The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have a tough schedule this year, and the toughest bit of it will likely come in week one: a road showdown in primetime against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Much of the talk about this matchup among Irish fans — even on this relatively chest-bumping, trash-talk-friendly site — has had a distinct tone of pessimism. To the extent that game predictions are discussed at all this far out, most beat writers are penciling this one in as a loss and attempting to brace fans for an 0-1 start.
There are plenty of reasons for this reticence among people who cover the Irish, ranging from a hostile home environment in Columbus, to Marcus Freeman only having coached one game, to a talent differential between Ohio State and Notre Dame on the perimeter. But it’s only April and we don’t really know much about either of these teams, and damn it, I don’t want to spend the spring and summer dreading the first game of the season. And since this worked so well with last season’s vaunted Big Ten opponent, I’ll say it now: Notre Dame fans, don’t be afraid of opening the season against Ohio State.
As Josh detailed on a recent podcast, Notre Dame fans whose attitudes were molded by watching the program in the 2000s — which accounts for an increasing percentage of the fandom with every year that passes - tend to have psychological hangovers from that era and hesitate to predict success for the Irish in these moments. As someone whose formative years spanned the late 1990s-early 2010s and thus overlapped perfectly with this period of futility, I absolutely count myself among those struggling to overcome that. And while Brian Kelly did much to change that narrative in the last decade, even he still suffered from big-game collapses from time to time. In short — Notre Dame fans have been conditioned to think this way for some time. But it is time for that attitude to change, if for no other reason than to eliminate the presence of that energy around the program as it too often a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I’m not saying you should be arrogant, or get in the face of your neighbors if you happen to be living that #Ohio life. I’m not saying to ignore the challenges the game poses or the issues Notre Dame is dealing with on its roster. I’m not even necessarily predicting a win. All I’m saying is: have the confidence of a team that has had five consecutive excellent seasons, has done so while overcoming significant offseason challenges and roster churn, and has been working for years to improve recruiting, conditioning, and overall roster strength to prepare itself for games like this. Of course the Irish can win this game, and Notre Dame fans have every right to hope for that.
Yes, I know: Ohio State has a ridiculous bevy of skill-position talent and a Heisman-candidate quarterback returning who could shred a questionable Irish secondary. The Buckeyes are going to score some points, no question. They also have talented players all over their defense and a new coordinator who could fix a lot of the issues that allowed them to get shredded on multiple occasions last season.
Here’s what else I know: Notre Dame returns a veteran offensive line and a deep stable of running backs and will be starting a quarterback who can run as well, and should be able to move the ball against a Buckeyes team that has shown many of the same vulnerabilities as the Irish defense. I know that Brandon Joseph has played against stacked Ohio State receiving corps before and thrived. Lastly, I know that the Oklahoma Sooners and Oregon Ducks — both programs with whom Notre Dame can absolutely claim peer status — have won in early-season matchups with the Buckeyes in recent years. Columbus in the early season is affirmatively not a place where postseason dreams come to die, and has in the past been the place where they are born. Notre Dame can be next — let’s get excited for that opportunity.