Friday at 4: 40 Predictions for Notre Dame's 2023 — On Sam Hartman, Audric Estimé, Ohio State, USC & Clemson

Boston College v Notre Dame

This Notre Dame season has everything. A sixth-year quarterback with a pile of conference records, three top-10 opponents in the preseason rankings, a head coach entering a pivotal second season, gold-covering falling scaffolding, a running back so well built he may pop up in the next installment of The Fast & The Furious and clearly a habit to simply yell “PEACOCK” at unexpected moments.

Excuse me, for those of us who don’t know, what is gold-covering falling scaffolding?

We’ll get to that, as well as predictions for Notre Dame’s postseason destination, its defensive line surprises and one last “Old School” reference. No, that one is not on Peacock.

1) No. 13 Notre Dame will crack open a 40 against Navy tomorrow (2:30 ET on NBC) without needing a defensive touchdown. The Irish have topped 40 points in six of their last 11 matchups with the Midshipmen and would have last season if former offensive coordinator Tommy Rees had any faith in his quarterback pushing the ball downfield. That just so happens to be Sam Hartman’s specialty.

2) That will play a part in Navy falling short of its preseason win total of 6.5 wins, as will Louisville of its 8.5, Wake Forest of its 6.5 and Stanford of its 2.5.

3) But No. 9 Clemson will top its preseason win total of 10. It will be the only Irish opponent to suffer just one loss this regular season.

4) When Tennessee State visits South Bend next weekend — the first-ever FCS opponent on a Notre Dame schedule in the modern era, a result of playing in Dublin this weekend on relatively short notice, itself a result of the pandemic canceling a 2020 trip to Ireland — the NBC broadcast will be sure to mention two things. South Florida transfer kicker Spencer Shrader played in South Bend in that 2020 season, sending the opening kickoff regretfully short of the end zone. In a 52-0 blowout, that was Sharder’s only kick that day. Perhaps that will be the easy opportunity to mention his previous appearance, praising a touchback in comparison to that shorter kick three years ago.

Given Notre Dame will score far more than zero points against Tigers, Shrader will have other chances to kick, so Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett will not need to shoehorn that reference into the opening moments of the home season.

Secondly, they will mention the new layer of gold on the main building on campus. Notre Dame re-gilded the golden dome over the summer, and only in recent weeks has the scaffolding begun to come down. Unfortunately for anyone hoping for unique views of campus during the NBC broadcast, perhaps putting a camera atop that scaffolding, it should be too low for that by Sept. 2. Fortunate for the Tennessee State fans visiting campus and looking for the full Saturday experience.

5) Sharder will make more than 80 percent of his field goals this season, reverting to his 2021 form of making 11-of-13 field goals (84.6 percent) rather than his other three years at South Florida (60.7 percent). The primary difference between 2021 and 2022 (69.2 percent) was Shrader’s success from range, going 5-of-6 on field goals longer than 40 yards in 2021 but only 2-of-5 in 2022.

6) Notre Dame will beat North Carolina State comfortably, and the operating definition of “comfortably” is that the Wolfpack will never have the ball with an opportunity to tie or take the lead in the fourth quarter.

7) The Irish will beat Central Michigan by more than they beat Tennessee State.

8) As Big Ten fans begin watching Peacock — East Carolina at Michigan is exclusively on Peacock on Sept. 2 at 12 ET; Washington at Michigan State is exclusively on Peacock on Sept. 16 at 5 ET, for starters — they will find they enjoy the thoughts of access to a John Wick universe and the latest The Fast & The Furious installment.

9) Ohio State fans will not enjoy their trip to South Bend, in some part because senior defensive end Jordan Botelho shines in the big moment. After tallying two sacks in the Gator Bowl victory against South Carolina, he may be quiet the first few weeks of the 2023 season. His time will come when he matches that total against the Buckeyes.

10) Meanwhile Ohio State defensive end J.T. Tuilmoloau will not record a sack against the Irish, stymied by preseason All-American left tackle Joe Alt. When Alt squared up with Clemson defensive end Myles Murphy last season, he did not give up a pressure on 15 pass snaps.

Murphy went No. 28 in the NFL draft, not as lofty a pick as awaits Tuilmoloau, but Alt is also a year older.

Holding Tuilmoloau in check will vault Alt toward his second All-American honors, and it may be all it takes to put Notre Dame’s offensive line into Joe Moore Award contention, the first thing Alt mentioned this week when asked on the ND on NBC Podcast what his goals are this season.

11) Alt will then become the first offensive lineman in Irish history to enter the NFL draft after his junior season, though he will dodge that question if asked at any point before Thanksgiving.

12) Botelho will not lead Notre Dame in tackles for loss. That will be senior tackle Rylie Mills. He had six last season, tied for third on the Irish defense, behind Isaiah Foskey’s 14 and Botelho’s 6.5. By moving inside — Mills spent much of last season working at defensive end — Mills will find himself in plenty of offensive backfields, able to absorb a block while using his length to disrupt beyond that engagement.

If he nears his career totals of 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks, then the Notre Dame defense should be better than anticipated, which is not a low bar. Tackles for loss simply are not applauded enough in college football. They may not be a literal turnover, but knocking a college offense off schedule serves as a drive-killer more often than not.

13) So it bears noting thoughts like, junior defensive tackle Gabriel Rubio will have at least two sacks, which would be two more than he has thus far in his career.

14) And Ohio State transfer Javontae Jean-Baptiste will have at least four.

“I would be lying if I (didn’t) say that I was a little bit surprised,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said Monday of his defensive line’s impressive preseason performances. “You’ve got some guys that have not shown in games. The Jason Onyes, the Junior Tuihalamakas, the Gabe Rubios, those guys that haven’t played much deep into game situations that we’re going to be able to count on. We’re going to use those guys.

“Javontae played at Ohio State. You know what Rylie and Howard (Cross) and some of those guys can do. Jordan Botelho’s had a really good camp.”

RELATED READING: Even Marcus Freeman is surprised at dramatic defensive line rise

15) Let’s throw in a Tuihalamaka prediction for good measure. The sophomore end will have at least 16 tackles this season. And classmate Joshua Burnham will make at least a dozen.

16) Notre Dame will be uncomfortable at Duke on Sept. 30. The operating definition of “uncomfortable’ is that the Blue Devils will have the ball with an opportunity to tie or take the lead or even build a lead in the fourth quarter.

17) Currently No. 6 in the preseason AP poll, USC will be favored by at least three points when it arrives in South Bend on Oct. 14, despite that game currently being a pick’em.

18) That will mostly be because the Trojans will be 6-0 without a game resembling a competitive endeavor. USC’s first six opponents rank an average of No. 86 in the preseason SP+ rankings, with the best among them ranked at No. 67 (Arizona), though overall, that average is five spots better than it was entering the offseason.

19) Fifth-year linebacker Marist Liufau will sack defending Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams that day, rewarding Irish defensive coordinator Al Golden for regularly keeping Liufau on the field instead of classmate Jack Kiser, a bet on Liufau’s threat off the edge compared to Kiser’s overall havoc. That sack may be incorrectly considered a tackle for loss, by the way, as Williams’s scrambling may make it a bit ambiguous.

20) But Kiser will have more turnover-related plays (forced fumble, fumble recovered, pass deflected, interceptions) than anyone else on the Notre Dame defense this season.

21) Thanks in part to Golden leaning on Liufau more often in pass-rush moments than Kiser, the third fifth-year linebacker, JD Bertrand, will lead the Irish in tackles for a third straight season, something only Manti Te’o (2010-12) and Bob Crable (1979-81) have done in the last 50 years of Notre Dame football.

22) One last linebacker prediction: Sophomore Jaylen Sneed will have at least 25 tackles and four tackles for loss. He will start that breakout season with at least two tackles tomorrow against Navy.

23) Most notably because of a healthy Cam Hart, Notre Dame will beat both the Trojans and the Buckeyes.

24) Most likely in one of those games but perhaps in another close moment, sophomore cornerback Jaden Mickey will play a part in a pivotal turnover. Think of a Shaun Crawford-esque moment.

25) Like USC, Pittsburgh will arrive in South Bend unbeaten, though the Panthers will have played better opponents in Virginia Tech, Louisville and Wake Forest.

26) But then former Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec will try to force the moment and instead throw two interceptions.

27) Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik will throw more touchdown passes this season than Sam Hartman does, mostly a reflection of their offensive coordinators.

28) Some will have optimism for Hartman to have a truly prolific season when he connects with sophomore Tobias Merriweather for a touchdown in the first three weeks of the season where the ball travels more than 30 yards downfield before getting to Merriweather’s lanky frame.

29) But Hartman will not throw for enough yards to crack the top three of all-time passing yardage, currently at No. 19 with 12,967 yards and former Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones (2009-12) at No. 3 with 16,646 yards, a difference of 3,679 yards.

Hartman will reach the top three in career touchdown passes, but there will never be thoughts of an asterisk-included record assault, with Hartman at No. 18 and 110 touchdowns while Houston’s Case Keenum (2007-11) sits comfortably at 155. Mid-2000s Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell is at No. 3 with 134 career touchdown passes.

30) Freshman receiver Jaden Greathouse’s stats will exceed the combined numbers from his three classmates.

31) Junior receiver Jayden Thomas will average two first downs per week after moving the chains 18 times last year, including eight on third down and another pair on second-and-long.

32) Senior Chris Tyree may earn some WR1 praise, finishing the year with at least 540 yards, five touchdowns and 35 catches.

33) Though Tyree just changed uniform numbers for the most forehead-slapping of reasons, he will relinquish at least some punt return duties to sixth-year receiver Matt Salerno.

In 2021, Salerno was beaten out by Kyren Williams for the punt return gig. In 2022, Brandon Joseph did so. Yet in both seasons, the former walk-on returned five punts.

By the way, sixth-year safety DJ Brown also wears No. 2, in case that was about to bother a reader or two trying to remember the conflict.

34) Current walk-on Jordan Faison will log a stat at some point this season. On a lacrosse scholarship, he is too athletic to not see some playing time. It may be a catch, it may be a special teams tackle. For reference: No. 80.

35) Notre Dame will not run any of last year’s “Mitch-A-Palooza” package with junior tight end Mitchell Evans taking a snap from center and powering forward for a short-yardage first down conversion. Credit Hartman’s overall abilities for the lack of that need.

So, for one last time, let’s remind the world that Evans was utterly confused when Rees texted him a photo of the “Mitch-A-Palooza” party poster from 2003’s “Old School.”

“What is he talking about? I had no idea,” Evans said of that text.

36) Junior running back Audric Estimé will rush for 1,350 yards and more than 10 touchdowns, joined by a teammate in triple digits against the Chippewas on Sept. 16.

37) That teammate may or may not be Penn State transfer running back Devyn Ford. Regardless, Ford will finish with at least 30 carries, 150 yards and two touchdowns this year, numbers drawn from the 2017-19 averages of Notre Dame’s No. 4 running back, players like Tony Jones Jr., Avery Davis and Jafar Armstong, respectively. Consider it a floor.

Or that Central Michigan running buddy could be freshman Jeremiyah Love, who will have at least one play this season of 40 yards or longer.

“He’s fast, man,” Freeman said bluntly at the start of preseason practices.

38) But take the Under.

39) Notre Dame will face Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30 at 8 ET. Both teams would be in a 12-team Playoff field, as will begin in 2024. In fact, the Irish would host a Playoff game.

40) Negronis, sazeracs and aged rum.

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