With absolutely no offense intended to Toledo — the favorite to win the MAC and a darkhorse to reach a New Year’s Six bowl — No. 8 Notre Dame’s Saturday is not about its opponent.
It is hardly about the Irish (1-0), even as they look to establish their offensive line and running game while also finding some defensive stability.
Notre Dame’s 2021 home opener is about the fans, more than ever.
Nearly 78,000 fans will fill Notre Dame Stadium for the first time in nearly two years. They will line the sidewalks as the Irish literally walk into the Stadium. They will roar during a flyover shortly before kickoff (confirmed by the test flights around campus Friday evening).
The fans give college football its verve, its je ne sais quoi. (Somewhere here there is some combination of Notre Dame and je ne sais quoi that would be most appropriate. Is it le je ne sais quoi de Notre Dame?)
Fans rarely decide the outcome in college football, far less often than the obsession with home-field advantage insists, but they do provide the atmosphere. Without fans, college football is only marginally different than the Canadian Football League, the defunct Alliance of American Football and the latest rendition of the XFL. College football’s quality of competition is better than any of those, but otherwise, a fanless football game is a fanless football game is an exercise in existential wonderings about sport.
Those other leagues are all hollow attempts at profiting off a sport’s best qualities. Either football needs to be played by the absolute best (the NFL) or it needs to be surrounded by passion and energy that in turn stokes on-field drama and foolishness. The college football fan’s overbearing joy rivals that of the European soccer fan’s. The on-field ridiculousness that joy sparks mirrors professional wrestling. Combine them and the result tops rock plus roll, seven along with seven, chocolate joined by peanut butter.
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) September 10, 2021
Notre Dame still enjoyed drama in 2020, but it was short-lived. The rush of beating No. 1 Clemson in overtime and being joined by 11,000 students charging the field was almost immediately contradicted by the Irish players trying to evade the crowd and get away from the concern of a mass of bodies during the pandemic’s peak.
There is no version of beating Toledo that will elicit fans rushing the field at Notre Dame Stadium, but it is a good bet the players will so enjoy the energy of the fans, le je ne sais quoi de Notre Dame, that they will join those fans in the stands during or after the “Alma Mater” following the game.
There will be no stress at that point — in no small part because both the players and the students in the front row will know there is a greater than 95 percent chance each party is vaccinated — only a welcome return of the fan base.
Cathartic, community, caring. Loud, rowdy, joyous. Passionate, irrational, the force that inspires the moments that make us love this sport.
TIME, TV: Hopefully that passion conveys through the screen at 2:30 ET. It usually has.
But even before then, that buzz may start to take hold, and the Countdown to Kickoff pregame show on Peacock will capture some of that, hosted by former Irish receiver Corey Robinson and Jac Collinsworth. The pregame show will begin at 1:30 ET and will feature:
— Exclusive “Mic’d Up” segment featuring head coach Brian Kelly.
— In-depth feature profile of projected top-10 NFL Draft Pick Kyle Hamilton.
— A conversation between Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick and NBC’s Mike Tirico about Notre Dame and storylines around college athletics.
— Analysis of the college football season with Tirico and NBC Sports analyst Drew Brees.
Robinson and Collinsworth will also host a postgame show on Peacock that will feature Kelly’s postgame press conference.
PEACOCK: This game will not be on NBC. This game will not be on NBCSN. This game will not be on the USA Network.
This game is exclusively available on the premium level of Peacock, NBC’s streaming platform. To sign up for Peacock Premium, a Notre Dame fan should click …
Then click “Unlock with Premium” and use the code “NOTREDAME.” Sign on up.
If needed, go download the Peacock app on your respective viewing device, just as you would any other streaming app.
PREVIEW: Kelly described Toledo as the best MAC team he has faced while with the Irish. Notre Dame has gone 4-0 against MAC foes during Kelly’s 12 years in South Bend, so that may not come across as the strongest praise, but his point was intended to be less precise than comparing the Rockets to 2019’s Bowling Green or 2018’s Ball State.
It was to compliment Toledo, an experienced team, one returning 21 of 22 starters from a 4-2 pandemic season that came six points shy of 6-0. The Rockets rely on a bruising running game behind a veteran offensive line, a front that knows the Irish were repeatedly gashed by Florida State’s ground game just six days ago.
Notre Dame may have beaten its last four MAC opponents by an average score of 45.5 to 13.25, but this Toledo would have beaten them by a similar margin.
PREDICTION: With the Irish favored by 17 at PointsBet, as of the end of Friday, part of this is easy. Notre Dame should win today. When favored by at least 13 points, the Irish have won 26 straight games, dating back to a 38-35 loss to Duke in 2016. When favored by two full touchdowns, Notre Dame is 64-2 under Kelly, the losses being that Duke game (favored by 20.5 points) and the 2014 overtime loss, 43-40, to Northwestern (17-point favorites).
The Irish will beat Toledo, even without senior linebacker Shayne Simon (shoulder, done for the season), junior linebacker Marist Liufau (dislocated ankle, done for the season) and junior linebacker Paul Moala (Achilles, done for the season), even without sophomore defensive end Jordan Botelho (week-to-week), even without freshman left tackle Blake Fisher (meniscus, eight weeks).
But all those injuries throw into doubt Notre Dame’s ability to win by more than 17 points.
To do so, the Irish may need to rely on an offensive explosion more than on a stingy defense. That fourth quarter against Florida State left too stark an impression to assume better without proof.
Quarterback Jack Coan showed an ability to stretch the field with his 366 passing yards and four touchdowns, including three scores long enough to be considered chunk plays, against the Seminoles. If he can do so again, then Notre Dame may not need to establish a rushing attack to beat the Rockets by at least three scores.
That would fit the Irish trend in their home openers, covering in six of the last seven (not to mention winning nine straight), but it also trusts the Irish defense will not make another costly mistake or two to give up a 60-yard score, as it did twice in week one.
Notre Dame had a short week thanks to that Sunday tilt, a week spent at least in part recovering from Florida’s heat. Chances to correct last week’s mistakes were few.
Another mistake will both allow Toledo to cover the 17-point spread and crack the overall point total over/under of 55.5, but it would take three or four such costly mistakes to endanger the Irish streaks of beating 33 consecutive unranked teams and winning 24 straight home games.
Notre Dame 41, Toledo 28.
(Straight up — 1-0; Against the spread — 0-1; Over/under — 1-0.)
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Some big news for all international followers (hi Canada!!), #NotreDame and NBC Sports will make all Irish home games available internationally for $35 total via https://t.co/OZ4bsPuyVB.
Yes, that includes tomorrow against Toledo.
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) September 10, 2021
INSIDE THE IRISH
— Doerer’s game-winner, Notre Dame’s short week, and Peacock
— And In That Corner … The Toledo Rockets bring experience and frustration to Notre Dame
— Notre Dame’s Opponents: Wisconsin, North Carolina losses change the optics of Irish challenges
— WR Lawrence Keys leaves Notre Dame roster; LT Blake Fisher to miss at least eight weeks
— Things To Learn: All eyes on you this weekend, Notre Dame fans, and on the Irish running game
— Friday at 4: How and when to watch Notre Dame on Peacock
— Witnesses to Terror: Notre Dame and the attacks of September 11, 2001
— How Notre Dame QB Jack Coan’s uncle upholds values of those he lost on 9/11
— Boston College to bring out Red Bandanna uniforms for 20th anniversary of 9/11: ‘It’s the right thing to do’
— Finding Foskey: Unpredictable vyper alignment adds wrinkle to Notre Dame’s defense
— Toledo DL coach Larry Black left a lasting impression at Notre Dame
— Here’s the story behind NBC’s unfortunate snub of Toledo-Notre Dame game
— Notre Dame mourns the loss of Terry Brennan
— A 32-year-old Naval officer had some free time, so he walked on to Vanderbilt’s football team
— It’s time for Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz to start delivering on his potential
— This is what it’s supposed to be like
— College football TV ratings off to roaring start
— The 4 factors of College Football Playoff expansion that make hitting pause the most likely next step
Pep rally back https://t.co/K9PaDfekEd
— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) September 10, 2021