Grading preseason predictions, focused on Notre Dame’s offensive line and September successes

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Preseason predictions help set a bar for the season. Once removed a bit from the frustrations of Notre Dame’s faceplant in the second half of the Fiesta Bowl, looking back at those predictions can remind how the Irish fared compared to expectations in 2021.

A recap of those predictions can also serve as an exercise in personal accountability for your resident prognosticator, as well as help fill the slow time that is the next six weeks as we await spring football. With no further stalling, a look at the first half of our preseason predictions, with a judgment on each one’s eventual accuracy …

1) A relatively young offensive line will lack chemistry to start the season before finding itself by the end. Thus, the Irish will average more rushing yards in November than in September.
VERDICT: That could not have ended up much more accurate, and it would have been even if Notre Dame had rushed for more than three yards on 32 carries against Wisconsin in Chicago. The Irish averaged 80 rushing yards per game through September and 195 in November. (1-0)

2) The same will apply to sacks. Notre Dame will give up more sacks in September than in November.
VERDICT: Again, spot on. The offensive line struggles of September led to 20 sacks allowed. The “hurry-up Jack” offense of November led to the ball getting out quicker and only nine sacks allowed. (2-0)

3) Freshman Blake Fisher will start at Florida State, becoming only the second freshman in Irish history to start a season opener on the offensive line.
VERDICT: Of course, Fisher did not even make it to halftime that night before a meniscus injury cost him the next 11.5 games, but the prediction held up. (3-0)

4) “When Notre Dame hosts Toledo in its home opener on Sept. 11, some moment will welcome (fifth-year defensive end Myron) Tagovailoa-Amosa. It will be loud, resounding and poignant. And he will respond with a sack that afternoon.”
VERDICT: In his first appearance at Notre Dame Stadium since losing his father unexpectedly in August, Tagovailoa-Amosa had two sacks with a forced fumble against the Rockets. Those were, in fact, his only sacks of the season.

Sometimes a correct prediction feels even better than usual, and seeing Tagovailoa-Amosa notch a sack at the end of the first quarter that afternoon was one of those moments. Always a sincere and forthcoming interview, always with his emotions on his sleeve for the world to see, Tagovailoa-Amosa getting that moment after his previous month was a small good moment in life. (4-0)

5) The outcry when NBC and Notre Dame announced that home opener would be available exclusively on Peacock, NBC’s streaming app, would quiet with time and that Saturday would be a non-issue.
VERDICT: If it had been an issue, there would still be complaints months later. There aren’t. Calling this correct. And looking ahead, Marshall had a decent 2021, but to be completely honest, this space does not yet have any idea how much or little the Thundering Herd will return in 2022. Regardless, would anyone be that shocked to see another home opener on the streaming app on Sept. 10? (That is not some inside-NBC knowledge. The bottom of the totem pole is offered no such insights.) (5-0)

6) Many Irish fans will keep their Peacock subscriptions.
VERDICT: I have and even enjoyed binging “Yellowstone” with it. (6-0)

7) Drew Brees will be well-received as the new “ND on NBC” analyst.
VERDICT: Even when Notre Dame faced Brees’ alma mater, Purdue, in his second game in the gig, complaints were few and far between. (7-0)

8) Toledo will win more than 8.5 games. Kent State will win more than 5.5 games.
VERDICT: If Kent State had delivered in the MAC title game, this 1-1 showing would feel much better. (7.5-0.5)

9) New overtime rules will not impact the Irish.
VERDICT: Aside from the season-opener, there was no overtime to worry about, and never a second overtime, when the new, shortened rules would begin to have an impact. The fact of the matter is, Notre Dame probably will not worry about these rules in 2022, either, though doing so would certainly be a quick litmus test for how Marcus Freeman intends to handle many game scenarios as head coach. (8.5-0.5)

10) “The Irish will enjoy a kick or punt return to the opponent’s side of the field within the first three games of the year.”
VERDICT: Oh so close. Two bad punts against Purdue gave Notre Dame plus-field position, but neither even involved a return. So a strict grade here cannot count them. And just one game later, Chris Tyree broke that game-changing kickoff return for a touchdown against Wisconsin. But that was too late for these concerns. (8.5-1.5)

11) Brian Kelly will tie Knute Rockne’s career wins record at Notre Dame by starting the year 3-0.
VERDICT: (9.5-1.5)

12) The Irish will win two of their first three games by at least 17 points.
VERDICT: Though it looked like Notre Dame would get this off to a strong start in the opener, that fourth-quarter collapse in Tallahassee began a stretch of three games closer than they should have been, part of the struggles the Irish offensive line had to start the season. (9.5-2.5)

13) “Those strengths in the trenches will set Notre Dame’s floor. If that comes across as a vague prediction, let Fisher’s and Tagovailoa-Amosa’s successes serve as validation for it.”
VERDICT: The offensive line struggled for much of the season, but Notre Dame’s ability to roll through November and reach the cusp of the Playoff was due to that offensive line coalescing, though without Fisher, and the defensive line continuing to be impressive, setting a Kelly-era high for sacks with 41.

If the Irish floor was a New Year’s Six bowl, that is attributable to those trenches. (10.5-2.5)

14) Senior receiver Kevin Austin will not see much usage against at least one of Toledo or Purdue, a result of going three-plus years without playing extended football.
VERDICT: Austin finished that two-game stretch with just four catches for 63 yards, all against Toledo, on 16 targets. (11.5-2.5)

15) The 11 a.m. local kickoff in Chicago against Wisconsin will temper tailgates.
VERDICT: There was no version of this world where this prediction would be graded as incorrect, but those tailgates were relatively impressive, nonetheless.

See you at Lambeau in 2026. I’ll host the tailgate. (12.5-2.5)

16) “Kelly will break Rockne’s record in September.”
VERDICT: The real prediction here was that Notre Dame would beat Wisconsin to reach 4-0. (13.5-2.5)

17) “Notre Dame will celebrate Kelly doing so with no mention, at least none larger than the fine print, of the 21 wins vacated by the NCAA.”
VERDICT: It has been remarkable, really. Since Kelly bolted for LSU, many Irish have fans have gone back on their years of ignoring the vacated aspect of 21 of Kelly’s wins, as ruled by the NCAA, and now insist those wins should be taken off the record books. They want to eat their cake and have it, too. (14.5-2.5)

18) “As teams worry about their rankings this year, the expansion conversation will hit the back-burner this fall.”
VERDICT: After ACC commissioner Jim Phillips’ comments on Friday, 2026 might be the only timeline for expansion. (15.5-2.5)

19) Sophomore cornerback Clarence Lewis will have multiple interceptions this season.
VERDICT: Many of these were layups of predictions, intended more to preview the season than to truly forecast amidst the second football season played during a pandemic. But this one was rather specific and, to the letter, wrong. Lewis had only one interception this season, though Irish cornerbacks had four total, four more than the position group had entering the season. (15.5-3.5)

20) “This fall, Notre Dame will announce a 2022 game in Las Vegas, deeming it the next iteration of the Shamrock Series. This prediction may be an attempt at manifesting a want into a reality as this entire column was written from the back row of a Vegas sportsbook.”
VERDICT: This remains one of my better moments of the fall. There was no reporting to this, just logic, and that logic was proven correct before the Irish even began their season.

Now to book a trip to the desert for these coming weeks to collect on those Georgia futures … (16.5-3.5)