Observer Football Beat: Season Predictions
With the 2021 football season rapidly approaching, the Observer football beat writers were forced to sit down and consider how the months ahead will unfold for the team. Word of high-stakes rivalry matchups, an undefeated season and a potential CFP or NY6 bid have all been tossed around the Notre Dame fan base … now it’s time to see how the Roundtable thinks the season will really shake out for the Irish.
For a long time, I didn’t think I was going to be optimistic about the prospects of Notre Dame’s 2021 season. But behind an encouraging spring and start to fall camp, coupled with a tough — but winnable —schedule, I’ve begun to fall victim to the optimism that has led to constant pain during my tenure as an Irish fan and writer.
The rebuilt offensive line looks to be solidifying, with Cain Madden garnering preseason All-American honors. The backfield remains electric, Jack Coan won a competitive quarterback battle and the receiving corps has been frequently hailed by Brian Kelly as a vastly improved group. Throw in All-American safety Kyle Hamilton, two experienced returning pass-rushers on the defensive line, a deep linebacker room and a secondary that has looked vastly improved in practice from 2020, and a promising 2021 campaign seems very possible.
Season Prediction: 11-1
Season Prediction: 11-1
For the majority of the spring semester, I did not have the highest hopes for the 2021 season Notre Dame would have to face. With the offensive line and quarterback positions still largely undecided — not to mention the threat of some formidable opponents on the schedule — I struggled to see how our offense would be solid enough to make the plays they needed to make to secure the wins they needed to secure. When August rolled around and QB1 was still unknown, it only reinforced the notion. With the fall season upon us, however, I have come to see that the time I sat fretting was the time Notre Dame was fine-tuning.
Not knowing the starting quarterback for so long can only attest to the capabilities of the contenders. Jack Coan can lead the team knowing he, in the words of Brian Kelly, “gives us the best chance of success” in the coming weeks while having two talented successors behind him. He comes in with a knowledge of the field and accuracy in his passes, and we can be confident in his ability to take over. With Coan, Kelly’s glowing reports of the up-and-coming receiving corps, and the return of the unassailable running back squad, a strong offensive showing does not seem as far-fetched. Pair the reshuffled offense with Kyle Hamilton and the extensive defensive roster and we may just stand a chance at a NY6 or CFP bid. Maybe.
Then the knowledge of just who it is Notre Dame will have to stack up against comes into play, and things get a little dicey. I think the Irish will make it through unscathed until the UNC battle at home. They will have just made it through the five-game stretch in the toughest part of their schedule, and the only way they make it to October 30 undefeated is by taking down the rival Trojans. I think the Irish will have it in them to do so, but then comes the question of whether they can pull out two big wins in a row. They will enter the game tired, and that could cost them a perfect regular season against Sam Howell and his squad. In the end, Notre Dame gets a NY6 slot to cap off the season, missing out on two consecutive CFP showings.
Season Prediction: 11-1
Back in May, my former boss Hayden Adams claimed that the 2021 season would be a complete wash for Notre Dame. I’m not trying to take shots at Hayden while he’s not here, but the Irish can absolutely compete in 2021. It’s no secret that the Irish are going to be a run-heavy offense, with 2020 All-ACC Second Team junior Kyren Williams and former five-star recruit sophomore Chris Tyree in the backfield, as well as a retooled offensive line that knows how to punish opponents in the trenches. What may surprise some people is the play of newly-minted starting quarterback Jack Coan. While he doesn’t possess the mobility of his predecessor, the graduate transfer can make throws to every level of the field, preventing defenses from stacking the box against the Irish. Coan won’t just be a bridge to five-star Tyler Buchner and can be more than just a game manager in this offense.
The Irish defensive front should once again be stout against the run, but an inexperienced secondary is a cause for concern. Defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman should want to move junior safety, Kyle Hamilton, around his formation, but he may be planted in the secondary until more reliable defensive backs emerge.
Unlike last season, where the Irish were essentially building to the Clemson game in early November, Notre Dame faces a brutal late September-October stretch, matching up with four preseason AP top 15 teams in five games. I think the Irish will handle Wisconsin at Soldier Field and Cincinnati and USC at home, but UNC will beat the Irish at home on October 30. Potential Top-5 pick Sam Howell will be ready to play under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium, and Notre Dame will be worn down after trudging through their midseason gauntlet. The Irish won’t make the CFP in consecutive years, but their strength of schedule is tough enough to grab a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game.