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Friday at 4: 40 Notre Dame predictions, beginning with the obvious

Kyle Hamilton Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 16: Kyle Hamilton #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish reacts in the second quarter against the Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium on November 16, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

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When Ian Book set a Notre Dame record with a 68.2 percent completion rate in 2018, it included some passes even you and I could have completed. When his supposedly-rocky 2019 still reached 60.2 percent, it included his forward pitches to now-junior receivers Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys on what we commonly know as jet sweeps.

That is how it has always been. Before the jet sweep, there was the prototypical screen. Before that, the triple-option sometimes includes a toss forward; depending on the official scorer, it was noted as a pass.

The point is, if some of these predictions seem exceptionally obvious, so be it. Consider them the jet sweeps of forecasting.

1) On that note, the entire season will be tense. Even if Notre Dame’s coronavirus testing results continue to return zero positive cases as the Irish move to testing three times a week, the spectre of next month will loom. As Rutgers president Jonathan Holloway pondered this week, “If I had to put money down, we’re going to see some radical changes within a month — no later than November.” While Ohio State head coach Ryan Day questions why the Big Ten is not playing, Holloway remains dubious the ACC, the SEC and the Big 12 will play successfully. That worry will linger for us all.

2) It will hover over every NBC pan of the 20 percent filled stands at Notre Dame Stadium tomorrow (2:30 ET), part of what will assuredly be a disconcerting Stadium environment.

3) But also a Stadium environment we will be used to, as much as possible, by October’s visit from Florida State.

4) Before the Seminoles, the Irish will host their singular non-conference foe of the season. Whew, that is a sentence. There is no chance South Florida’s visit next week does not include an oddity. The 2011 precedent will not be matched, but it will be honored.

5) That non-conference distinction obviously nods toward Notre Dame’s full ACC membership for a season. The logo on the field will not bother you nearly as much as the “ACC” replacing “IRISH” on the face masks.

6) Tony Dungy joining Mike Tirico calling these six Notre Dame home games will make for one of the best booths in football. That is not shilling for NBC; if anybody should be above that accusation for a bit, it is yours truly.

7) Going by the ACC preseason media poll, two of Notre Dame’s toughest four games come in the first five weeks of the season. Facing Pittsburgh on Oct. 17 should be no more than the fifth-stiffest challenge. It will, instead, be the first competitive game of the Irish 2020.

8) That first handful of contests will not be all ease, though. Expect a few muscular injuries early in the season. These players are undoubtedly in excellent shape by most any standard, but that does not mean they are all 100 percent in football shape just yet, given they missed spring practice, offseason conditioning and portions of preseason practice.

9) One of the reasons those five games, including against Florida State and Louisville, will not be all that worrisome is Notre Dame’s trio of defensive playmakers. Sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton, sixth-year safety Shaun Crawford and senior Rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will combine to be involved in more than eight turnovers. Admittedly, that is a low bar, but it is the combined total of the three most-active defenders last season (Hamilton, Owusu-Koramoah, Drew White). Let’s raise the ante to an even dozen. That still feels like a lowball.

10) Up front, senior defensive end Ade Ogundeji will lead the Irish in sacks, building on last year’s 4.5 but not reaching double digits. Frankly, the offseason devoid of practice reports or a Blue-Gold Game diminished this enthusiasm from its initial lofty placement within April’s (temporary) farewell column.

11) Fifth-year defensive end and captain Daelin Hayes may not match Ogundeji in taking down the opposing quarterbacks, though he will do so plenty on his own, but he will lead Notre Dame in other ways more profound.


Irish fifth-year defensive end Daelin Hayes and head coach Brian Kelly led Notre Dame on a Juneteenth Rally this summer at the peak of unrest throughout the country over systemic racial injustices. (University of Notre Dame)

“He started to find his voice before a lot of the turmoil we saw unfolding with the [death of George Floyd in Minneapolis] and many others in our country,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Thursday. “He spoke on mental health in an exclusive interview that he did for the University, which was articulate and introspective in some instances about student-athletes and the pressures that they have on a day-to-day basis. That allowed him to find his voice a little bit off the field.

“Those two things, in particular, have set into action where he is today and obviously what he’s meant to our team and our (Juneteenth) rally and putting that together.”

12) Senior linebacker Drew White will once again lead Notre Dame in tackles, though Crawford and Owusu-Koramoah should make him earn it.

13) Given the press box will not be its usual convivial atmosphere ripe with junk food, yours truly will not begrudge the chance to pick up a dozen chicken wings late on Saturday nights after finishing up his work. Here’s looking at you, Wings Etc., and you, MacKenzie’s. If you know, you know.

14) Those wings will be delicious, but not as delicious as they would be if enjoyed while watching a late-night Hawaii game, one of the many lost luxuries in a season sans 53 FBS teams. With only 58.46 percent of the FBS playing, perhaps we should recognize only the top-15 in the polls.

15) Back to that Florida State threshold. It is repeatedly referenced not because of the Seminoles, and not as an insult to Duke, South Florida and Wake Forest, but because it follows an off week. The three lesser, at least on paper, opponents plus the idle week should create a chance for some Irish players to elongate their preseason prep. Such an approach will lead to junior receiver Braden Lenzy starting no later than Oct. 10, despite opening the season surprisingly second on the depth chart.

16) Notre Dame averaged an absurd 280.4 rushing yards per game, sacks adjusted, in 2017. That fell to 193.4 in 2018 before falling even further last year to 185.2 rushing yards per game. In Tommy Rees’ first year as offensive coordinator, the Irish will not return to 2017’s heights, but they will get closer to that than to 2018’s performance. By that math, Notre Dame will rush for more than 236.9 yards per game. For context, that would be the second-highest average since the Lou Holtz era, behind, obviously, 2017.

17) Junior tight end Tommy Tremble will match his four touchdowns from a year ago, though he will need more than 16 catches to do so. His offseason weight gain of nine pounds will help Tremble handle that additional usage.

18) Economic realities will lead to less coaching turnover in the 2021 offseason. There will be even less than that if the four conferences currently postponing their seasons do not end up playing. Since USC did not fire Clay Helton following 2019, it would be hard to justify doing so without a 2020 season.

Nonetheless, Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea will be a hot commodity on the market, but as long as Vanderbilt remains financially-restrained and thus does not fire Derek Mason, it is unlikely Lea departs Notre Dame just yet. He has made it clear he prefers to be a head coach at an academic institution. This weekend’s opponent may be the greatest threat to luring him away from South Bend this offseason; Duke head coach David Cutcliffe is 65 years old and heading into year 13 with the Blue Devils.

19) Due to time constraints of this short turnaround, yours truly will not return to LaSalle Kitchen & Tavern until October, and even then it may be for only takeout, but it will happen, and it will be as delicious as ever. There might, shockingly, even be a drink involved. Fortunately, that tab to come was paid long ago.

20) The football season will not pass without this scribe fighting truck trouble. Go ahead and mark this prediction as correct already. Anybody have any ideas to get a pickup truck with a dead spot in its solenoid of the starter from a Wal-Mart parking lot to an auto shop without having to pay a towing fee?

That frustration will delay the following 20 predictions for another week. A drink is needed to quell the aggravation.

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