Can Notre Dame Reach the College Football Playoff Again?

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Can Notre Dame Reach the College Football Playoff Again?
Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images/AFP

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish enjoyed a surge in 2020 as they returned to the College Football Playoff with a 10-2 record. It was the fourth consecutive season with three losses or less, with 43 wins in that time span. Brian Kelly has this program as well as almost anyone could,

Their blowout loss to Alabama was inevitable based on where the Crimson Tide program is and the limitations the Irish face. As frustrating as that is for fans of other programs, it’s the cold reality that almost every other program should be happy being the fourth team in the Playoff. Winning it all will take a transcendent team that can overcome programs loaded with future NFL starters.

The Irish are reloading for 2021 even without quarterback Ian Book and star linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Bringing offensive coordinator Tommy Rees back will help the transition from Book to Jack Coan. The hiring of Marcus Freeman was a fantastic one that was overdue, and he’s a massive landing for the defensive coordinator spot.

Questions on Offense

Making it back to the big dance will be tough based on two key positions they’re replacing in 2021. Coan was not a good quarterback for Wisconsin, and seeing him start at another Power 5 school is surprising. The staff has to hope that one of the youngsters from the trio of Brendon Clark, Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner emerge as better options. 

The offense will run through Kyren Williams either way. The versatile playmaker tallied 1,438 total yards and 14 touchdowns as he was easily the best threat on the field for the Irish. He’ll have to take more of the burden on with a limited quarterback and since left tackle Liam Eichenberg graduated. Williams will be key for the Irish to deliver on NCAAF picks this fall.

The rest of the offensive playmakers have as much to prove as Coan. Receivers Kevin Austin and Branden Lenzy have dealt with injuries and other issues, making them higher-upside but lower-downside prospects than a Playoff-hopeful team should have. The doubts around this unit are piling up because there’s not much proven production.

Kyle Hamilton Notre Dame Fighting
Kyle Hamilton #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Joe Robbins/Getty Images/AFP

The Vaunted Irish Defense

The defense should be able to pick up some of the slack. Getting Freeman helps increase the odds of development of the younger players on the back end. He inherits quality depth and experience along the defensive line and a budding talent in Isaiah Foskey.

Foskey will be a name for NFL evaluators to watch this fall. He’s highly talented and contributed 20 tackles and five tackles for loss as a reserve last season. Expect him to grow into the most productive player on the unit. 

The other key name is safety Kyle Hamilton. Hamilton is an All-American and will lead a very young group of players. His role will be difficult as he compensates for a sophomore starting cornerback, and potentially two graduate transfers at safety and the other corner spot. It’s possible he has a tough year if those two unknowns don’t equal consistent play, so keep that in mind when doing your sports betting for Notre Dame games.

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Will They Make the Playoff?

Overall it’s hard to be too excited for the Irish. This roster is brimming with young talent but there’s too many question marks to feel strongly they’ll win enough to emerge as a Playoff contender. At least 10 wins will be needed, and the doubt around Coan is enough for me to say they won’t be good enough. They will be a longshot at top sportsbooks.

Key games at Florida State, and at home against Wisconsin, Cincinnati, USC, and North Carolina will shape their season. I’d guess they lose at least three of those, and it’s possible that Navy and Stanford are tough battles as well. 2022 may be a kinder year for the Irish as they look for answers at several key positions. 

Free NCAAF pick: Kyren Williams to win Heisman at +3300 with BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review)

Kyren Williams to win Heisman(+3300)
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