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Notre Dame look to get back to glory in Freeman era

College football Top 25: Here comes the Marcus Freeman era

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The start of the college football season has arrived, as has our annual Top 25. This year, Yahoo Sports unveiled the top 25 teams all at once before we published each of our top 10 in individual blogs in the days before Week 1. The eighth-ranked Notre Dame continues this.

Previously: 11-25, 10 Oregon, 9 North Carolina State

8th-ranked Notre Dame

Record for 2021: 11-2

State championship odds: +4000

Under/over: 8.5 victories

Over the course of his twelve years at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly led the Fighting Irish to seven seasons with double-digit victories, two appearances in the College Football Playoff, and one in the BCS Championship Game.

The last five years have seen five of those double-digit win seasons, but Kelly chose to leave South Bend for LSU and the SEC. Even though the Irish were still a potential playoff team last fall when Kelly abruptly left, the decision allowed the university to elevate from within.

Marcus Freeman, who made an impression on Notre Dame’s leadership during his one season as defensive coordinator, was selected to succeed Kelly. Freeman, who is only 36, advanced fast up the coaching ranks, spending four years as Cincinnati’s DC. He has now been given control of one of the most important positions in collegiate football. Can he handle the job?

Although there was considerable personnel turnover, the Notre Dame administration has consistently shown its support for Freeman. After Kelly left, there weren’t many transfers either.

The Irish have experienced a notable increase in recruiting since Freeman took over. The 2022 class at Notre Dame placed sixth in the country, according Rivals. The Irish are currently ranked first in both the 2023 and 2024 team rankings, which is much better.

Under Kelly, Notre Dame came very close to winning the national championship a number of times, but the Irish’s quality level did not quite match that of the best teams in the nation. Freeman is attempting to overcome the last obstacle with this degree of recruiting.

Even though those bright prospects won’t show up for a few more years, Freeman still takes over a roster that is fairly solid. How powerful? When the Irish face Ohio State in Columbus to begin the season, we’ll find out when they are put to a serious test.

WR is a worry as Tyler Buchner takes over at quarterback.

Milwaukee transfer In 2021, Jack Coan replaced longtime starter Ian Book at quarterback, but Notre Dame also brought in promising freshmen Tyler Buchner. Although Buchner was primarily utilized in prepared runs, it gave the athletic four-star prospect an opportunity to gain experience on a significant stage.

As of right now, Buchner is the Irish’s starting quarterback. About halfway through preseason camp, he defeated Drew Pyne and will continue to work with offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, who remained with Freeman after Kelly left.

Buchner ran for 336 yards and six touchdowns on 46 carries last fall, finishing 21 of 35 for 298 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. He could enable Rees to use a much more imaginative approach to game planning and play-calling thanks to his agility.

Playing behind a solid offensive line with all five starters back gives Buchner an advantage. Last year, the Irish put a number of young linemen in the line of fire, and those lessons should pay off in 2022 and the years that follow.

Tight end is one of the skill positions. One of the greatest in the nation at his position is Michael Mayer. Chris Tyree, Logan Diggs, and Audric Estime are three intriguing running back candidates for the Irish to consider in place of Kyren Williams.

The biggest question mark on the team, though, is the receiver. Before Avery Davis, the starter in the slot, suffered a season-ending injury, the position was lacking. Without Davis, sophomore Lorenzo Styles wants to build on his outstanding bowl game performance. The coaches are also hopeful that seasoned player Braden Lenzy, who has 50 catches in three seasons, keeps improving. There are only those two and not much more.

After a season with 71 catches, Mayer might be in line for even more targets.

Could the pass rush by Notre Dame get any better?

The Irish’s defense should once again be fairly good, despite the offense’s reliance on some inexperienced players.

Al Golden, a former head coach of Miami, was brought on board by Freeman to manage the defense after several seasons as an NFL position coach. In addition to the talented pass rusher Isaiah Foskey, Golden has a lot of options.

Twin brothers Jayson and Justin Ademilola will support Foskey on the defensive line as he attempts to surpass Justin Tuck’s nine-sack program record. Jayson is a mainstay on the interior, but Justin will probably line up on the outside next to Foskey.

Last fall, the Irish were responsible for 41 sacks, and in 2022, they might have a powerful pass rush. With JD Bertrand, Bo Bauer, Jack Kiser, and Marist Liufau all in their fourth or fifth seasons with the team, the linebacker group is also a significant strength.

Kyle Hamilton, a safety, was the top player on the defense previous season and was selected first overall by the Baltimore Ravens. The Irish recruited Brandon Joseph from Northwestern to fill the vacancy left by Hamilton. Joseph, an All-American in 2020, could be a significant help to a secondary that needs its cornerbacks to be more reliable.

Most important game: Nov. 5 against Clemson

When Notre Dame goes to Columbus to take on Ohio State, it will take part in one of the most anticipated matchups of Week 1. Other important road games on the schedule include the regular-season finale at USC and a potentially challenging trip to North Carolina. But the biggest match will be when Clemson comes to town on November 5.

Once again, Clemson is predicted to have one of the greatest defenses in the nation. At that time in the season, the Tigers may be squarely in the CFP race if they demonstrate some offensive progress. Even if the Irish lose the game against Ohio State, the same holds true.

The most recent Clemson game in South Bend was a nail-biting double-overtime contest in 2020. Could a game as spectacular be played in 2022?

impact participant: TE Matthew Mayer

A major worry is the receiver group. Along with Davis’ permanent knee injury, this summer has also seen absences from Joe Wilkins and Deion Colzie. Styles and Lenzy will be highly relied upon, and former walk-on Matt Salerno is also competing for a position.

With being considered, Mayer will have a big burden to bear in this passing game. Mayer has accumulated 113 catches, 1,290 yards, and nine touchdowns in his two seasons on school. This includes seven touchdowns last fall and 71 catches for 840 yards.

After this season, Mayer will almost probably join the NFL. He will need to perform much better in order to return the Irish to the playoff.

Pick for the total: Over 8.5 (-150)

I don’t anticipate the Irish to pull off an upset against Ohio State in Week 1 despite being 14.5-point underdogs. In order to exceed the over, Notre Dame would have to finish the game 9-2. I believe it is possible.

The Irish will be major favorites in seven of the tough games on the schedule, which I can name off the top of my head. Toss-up games include North Carolina’s away game, BYU’s home game, Clemson’s home game, and USC’s away game. The Irish can improve to 9-3 if they split those four.

I’m optimistic about such possibilities.