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Friday at 4: 40 Predictions — Notre Dame will return to the Cotton Bowl, not the Playoff

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Clemson v Notre Dame

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 29: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish look on in the first half against the Clemson Tigers during the College Football Playoff Semifinal Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium on December 29, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

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Some predictions are easier than others. Last week, suggesting Notre Dame will not reach a fifth overtime this season qualifies as one of those high-probability projections. Let’s start the second half of these 40 preseason predictions with another gimme …

21) Senior receiver Chase Claypool will lead the Irish in all three receiving categories. He will particularly excel against shorter cornerbacks, given his success this preseason against 5-foot-11 ½ Troy Pride. The senior cornerback has the physicality, speed and coverage ability wanted from a shutdown corner, but he simply cannot match up against the 6-foot-4 ⅜ Claypool.

22) Senior running back Tony Jones will have more rushing attempts than junior Jafar Armstrong. This prediction existed in a rough form before junior receiver Michael Young broke his collarbone, but that injury only strengthens the conviction. Armstrong will have to line up in the slot more often, meaning Jones will establish himself in the backfield in September.23) As much of an impression as early-enrolled freshman running back Kyren Williams made both in the Blue-Gold Game and this preseason, he will not exceed the rushing totals of the No. 3 running backs the last few seasons. To give context: Armstrong ran for 387 yards on 72 carries for seven touchdowns last year and Dexter Williams gained 360 yards on 39 carries, with a score, in 2017. As it pertains to recent history, Kyren Williams will exceed Dexter’s 2015 totals of 21 rushes for 81 yards with a score, but finishing closer to Dexter’s 2016 stat line of 39 carries for 200 yards and three touchdowns.

Those numbers do not include Kyren’s receiving stats, for a reason. Those are already superior to Dexter’s.

24) A Notre Dame running back will lose a fumble for the first time since the Irish faced Boston College in Fenway Park in late November of 2015, currently a streak of 40 games. That run is in part due to practiced ball security, in part due to the fortunate chance granted by the bounce of an oblong ball, and in part due to stellar running backs.

This prediction is not an insult to the current crop of ballcarriers. Nor is it intended to impugn first-year running backs coach Lance Taylor, though he at least acknowledged the long-term coin-flip luck.

“We have brought up the streak,” Taylor said last week. “It is an incredible streak, it really is, and the guys in the room take pride in it. And they should.

“I want them to continue to take pride in it and continue that streak. We’re going to continue to carry the football in the right way.”

Rather, this is a nod toward reality. At some point, the misshaped ball will bounce away from Notre Dame. It will not need infield dirt to do so.

25) The Irish sometimes ran the ball well last year, but only sometimes. On the surface, there was little correlation. Scraping beneath that surface, there may have been. Notre Dame found a ground-game rhythm a few games into the season, only to have it interrupted when left guard Alex Bars suffered a season-ending knee injury. That rhythm was rekindled come late November, as the Irish offensive line neared what should have been considered its peak.

Looking at the two full games before Bars’ injury and the final two games of the regular season, the Irish averaged 5.02 yards per carry and 194.5 rushing yards per game. Yes, that includes sacks, but this is more a perspective regarding the offensive line than it is the running backs, so including sacks makes some sense.

Averaging 194.5 rushing yards per game would rank as the third-best output of the Brian Kelly era, behind 2015 (207.6) and 2017 (269.5). (For context, 2018’s entire season clocked in at 182.6 rushing yards per game.)

In the interest of making a few correct projections, let’s leave a sizable margin for error in saying Notre Dame will average more rushing yards per game than last year, but fewer than in 2015.

26) The frustrations spawned by certain television providers not including the Nov. 9 ACC Network broadcast of the Irish at Duke will be sincere and angering concerns.

27) Those troubles will not linger for long when Notre Dame cruises by the Devils by double digits and the issue is resolved before the next Irish football broadcast on the ACC Network.

28) Neither Manchester City nor Liverpool will lose in Premier League play before Thanksgiving. To you, this may be cross-promotion. To me, this was asking a friend for a prediction so as to pour humor into a serious conversation.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 CFP Semifinal at the Cotton Bowl Classic - Clemson v Notre Dame

ARLINGTON, TX DECEMBER 29: Clemson (9) Travis Etienne (RB) runs the ball in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Cotton Bowl Classic between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Clemson Tigers on December 29, 2018 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. (Photo by John Bunch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

29) Senior defensive end Julian Okwara will lead Notre Dame in sacks. Between gaining eight pounds this offseason and improving his footwork, Okwara is set to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. If more willing to compromise the hopeful successes of these predictions, guesses would be offered about Okwara’s chances at approaching Justin Tuck’s season record of 13.5 sacks or his career total of 24.5 sacks. As ambitious as this space may sometimes be, those speculations are too aggressive for taste.30) Okwara’s fellow senior defensive end, Khalid Kareem, will not surpass the former in the sack count, but his tally will be worth noting. That is a vague description, so let’s offer some distinction to it: Kareem will finish this season with more than 7.5 sacks, his current career total, one limited by balky ankles in the past.

31) Sophomore defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola will finish this year with more tackles for loss than junior Myron Tagovialoa-Amosa, the presumptive starter.32) Sophomore Justin Ademioloa will make a pertinent tackle for loss, meaning six defensive ends will do work behind the line of scrimmage in competitive moments. Ademilola made two half-tackles for loss in the Cotton Bowl, underscoring Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston’s thoughts about his welcome depth.

“The season is long,” Elston said. “There is a great opportunity for everybody to play. We played 12 guys in the playoff game and all of them came away with some level of production..”

33) Since Manti Te’o’s seven interceptions in his Heisman-chasing 2012, only two Notre Dame linebackers have made multiple picks in one year: 2013 Dan Fox and 2014 Joe Schmidt. Junior Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will be the third.34) Freshman safety Kyle Hamilton will establish a new measure of how far the backline of the Irish defense has come since its nadir of 2017. Sure, Notre Dame had a strong 2017 and the safeties did not come across as a liability, but they failed to make a single interception. That oft-cited interception void is not even the best emphasis of how little an impact those safeties made: They totaled five pass breakups. Hamilton will match that himself this season, as much because of his playing time as his skillset, though the latter creates the former.

“You have a guy who’s 6-3 who can move around like he’s 5-10, 5-11,” Irish safeties coach Terry Joseph said. “That’s the biggest difference with [Hamilton] and other guys, that he’s so long. He can play out there in some one-on-one situations and jump balls and have the ability to also cover a guy in the slot. It is a unique skill set.”

35) With Hamilton and Owusu-Koramoah included, at least eight Notre Dame defenders will intercept a pass this season, halting a run of four straight years with seven defenders notching a pick. The expected suspects: starting safeties Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman, starting cornerbacks Troy Pride and Shaun Crawford, sophomore linebacker Jack Lamb, senior defensive end Julian Okwara for the third time in his career, Hamilton and Owusu-Koramoah.

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Clemson v Notre Dame

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 29: Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers avoids a tackle against Alohi Gilman #11 and Julian Okwara #42 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the College Football Playoff Semifinal Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium on December 29, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

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36) For the first time of the Kelly era, a safety will lead the Irish in tackles. To be more precise: Gilman will record more than 100 tackles.

Typically, a safety piling up so many takedowns is a bad thing, a sign of blown coverages and missed tackles by others. Not in this case. It simply reflects Gilman’s playing style.

And with a revolving door at linebacker, no other defender will have the chance to keep pace with the hard-charging safety.

37) Notre Dame will set a new school record with more than 38 points per game. The current mark of 37.6 has stood for 50 seasons, set in 1968. Reaching that will necessitate a few blowouts, plain and simple.
38) The Irish will give up fewer points per game than they have in any season since 2012’s title-game run. That range allows for 12.77 to 21.5 points per game, the latter barrier coming just last year. In that respect, the two-year stretch will mirror 2010-11. Notre Dame gave up 20.23 and 20.69 points per game in those years, respectively.

39) The Irish will finish the regular season in the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings, but not in the Playoff.
40) That window sends Notre Dame to either the Cotton Bowl or the Orange Bowl, both recent houses of horrors for Kelly’s Irish. The Orange Bowl could mean a rematch against Virginia or Virginia Tech, so it is more likely Notre Dame returns to Dallas on Dec. 28, a year to the date since its Playoff loss.

And with that, go get yourself a holiday weekend drink. Those memories will soon be replaced by new ones.