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Friday at 4: 40 Predictions, beginning with Notre Dame’s offensive line, September and Knute Rockne

Kevin Austin

SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 27: Kevin Austin #4 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs with the ball in the 1st half against the Navy Midshipmen at SDCCU Stadium on October 27, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images)

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Preseason hype is inevitable. It is natural. It is one of the joys of college football.

Naturally, preseason predictions often carry that tenor. It is logical, but it also sets up those predictions to misfire aplenty. Then again, the world’s best gamblers strive to be accurate only 52.38 percent of the time. Some misfires should be expected.

But when some thoughts about Notre Dame’s 2021 come across as less than ideal to an Irish fan, consider it both an attempt at an honest appraisal and a pathological need to exceed that 52.38 percent. Even Cy Young won 61.79 percent of his games.

So here, the first half of 40 preseason predictions …

1) Notre Dame’s offensive line currently lacks chemistry. That is a real and tangible issue, one solved only with time. Two of the Irish starters have never donned a gold helmet. One more has never played his current position. The offensive line looks good on paper, undeniably, but it will need time to coalesce.

Thus, let’s predict Notre Dame will rush for more yards in November than it does in September, even if two of the first three Irish opponents have dire worries along their defensive lines.

2) And to carry that one step further, Notre Dame will give up fewer sacks in November than in September, partly because an offensive line’s chemistry comes in part as it gets used to a quarterback, and that will take just as much time as it does for freshman left tackle Blake Fisher to get used to playing next to junior left guard Zeke Correll.

3) Yes, Fisher will start at Florida State. This has been assumed throughout the preseason, and Irish head coach Brian Kelly confirmed it Thursday.

“He’s better than anybody that we have,” Kelly said. “... From a pass-rush standpoint, he’s hard to get around. He’s long, he moves his feet well, he’s strong, you can’t bull-rush him. He can get his hands on you.”

Claiming Fisher will start on Labor Day Eve may be a shoo-in as a prediction, but it needs to be reiterated nonetheless simply because Fisher will be only the second freshman to start on Notre Dame’s offensive line in a season opener in 133 years.

“His development is still there, it needs to continue to grow,” Kelly said. “But it’s hard to compare him to anybody that we’ve had here. Was Ronnie Stanley a better athlete? Maybe, but he certainly didn’t have the size.”

4) Fisher has been getting preseason pressure by sometimes facing fifth-year defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, but not last weekend. The Hawaiian captain lost his father unexpectedly and suddenly this month, a moment of heartbreak that the Irish will have no choice but to rally around.

“He’s beloved,” Kelly said. “The players love him and he loves being around his teammates.”

Tagovailoa-Amosa flew back to Hawaii for only a few days before returning to practice, taking a red-eye flight to be able to join the second half of a practice Monday morning.

“I think he gained a lot of solace to be around us, as well,” Kelly said. “He wanted to come back and be with his teammates. I think that was his way of healing in a way, too.”

When Notre Dame hosts Toledo in its home opener on Sept. 11, some moment will welcome Tagovailoa-Amosa. It will be loud, resounding and poignant. And he will respond with a sack that afternoon.

5) Speaking of the Toledo contest, broadcasting it exclusively on NBC’s streaming app, Peacock, will not be a big deal. It will work, unlike a recent WWE pay-per-view. The video quality will be, well, quality. You will be okay with the entire experience, and you will forget about it by the end of the next game.

Just remember to subscribe ahead of time, to lessen your gameday stress.

6) And many of you will keep your Peacock subscriptions. Norm Peterson is too rife with life advice to spurn, not to mention the fact that Cliff Clavin always should have been the next “Jeopardy” host.

7) During that Peacock broadcast, new “ND on NBC” analyst Drew Brees will do just fine. He will predict a few plays before the snap. He will get a few wrong. As long as there are more of the former than of the latter, then the entertainment value-added of those bold moments will be well worthwhile.

8) PointsBet sets Toledo’s season win total over/under at 8.5. The Rockets will enjoy the over. And to double down on MAC thoughts, Kent State will do better than 5.5 wins. Read into that combination as you will, especially if you like going to early December football games in Detroit.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner, and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.

9) The NCAA abridging possible overtimes even further than it did a few years ago will have no effect on the Irish season. It wouldn’t have last year, either, despite the dramatic double-overtime upset of No. 1 Clemson.

Teams are now required to go for two after scoring a touchdown in the second overtime. If Notre Dame had done so and failed last year, it still would have won when two sacks doomed the Tigers’ possession in the second half.

This rule change may rob the world of some benign drama in the future, but it could also create more game-winning two-point conversions. More than anything, it’s a rule change about nearly nothing.

10) The Irish will enjoy a kick or punt return to the opponent’s side of the field within the first three games of the year. The bolder prediction here would be to pin that on the kick return, but Notre Dame fans remain wrongly frustrated with the Irish punt return, so perhaps lumping it in may soothe those frayed nerves.

11) And in those first three games, Kelly will tie Knute Rockne for the Notre Dame record with 105 career wins. The prediction here is not that Kelly will tie Rockne, but that the Irish will start 3-0 and thus he will tie Rockne quickly.

12) Two of those first three games will be blowouts, as in Notre Dame will win by 17 or more points, even if it is a single-digit game entering the fourth quarter. Florida State is too dependent on transfers to be trusted in the season opener. As good as Toledo is, it will be facing an outright talent disadvantage. Then Purdue is atrocious in the trenches, where the Irish excel.

Anytime one team will dominate both sides of the line of scrimmage and enjoys an overall talent advantage, the afternoon or evening should be anticlimactic.

13) Those strengths in the trenches will set Notre Dame’s floor. If that comes across as a vague prediction, let Fisher’s and Tagovailoa-Amosa’s successes serve as validation for it.

14) Senior receiver Kevin Austin has not played extended football since 2017. While the Irish have gone out of their way to ease Austin into a heavier workload this preseason, he will not be as ready for four games in four weeks as would be ideal. That is not his fault so much as it is a reality of football. That may show up in a muscular injury, a la classmate Braden Lenzy and fifth-year Bennett Skowronek last September, or it may show up in minimal usage against Toledo or Purdue.

It will not doom Austin’s year, but it will temper the increasingly high hopes for him.

15) That 11 a.m. local time kickoff against Wisconsin in Chicago will hurt many fans, including any reporters who may have designs on going to two concerts in the preceding three nights. These are the welcomed perils of making up for lost time.

16) Kelly will break Rockne’s record in September.

17) Notre Dame will celebrate Kelly doing so with no mention, at least none larger than the fine print, of the 21 wins vacated by the NCAA. And the NCAA will not say anything

18) The College Football Playoff cannot be expanded earlier than the 2023 season, but the 12-team version may not arrive until as late as 2026. As teams worry about their rankings this year, the expansion conversation will hit the back-burner this fall. Saturdays bring too much chaos on their own.

19) No Irish cornerback has an interception. Hard as that is to believe, it makes sense when realizing one starter is a converted receiver who dabbled in a reserve role last year and the other is only a sophomore. That sophomore, Clarence Lewis, will have multiple interceptions this season.

20) This fall, Notre Dame will announce a 2022 game in Las Vegas, deeming it the next iteration of the Shamrock Series. This prediction may be an attempt at manifesting a want into a reality as this entire column was written from the back row of a Vegas sportsbook. Now what are Kent State’s odds to win the MAC? And how much does a wager need to be to get a free drink coupon?

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