With just over four weeks until the Irish kick off the 2023 season in Dublin, we are just on the cusp of the best time of the year. In the coming weeks, the summer talking points and generalities will give way to predictions, analyzing and breaking down anything and everything we see/hear to its finest details. With that in mind, I thought this week was the perfect final chance to go over general/wide-range hopes for the season as a whole. I want to stay away from stats, specific predictions, etc, and just focus on the ten-thousand-foot view and how this season can contribute positively to building this program/team. Once the season starts we tend to get caught up on every up and down that comes with a football season and that can cause us to lose sight of the bigger picture. I’ve tried to get better about it but at least once or twice per season I catch me doing it myself so - for all of my fellow in-season overreactors, I hope this helps.
New Golden Boy
First and foremost - Sam Hartman needs to have a great season. This may seem like a stat or a specific prediction - but I think it can be pretty general. I don’t have a specific stat line in mind, I just think he needs to be a “North Star” so to speak for future Notre Dame quarterbacks. For what Notre Dame says they want to be, the quarterback position as a whole has fallen short for some time now. With Marcus Freeman going into his second season there’s no better time than now to establish what kind of culture you want at QB. Whether it’s stats or victories (or both) Hartman needs to have the kind of season that shows recruits and transfers alike that you can come and have success at Notre Dame. So far there seem to have been steps taken as compared to the previous regime, but to say for certain we need to see it. The good news is that Sam Hartman is plug and play (with a few adjustments) and then bank on having superior talent than at Wake Forest, as we saw what he can do with that. I think any form of personal or team success bodes well for quarterbacks in the Freeman era.
“Never go full Stanford”
I was going to put “Freeman needs to be more like Kelly” but I wanted to avoid a riot. However, I do mean that in a way. For everything we can say about Kelly (and I will) he got to the point of beating the teams he was supposed to and owning our rivalry games. Something we took for granted I believe. In Freeman’s first rivalry game as Head Coach at Notre Dame, both of those flew out the window. I accepted the Marshall loss as I thought it was going to be a trap beforehand and Buchner going down did not help. But Stanford was almost unforgivable - at home no less. Marcus Freeman cannot allow that to happen again. He needs to beat the teams he’s supposed to and they should dominate their rivals outside of USC.
Figure out what works
I know when I said “generalities” people may not have thought this general. But when it comes to a new Head Coach and establishing a culture the second season is vital. Even more so when the Head Coach is in the position for the first time. With the chaos of the first season out of the way Freeman needs to figure out the things he’s doing wrong and the things he’s doing right. Hiring an unproven offensive coordinator does make this more difficult but it’s what they thought was best so we will see. I can’t tell you what he thinks needs to be looked at but through my eyes, I would be concerned with establishing an offensive identity, solidifying the defensive coordinator position, and fighting for as much recruiting support as needed. Whatever he thinks needs to be done or needs to be evaluated - this is the season to do it.
Hardware and draft picks
Even at the end of the season and Notre Dame didn’t win a championship, position awards and draft picks are always something you can hang your hat on. 2020 was the last time a Notre Dame player won a national award. While it’s obvious Mayer should’ve won the John Mackey last year, his not winning makes it even more critical that someone gets theirs this year. I think Notre Dame has players/units that will be finalists in their positional awards (*cough* or others *cough*), which could be huge for Marcus Freeman. In the same vein, while the Irish have had draft picks as of late - the lack of higher-end draft picks (and the amount of them) has been noticeable. I don’t believe either of these issues is Marcus Freeman’s fault, but they are his problem. Especially if they don’t get it fixed. Recruits look at that kind of stuff, and while we all know Notre Dame isn’t going to win championship after championship, we can produce top-end talent year in and year out that gives us a chance.