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Observer Football Beat: Season Predictions

, , , , and | Wednesday, September 1, 2021

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.

Aidan Thomas

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.

Four top-15 matchups litter the schedule. However, I think the only game Notre Dame falters in is at home, breaking a three-year home winning streak. The USC game makes me very nervous, as I believe the Trojans will be really good behind quarterback Kedon Slovis, and they’ll come out fired up to break a losing streak in this rivalry. A mediocre USC squad lost by just three points in 2019, and this team figures to be much better. Notre Dame will lose that one, but run the table the rest of the way and secure a New Year’s Six bowl game and a top-10 ranking.

Season Prediction: 11-1

Nate Moller

For a while, it appeared that Notre Dame’s 2021 season would be used as a bridge year between the Ian Book and Tyler Buchner eras. The addition of graduate student transfer Jack Coan at quarterback has completely changed the narrative surrounding the season, as his experience at the quarterback position should allow the Irish to be very competitive in 2021. I think a lot of people are still underestimating Coan, but I firmly believe Coan has the experience and capability to lead the Irish to a very successful season
Coan will have plenty of tools at his disposal on offense as well. The Irish possess one of the most dynamic backfields in college football with Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree, and I expect both running backs to get plenty of touches and have career years. The wide receiver position is still a question mark, but there are enough talented athletes on the roster, and I am certain a couple of players will step up. On the defensive side of the ball, Kyle Hamilton will be invaluable, and the pieces around him should be in place to have a top-tier defense.
This year is bizarre in the sense that there is no one game that stands out, like Clemson last year, but there are four top-15 opponents. I expect the Irish to take care of business against the Badgers at Soldier Field, but I think the Irish drop a game the next week at home against a very dangerous Cincinnati team. Despite the loss, the Irish will win their remaining games with notable victories at home against USC and UNC and solidify their spot in a New Year’s Six bowl.

Season Prediction: 11-1

Emily DeFazio

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

Colin Capece

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.

Season Prediction: 11-1

Mannion McGinley

The 2021 season has space for both success and growth, and it has to fill both those shoes. With Coan starting in the opener, Kelly set the team up for success in the first game. Coan easily has the experience and the skill to ride the home wins, and then some. The problem comes in when we look to the future.
Buchner or Pyne should start eventually this season if we want to see any progression or success next season, though neither of them has had a chance to get their feet under them on the field. That being said, when to start them is the big question. Coan will take the stage and should have a decent time at it against Cincinnati, USC and UNC. The final two home games, though, against Navy and Georgia Tech should have wiggle room for a non-starter to see the field significantly. I think it’s even worth that game being closer than the Irish might prefer, especially since Kelly doesn’t often choose to run up the score anyway.
When it comes down to it, though, that isn’t worth a loss on the season. Ignoring mental factors (yes looking at you, USC game, post-bye week), the Irish at their best will have their toughest match against UNC. There we will have to be at our best on all fronts, including in the pocket.
The way the season is structured, however, builds in plenty of time for the offense to tighten up before any major games and the defense to be in a good spot. They’ll get to know each other in a true game setting and under pressure. So much so that I think the undefeated season is within reach. With Tyree and Williams as options in the backfield and Hamilton holding together the defense, the Irish have weapons at their disposal, and if they work together smoothly, the Irish can have the undefeated season.

Optimistic season prediction: 12-0

Jimmy Ward

I tend to be pretty optimistic when it comes to these things; however, I don’t have that optimistic, worry-free feeling most Notre Dame fans have come to enjoy ever so often over the past 100 years or so.
I’m pretty certain that Jack Coan won’t be playing 100% of the snaps that could potentially swing a game. I’m not saying he’s not the guy right now, I’m just saying that this quarterback battle might not be finished just yet.
The Irish have a schedule that will surely provide some major tests for them. Games against Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, USC and UNC, in that order, don’t give me a great deal of confidence. I think the Irish are likely to drop at least one or two of these games and miss out on a New Year’s Six bid in consequence. I don’t see Brian Kelly leading this squad to put up 2016 numbers, but it will certainly be a trying season for the head coach of the Irish.

Season Prediction: 10-2

About Emily DeFazio

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About Mannion McGinley

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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About Colin Capece

Colin is a senior at Notre Dame, majoring in political science and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He hails from the great state of New York and currently serves as an Assistant Managing Editor at The Observer for the 2021-2022 academic year. You can sometimes find him on Twitter at @ColinCapeceND

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About Nate Moller

Nate is a junior majoring in chemical engineering. He is originally from a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota and is currently living in Siegfried Hall. Some of his passions include running, cross country skiing, and getting too worked up about Notre Dame and Minnesota sports teams.

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About Jimmy Ward

Jimmy is a senior at Holy Cross College, where he studies English and sports management. He is originally from Westfield, Indiana. Currently, Jimmy serves as an associate sports editor at The Observer. You can find him at @jimmyyward on Twitter.

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