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Leftovers & Links: 2020 lessons remain top of mind as Notre Dame nears 2021’s kickoff

Jordan Travis Florida State

No. 13 Jordan Travis in the first half vs. Notre Dame at Notre Dame Stadium.

Notre Dame Athletics

No. 9 Notre Dame is still pulling from lessons learned in 2020 as it prepares for its 2021 season opener. Some of that will apply to the entire season, and some of it has to do specifically with Florida State.

The Seminoles (Sunday, 7:30 ET; ABC) have not yet named a starter at quarterback, the preseason competition continuing between Central Florida transfer McKenzie Milton and sophomore Jordan Travis. Much speculation this offseason assumed the starter would be Milton, once a high-profile star in Orlando before a devastating knee injury nearly ended his career. The prolonging of uncertainty may be simply an attempt from Florida State head coach Mike Norvell to subvert Irish preparations, but it could also be an indication the summer speculation was looking too far ahead.

Notre Dame is at least familiar with Travis, who totaled 300 yards against the Irish in a 42-26 loss last season. Travis threw for 204 yards and a score on 24 pass attempts while rushing for 96 more and another touchdown on 19 carries. More a runner than a passer, he was a suitable dual-threat last October.

“I would tell you that, from our perspective, a team that we got a chance to see last year and earned a lot of respect for them, especially Jordan Travis,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Monday. “The way he played against us, his toughness, his grit. He’s an extremely talented offensive player, running the football, and can get the ball and push it downfield to some talented wide receivers.”

Successfully hemming in Travis looks like it will be more and more a priority.

Off the field, maintaining pandemic diligence has also gained priority as the summer has passed. Even with more than 90 percent of its roster vaccinated, Notre Dame anticipates pandemic protocols leaving some players unavailable as the season progresses. That is simply a statistical inevitability, and one the Irish will thus try to minimize.

“It’s still here. COVID has not gone away,” Kelly said. “There’s going to be those situations, so having said that, we are still taking COVID precautions. Many of our players are in single rooms. We will not eat on the flights. We are going to leave late on Saturday and get in there Saturday night, so I would say, are we 100 percent where we were last year? No. But we are hybrid and moving toward more restrictions.”

When Notre Dame faced the Seminoles last year, the Irish were coming off a three-week idle period, including a weeklong full shutdown of football activities, thanks to a coronavirus outbreak. Florida State eventually canceled two games due to outbreaks. Largely vaccinated rosters should keep those stoppages from arising again in 2021, but in order to keep those rosters intact, 2020’s restrictive travel guidelines may prove crucial.

Kelly confirmed junior linebacker Marist Liufau will miss the season after dislocating his ankle last week. Liufau underwent surgery Monday morning, a successful surgery, per Kelly

“His spirits are great,” Kelly said. “Our medical team feels great about his recovery and his ability to come back here and be 100 percent.”

Liufau suffered the same injury as Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle did in 2020, and Waddle missed the rest of the season, despite rumors he might play in the College Football Playoff. Kelly bypassed the chance to play that game of deception, instead saying outright Liufau will miss the season.

Junior JD Bertrand may split time as Marist’s replacement, most likely with senior Bo Bauer in certain situations where Bauer lining up alongside fifth-year Drew White best serves the Irish, but Bertrand should get most of the work.

“He has all the tools to play at a high level at that position,” Kelly said. “We lose a very versatile player in Marist, there’s no doubt about it, but JD Bertrand is an outstanding football player, as well.”

Notre Dame may lack a proven receiver, but it has more proven catchers than usual40 Predictions, finishing with Notre Dame’s offensive leaders, record and long-awaited drinksReports: Near end of preseason camp, Notre Dame possibly loses promising LB Marist Liufau for seasonWisconsin looks to recapture the magic of Mertz’s debut throughout 2021Cincinnati’s Playoff hopes hinge on two trips to IndianaVirginia Tech and Justin Fuente need to bounce quick to avoid a big changeClay Helton remains on the perpetual hot seat at USC, despite offensive starsNorth Carolina & Sam Howell on the verge of national noticeComing off a nadir, Navy looks to restore triple-optionUncharacteristically dismal defense will need to correct itself for Virginia

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