Time flies doesn’t it? Not long ago it feels like we were fighting through the dog days of summer begging for the Notre Dame football season to arrive. Blink, and it’s all over. What a wild journey for the Irish. From some really impressive high-end performances to some head-scratching poor ones, Irish fans never knew what they were going to get week to week.
Now that we have an entire season’s body of work, what do we make of what we’ve seen? What lessons have been learned? What can we expect from the Irish as they get further immersed into Freeman’s vision for the program?
Let’s take a look at five things we’ve learned from a wild first year of the Freeman Era.
Tobias Merriweather #15 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass for a touchdown against Kendall Williamson #21 of the Stanford Cardinal during the second half at Notre Dame Stadium on Oct. 15, 2022 in South Bend, Indiana. Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Notre Dame entered the year ranked fifth largely based off what the previous year’s team achieved. In no way did Notre Dame actually enter the year with the fifth best roster, and this was a struggle that showed all year. Freeman inherited the practical consequences of the previous regimes’ lack of high-level recruiting and development.
The good news is this dynamic is changing fast. The 2023 recruiting class features an 83% blue chip recruiting rate and 2024 should be in a similar range. More talent is coming to South Bend than before and glaring roster holes will not be something talked about after a few recruiting cycles.
Steep Learning Curve
Oct. 8, 2022; Paradise, Nevada; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Marcus Freeman signals for a timeout in the second quarter against the BYU Cougars at Allegiant Stadium. Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
All reasonable people recognize and respect the challenge of being a first-year head coach in college football. Doing it at Notre Dame accentuates this struggle. Expectations are high; patience is low. We live in a now now now, me me me society. People want instant results.
I look at 2022 as a “pay your dues to enter the club” type of year for Freeman. Expected challenges were multiplied by the unexpected (starting quarterback injured all year), made Year 1 an extra trying one for Freeman. This was all one big starting point calibration, and I expect the world to slow down for Freeman from now on. He will truly be able to settle in.
A Man Of The People
Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Marcus Freeman has a moment with Notre Dame Fighting Irish players after their team’s victory over South Carolina in the Gator Bowl.
Marcus Freeman is a man of the Irish people in a way Brian Kelly never wanted to be. Marcus gets it. He knows his job is about Our Lady first and foremost, not his ego, something his predecessor never learned or accepted.
This matters at all schools, even more so at a small, tight-knit, religious family university such as Notre Dame. Folks genuinely want to see Freeman have success as a man, not just Notre Dame’s head coach. Freeman’s personality type is a rarity in college football, it draws people to him. They want to help. They want to engage. This attitude toward Notre Dame’s head coach is new and most welcomed when contrasted with the last dynamic.
Nov. 5, 2022; South Bend, Indiana; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Audric Estime (7) scores a touchdown against the Clemson Tigers in the fourth quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
The Notre Dame players faced a great deal of adversity this year. There were many points where they could have just packed it in and let the entire year fall apart. But they never did. The team held together, kept their heads high and fought through it.
This is first and foremost a compliment to the players and the culture they cultivated, but this is also a compliment to Marcus Freeman. His players respect him and want to do all they can to make themselves and him look good. This “buy-in” level bodes very well for the future.
Stanford wide receiver Elijah Higgins (6) runs the ball during the Notre Dame vs. Stanford NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.
There is always a certain level of expected inconsistency of play in Year 1 of any new coaching regime. However, Notre Dame’s inconsistencies were quite extreme for a multitude of reasons ranging from injury to inexperience.
It’s perfectly fair to hope and assume that the further into the Freeman era we go, the more consistency there will be. This transition was a particularly challenging one with many moving parts. I’m sure Freeman is relieved to be on the other side of this first campaign. More stability is in Notre Dame’s future and this is great news for Irish fans’ blood pressure readings!