As the air gets that crisp feel and the calendar turns to September, that only means one thing – the start of football season. This 2021 year brings the 133rd Fighting Irish team to the field, back under their independent status and ready to take on the 12 opponents that stand in their way. Throughout Fall and Spring camps, the public has gotten some looks at what the Irish will be bringing to the field, but Sunday night will mark the first in-game action for all of us. In the primetime slot, Notre Dame will be taking on the Seminoles of Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Florida State is led by head coach Mike Norvell who is tasked with turning around the 3-6 program from last year. Norvell has been around the block with coaching stints at Central Arkansas, Tulsa, Pittsburgh, Arizona State, and Memphis before landing with the Seminoles. Something to note right off the bat, Florida State has lost their previous 4 season opening games and the Irish will look to make it 5 on Sunday night.
This year’s Seminole roster seems to be filled with athletes from the transfer portal, including both quarterbacks that could see playing time – Jordan Travis, who is currently listed as the starter and spent time at Louisville, as well as McKenzie Milton, a graduate transfer making the jump from UCF after suffering a severe leg injury. Milton’s story surrounding his recovery is nothing short of extraordinary, but his comments about the Notre Dame football program following a UCF win back in 2018 may come back in a haunting manner. In case you missed it, the 2018 Fighting Irish team who went on to make the College Football Playoffs, squeaked out an uncomfortable 19-14 win over Pittsburgh that year. A few weeks prior to that, the UCF team, led by Milton, beat the same Pittsburgh program, 45-14. With both teams squarely in the playoff hunt that year, Milton went on to say:
“You look at the [Pitt] film against us and Notre Dame, you can’t tell me Notre Dame is a better team than us […] I see a difference, we’re better.”
Granted, we are now nearly three years removed from this, but I hope the Irish coaching staff has used this as one of many motivating factors to come out and execute a confidence-inspiring performance. With all that being said, the Notre Dame defense will need to contain the Seminole playmakers – Keyshawn Helton, Ontaria Wilson, and Andrew Parchment at wide receiver and Jashaun Corbin at running back. The FSU offense finished 73rd in yards per play last year and, in my opinion, Notre Dame’s defensive line play will dictate the story of this opening game.
Under the leadership of defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, the rotating cast of experienced defensive linemen for the Irish will look to determine the pace of play and, hopefully, keep the Seminoles contained. I expect another great year for Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Kurt Hinish, and Jayson Ademilola (among others) on the defensive front, and Kyle Hamilton and Houston Griffith to lock down the back end. The unfortunate news coming out of Notre Dame practice was the season-ending injury to Marist Liufau who was the projected starter at the will linebacker position. Liufau, from all reports, was excelling throughout camp and the coaching staff had high expectations for a breakout season this year. Unfortunately, all of that will have to wait. JD Bertrand, a junior out of Roswell, Georgia will likely fill Liufau’s place with the decent amount of depth that the Irish have at the linebacker position.
Offensively, the Irish will trot out Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan at quarterback to start against the Seminoles. I don’t expect Coan to have the same scrambling ability as his predecessor, Ian Book, but after a full off-season under Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, I think Coan’s arm will be on display somewhat early into this first game. The Seminoles’ defense remains a bit of an unknown with the number of transfers that are expected to get playing time, but I’m looking for Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams (RB), Michael Mayer (TE), and a frenzy of wide receivers to string together some strong drives. The left side of Notre Dame’s offensive line will feature Zeke Correll and Blake Fisher, both getting their first look at significant playing time, and may require a bit of “gelling time” before it gets up to full speed. Freshman left tackle Rocco Spindler will also be in the mix and is another player that I cannot wait to witness his collegiate development.
Currently, Notre Dame is favored by 7.5 points heading into this opening matchup which seems to be a relatively fair spread. With the “unknowns” (and I use that term very lightly) at quarterback and wide receiver for the Irish, it may take a few drives to get the team settled in, but if they can avoid any self-inflicted damage, I fully expect the Irish to emerge victorious. After what I am expecting to be a relatively slow first quarter or two, I’m predicting Notre Dame to win 27-17 before coming home to take on Toledo for the first Irish home game of the year. Football is back – enjoy it!
Go Irish. Beat Seminoles.