We’re just three months away from the start of college football season and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are looking to build off their strong 2022 campaign.
Led by coach Marcus Freeman — who took over for longtime leader Brian Kelly — Notre Dame finished with a 9-4 record, which was capped off with a narrow victory against South Carolina in the Gator Bowl. This was the Fighting Irish’s first bowl win since 2019 when they defeated Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl by a final score of 33-9. The team overcame struggles early in the season, winning seven of their last eight games to gain momentum heading into 2023.
Here are three storylines to watch for this fall in South Bend:
Notre Dame 2023 Preview: Storylines to Watch
Lots of Turnover Heading Into the 2023 Season
The team will look a lot different this fall as many coaches and players have moved on from the program since they last took the field in January. Assistant coaches Tommy Rees (offensive coordinator) and Harry Hiestand (offensive line) have left the fold with Gerald Parker and Joe Rudolph taking their places respectively.
Some of the big names to graduate and make their way to the NFL from the program include tight end Michael Mayer (Las Vegas Raiders), defensive end Isaiah Foskey (New Orleans Saints), offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson (Houston Texans), and defensive tackle Chris Smith (Seattle Seahawks).
Despite the changes, Freeman’s philosophy will likely stay the same as he looks to lead the Fighting Irish to their first National Championship appearance since 2012, and first victory since 1988.
Tough Road Ahead
The journey back to the National Championship will not be an easy one for the Fighting Irish.
Looking at their schedule, Notre Dame will open up the campaign with a matchup against Navy on August 26th in Dublin, Ireland. This is the third time the teams are playing in Ireland, with the last meeting coming in 2012 in a 50-10 blowout for the Fighting Irish. They will face three teams that finished the 2022 season in the final AP Top 25 rankings including Ohio State (#3), Clemson (#13), and Pittsburgh (#22).
Along with these matchups, they will renew their hotly-contested rivalries with USC and Stanford late in the year and will look to avenge losses to both teams last season. Sports Illustrated reports that the Fighting Irish have the 18th most difficult schedule in the NCAA based on 2022 records. Their opponents won a combined 90 games, compared to just 63 losses for an overall win percentage of 58.8%.
The Fighting Irish’s Roster Depth
The roster is deep and filled with talent and the team has only gotten better with a strong second recruiting class for Freeman.
The quarterback room will be led by Sam Hartman, who transferred from Wake Forest after a storied career for the Black and Gold. In 45 games for Wake Forest, Hartman threw for over 13,000 yards and 110 touchdowns and was a two-time member of the All-ACC team.
Despite losing tight end Michael Mayer to the NFL, Hartman will have plenty of weapons to throw to including Jayden Thomas and Tobias Merriweather. Thomas finished third on the team with 362 receiving yards last season, while Merriweather impressed in limited action and figures to be a deep threat that will be a tough assignment for opposing defenses to cover.
Audric Estime will be the featured back for the Fighting Irish, and will undoubtedly benefit from the team’s excellent exterior line depth. Estime had a solid 2022 campaign, rushing for 920 yards and 11 touchdowns, and averaging an impressive 5.9 yards per carry.
On the defensive end, Notre Dame will look to bounce back from a shaky 2022 campaign. While the unit was not terrible, they took a step back from years prior allowing 23 points per game including four games with over 30 points.
Benjamin Morrison will be the x-factor of this defense. Morrison had a standout freshman season, finishing with six interceptions to go along with four pass deflections, and was named a freshman All-American by multiple publications. Add in a healthy Cam Hart who showed signs of potential with four pass deflections before going down with injuries, and this creates a dynamic duo on the back end of the defense. This cornerback tandem can only thrive with the help of the defensive line, which is led by graduate student transfer, Javontae Jean-Baptiste from Ohio State.
During his time at Ohio State, he accumulated ten tackles for loss, with four coming last year. He has taken tremendous strides and has tough shoes to fill as he is taking the place of Isaiah Foskey, who was the anchor of the line last season before leaving for the NFL. Overall, this unit has a lot of potential to make big plays and will need to be sharp if this team wants a shot at playing in January.
With all this being said, Notre Dame has a great chance of having a very successful 2023 campaign. While teams like Ohio State, Pittsburgh, USC, and Clemson will undoubtedly give the Fighting Irish a run for their money, they have the depth and the talent to win ball games if they put it all together.
As the countdown to the college football season begins, all eyes are on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, as they embark on their journey to achieve greatness under Coach Marcus Freeman and aim to leave a lasting mark on the field in pursuit of their championship dreams.
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