Even with the recent announcement that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish plan to play an 11-game ACC schedule, uncertainty still surrounds the upcoming football season. The coronavirus pandemic has upended any sense of certainty in the sports world, and we may find ourselves in week three or four facing a postponement or even a cancellation of the season. Any of the normal things we would be speculating about - Notre Dame’s postseason fate, game-by-game projections, etc. - feel pointless. And yet, speculate we must. It’s what we do. The question is what speculation we can allow without setting ourselves up for disappointment.
Even with all that uncertainty, it’s pretty likely at this point that the season will at least start - and that a game or two will be played. So the question is: what kind of performances and trends can we expect, even within a shortened season?
Strong Performances From Outgoing Veterans
If you’re Ian Book or Daelin Hayes, 2020 was going to be your shot to up your game and make a lasting impression that would propel you into the NFL draft. Now that the season is in doubt, every game is a precious opportunity to prove yourself, to get more game tape on record and up your draft stock.
So expect Book, Hayes, Liam Eichenberg and others with no eligibility left after this season to be playing out of their minds, like every snap might be their last. These guys are going to bring it, and we should all ready ourselves to both enjoy it, and potentially say goodbye prematurely to some guys who have meant a lot to the program over the years.
Early Action for High-Impact Freshmen
Brian Kelly, Tommy Rees and co. no doubt had plans for how they were going to use the likes of Chris Tyree, Jordan Johnson and Michael Mayer. None of these guys is a five-year player; they probably aren’t even four-year players. At the very least, they could have expected to get minutes in more than four games - enough to get adjusted to the speed of the college game and make an impact on the field while preserving their health and allowing them to make progress in conditioning.
Now all of that is out the window. It’s hard to diligently forecast a young guy’s playing time over twelve games when you don’t know there are going to be twelve games. Given the significance of these guys’ development for the future of the program, I’d err on the side of predicting significant snaps early in the season. Preserving these guys’ health will still be an important consideration - especially for Tyree, whose blazing speed will be needed in the event the game against the Clemson Tigers does happen. But if you’ve got a bunch of new toys and every day might be your last chance to use them, you pull those suckers out of the box.
Part of the reason rivalry week can be so unpredictable is that it’s the last week of the year. Contenders have to win or their dream dies, and even bad teams have nothing left to play for except this game - everyone pulls out all the stops. In a season that might be suspended at any moment, every week is potentially the last week. Every week is rivalry week.
This means the Pitt superweapon will be more dangerous than ever. You know the Boston College Eagles will be desperate to pull the upset. Even the likes of the Duke Blue Devils or Wake Forest Demon Deacons will come into the game hyped for what might be their last opportunity to make a mark. The Irish will go into every game with massive targets on their backs.
With every game a potential landmine, you can expect this season - however long it is - to have more than its share of upset scares and last-second finishes. It will be frustrating and exciting in equal measure, but like practically everything else about this accursed year, it will be memorable.