Friday at 4: 40 Predictions for Notre Dame’s 2022, from Ohio State to USC, from Michael Mayer to Isaiah Foskey


To look to the end before the begin is to reach the end without having begun, yet it is an annual rite to predict Notre Dame’s entire season before the No. 5 Irish kick off in their opener (at Ohio State on Saturday, 7 ET; ABC).

Never before has a Notre Dame offseason included so much while leaving the program in such a stable position on the field. The greatest shame of Brian Kelly’s in-the-dark-of-night departure is that exit will forever overshadow the solid footing of the Irish at the end of his 12-year tenure.

That comes to first-year head coach Marcus Freeman’s benefit.

That footing will not impact this weekend against the No. 2 Buckeyes, but it is part of why Freeman was hired despite being the fourth-youngest coach in the FBS, and it will help Notre Dame navigate this season with three possible Playoff teams on the schedule.

1) This matchup at Ohio Stadium, better known as The Horseshoe, has been awaited since it was announced halfway through last decade, but for Irish purposes, the build-up to this season began with one raspy introduction in December …

That is a highlight both this Saturday night’s broadcast and next Saturday’s will assuredly include.

2) Neither broadcast will spend much time discussing how inefficient Notre Dame’s run game was last season, despite enjoying 1,000-yard rusher Kyren Williams. Reclaiming effectiveness on the ground will be crucial Saturday, not to mention all season. Most notably, both No. 25 BYU and No. 4 Clemson have stout defensive fronts.

3) Junior Chris Tyree may top the depth chart, and now-sophomore Logan Diggs may have impressed more last season before an April labrum injury cost him some preseason work, but sophomore Audric Estime could be the key to the Irish ground game, beginning in Columbus.

“Unveiling is probably a heavy word, but we feel confident in Audric’s ability,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said. “He has worked extremely hard this offseason to put himself in position to have an impactful year for us.”

4) Maybe it is Estime. Maybe it is Tyree. Maybe it is sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner. But whoever it is, the Irish will score first this weekend.

5) And they will still lose at Ohio State.

6) The Buckeyes will make the College Football Playoff.

7) Unfortunately, that will not be the only Playoff conversation this year. Expansion talk was always inevitable this fall while conference realignment thoughts linger, and a vote to move to a 12-team Playoff has reentered the fray this week, though its timing remains uncertain.

8) Notre Dame will score first in at least nine games this season, including against Marshall as a 17-plus-point favorite.

9) Regarding that hefty spread, codenameagee asked, “Can someone tell me the last time Notre Dame lost a game it was favored by 2 TD’s?”

The Irish last lost as a favorite at Stanford in 2017 as about a two-point favorite, but as a 14-point favorite or so, Notre Dame’s last loss came against Duke in 2016, with the Irish then favored by 20 points.

In that interim, the Irish were favored by at least 13 points a total of 27 times.

That should not be taken for granted. Some favorite of at least 13 points will lose by the end of next weekend.

10) Jac Collinsworth will provide the one characteristic that is most vital to a broadcast booth: He will be excited to be there at Notre Dame Stadium. Everyone has heard an announcer going through the motions torpedo a broadcast.

11) With 42 straight wins against unranked opponents entering this season, the Irish will run that to 50 straight. The greatest threat to the streak may be Syracuse, but there is also a decent chance the Orange season spirals quickly after a couple losses spell the end of Dino Babers’ seven-year tenure.

12) The Green Bay Packers will beat the Minnesota Vikings to open their season, though by less than a touchdown, on their way to winning the NFC North for a fourth straight year.

13) North Carolina spreads its offense out with a vintage Air Raid attack, and Notre Dame will struggle to find a way to contain receiver Josh Downs in that moment. Given how often the Tar Heels turn to him, that will become noticeable. Downs will have the most catches in a game against the Irish this season, though not the most yards.

14) Notre Dame may approach Downs as it did USC’s Drake London last year. London made 15 catches for 171 yards, but he never found the end zone. The Irish considered him contained.

With wide-ranging linebackers like seniors Jack Kiser and Marist Liufau, Notre Dame will have options for that kind of soft defense, one that needs capable linebackers to funnel the receiver where wanted. Those two may seem the default choices for the Irish nickel package this season, but fifth-year linebacker Bo Bauer has been quite an effective piece of Notre Dame’s third-down defense for the last two seasons.

Add in a few safeties with experience at cornerback and Vyper/Rover hybrid piece Jordan Botelho and it becomes clear the Irish default defense will be one with “multiple” looks, if that is not too contradictory a concept.

15) Back to North Carolina for a moment, the most infamous recent targeting penalty against Notre Dame was at Chapel Hill when Kyle Hamilton missed more than a half in 2020. Even if there were a few debatable targeting calls on Thursday night, let’s all remember there were .2 targeting calls per game in the FBS last season, per the Associated Press’ Ralph Russo. That is one targeting call for every five games.

There just happen to be 25-35 games each weekend, so the half-dozen calls are enough to be noticed.

Anyway, the math says at least one Irish player will be ejected for targeting in 2022.

16) Notre Dame will beat BYU in Las Vegas, and coming off a top-25 win, this space will miss at least one day of publishing the following week. Who can say why.

17) Freeman will be asked about recruiting far more often than Kelly ever was. Already, this is true, as he was asked two separate recruiting questions on Thursday alone.

“I’m really focused on making sure this team goes out and competes its tail off and does whatever it takes to make sure we’re performing to the potential we have,” Freeman said. “That’s my focus. It’s not the recruits.”

Nonetheless, heading to Las Vegas will be another excuse to ask about the recruiting perks of such games, especially after Freeman, junior tight end Michael Mayer and senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey flexed their acting muscles in Vegas this summer.

18) Speaking of Mayer, he will break at least two of his three Notre Dame records set last year: most receptions by a tight end with 71, most receiving yards by a tight end with 840 and most receiving touchdowns by a tight end with seven. But he will not break any of the broader receiving records in school history: 100 receptions by Michael Floyd in 2011, 1,496 yards by Golden Tate in 2009 and 15 touchdowns by Will Fuller in 2015.

19) And speaking of Foskey, he will break the Irish sack records held by Justin Tuck since 2004. He will notch not only the 9.5 needed to set the career record, but he will also exceed the 13.5 season record. And Tuck just might see him do it.

“I want him to break the all-time record and the single-season record,” Tuck said to Irish Illustrated this summer. “Hopefully I’ll be in the stadium when he does it.”

20) Neither of those record-setting moments will come on Oct. 8 in Las Vegas, but that evening will still be the most worrisome moment of Notre Dame’s 39 straight wins when favored at kickoff, dating back to falling to Stanford to close the 2017 regular season, a turnover-riddled loss.

The Irish remain 17-point underdogs this weekend, as of early Friday afternoon, but they should be favored in their next seven games, with the closest spread being against the Cougars. Then they should be favored in at least two more.

Win those nine and that streak reaches 48, at which point everyone can wonder who will be favored in the regular-season finale at USC.

21) Led by Foskey’s 14+ sacks, Notre Dame will top last year’s 41 sacks, which was a Kelly Era high. The Ademilola twins, junior defensive end Rylie Mills and at least one linebacker will each make at least three sacks. And this stat will go underappreciated. These are NFL figures, but the premise certainly holds in college football:

22) The Minnesota Timberwolves home opener will not interfere with this space’s publishing schedule; the motivation to enjoy that party will be so strong as to actually incur working ahead.

23) The Irish have won 25 straight regular-season games against ACC opponents. Running that streak to 27 …

24) Will put Notre Dame in the top 10 of the initial College Football Playoff rankings, released on Nov. 1.

25) The Irish streak of 16 straight wins in November, however, will not grow.

26) Which is to say, Clemson’s defense will swallow Notre Dame’s rushing game, as Georgia’s did in 2017 and 2019, not to mention Clemson in 2018.

27) Clemson will make the College Football Playoff.

28) The Irish are 30-1 in their last 31 home games, tracing back to that early 2017 loss to Georgia. The one loss in those 31 was to Cincinnati last season. At the end of this year, Notre Dame will have won 35 of its last 37 home games, and its last three home losses will all have been to Playoff teams.

29) Boston College receiver Zay Flowers has 13 catches for at least 40 yards since 2020, and he will add at least one more against the Irish on Senior Day.

30) More notably on Senior Day, former Notre Dame tight end George Takacs will catch a touchdown. Former Irish tight ends coach and now Boston College offensive coordinator John McNulty will make sure of it.

31) Most notably on Senior Day, former Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec will have a perfectly adequate day in his return to South Bend, not dramatic enough in any regard to confirm or deny anyone’s expectations for him that day, allowing all narratives to continue with neither strong founding nor significant conflicting evidence.

32) It may not be that day, but a freshman defensive back will intercept a pass this season, becoming just the second freshman to do so during this six-year Irish resurgence. This is not to compare Jaden Mickey or Benjamin Morrison to Kyle Hamilton, but Hamilton is the only freshman defender to pick off a pass since 2016.

33) And then comes Notre Dame’s trip to Los Angeles, maybe its last trip to Los Angeles on the weekend after Thanksgiving. Who knows how schedules will look when USC joins the Big Ten in 2024. Now the bold prediction: The spread when the Irish visit the Trojans will be more than a field goal but less than a touchdown. That is not predicting who will be favored.

34) USC will not make the College Football Playoff.

35) Sophomore receiver Lorenzo Styles will appear in 2024 mock drafts at some point between early November and the national championship game.

36) Arkansas State transfer kicker Blake Grupe will make at least 80 percent of his field goal attempts. He is 74.4 percent on his career, including two seasons of more than 20 attempts each that were 86.4 percent and 80 percent exactly.

37) Notre Dame has not averaged fewer than 31.4 points per game (2018) in the last five seasons. It peaked at 36.8 points per game in 2019. This year’s offense will take on a 2017 verve, relying on a physical offensive line to spring big plays from the running backs, but it will not match 2017’s 34.2 points per game, not even with Harry Hiestand back coaching the offensive line.

That is because Rees knows he needs to protect his shallow depth. Fewer plays run will benefit both the receivers and the running backs remaining healthy. That slowed pace may not be immediately discernable on a given Saturday afternoon, but it will show itself via the stats over time. Notre Dame will be closer to 2018’s scoring than 2017’s, which is to say it will not score more than 32.8 points per game.

There is, however, one quirk that could skew this thought:

38) The Irish are 54-10 over the last five seasons, reaching at least 10 wins each year. They will make that six straight seasons of double-digit wins.

39) But even if Notre Dame is 10-2 at the end of the season, this is the one year of each three-year cycle in which the only New Year’s Six options available to the Irish are the Cotton Bowl against a Group of Five team or the Orange Bowl against an ACC team.

So if Ohio State makes the Playoff, Notre Dame will need to finish higher than the No. 3 team in the Big Ten in the final CFP rankings as well as the No. 3 or 4 team in the SEC (depending if two SEC teams make the Playoff, looking at you Georgia) to make the Orange Bowl.

At 10-2, perhaps that is possible, and if the ACC opponent is, let’s say, Miami, then suddenly that Orange Bowl would be intriguing, even if the Irish would be heading right into Miami for a reminder of what happened at Hard Rock Stadium in 2017.

More likely, Notre Dame is simply squeezed out of a New Year’s Six bowl due to its lack of defining wins after USC loses in the Pac-12 title game to Utah. The Irish will then head to one of a handful of bowls all considered the same tier by the ACC: Gator; Holiday; Cheez-It — formerly known as the Camping World Bowl in Orlando; ReliaQuest — formerly known as the Outback Bowl in Tampa. 

That’s a lot to sort through, especially before the season starts. So here’s the prediction: Notre Dame will play in Florida before New Year’s.

The Orange Bowl is Dec. 30, the Gator Bowl against an SEC foe is also on Dec. 30, and the Cheez-It Bowl against a Big 12 opponent is on Dec. 29.

40) LaSalle Kitchen & Tavern will pour me a drink before I even sit down next Friday evening.

Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023

Notre Dame Spring Football Game
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-1 ½, 220 pounds.
2023-24 year, eligibility: A junior, Thomas has three years of eligibility remaining thanks to playing in only three games as a freshman.
Depth Chart: Thomas’s moments of success in 2022 made him a clear starter for this coming season, the only question being at what position. By the end of spring practices, Thomas looked like the frontrunner at the boundary position, a similar big body as past boundary stars Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool and Kevin Austin, though significantly shorter than those predecessors.
Recruiting: Considered the No. 45 receiver in the class of 2021 by, Thomas turned down most of the SEC as he chose Notre Dame, most notably his homestate Georgia. And any recruit chased by the Bulldogs in the last four years stands out more than usual given the overall quality of Georgia’s roster.

Thomas played all of 14 snaps as a freshman, spread across three November blowouts, but in practices leading up to the 2021 Fiesta Bowl, there was increasing hype around him possibly contributing. Then, Thomas did not play against Oklahoma State, despite then-Irish quarterback Jack Coan setting a program record with 70 dropbacks while throwing to effectively just three receivers.

That literal no-show threw Thomas’s progress into doubt. Was the hype real or the product of a fluke bowl practice?

Thomas proved it real with 25 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns last season, including five snags for 66 yards in the Gator Bowl win against South Carolina. Of those 25 receptions, 18 gained a first down, including eight on third down and another pair on second-and-long. When Notre Dame needed a chunk gain and tight end Michael Mayer was covered, Thomas was the most frequent beneficiary.

2021: 3 games.
2022: 13 games, 7 starts; 25 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by three catches for 80 yards and a score against Navy.

Thomas is an avid golfer, at least as much as a Division I football player can be. (Scroll to the last picture in this Instagram post to see evidence of such.) Given NBC may be the biggest broadcast partner in golf, one would think some opportunity could exist for Thomas down the road, be it with a sponsor or simply a day watching a tournament from an up-close vantage point.

Until then, Thomas offers personalized videos for fans via Cameo.

Thomas excelled out of the slot last season, many of those first-down gains coming when he worked downfield just past the linebacker level but still in front of the safeties. That positioning was advantageous for Thomas, and he knew it.

“In the slot, I definitely feel like I can get mismatches, whether that’s a nickel, smaller nickel, safety or even a linebacker,” Thomas said this spring. “None of those people can guard me at all.”

But with senior Chris Tyree moving to receiver from running back, slot is most likely filled by his speed. Moving Thomas to boundary will require some physical growth from him, even if some analysts already mistake him for a tight end.

“Definitely in the offseason, the spring, got to gain a little bit more muscle just to help me with my physicality and also speed,” Thomas said.

“The spring version of Thomas was tantalizing. A leg injury played a role in his hushed freshman season, as did the strong play of Kevin Austin. Now fully healthy and without any clear-cut starter ahead of him, Thomas broke through. He may not be towering, but he has a wide frame, its own version of a size advantage. He ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash before arriving at Notre Dame, better speed than one expects when looking at him.

“That combination is what the Irish had in mind when they chased the Peach State product. That combination could make him a 2022 starter. At the very least, he will be a contributor.

“Notre Dame needs him to be.

“When the Irish face Ohio State (104 days), they will have just six or seven healthy scholarship receivers. One of those will be a former walk-on, Matt Salerno. Another will be a freshman yet to partake in a single practice, Tobias Merriweather. The ‘or seven’ will be sixth-year Avery Davis, recovering from an ACL torn in November. It seems increasingly likely fifth-year Joe Wilkins is not yet full-go after suffering a Lisfranc injury this spring.

“Notre Dame will hardly have a two-deep depth chart at receiver, so each available will be needed.

“And this spring suggested Thomas will be up to that task. If all he needs is chances like he got this spring, then he will have them. If he can produce — especially before Wilkins returns later in the season — then the Irish will continue going to him; they will have no one else to go to.

“A dozen catches from Thomas this season may seem like minimal production, but that would be enough to force defenses to acknowledge him on routes, opening up the field for the likes of [Braden] Lenzy, [Lorenzo] Styles and star tight end Michael Mayer. If he builds that out to 20 catches, then suddenly Notre Dame’s offense may be nearing a worthwhile hum. …

“Lenzy should be gone in 2023. Davis certainly will be. Wilkins’ injury throws some uncertainty into his projections. But either way, the time will fully arrive for the Irish stellar 2021 receiver recruiting to pay off.

“Pulling in a trio of four-star receivers was unlike Notre Dame of late. It had not snagged that many four-star receivers in one class since 2015. In the five cycles between those two classes, the Irish snagged a total of 5 four- or five-star receivers, lowlighted by not signing a single receiver in the class of 2019.

“Things have bettered in this regard, or they at least seem to be, but for now, Notre Dame still needs to make the most of every possible perimeter playmaker it has on its roster. All three of Styles, [Deion] Colzie and Thomas need to pan out for the Irish to sniff the Playoff in the next two or three seasons.

“A full season of snaps with that dozen catches could propel Thomas into a strong offseason and such rewards.”

Thomas met and exceeded last year’s modest expectations, more impressive when remembering he was not a consistent starter until the season’s final month. Stepping into a more leading role with a far more prolific quarterback directing the offense should amplify Thomas’s stats by default.

Are 50 catches possible? Yes, though that may be about Thomas’s ceiling this season, given Wake Forest transfer quarterback Sam Hartman should want to spread the ball around his targets, and 50 receptions could be nearly a fifth of Hartman’s completions.

More precisely, Thomas continuing to provide needed chunk gains would propel Notre Dame’s offense in ways that other receivers may be unable. Continuing at last year’s rate of first downs while catching 50 passes would equal moving the chains 36 times. That may be extreme, but doing so twice per week would make Thomas one of the more crucial receiving targets in recent Irish offenses.

All of Notre Dame’s receivers, aside from former walk-on Matt Salerno, may return in 2024, and the junior duo of Thomas and Deion Colzie should be the established leaders next year. With that acknowledged reality, pondering a transfer from Thomas would be foolish.

It would take a far more prolific season than 50 catches for Thomas to ponder the NFL, not boasting elite speed or shiftiness which are the usual musts for early draft entrants among receivers.

In other words, Thomas may be looking to snag triple-digit catches across the next two seasons, if not more.

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

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth

One defensive lineman drops from Notre Dame’s class of 2024, consensus four-star end Loghan Thomas joins


Only a few hours after a consensus four-star defensive lineman de-committed from Notre Dame, the Irish landed a pledge from consensus four-star defensive end Loghan Thomas (Paetow High School; Katy, Texas) on Wednesday evening. After a visit to South Bend this weekend, Thomas chose Notre Dame over finalists Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Arizona.

LSU, Texas, Texas A&M and USC were among the others to offer Thomas a scholarship.

A two-year starter already in high school, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Thomas’s body-type alone likely caught some recruiters’ attention. On top of that, he tested well at recruiting events following his junior season. ranks Thomas the No. 9 weakside defensive end in the class of 2024, the No. 30 overall prospect in the state of Texas and the No. 162 recruit in the entire class, all fitting for a player who has used his length to star at a strong level of high school football.

Length has long — pun intended — been a focus for Irish head coach Marcus Freeman along the defensive line, and Thomas’s combines with enough strength to make arm tackles without much worry of a broken carry. His stride is long enough to quickly cover ground in the backfield.

Thomas plays mostly out of a two-point stance, upright, so learning the nuances of rushing the passer from a three-point stance will be the first piece of growth ahead of him at the collegiate level. Adding some heft to his frame will also be on the to-do list, though that should occur naturally, at least to some extent, in the next 18 months regardless.

Thomas joins Notre Dame’s class the same day consensus four-star defensive tackle Owen Wafle (Hun School; Princeton, N.J.) halted a year-long commitment.

“This decision was not made lightly, as Notre Dame has a rich football legacy that I truly admire,” Wafle wrote on Twitter. “However, I believe it’s important for me to explore other opportunities and find the best fit for my personal and athletic development.”

With Wafle’s de-commitment and Thomas’s commitment, the Irish continue to have 16 expected signees in the class of 2024 and three defensive linemen, Thomas joining consensus three-star end Cole Mullins (Mill Creek H.S.; Hoschton, Ga.) and four-star end Bryce Young (Charlotte Christian; N.C.).

Notre Dame announces 2023 NBC kickoff times, led by Ohio State and USC in prime time

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Notre Dame will host two preseason top-25 teams, possibly both top-10 teams, in back-to-back home games in prime time in 2023, the Irish and NBC announced Wednesday afternoon. Ohio State’s Sept. 23 visit and USC’s Oct. 14 arrival will both kick off at 7:30 ET.

Coming off a College Football Playoff appearance and third in the last four years, the Buckeyes look poised to again contend for the Big Ten title and a possible Playoff bid. Not to be too blunt, but the trip to Notre Dame will be Ohio State’s first genuine challenge of 2023, opening the season at Indiana before welcoming FCS-level Youngstown State and then Western Kentucky.

Notre Dame will have already played four games, including a trip abroad and a trip to North Carolina State.

That season-opening venture to Dublin will feature a later kickoff than may have been anticipated. Announced on Tuesday as a sellout, Notre Dame will kick off at 2:30 ET on NBC against Navy, much later than the 9 a.m. kickoff in 2012, the last time the Irish and the Midshipmen played in Ireland. This year’s trip is somewhat a make-up from having to scrap the planned trip in 2020, hence the unusual occurrence of Notre Dame playing a home game away from South Bend in this annual series.

After the dalliance across the Atlantic, the Irish will face an FCS-level program for the first time in history, Tennessee State and head coach Eddie George visiting on Sept. 2 at 3:30 ET. Logically, as soon as Notre Dame agreed to move its date with Navy to Dublin, meeting an FCS opponent became inevitable, either that or shoehorn in an early off week.

Instead, the Trojans will arrive in South Bend just before the first Irish off week, also kicking off at 7:30 ET on Oct. 14. With Heisman-winner, Heisman-frontrunner and contender to be the No. 1 pick quarterback Caleb Williams leading it, USC will also be a trendy Playoff contender in 2023. Competitively, the Trojans will be coming off a rather pedestrian early-season stretch.

Looking at ESPN’s SP+ rankings to gauge the first half of USC’s schedule sheds light on how likely it is the Trojans will be undefeated in mid-October. None of their first six opponents rank in the top 60 in the country, and three of them are in the bottom 30. Again leaning into the SP+ numbers, USC should be favored by three possessions in every one of those games, with the first three of those looking like edges well north of 30 points and two more being around four touchdowns.

Thus, Notre Dame and NBC should welcome multiple unbeaten top-10 teams in primetime this year.

The 33rd year of Notre Dame on NBC will feature six games aired on both NBC and Peacock, NBC’s streaming service, as well as one game exclusively available on Peacock, the Sept. 16 tilt with Central Michigan at 2:30 ET.

The Irish home slate will conclude with a Senior Day showing from Wake Forest at 3:30 ET on Nov. 18, new Notre Dame quarterback Sam Hartman’s previous team.

Aug. 26: vs. Navy in Dublin at 2:30 ET
Sept. 2: vs. Tennessee State at 3:30 ET
Sept. 16: vs. Central Michigan at 2:30 ET on Peacock
Sept. 23: vs. Ohio State at 7:30 ET
Oct. 14: vs. USC at 7:30 ET
Oct. 28: vs. Pittsburgh at 3:30 ET
Nov. 18: vs. Wake Forest at 3:30 ET

Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 84 Kevin Bauman, senior tight end coming off a torn ACL

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Georgia Tech at Notre Dame
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-4 ½, 252 pounds.
2023-24 year, eligibility: A senior, Bauman has three years of eligibility remaining. Yes, he could end up playing a sixth year somewhere in 2025, if he so chooses. The universal pandemic eligibility waiver meant Bauman’s injury-shortened 2022 could serve as his traditional season preserving eligibility.
Depth Chart: A year ago, Bauman was considered Notre Dame’s second tight end, but he may be as low as No. 4 entering 2023, in part due to his injury and in part due to junior Mitchell Evans and sophomore Holden Staes making the most of their opportunities last season.
Recruiting: Bauman had the misfortune of being the same age as Michael Mayer, the latter ranked No. 3 among tight ends in the class of 2020 while Bauman was the No. 5, per Michigan gave late pursuit to Bauman, but the New Jersey native stuck with the Irish, the only program he genuinely considered.

Bauman was progressing gradually before his 2022 was cut short by a torn ACL after a broken leg delayed the start of his 2021. The ACL injury kept Bauman sidelined in the most recent spring practices.

2020: 4 games; 1 catch for 5 yards.
2021: 5 games; 1 catch for 10 yards.
2022: 3 games; 3 catches for 44 yards.

Bauman tore his ACL in September, making it quite plausible he is full-go when preseason practices commence at the end of July, which will be 10-plus months after the injury. Recovery from an ACL tear typically takes about nine months nowadays, wild to think about given Adrian Peterson first pioneered that timetable in football as recently as 2012.

Do not mistake a shortened ACL recovery timeline as an easier rehab.

“It’s been a journey,” Bauman said in March. “It’s been tough, a little more than five months out now from surgery. It’s been a grind. Toughest part has been committing to that grind, knowing it’s going to take some time. Have to have some patience.

“It’s going well. I feel great physically. I’m starting to long jump, all that stuff.”

There was never a timetable that included Bauman partaking in spring practices, but he held hope for summer work.

“I’m hoping by summer workouts, I should be 100 percent, fully cleared,” he said. “But then definitely by fall camp.”

“Bauman or Evans, one will be Mayer’s backup, and the other will be a piece of the offense, always just one snap away from being a core piece of it. Though a former high school quarterback, Evans’ 2021 may have given him the slight edge over the former highly-touted tight end recruit Bauman.

“The key thing to remember is, no matter the pecking order of tight ends Nos. 2 and 3, they will remain behind a likely All-American who will be both the fulcrum and the engine of the Irish offense.

“There should still be a role for Bauman, be it as the No. 2 or 3 tight end. A handful of catches is likely the minimum, with one perhaps coming in the end zone. …

“That ‘2022 Outlook’ is not meant to diminish Bauman. Any tight end at Notre Dame warrants the benefit of the doubt, simply because of the track record of ‘Tight End U.’ It is meant to continue to emphasize Mayer’s talent and how it looms over the rest of the tight ends.

“He’ll be gone after this season.

“Then it will be Bauman’s time, along with Evans and sophomore Cane Berrong, not to mention the two incoming freshmen. Who will emerge as the new lead is a parlor game better suited for next winter, but its best clues will come this fall.”

When Evans took the field, coming off a July foot injury, Bauman and then-freshman Eli Raridon had already been sidelined by injuries. As Evans found his role, the futures of those like Bauman changed in step with Evans’s successes. That was through no fault of Bauman’s; it is irrational to criticize a former high-profile recruit for not breaking out when two unrelated injuries cut short his only non-pandemic seasons.

But it is a reality, nonetheless.

Evans and Staes are Notre Dame’s top-two tight ends at this point, with Raridon representing a higher ceiling than Bauman, though both remain bets on potential.

Thus, Bauman’s 2023 may be minimal. He should play and play plenty, but only in supplementary roles, barring injuries to Evans and/or Staes. That could result in a handful of catches for Bauman, a disproportionate number of them coming near the goal line.

Think back to the stat lines of Nic Weishar and George Takacs.

Weishar in 2017: Nine catches with two touchdowns.
Weishar in 2018: Three catches with two touchdowns.

Takacs in 2019: Two catches with one touchdown.
Takacs in 2021: Three catches with one touchdown.

Tight ends are simply more prone to those kinds of catches-to-scores ratios given the propensity to run multiple tight-end sets in goal-to-go situations.

A transfer following this season seems the most likely route for Bauman. Barring a breakout, somehow leapfrogging Evans and Staes, there will simply be no realistic path to a leading role in South Bend in 2024.

With two years of eligibility remaining after this season along with his high-profile recruitment, Bauman should have plenty of options for landing spots. Cane Berrong just landed at Coastal Carolina with less collegiate statistics and a lower recruiting profile, for example.

The summer countdown begins anew, Rylie Mills to Deion Colzie
No. 99 Rylie Mills, senior defensive tackle, moving back inside from end
No. 98 Devan Houstan, early-enrolled four-star defensive tackle
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, junior defensive tackle, one of three Irish DTs with notable experience
No. 95 Tyson Ford, sophomore defensive tackle, up 30 pounds from a year ago
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a senior defensive tackle now ‘fully healthy’ after a 2022 torn ACL
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, sophomore defensive end, former four-star recruit
No. 90* Brenan Vernon, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90* Boubacar Traore, incoming freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, the next starter at ‘TE U’
No. 86* Cooper Flanagan, incoming freshman tight end, four-star recruit
No. 85 Holden Staes, sophomore tight end, up 20 pounds in a year
Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth