Grading preseason predictions, in which Notre Dame’s defense exceeded expectations and the Irish won every expected game

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The first half of this space’s preseason predictions were overwhelmingly successful, anticipating the slow start for Notre Dame’s offensive line as it found some chemistry, but not expecting those struggles to trip up the Irish in September. If being honest, though, most of those predictions were more likely than not.

The second half of the 40 “Inside the Irish” preseason predictions were not as generous. How did they fare? And in answering that question, how did Notre Dame fare compared to its August expectations?

RELATED READING: Grading the first half of the predictions, going 16.5-3.5

21) Sophomore running back Chris Tyree will gain more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage.
VERDICT: Not even close, in part due to those aforementioned offensive line struggles, but mostly due to turf toe limiting Tyree through the season’s second half. As he said in the lead-up to the Fiesta Bowl, Tyree would not wish that injury on his worst enemy. He finished with 222 rushing yards and 258 receiving yards. The 480 combined yards included three touchdowns, but even if adding his 347 kickoff return yards (and one score), Tyree would not have cracked four digits. (16.5-4.5)

22) Junior running back Kyren Williams will gain more than 1,550 yards from scrimmage.
VERDICT: He came close, with 1,361, but this cannot be graded as correct even in spirit, given the impetus of the prediction was that Williams would eclipse the Kelly-era high of 1,468 yards from scrimmage set by Josh Adams in 2017. (16.5-5.5)

23) “No fewer than six players will score on the ground for the Irish.”
VERDICT: If only freshman Audric Estime had found the end zone in his limited action. Alas, this fell short by one player. The prediction gave effort at figuring out who the six would be, but with no receiver getting into the end zone on a jet sweep and senior running back C’Bo Flemister spending the season alternating between the dog house and the injured list, those musings never stood a chance. (16.5-6.5)

24) Both Williams and junior safety Kyle Hamilton will head to the NFL after the season.
VERDICT: Correct, even before the season technically ended, as the two — more so Williams than Hamilton — became the first notable opt-outs in Notre Dame history. (17.5-6.5)

25) Neither center Jarrett Patterson nor fifth-year Josh Lugg will return in 2022, leaving the Irish with only two returning starters along the offensive line next season.
VERDICT: Have you ever been so glad to see this space so wrong about something? Well, perhaps not, because if Patterson and Lugg had gone to the NFL, that would suggest the offensive line played better this past season. But regardless, the Irish will return four starters next season, and that count can be bumped to five if generously counting freshman Blake Fisher’s two starts to bookend the season. (17.5-7.5)

26) Drew White will lead Notre Dame in tackles. That will need more than his 57 a year ago to finish second behind Kyle Hamilton’s 63, numbers deflated more by the slow-paced Irish offense in 2020 than by a schedule shortened by one game. They’ll need more because Notre Dame will average more than the 6.2 yards per play it averaged last season.
VERDICT: Wrong on all accounts. Junior linebacker JD Bertrand led the Irish with 101 tackles, nearly double White’s 55, again second on the team. And Notre Dame averaged 6.14 yards per play. (17.5-8.5)

27) Sophomore tight end Michael Mayer will finish the season with at least 55 catches, 800 yards and eight touchdowns.
VERDICT: We are going to count this as correct, even if Mayer fell one touchdown short. He set the Irish record for catches by a tight end in a season, as well as touchdowns by a tight end in a season, with 71 for 840 yards and seven scores. Mayer led Notre Dame’s offense all season, and his 2022 should be something to behold. (18.5-8.5)

28) 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.”
VERDICT: Well, senior Kevin Austin finished the season with 888 receiving yards, so the prediction was correct as written. Remove his bowl game stats and that falls to 783 yards.

The prediction was also correct in its intent. In the one Irish regular-season loss, Austin had one catch on two targets for 17 yards. Yes, he was going up against the best cornerback duo in the country, but it is not hard to imagine that if Austin had shined on the first Saturday in October, perhaps to the tune of 129 yards, then Notre Dame would have indeed gone 12-0. (19.5-8.5)

29) Freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner will not attempt more than six passes in 2021.
VERDICT: This prediction put too much faith in sophomore Drew Pyne remaining entrenched as the No. 2 quarterback. Buchner went 21-of-35 for 298 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. He attempted a pass in 10 different games, including going 6-of-14 in two quarters of action at Virginia Tech. (19.5-9.5)

30) The best quarterbacks Irish fans will see this season will be on the opposite sidelines. … No Notre Dame opponent will (win  the Heisman).”
VERDICT: The intention here was to credit USC’s Kedon Slovis and North Carolina’s Sam Howell. The latter showed up against the Irish, averaging 10.3 yards per pass attempt, but the best quarterback performance Irish fans saw all season may have come from Oklahoma State’s Spencer Sanders’ 371 yards and four touchdowns. (20.5-9.5)

31) “The Irish will give up more than 20 points per game for the first time since 2017.”
VERDICT: Even when including the Cowboys’ 37-point explosion on New Year’s Day, Notre Dame gave up only 19.7 points per game this season. Quite literally, one more made field goal — eight Irish opponents missed at least one — would have made this prediction correct. (20.5-10.5)

32) “(Marcus) 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.”
VERDICT: Helton was not even coaching USC when it came to South Bend halfway through the season, though the Trojans did fall short of their team total of 25.5 points, losing 31-16. That probably will not happen often under Lincoln Riley. (21-11)

33) Stanford will win four or fewer games. The same goes for Georgia Tech. Both Wisconsin and North Carolina will reach 10, as will Cincinnati.
VERDICT: If placing these wagers in real life, the hope would be to simply go 3-2. That would be enough for a profit. And sure enough, the Cardinal (3-9), Wreck (3-9) and Bearcats (12-0) provided three winning tickets. (22-11)

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.”
VERDICT: Nailed it. (23-11)

35) “The Irish have beaten 32 unranked teams in a row. That will reach 40 this year.”
VERDICT: It actually reached 42, thanks to USC and North Carolina both falling so far so fast. This should be one of the metrics applied to Marcus Freeman’s first year as Notre Dame’s head coach. Can he keep winning the games the Irish should clearly win? Few teams can, as evidenced by this being the longest streak in the country. (24-11)

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.”
VERDICT: If any preseason prediction deserves double credit, it is the season record. It will not be counted double here, but it is always a nice peg to hang a hat on. (25-11)

37) “The Irish will not finish the season unbeaten at home. That streak is currently at 24. It will end somewhere between 26 and 28.”
VERDICT: It ended at 26 when Cincinnati prevailed 24-13 in South Bend. The new streak, currently at four, would need to include wins over Clemson (Nov. 5, 2022), Ohio State (Sept. 23, 2023), USC (Oct. 14, 2023) and Texas A&M (Sept. 13, 2025) to crack that stretch of 26. (26-11)

38) “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.”
VERDICT: Staking a prediction on barbeque cannot be criticized, even if it led to the prediction being wrong. (26-12)

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.”
VERDICT: The only real concern was the bowl game. Thankfully, neither the Irish nor the Cowboys had pandemic-related absences on New Year’s Day. (27-12)

40) “And fans will be in the stands for all 13 games.
VERDICT: We shouldn’t take that for granted. (28-12)

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