as power rankings. Those calculations hinge on returning production first and foremost, then recruiting rankings as well as recent history. That returning production weighs returning offensive line very heavily, almost as heavily as, well, the offensive linemen.

No matter how hotly Fisher and junior left guard Zeke Correll were recruited, the Irish power ranking takes a knock because they have so little experience (only Correll’s two starts late in 2020). Fifth-year Josh Lugg may have been around for every one of Notre Dame’s 43 wins the last four seasons, but he has not played enough to boost the line’s effect in those ratings. For a more tangible example: This is all why Phil Steele ranked the Irish offensive line at No. 54 in his offensive line rankings, arguably incomprehensible given Notre Dame won the Joe Moore Award as the best offensive line in 2017, was a semifinalist the next two years and a finalist in 2020. But Steele looked at the Irish returning just 31 starts along their offensive line and downgraded them, writing, “While weaker overall, HC Brian Kelly will form a solid group once again.”


The Irish are thus devalued.

Alabama or Ohio State gets some benefit of the doubt in the power rankings via the recent history aspect, but that applies more broadly than to any specific position group. If Notre Dame should get the specific benefit of the doubt anywhere, it is along its offensive line, given its dominance the last four years, despite needing to rotate through players as their predecessors headed to the NFL.

Once the season gets going, the previous weeks’ stats factor in, and a good but inexperienced offensive line will boost a team’s power ranking and thus influence odds moving forward, but not in week one.

If willing to grant the Irish offensive line the benefit of the doubt — an ask of an if given Fisher is only the second freshman to start a season opener in Notre Dame history, given Lugg’s play was nagged by back issues in 2020, given right guard Cain Madden is stepping up in level of competition from his days at Marshall — then that 7-point spread comes across as far too little.

Notre Dame 37, Florida State 27.

Picking the Irish to win by two possessions is not a leap of faith in Wisconsin transfer quarterback Jack Coan, an assertion that senior receiver Kevin Austin will make up for three seasons of practice hype in one year of action or that Freeman will immediately pick up where Clark Lea left off. No, picking the Irish to win by two possessions is simply recognizing Florida State’s weaknesses in the trenches and Notre Dame’s strengths.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner, and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.

2020 lessons remain top of mind as Notre Dame nears 2021’s kickoff
Friday night showcase will shine light on two Irish foes
Things To Learn: Notre Dame’s return to Florida State and the Chop could foreshadow seasons to come
And In That Corner: Florida State looks to transfers to slow No. 9 Notre Dame
Friday at 4: Notre Dame is back, college football is back, ‘let’s do this’

McKenzie Milton’s orthopedic surgeon details the FSU QB’s long road back to football
FSU QB McKenzie Milton seeks another chance to play the game he loves
Transfer time: New rule brings college football free agency
Perseverance pays for Notre Dame’s Kevin Austin
Fully healthy Kevin Austin Jr. finds long-awaited sustained momentum
Chance to transcend status as practice legend arrives for Notre Dame WR Kevin Austin Jr.
FSU to offer vaccination clinic at Doak Campbell Stadium before Notre Dame game
The thing about college football is that it’s not about college football
This is the biggest opening weekend ever, literally and figuratively
Will these 10 coordinator changes work out?
College football 50 things countdown: I can’t wait to soak in the atmosphere from above

Georgia OL prospect the first commit for new Notre Dame OL coach Joe Rudolph


New Notre Dame offensive line coach Joe Rudolph pulled in his first recruit by continuing to chase a prospect he initially wanted at his last job. Three-star offensive lineman Anthonie Knapp (Roswell High School; Ga.) committed to the Irish on Wednesday afternoon, picking Notre Dame over Rudolph’s former employer, Virginia Tech, as well as Georgia Tech and North Carolina.

In total, more than half the ACC offered Knapp a scholarship. The Irish offer came only this past weekend with Knapp in South Bend catching up with Rudolph, who was the first Power Five coach to offer a scholarship to Knapp back at Virginia Tech.

“The hospitality and the heritage it kept made the school stand out,” Knapp said to Inside ND Sports in a text message.

At 6-foot-5 and less than 270 pounds, Knapp will need to put on weight at the next level, though that can be said of most high school juniors. He played left tackle last season, but unless the weight piles on quickly and consistently, Knapp will most likely play guard at the next level.

His footwork already looks more fundamentally sound than most high schoolers display, all the more impressive because Knapp could simply rely on overpowering his opponents as most offensive line prospects understandably tend to do. Knapp is content to use his length and footwork to let a pass rusher charge upfield, well past the quarterback.

Strength and mass will come with age and entering a collegiate conditioning program, and Knapp needs both of those, but length is uncoachable and footwork fundamentals hold up early careers as often as lack of strength does.

He is the second offensive lineman in the class, joining four-star offensive guard Peter Jones, also a preps tackle that is expected to move inside in college.

Leftovers & Links: Notre Dame’s biggest offensive progressions this spring will be smallest to spot from afar

Getty Images

When Marcus Freeman was first hired as Notre Dame’s head coach in December of 2021, it was widely expected he would retain three-fifths of his offensive coaching staff. Instead, promotions elsewhere awaited two of those coaches, leaving only Tommy Rees as a constant.

Then Rees and one-year returnee Harry Hiestand departed this offseason, meaning Freeman’s entire offensive coaching staff turned over — and the offensive line coach twice — within 15 months of that supposedly being a piece of stability he could lean on as a young first-time head coach. Yet, one thing has not changed about Freeman’s relationship with the offensive coaches: He is trying to stay out of their way.

“Most of the [newcomers] are on the offensive side of the ball, so really I just try to stay out of the way and let those guys meet,” Freeman said last week at the start of the Irish spring practices. “Give them time to be together. They’ve been together a lot and met a lot and really, you have to meet to get everybody on the same page. A lot of that is cohesion, that ability to view these guys as teammates.

“… I’ve been in there a bit, and then we have our staff meetings to make sure everybody understands our culture, understands our expectations. It’s not where it’s a finished product, but it’s definitely progressing to where we want to see it.”

A year ago, the cohesion Freeman was most worried about on the offensive side of the ball was between Rees and a pair of inexperienced quarterbacks. Now, it’s the collaboration between an offensive coordinator, a quarterbacks coach and an offensive line coach who had never worked together before a month or two ago. Freeman, of course, knew offensive coordinator Gerad Parker for more than a decade, quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli for seven years and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph since Freeman’s playing days at Ohio State beginning in 2004.

That has been a common theme in Freeman’s hires, tying to former Notre Dame special teams coach Brian Mason, current cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens and defensive line coach Al Washington.

“There’s nothing more important than experience with somebody,” Freeman said. “I don’t have to wonder what this person is like when I’m not around. … When I can find a quality coach that I know can be the best at his profession, but also I have personal experience with them — I’m not saying we’re friends, but we’ve worked together. Coach Rudolph was at Ohio State when I was a player, but I knew what type of person he was.”

That is the commonality between those three new offensive hires, though a few pieces of similar backgrounds can be found between Parker and Guidugli. At 42 and 40, respectively, they both grew up in the Ohio River Valley and played college football along the same Kentucky-Ohio Interstate corridor. Parker then went straight into coaching while Guidugli knocked around the Canadian Football League and various iterations of short-lived secondary leagues in the United States until he went into coaching in 2010.

At the least, though, their formative years should have shared enough to lay a foundation now, the foundation upon which Freeman is counting on them to build an offense. That progression may be as important as any other made on the offensive side of the ball this spring.

After just one practice, Freeman saw value in a quarterbacks coach who can somewhat ignore the rest of the offense. Rees’s focus was assuredly on the quarterbacks, but Sam Hartman, Tyler Buchner & Co. are quite literally all Guidugli needs to concern himself with each day.

“When you take some of that responsibility off their plate, and it’s just coach the quarterbacks and see if they made the right decision because there’s so much that falls on [the quarterback’s] plate that isn’t really his fault,” Freeman said. “I know he gets the praise and he gets the criticism, but my biggest thing, did you make the right decision? That’s so important at the quarterback position.”

Parker thinks there may be more to the gig than the right decision. Wake Forest graduate transfer Sam Hartman should have little trouble with any intangibles of acclimating to a new campus and a new roster, even if he did not have to run many huddles with the Demon Deacons, but there will be one tangible shift to his quarterback play that Hartman might need to work on.

“Just in its simplest form, just taking snaps under center,” Parker said this weekend. “As simple as that. Just being able to secure a football under center.”

Parker wants to emphasize that because even as Notre Dame presumably opens up its offense a bit more with a deeper receivers room chasing passes from a stronger-armed quarterback, the Irish offense will still hinge on its veteran offensive line and trio of proven running backs.

Finding that balance can come in August. For now, finding that snap will be Hartman’s focus while Parker, Guidugli, Rudolph and a litany of offensive analysts strive to learn the same shorthand.

Sam Hartman’s practice debut features Notre Dame veteran Chris Tyree move to receiver, at least for now
Thomas’ leadership, freshmen arrivals already improve Notre Dame’s receivers room
Dynamic incoming freshman safety Brandyn Hillman exits Notre Dame before enrolling

Here’s the actually interesting thing about that Notre Dame NYT op-ed
Notre Dame AD says NCAA could break apart without stronger NIL guidelines
Ryan Bischel, Trevor Janicke will return next season for Notre Dame hockey
2023 NFL draft Big Board: PFF’s Top 150 prospects
Bears tight end Cole Kmet fulfills promise, returns to Notre Dame for degree
Increase in countable coaches rule reportedly unlikely to pass
Timing rules changes proposed in football
Men outnumber women at Notre Dame for the past 20 years, University denies gender quota
1 in 4 prospective students ruled out colleges due to their states’ political climates

Thomas’ leadership, freshmen arrivals already improve Notre Dame’s receivers room

Notre Dame v North Carolina
Getty Images

As much criticism as Drew Pyne and Tommy Rees received for Notre Dame’s ground-bound offense last season, much of that approach was due to a reality beyond their control. The former Irish quarterback and offensive coordinator could not run the routes or catch the passes.

Notre Dame had few who could run the routes and among them, it seemed even fewer who could catch Pyne’s passes. Thus, the Irish threw for fewer than 200 yards in six games, not even reaching triple digits in the 35-14 upset of Clemson to start November. They threw 21 or fewer passes four times; raise that to 26 pass attempts and three more games qualify.

Of Notre Dame’s 192 completed passes in the regular season, 35 percent of them landed in the hands of tight end Michael Mayer. Another 22 percent found running backs. Six Irish receivers combined to catch 94 passes for 1,306 yards total last year. Seven receivers across the country caught 94 or more passes on their own in 2022, and three topped that yardage tally.

There simply were not ample options among the receivers for Rees to draw up plays with Pyne targeting them, particularly not after Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins were injured in the preseason, Deion Colzie was hampered in the preseason and Tobias Merriweather’s season would be cut short by a concussion.

The Irish moving running back Chris Tyree to at least a part-time role at receiver this spring will help solve that dearth but not nearly as much as the arrivals of Virginia Tech transfer Kaleb Smith and a trio of early-enrolled freshmen will. With them, Notre Dame has nine receivers on hand this spring, though who exactly leads them is a vague wonder.

Smith has the most collegiate experience with 74 career catches, and his size should place him into the starting lineup, but he is just as new in South Bend as early enrollees Rico Flores, Jaden Greathouse and Braylon James all are. Of the three rising juniors on the roster, each had a moment or two of note last season, but Jayden Thomas’s may have been the most consistent, finishing with 25 catches for 362 yards and three touchdowns.

“That’s the challenge I’ve had for that entire room,” Freeman said of finding a leader in the position group. “Guys that have been here. … I hope Jayden Thomas continues to excel on the field and then in his leadership roles.

“What he’s done in the weight room, I think he’s matured and said, okay, I can play at a higher level when I take care of my body or I’m at a weight I feel really comfortable at.”

Those were mostly generic platitudes, but Thomas’s 2022 stats alone are impressive enough to garner a leading role when dug into a bit. Of his 25 catches, 18 of them gained a first down. Of those 18, eight of them came on third down and another two were on second-and-long. If Notre Dame needed a chunk gain and Mayer was covered, Thomas was the most likely outlet.

That should give him pole position to be the boundary starter heading into 2023, with Colzie and/or Merriweather pressing him forward. Smith’s experience and size should pencil him in as the field starter, leaving the slot the question on the first unit for the next 14 spring practices.

Tyree could emerge there, but he is more likely to be a utility knife type of option, concealing any offensive alignment until the snap. Instead, rising junior Lorenzo Styles may get a chance at the slot. He has the tools if he has the focus.

Styles dropped six passes last season, more than anyone else on the roster and a bothersome number regardless of his final stats, but one that stands out in particular when realizing he caught only 30 passes for 340 yards and a score.

“It became I think mental last year,” Freeman said Wednesday. “Lorenzo Styles is a talented, talented football player, really talented. With him last year, it almost became a mental struggle, even just the basics of catching the ball.”

Last year, those mental struggles were enough to somewhat undo Notre Dame’s offense, because the Irish had no choice but to play Styles through his missteps. Now, whether it be injury or some headspace frustrations that Chuck Knoblauch could relate to, the Irish have some depth at receiver if needed. As the season progresses, that depth will become only stronger with the freshmen rounding into form.

“The young wideouts caught a couple balls, and it’s going to be good to see the progression of all those freshmen,” Freeman said. “They’re all going to be in different places on the road. That’s what I spend a lot of time talking to our team about, we’re all freshmen, you can’t compare your journey to this guy’s journey.”

Wherever those journeys are, they are welcome additions to Notre Dame’s offense. As much as newly-promoted offensive coordinator Gerad Parker will relish the luxury that is veteran quarterback Sam Hartman, simply having options on the perimeter for Hartman to look for should be an Irish improvement.

Sam Hartman’s practice debut features Notre Dame veteran Chris Tyree move to receiver, at least for now

Getty Images

Marcus Freeman’s second spring as Notre Dame’s head coach has begun. As he pointed out Wednesday, it is quarterback transfer Sam Hartman’s sixth spring practice. Both are still looking around a bit for their proper cues, though Hartman’s hesitance now should be short-lived.

“He’s like a freshman, it’s new,” Freeman said. “I was joking with him, this is his sixth spring ball, but you’re at a new place, a new system, still figuring out where to go, what a drill is called, so you can see him at times just trying to say, ‘Okay, where are we going, what’s the drill, what are we doing, how many plays?’

“But he’s got some natural ability when he throws the ball and when he plays the game of football. You’ll see the leadership traits that he possesses grow because I know he has them. He’s a leader the first time you meet him. You can tell that he really commands respect.”

Freeman mentioned a “quarterback competition” between Hartman and rising junior Tyler Buchner only once, something that will reoccur throughout the next month, though more in name than in reality. Whoever takes the lead at quarterback, and it will be Hartman, will have a new target to get comfortable with in rising senior Chris Tyree.

Tyree spent the first spring practice working at receiver after lining up at running back the vast majority of the last three years. Freeman would not commit to that being a full-time shift for Tyree, but given the Irish depth at running back — led by rising juniors Audric Estimé and Logan Diggs, with rising sophomore Gi’Bran Payne the next in line for the spring while classmate Jadarian Price continues to “progress” from a torn Achilles last summer — Tyree working at receiver for the long-term should make some sense.

“He’s a guy that has multiple skill sets, and we know Chris Tyree is a guy we have to have on the football field,” Freeman said. “The ability to put him at wideout, we know what he can do as a running back, to really be a guy that can do multiple different things.”

Tyree took 100 rushes for 444 yards and three touchdowns and caught 24 passes for 138 yards and two more scores last year. The ball-carrying was a step forward compared to his previous seasons, but he caught 24 passes for 258 yards in 2021. In three games in 2022, Tyree gained more than 20 yards through the air. He was one of the more reliable pass-catchers on Notre Dame’s roster last season, finishing tied for fourth in receptions, one behind Jayden Thomas’s 25 catches and just six behind Lorenzo Styles, the leading returning receiver.

“You’re seeing more of that in college football and in the NFL,” Freeman said. “Guys that can play multiple different skill positions on offense, so do you treat him as a running back, do you treat him as a wideout? That’s what we have to do, and gain confidence in the quarterbacks in him as a wide receiver.”

Tyree’s shift was the most notable on the field on the first day of spring practices, but a handful of absences also stood out.

Junior linebacker Will Schweitzer, junior safety Justin Walters and junior quarterback Ron Powlus III have taken medical retirements, while junior cornerback Philip Riley, junior offensive lineman Caleb Johnson and junior kicker Josh Bryan are all no longer with the program, presumably each pursuing a transfer following this semester.

With those departures, Notre Dame’s roster now has 87 players on scholarship, two more than the NCAA maximum allowed when the season starts.

In hiring Marty Biagi from Mississippi, Freeman strayed from his usual habit of hiring coaches he has previous experience with. He did, however, have some mutual connections to reach out to about Biagi.

“I remember when we were playing Purdue when I was defensive coordinator (at Notre Dame in 2021), I was sitting in a special teams meeting, and they did some unique things on special teams.

“I still know some people back in West Lafayette from my time there, and he does, too. Somehow his name got brought up, so I was interested in interviewing him last year before I hired [former Irish special teams coordinator Brian Mason]. I didn’t know [Biagi] personally, but I had talked to him before, I knew enough about him. It’s important because you need to know when you’re not around, you can trust those guys that you’re working with.”

Defensive backs Cam Hart and Thomas Harper will both be held out of contact for at least the near future as they recover from winter shoulder surgeries, while early-enrolled defensive lineman Devan Houstan Will Likely miss all springtime work due to his own recent shoulder surgery.

Tight ends Eli Raridon and Kevin Bauman will not take part this spring due to ACL injuries in the fall.

Freeman expressed some optimism about Price’s timeline, but even that was measured.

“I don’t know if he will be full go, but he has done a lot of running and I see him progressing to more and more actual football practice.”

Given Price is still less than a calendar year from a ruptured Achilles, it is most likely he is limited well into the summer.