ESPN Analyst Projects A Nine-Win Season For Notre Dame

Bryan Driskell

ESPN analyst Bill Connelly projected the 2020 season for the FBS Independent programs, and he has Notre Dame slated to go 9-3 this season. Connelly ranks the Irish 12th in his analysis.

For Connelly, Notre Dame’s success in 2020 will be built around the quarterback position.

“It starts with Ian Book. The senior quarterback finished 19th in Total QBR last season, throwing for 3,034 yards with a 34-to-6 TD-to-INT ratio. He's a decent runner as well, and he'll have one of the nation's best tackle duos (Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey) protecting him. They're two of six returning linemen who have combined for 115 career starts.”

When breaking down the Notre Dame defense, Connelly made an interesting observation about how the Irish could have a completely different look this season.

“On defense, last season's strengths and weaknesses could flip. Notre Dame ranked 49th in rushing success rate allowed but returns every defensive tackle, a strong end in Adetokunbo Ogundeji and run-stuffing linebackers Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Drew White. Meanwhile, the secondary was dynamite, and though Ogudneji, Owusu-Koramoah and rush end Daelin Hayes (injured in 2019) should provide a strong pass rush, both starting safeties and corner Troy Pride Jr. are gone. Sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton could be unbelievable soon, and corners TaRiq Bracy and Shaun Crawford are solid, but strong depth will require contributions from freshmen and Ohio State transfer Isaiah Pryor.”

It was interesting to see Connelly talk about Ogundeji as the run stopper and Hayes as the pass rusher. If I was doing a similar analysis (and I will as we get closer to the season), I would have focused more on Ogundeji as the pass rusher and Hayes as the strong run defender, although both project to be outstanding run players.

In fact, the emergence of a healthy Hayes into the starting lineup should be a big boost to the run defense. Ogundeji and departed end Khalid Kareem were both strong run defenders last season, but Julian Okwara wasn’t nearly as good against the run in 2019 as he was in 2018. Hayes projects to be a far more impactful run defender in 2020.

ESPN ranked the Notre Dame schedule as the 13th toughest, but a recent article from had the Irish schedule ranked 23rd. It would seem Connelly isn’t nearly as high on the Irish schedule as is the ESPN Football Power Index.

“The schedule presents an opportunity: The Irish face just three projected top-40 opponents, and SP+ projects them as double-digit favorites in each of the other nine games. Going 12-0 would require beating Clemson, but a top-10 finish could absolutely be in the cards with a couple of close wins.”

Connelly’s 9-3 record is a game improvement over the ESPN FPI, which projects and 8-4 record for the Irish. Notre Dame’s schedule is such that Brian Kelly's squad could win 10 games on sheer talent alone, but if the Irish slip up on offense or suffer any injuries in the secondary the two-year streak of 10+ regular season wins could come to an end.

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Comments (12)
No. 1-5

He’s got Notre Dame exactly where I do, 9-3.. I think on talent and experience this should be a Notre Dame team that finishes top 10 and challenges for the playoffs, but until Kelly proves he can beat top 10 teams like Clemson and Wisconsin, I just can’t predict it to happen.... and I think we’re due for a loss to USC. They’ve played us closer than they should have the past 2 years, and I believe this year they finally clip us.


Hopefully all the doubters and naysayers piss off the team so they come out with chips on their shoulders ready to get it.


Brian, are you the one saying they can win 10 games on talent alone? That doesn't sound like you. They can probably win 8 on talent alone, but they'll need to play hard against Clemson, Wisconsin, USC, and Louisville. (Maybe you mean ND on paper has a talent advantage against Wisconsin and Louisville.) I too see the Irish going 9-3, losing to the first three of those four.


9-3 will be a major disappointment considering the talent we have coming back. I am really bullish on this team and while I get that Clemson, Wisconsin, USC and Louisville will be tough games, the only team in that four with more talent than us is Clemson.

11-1 for this Notre Dame team.


Here's my 2 cents worth....I think they win 10 or more games...again for the fourth season in a row. This team...before any of the 4 transfers dropped in...was one of Kelly's best complete 85 man rosters to date. Now adding 4 quality transfers makes the squad even stronger and deeper.

ESPN and most outsiders fall into the "Oh---it's Notre Dame so they'll lose some games" syndrome but ND has turned that corner and built some momentum and depth we've never had previously.

LSU turned that corner---Clemson did it about 4-5 seasons ago and jumped up to a Top Tier level and ND is real close now...but nobody looks close or hard enough to see what they have put together.

Add quality coaches like Mickens-McNulty-and Taylor in his 2nd season and a new focus on running the ball and being more balanced and unpredictable----that will help you win those "big tough games."

Last year against UGA---ND could not run the ball with Armstrong hurt---and still had a chance to win it at the end. That's not going to happen this Fall with this team.

Better run game planning and better Offensive adjustments on the fly will give ND a better way to win these tough games that wasn't there before.

Chip Long got out coached and schemed by Michigan-PITT/Narduzzi-UGA-Clemson's defensive coordinators for long stretches of those games and Ian Book wasn't really ready and mature enough either to process all that was being thrown at him either.

Those days are in the rear view mirror IMO---ND has grown and progressed quite a bit and they will be better able to handle it. McNulty-Taylor-Rees and Quinn will give our Offense a stronger base to work on and some NFL experience type schemes to attack them more effectively.

I hope they win 'em all---they are finally capable of doing it and any program that has won 33 games over the past 3 seasons---I don't think they are going to end up at thanks ESPN...for a superficial review...again.