ESPN Analyst Projects A Nine-Win Season For Notre Dame
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 SportsBettingDime.com 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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