Welcome to the 2023 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football season, excited to be part of the football staff coming at you with articles this year. For those of you who know me, Drew Brennan here, your One Foot Down Notre Dame Men’s Lacrosse beat writer. It was a banner year for our Irish laxers in 2023 capturing our first ever NCAA Championship and can’t wait to run it back again this spring with the boys. There will be plenty of time for articles on our defending lacrosse champs, but until then, it’s time for Notre Dame football so let’s get after it.
Each week I plan to come at you with my “Eleven Reasons Why...” column on the Irish and the game that was just played the previous Saturday. Every article will be a little different on what I will focus on, but we will make sure to get you up to speed on what just took place in the Irish’s recent matchup and the “Eleven Reasons Why X, Y and Z” happened.
For those of you who want to get a better grasp on the ND team this year and what we can expect to see, here are the last two episodes from my Exit 77 podcast, Episode 51 and Episode 52 where we look at the Irish, the players and how we see the season panning out.
Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let’s get into the “Eleven Reasons Why Notre Dame will finish the year 11-1.” And in no particular order, here we go...
#1 - Sam Hartman is an ELITE quarterback:
We finally have a QB who the other team has to fully prepare for when they play Notre Dame. Sam Hartman is a sixth year QB, a four time captain and I expect a huge year from him in the blue and gold. Look to stop Hartman by dropping eight? Audric Estime will run roughshod. Try to stop the ND rushing attack? Hartman will pick you apart with throws all over the field. As we have not seen QB play like this in a long while, I think lots of ND fans will be surprised to see what an elite level QB can do for an offense. Expect great and awesome things this year from Sam Hartman. He will be a big reason we win so much this year. Let’s Go!
#2 - Defensive depth and rotation:
If the reports out of practice are accurate, this might be one of the deepest Irish defense we have seen in a while. Now a lot of this depth is made up of unproven players who have not shown it on the field on Saturday, but it just feels different with this group. There is a ton of young talent, there is a veteran leadership and a presence from guys who have been in the fire for a while. We could see lots of rotations on defense this year and that will allow us to keep guys fresh and also keep the opposing offense guessing around what we will be running each play.
#3 - Marcus Freeman’s growth as a head coach:
We all know what happened last year, there were some brutal losses in Marcus Freeman’s first year as our head coach of the Irish. As he talked about in his press conferences this preseason, he learned so much last year not only in how to get his team prepared for the season, but he also learned how to handle his team once the season has started. I think he is ready to take a jump this year, and while it will be big, there will still be growing pains and learning experiences, but I think we start to see the great head coach that Marcus Freeman is ready to become.
#4 - Elite Cornerback play:
Cam Hart and Benjamin Morrison could form one of the best CB duos in recent memory for Notre Dame. Hart was elected a captain by his teammates, he is finally healthy and he is looking to show NFL scouts that he can play on Sundays. Morrison is Morrison, a pre-season All-American looking to build on a stellar freshman year. If he continues on the trajectory that he is on, he will go down as one of the best ever to play at his position at ND. Add into this Jaden Mickey and freshman Christian Gray and the Irish are stacked at one of the most important positions in football.
#5 - Running Back depth:
Audric Estime, JD Price, Gi’Bran Payne, Devyn Ford and Jeremiah Love. From a talent perspective, this is probably the best all-around depth the Irish have had at this position. Estime will lead the charge and I am expecting him to have a great season, good enough for him to go pro afterwards. Who gets carries after him will probably change each week, but I am excited to see Price and what he can do as he is one of my favorite players on the whole roster. Payne had a great camp, Ford will help a lot on special teams, and Love has too much talent and speed to keep him off the field during his freshman year. It’s an exciting group of five, who wants to come up with a nickname for them?
#6 - Physical football will define Notre Dame:
We have heard reports that this is one of the most physical ND teams based on what took place in fall camp. Can they carry that over to the season and each and every game? Time will tell, but my bet is on the Irish and that they have taken on Freeman’s persona and will look to dominate and out-physical their opponent.
#7 - Tight End play will surprise some folks:
Anytime a team loses a player of Michael Mayer’s caliber, it will be tough to replicate on a weekly basis what he did throughout his career at Notre Dame. The Irish don’t have one player who is on the same level as Mayer, but they have a collection of talent that can hurt the opposing team’s defense through either blocking or passing catches. Look for a breakout year from Holden Staes, look for Mitchell Evans to be a steadying force on the blocking side, and look for Eli Raridon to get healthy and then become a big part of the offense. Finally, freshman Cooper Flanagan is a big kid and came in ready to go so even he could see some time.
#8 - JD Bertrand will have another really, really good year:
There is a portion of the Notre Dame fanbase that will never believe that JD Bertrand is that good, but for those who cannot see it....he is good, he is really GOOD. He will lead the team in tackles again, he is a two-time Captain, he is the leader of our defense and he will have another unheralded year that will be a big reason why the Irish will win games. And parts of the fan base will still be upset ;).
#9 - Freshman and Sophomores coming to the forefront:
One thing that Marcus Freeman promised to do better was to recruit the best to Notre Dame. And we are starting to see what some of his recruiting is bringing to the forefront as the two most recent classes are absolutely showing out. There is lot of players in the two deep who are in their first or second season as members of the team and we are going to see a lot of them on the field starting this weekend in Dublin. There are too many players to name on this list, but it is impressive to say the least and will probably be the most young players that the Irish have gotten onto the field in a long time. Great job Coach Freeman and his coaching staff.
#10 - I am not attending any road games this year:
For those of you who know me, my record seeing Notre Dame on the road is just god awful. I cannot tell you how many loses I have seen in person on the road, but just off the bat I can think of four times at Michigan, once at BC, once at MSU, once at Clemson, twice at Purdue, twice at Stanford, once at the Fiesta Bowl, once in the BCS National Championship game and many more. You get the drift and this year I will not be traveling to any road games. You can thank me at a later date.
#11 - Caleb Williams will not run wild at Notre Dame stadium:
Finally, not talking about the Irish here, but I think this year is different when the Irish play the Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium in October. For those of us who watched last year’s game, we watched in awe as Williams ran around in the backfield for large amounts of time before finally throwing the ball downfield for a big play. How can one do that without our ND defensive linemen being held for ungodly parts of the game? I was asking the same question as the USC o-line got away with a ton of holds on plays that resulted in big yardage. I don’t think that happens when the game is in South Bend and I think the Irish get revenge and beat USC this year. Mark it down.
There you have it ND fans, “Eleven Reasons Why Notre Dame will finish the year 11-1.” I am on record on my podcast with saying that the Irish’s lone loss will be at Clemson which means every other game will be a win, including huge home victories against Ohio State and USC. Finishing the season at 11-1 will be good enough for the Irish to make the playoff and from there, anything can happen. Replicating the Notre Dame Men’s Lacrosse Team’s 2023 National Championship? It was their first championship in the 35 years of Kevin Corrigan coaching the team. When was the last time ND won a football championship? 1988 which just so happens to be 35 years ago. And I am covering both teams for the first time through One Foot Down in the same year? I am just saying...
“Let’s Go Irish, Time to be Great.”