Notre Dame gets the letters: Four defensive linemen, led by consensus four-star Brenan Vernon

Notre Dame’s defensive line has reliably been its deepest position for a few years now, and adding a trio of four-star recruits and a flipped commitment from Stanford should only continue that trend.

In order of their initial commitments to the Irish, now having all signed as the December signing period opened …

BRENAN VERNON
Mentor High School; Ohio
Measurements: 6-foot-5, 275 pounds
Accolades: A consensus four-star prospect, Vernon is the No. 7 strongside defensive end in the class, per rivals.com, and the No. 60 overall recruit. He will play in the All-American Bowl next month.

Other notable offers: A top-tier defensive end from Ohio would usually end up at Ohio State, a program known for producing first-round draft picks from the position. Yet, Vernon never wavered from his 18-month Irish commitment.

Projected position: Vernon may have been tailormade to be Notre Dame’s next Vyper end.

Quick take: Vernon’s size and length alone should make him a contributor in his career. If that is his floor, that is quite a recruiting haul.

Short-term roster outlook: The Irish defensive line is not quite as deep as it has been in recent years, certainly not if Justin Ademilola opts against a sixth season. If he returns, Vernon may be no higher than third on the depth chart, but if Ademilola takes his chances in the NFL draft, a strong preseason could push Vernon into the two-deep.

Long-term depth chart impact: Notre Dame is, to some extent, grasping for its next Vyper. Ademilola’s return will be vital for 2023. After him, the Irish are looking at part-time linebacker Jordan Botelho and a pair of current freshmen, or Vernon.

BOUBACAR TRAORE
Central Memorial High School; West Roxbury, Mass.
Measurements: 6-foot-4, 254 pounds
Accolades: A consensus four-star prospect, Traore is the No. 26 strongside defensive end in the class, per rivals.com. He will play in the All-American Bowl next month.

Other notable offers: Traore was committed to nearby Boston College for six months when Notre Dame offered him a scholarship, and his Eagles’ pledge almost immediately fell by the wayside. A Michigan offer did not distract him from the Irish thought he had long wanted.

Projected position: Put Traore into the same category as Vernon, a needed attempt at finding Notre Dame’s next Vyper.

Quick take: Do not overlook Traore. His sophomore year highlights quickly elicit a “Wow” reaction. He embraces blocks even as he makes a tackle. He drives an offensive lineman into the backfield before sliding off him and onto the quarterback. His quick first few steps on a pass rush put any offensive tackle at a disadvantage.

Short-term roster outlook: Special teams work may await Traore. Preserving eligibility is less and less a need, given the realities of one-time transfers. Given Notre Dame’s excellent punt-block unit in 2022, that could be its own glamorous role.

RELATED READING: Third elite defensive end commit further bolsters Notre Dame’s class of four-star prospects

Long-term depth chart impact: If not at Vyper, the Irish may also need a “Big” end before too long. Current junior Ryle Mills and senior NaNa Osafo-Mensah will hold down the position next season, but behind them is only German project Alexander Ehrensberger.

DEVAN HOUSTON
Saint James School; Md.
Measurements: 6-foot-3, 270 pounds
Accolades: The sole defensive tackle in Notre Dame’s class — though perhaps it should be mentioned that Traore’s body could probably hold more weight in the future — Houston is a consensus four-star prospect and the No. 20 defensive tackle in the class, per rivals.com.

Other notable offers: Houstan chose Notre Dame over Virginia Tech, South Carolina and Penn State, but also, most notably, Michigan and former Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston. Houstan’s brother, Caleb, spent the last year on the Wolverines basketball team, recently declaring for the NBA draft after one season of college basketball.

Projected position: Somewhere on the defensive line interior, the differences between three-technique and nose tackle difficult to diagnosis off high-school highlights.

Quick take: Devan Houstan is quick enough to rush off the edge in high school. Maryland high school football talent is not particularly strong, to be generous, but his clean releases around the tackles are still impressive. They are often helped by strong hands swatting blockers away.

He will have to adjust to the different game in college, both in moving to the interior full-time and in the massive ramp-up in opposing talent, but Houstan’s raw talent and ability to hold space are clear.

RELATED READING: Defensive tackle chooses Notre Dame over Michigan, yet another four-star in the Irish class of 2023

Short-term roster outlook: Current senior Howard Cross and sophomore Gabriel Rubio will lead the way at tackle in 2023, but Houstan may be called upon for some rotational reps.

Long-term depth chart impact: Behind Cross and Rubio, the Irish have nothing proven up front. Playing time will be available as soon as 2024.

Armel Mukam
Woodberry Forest School; Va.
Measurements: 6-foot-4, 255 pounds
Accolades: The rivals.com three-star prospect may be seen as more of a project than his classmates.

Other notable offers: Mukam flipped from a two-month Stanford commitment to an Irish pledge in one August day, filling a hole opened by five-star defensive end Keon Kelley’s de-commitment.

Projected position: Mukam should fill in at “Big” end in due time, particularly once he adds 10 pounds or so to match his wide frame.

Quick take: At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, his wide body and long arms make it hard for a running back to get around the edge, lengthening the ball carrier’s trip upfield.

Mukam is quick off the snap and willing to chase after passes into the flat, intangible signs of hustle.

Such raw descriptions of Mukam are necessary, given he has played only one full season of football and moved from Canada to the United States to do so.

RELATED READING: Former Stanford commit, DE Armel Mukam fills unexpected hole in Notre Dame’s class of 2023

Short-term roster outlook: Mukam will follow Ehrensberger’s role of being a long-term project. His time will come, but it will not be in 2023.

Long-term depth chart impact: Projects eventually find a spot to contribute, but projecting that far out may be a fool’s errand.

SIGNING DAY COVERAGE
Consensus four-star QB Kenny Minchey, former Pittsburgh commit
Consensus four-star running back Jeremiyah Love, No. 4 RB in the country
Five offensive lineman signees continue Irish trend up front
Four receivers fill greatest Irish need
Irish secondary boosted by four signees, speed included, despite Signing Day disappointment
Three linebackers continue Marcus Freeman’s defensive emphasis, led by Drayk Bowen
Four defensive linemen, led by consensus four-star Brenan Vernon
Consensus four-star tight end Cooper Flanagan
Brandyn Hillman, athlete who may end up on defense

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    Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

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    Entering spring practices, Notre Dame looked stocked at running back, returning two juniors who each rushed for at least 800 yards last season as well as a senior with 285 career touches. With three underclassmen supporting them, the Irish were wealthy in both depth and experience at running back.

    But then Notre Dame moved Chris Tyree to receiver, in part due to that bounty at running back and in part to be more assured the speedster would find playing time regardless, and Logan Diggs transferred to LSU. One of those underclassmen, sophomore Jadarian Price, is recovering from an Achilles injury that, on a common timeline following that devastating injury, could hinder him yet in August and September, if not longer should there be any version of a setback. Incoming freshman Jeremiyah Love has yet to arrive on campus.

    Junior Audric Estimé may look the part of a workhorse, but the Irish depth is no longer as thorough and the experience has quickly diminished.

    Enter Penn State graduate transfer running back Devyn Ford, adding depth back into the Irish backfield and possibly some untapped talent with his Friday commitment. Ford fell out of the Nittany Lions rotation the last two seasons simply because younger players impressed. He had 131 touches in his first two seasons, gaining 622 yards and scoring six times.

    Ford focused on kickoff returns in 2021, taking 12 for 258 yards, an average of 21.5 yards, while getting just 14 carries for 61 yards. Then he was only a special teams contributor in 2022 as a pair of freshmen took over the rushing workload (Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen combining for 1,928 yards on 323 carries) and the kickoff return duties (Singleton had 14 returns for an average of 24.9 yards and one touchdown). Ford’s on-field roles were gone, so he called it a season after just four games in order to preserve a year of eligibility, transferring with up to two seasons still ahead of him.

    Ford arrived at Penn State in 2019 as the No. 1 running back in the recruiting class, per rivals.com, and the No. 40 overall prospect. As anyone would expect from a recruiting profile like that, he was also sought by Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State, to name a few, as a high-school prospect. Players with that background somewhat rarely hit the transfer wire, making Ford an intriguing lottery ticket for Notre Dame.

    Bringing in Ford gives the Irish 83 scholarship players expected for this fall, two less than the NCAA maximum allowed.

    He wore No. 28 at Penn State, digits currently unclaimed on the Notre Dame roster aside from walk-on receiver Griffin Eifert, so unless Ford is proactively seeking a fresh start in all regards, he may end up in those familiar numbers in preseason practices. But let’s use his transfer announcement as an excuse to rattle off his “99-to-0” thoughts now.

    Listed measurements: 5-foot-11, 200 pounds per Penn State’s website.
    2023-24 year, eligibility: Ford enrolled at Penn State in 2019, so he has played four years, but 2020 did not count toward his ticking clock thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, and he stepped away from the Nittany Lions’ season after four games in 2022 in order to preserve an additional year of eligibility, meaning Ford has two years of eligibility remaining if wanted as he arrives in South Bend.
    Depth Chart: Audric Estimé will start for Notre Dame in Dublin (88 days), barring injury. Behind him, sophomore Gi’Bran Payne is the most probable candidate to be the secondary Irish ball carrier, though he has his own history of injuries. Price should be given a lengthier runway to find full speed this season, a reason all on its own to want to bring in Ford. He could end up Estimé’s primary backup with an impressive preseason, but for now, presume Payne has that inside track while Ford begins his career in a gold helmet ahead of Love.
    Recruiting: Some wondered if Ford’s collegiate career was concluded when he did not enter the transfer portal during the winter window. Instead, he entered the database in late April.

    Notre Dame offensive coordinator Gerad Parker was Penn State’s receivers coach in 2019, Ford’s freshman year, giving the Irish some direct knowledge of Ford as both a player and as a person, as well as a connection while he looked for a new school.

    CAREER TO DATE
    Ford came out of the gates strong in Happy Valley before his playing time dwindled, the kind of start expected from a recruit of his caliber, no matter how his Penn State career ended.

    2019: 12 games; 52 rushes for 294 yards and three touchdowns with five catches for 30 yards.
    2020: 6 games; 67 rushes for 274 yards and three touchdowns with seven catches for 24 yards.
    2021: 8 games; 14 rushes for 61 yards and three catches for 18 yards while returning 12 kickoffs for an average of 21.5 yards.
    2022: 4 games; 7 rushes for 37 yards.

    NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
    If Ford spent a chunk of May in Paris, then delaying his transfer decision was an exceedingly understandable decision.

    2023 OUTLOOK
    Ford’s freshman year highlights show a player who should contribute for Notre Dame this fall. He does not run with the same force as Estimé — who does? — but Ford is an all-around back with able hands as a safety valve in the flat. Presuming he devotes himself to pass blocking, there should never be a moment when his being on the field gives away a play’s intention to the defense.

    His tendency to keep his feet moving through contact allows Ford to maintain balance even after an initial hit, wearing out the defense a bit at the very least.

    All of which is to say, Ford should be more than a place-filler transfer. Logically, at least one of Payne, Price and Love will be slowed by injury or fatigue this fall, a probability among any three running backs but a higher one among two with injury concerns and a third being a true freshman. If one of them gives pause, Ford will be no lower than Notre Dame’s fourth running back.

    Because Estimé and Diggs were so durable last season, the Irish never leaned on a fourth back, but as often as not, one is needed. Consider the 2017-2019 averages from the fourth Notre Dame running backs in each season, taking 37.3 carries per season for 141.3 yards and 1.3 touchdowns. Those were backs by the names of Tony Jones Jr., Avery Davis and Jafar Armstrong, respectively.

    Ford could add something similar to the Irish backfield in 2023. He certainly once had the physical skillset to do so. And if that becomes reality, no one should be more grateful than Estimé.

    DOWN THE ROAD
    Just because Ford will have eligibility in 2024 does not mean he will use it. That will be up to both the Irish coaching staff and Ford.

    But given the likelihood Estimé heads to the NFL after 2023, keeping Ford around as an able body in the running back room would make sense. That may be where Diggs’ departure has the greatest impact. The odds were against both Estimé and Diggs having a strong enough 2023 season to justify jumping to the NFL, so one of them would have returned in 2024 and Notre Dame would have had four backs returning plus a freshman or two. (The No. 1 all-purpose back in the class, consensus four-star Aneyas Williams is currently the only Irish commitment at the position in the class of 2024.)

    The Irish would now need Ford or yet another transfer to have those kinds of numbers, and the advantage of Ford will be familiarity.

    NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
    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
    No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
    Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
    Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

    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 rivals.com, 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.

    CAREER TO DATE
    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.

    NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
    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.

    QUOTES
    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.

    WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
    “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.”

    2023 OUTLOOK
    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.

    DOWN THE ROAD
    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.

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

    NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
    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
    No. 83 Jayden Thomas, junior receiver, probable No. 1 target in 2023
    Rhode Island transfer safety Antonio Carter gives Notre Dame desperately needed backline depth
    Penn State RB transfer Devyn Ford gives Notre Dame newly-needed backfield depth, experience

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

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    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.

    Rivals.com 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 rivals.com 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.

    NOTRE DAME on NBC 2023 SCHEDULE
    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