Notre Dame Fighting Irish: CFN College Football Preview 2021

·13 min read

College Football News Preview 2021: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the Notre Dame football season with what you need to know.

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– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Notre Dame Football Schedule Analysis
Notre Dame Fighting Irish Previews
2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015

2020 Record: 10-2 overall, 9-1 in ACC
Head Coach: Brian Kelly, 12th year, 102-39 (145-61 overall)
2020 CFN Final Ranking: 5
2020 CFN Preview Ranking: 15
2019 CFN Final Ranking: 12

Notre Dame Fighting Irish College Football Preview 2021: Offense

The offense wasn’t all that explosive under first year offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, but that wasn’t really the idea. It was efficient, effective, and it did a great job of controlling games and the clock.

The Irish were among the best in the nation on third downs, in time of possession, and at being consistent enough to find ways to keep things moving. They didn’t turn the ball over a ton, relying on another great offensive line and the steady play of QB Ian Book to win.

It might not have been the most explosive of attacks, but that was totally fine – the Irish were able to grind their way to wins, again, by maintaining control. There might be a ton of new parts to the mix this year, but the concepts and plans still hold. It all starts with getting the quarterback situation right.

Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan is almost certainly the main man for the starting quarterback gig. The veteran stepped in for the Badgers when then-starter Alex Hornibrook went down in 2018, and there were a few nice moments when the job was his in 2019 – he hit close to 70% of his passes for over 2,700 yards with 18 touchdowns and just five picks.

Banged up to start the 2020 season, Graham Mertz showed he was ready, and now Coan is in South Bend. Drew Pyne is a smallish bomber with a little more mobility – he’ll at least provide a bit of a push in fall camp.

The receiving corps loses top wideouts Javon McKinley and Ben Skowronek, but Michael Mayer is one of the nation’s top returning tight ends coming off a 42-catch, 450-yard, two-score season.

Avery Davis is a good talent who should rise up into a bigger role after catching 24 passes for 322 yards and two scores. He’s the one certainty in the wide receiver mix, but everything else is going to be a work in progress with Lawrence Keys and Braden Lenzy two decent veterans in the rotation.

The offensive front keeps on producing year after year, but it’s going to be a grind for a little bit. Even the Irish won’t be able to quickly replace Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey at tackle and Aaron Banks and Tommy Kraemer at guard.

Jarrett Patterson is one of the team’s best players for somewhere in the interior – he returns after missing time late in the year hurt – Cain Madden comes in from Marshall to be at least a stopgap option at one tackle, and then it’s up to the underclassmen.

Star recruit Blake Fisher should be thrown to the wolves right away at one tackle job, and fellow freshman Rocco Spindler might be too good to keep out of a starting job inside.

Ultra-quick back Kyren Williams led the team with 1,125 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, No. 2 back Chris Tyree brings even more speed and flash – he averaged 6.8 yards per carry – and a few new recruits will see time early on. The backs have to do even more without an Ian Book-like runner at quarterback.

– What You Need To Know: Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Notre Dame Football Schedule Analysis

NEXT: Notre Dame Fighting Irish College Football Preview 2021: Defense

Notre Dame Fighting Irish College Football Preview 2021: Defense

The defense was fantastic. It allowed just 344 yards per game – skewed way too much statistically by the two games with Clemson and the Alabama loss – and now there’s just enough back to keep it all going under defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, who spent the last few years as Luke Fickell’s DC at Cincinnati.

There’s no replacing Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah at rover/linebacker, but 227-pound super-senior Drew White is back in the middle after tying for second on the team with 57 tackles to go along with nine tackles for loss.

227-pound Jack Kiser will get the longest look at replacing Owusu-Koramoah – even if he’s not bringing anywhere near the same all-around game – and 230-pounders Shayne Simon and Bo Bower bring the size.

The defensive front should be more than fine even though it has to move on without Daelin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji on the outside.

296-pound rock Kurt Hinish returns on the nose, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa is a big end or a quick tackle. and Isaiah Foskey should be the team’s leading pass rusher. Justin Ademilola might be a backup in the end rotation, but he’s a rising star.

The secondary has one of the best players in college football. Safety Kyle Hamilton has been a force for the last two years with the upside to be a top ten overall pick when he’s ready to go to the next level. He’s missing some veteran parts, though, with fellow safety Shaun Crawford and corner Nick McCloud done.

Houston Griffith is a good-sized 204-pound safety who can be used in a variety of roles, and the mix of veteran Clarence Lewis, Cam Hart and TaRiq Bracy should make for a sneaky-good corner situation – now they all have to star picking off passes.

– What You Need To Know: Offense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Notre Dame Football Schedule Analysis

NEXT: Notre Dame Fighting Irish College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

Notre Dame Fighting Irish College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

Best Notre Dame Fighting Irish Offensive Player

C/OG Jarrett Patterson, Jr.
The Irish could use one of the skill parts to rise up and be the star of the offense, and Patterson might not be the superstar blocker that previous top Notre Dame O linemen were, but he’s an invaluable returning leader for a reworked front line.

The 6-5, 305-pounder got hurt late last year with a broken foot, but now he’s back, ready, and he’ll be the anchor no matter where he plays – he’s a center who’ll most likely spend the year at guard or could even move to right tackle.

2. TE Michael Mayer, Soph.
3. RB Kyren Williams, Soph.
4. WR Avery Davis, Sr.
5. OT Blake Fisher, Fr.


2021 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Schedule: Analysis, Best and Worst Case Scenarios

Best Notre Dame Fighting Irish Defensive Player

S Kyle Hamilton, Jr.
LSU’s Derek Stingley might be the nation’s best defensive player and DB coming into the season, but Hamilton is probably 1A on the list. At the very least, coming into the season, Hamilton is the best safety in college football.

The 6-4, 219-pounder is the NFL prototype with the right size, range, and skills to be the leader and star of another good defense. He led the team with 63 tackles with a pick and six broken up passes after coming up with four interceptions and 41 tackles as a freshman. He can get into the backfield, too.

2. DE Isaiah Foskey, Soph.
3. LB Drew White, Sr.
4. DT Kurt Hinish, Sr.
5. DE Jayson Ademiola, Sr.

For more Notre Dame news, notes and insights, check out Nick Shepkowski and Fighting Irish Wire

Top Incoming Notre Dame Fighting Irish Transfer

QB Jack Coan, Sr.
With a slight rebuild being done and a whole lot of very, very young guys playing key roles, the Irish have two good transfers who should matter early on.

Marshall’s Cain Madden is a solid, experienced offense tackle who should bridge the gap and step in before the more talented freshmen take over, but the bigger get should be Coan, a former starter at Wisconsin who brings a veteran presence to step in for Ian Book.

He’s not going to bring a lick of mobility, but the Irish have a good passer who’ll keep the offensive moving until Drew Pyne is ready to take over.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Notre Dame Football Schedule Analysis

NEXT: Notre Dame Fighting Irish College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

Notre Dame Fighting Irish College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Biggest Key: Offense

Get the offensive line together in a hurry, and be far, far better in the red zone. The Irish always seem to find ways to reload up front without a problem, but this year they’re likely going to end up being way too young and inexperienced.

This will be a killer group soon, but it might take a little bit to get there. It’ll happen – the star recruits just need a wee bit of time.

With some new parts up front, a new quarterback, and too many new receivers in the rotation, the offense still has to find a way to do more inside the 20.

The 2019 Irish O scored points 93% of the time when it got into the red zone. The 2018 version scores 87% of the time, and the 2017 attack came away with points on 91% of the drives.

The 2020 offense only scores on 77% of its red zone trips, including two misfires in the loss to Alabama, and an empty drive in the ACC Championship loss to Clemson. Even worse, the offense came away with touchdowns just 58% of the time.

Things turned out just fine – the team did get to the College Football Playoff – but it’ll be tougher to get away with that this year.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Biggest Key: Defense

The run defense has to stop the skid. The Irish were a brick wall against the run last season – stuffing everyone including North Carolina – right up until the final three games.

There was a letdown against a Syracuse ground game that rolled up 229 yards – the most Notre Dame allowed all year – and two scores, and then Clemson made up for the miserable showing by the ground game in the first meeting by rumbling for eight yards per carry in the ACC Championship. Alabama was too busy bombing away to care about the ground game, but it averaged 5.6 yards per pop.

Those were the only three times the Irish allowed more than five yards per carry.

Virginia Tech beat Notre Dame 34-31 late in 2016 despite running for just 3.2 yards per carry and 152 yards overall. The Irish won their next 30 games since then when they held teams to under four yards per pop.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Key Player To A Successful Season

WR Avery Davis, Sr.
The 5-11, 202-pounder had a good 2020 with 24 catches for 322 yards and two scores, but now he has to turn into a No. 1 target.

He was good for around two catches more game, but he never grabbed more than four and never hit the 80-yard mark. He’s got the quickness and he has the experience, but does he have the chops to be a go-to guy for a receiving corps undergoing an overhaul?

Notre Dame Fighting Irish Key Game To The 2021 Season

Wisconsin, Sept. 25 (in Chicago)
The Irish need a lot of work and seasoning, but that’s what the road game at Florida State and the home dates with Toledo and Purdue are for. They need to roll through those three with what’s next.

They go to Chicago to deal with Wisconsin for the first time since opening up the 1964 season – a 31-7 Notre Dame win. With the gauntlet of Cincinnati, at Virginia Tech, USC and North Carolina to follow, there realistically can’t be a loss to the Badgers if they’ll have any hope of getting back to the College Football Playoff.

Notre Dame Football Schedule Analysis

2020 Notre Dame Fighting Irish Fun Stats

– Rushing TDs: Notre Dame 33 – Opponents 12
– 2nd Quarter Scoring: Notre Dame 148 – Opponents 59
– Onside Kicks: Notre Dame 1-for-1 – Opponents 1-for-1

NEXT: Notre Dame Fighting Irish College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

Notre Dame Fighting Irish College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

All Notre Dame has done is get into the College Football Playoff in two of the last three years, play in an ACC Championship, and win 43 games over the last four seasons. What more do you want?

Yeah, okay, you want more College Football Playoff appearances – that’s coming on a regular basis when and if the CFP expands to 12 teams – and you need a victory in the mini-tournament, but …

The Irish lost to Alabama last year. There’s absolutely no shame there.

They lost in the 2018 CFP to a Clemson team that went on to annihilate Alabama for the national title – no reason to hang your head on that.

The team doesn’t give up cheap losses. The last defeat to anyone who finished with fewer than nine wins was the 10-3 mega-clunker to NC State in the middle of a lost 2016.

Set The Notre Dame Fighting Irish Regular Season Win Total At … 9

Notre Dame really does deserve to be considered amongst nation’s elite programs again – yes, of course it does, even without the CFP win – but this year will be a test of just how quickly it can get over too many key losses.

Brian Kelly still has a whole lot of talent to play around with, a new defensive coordinator (Marcus Freeman), a few strong transfers helping the cause, and the expectation that the program reloads instead of rebuilds.

However, the schedule will have something to say about that.

The Irish don’t have to deal with Clemson, but it gets Cincinnati. It doesn’t have to play Miami from the ACC, but it goes to Chicago to face Wisconsin.

At Florida State might not be the layup we all think it is – but, okay, it will be. Going to Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Stanford will all be pesky, and playing USC, North Carolina and Purdue at home are all landmines.

There are too many question marks, new parts, and tough games to get back to the College Football Playoff, there’s no ACC title to play for this time around, and the 12-team expanded CFP isn’t in place yet.

It’ll still be a fantastic season, even if it’s not quite what the fans might want.

Notre Dame might only win nine games. That the possibility of a nine-win season seems like a disappointment – and might even be ten after the bowl game – is okay.

The program is used to doing a whole lot more, and it soon will again.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Notre Dame Football Schedule Analysis