Here it is folks. The single most important regular season game in Cincinnati Bearcats history. Notre Dame-Cincinnati. Cincinnati-Notre Dame.
An early playoff game. A grudge match. A reunion of a program and its former coach.
It’s everything UC fans have been waiting for, taking shape on one crisp-aired Midwestern Saturday afternoon in October.
There’s really not much to this series aside from a single matchup played between the two teams back in 1900. Notre Dame won the game in blowout fashion by a score of 58-0.
Notre Dame 2020 Season in Review
The 2020 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football season was… well, the norm. An undefeated start, playoff appearance and eventual blowout loss in a semifinal game to Alabama.
The Irish did finally garner a marquee win against Clemson, but it was, after all, against a Trevor Lawrence-less Tiger team. And plus, they ended the season on two straight embarrassing lopsided losses-including one that saw Tigers take revenge on them.
Notre Dame (Offense)
Ok, so there’s really two ways to look at the quarterback situation if you’re Notre Dame.
On one hand, you DO lose an all-important leader-Ian Book. BUT, you also get a new reliable starter in former Wisconsin QB Jack Coan.
The former Badgers QB qualifies as no slouch, and his stats prove it. He stepped up big time for the program in 2019, throwing 236 completions on 339 passes for 2,727 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“I think we all, in some instances, took Ian Book’s performance here for granted because he was a very accurate passer,” Coach Brian Kelly said to the media at an Irish football practice. “But Jack Coan kind of picks up when Ian left off in terms of accuracy. We’ve gone through practices now, and we feel really comfortable with that part of his game. The accuracy is really good.”
Coan will be aided by a skill core that sees a loss of talent with the departures of Javon McKinley and Ben Skowronek. However, Avery Davis (WR) and Michael Mayer (TE) do return with some major resumes on their backs. Mayer hauled in 42 catches for 450 yards and two TDs during his 2020 campaign. Davis, on the other hand, established himself as one of the better guys on the outside with 24 receptions, 322 yards and two scores reeled in last year.
The run game sees the veteran-return of a pair of top backs. Karen Williams is the name to know-he cashed in 1,125 grounds yards and 13 touchdowns through his sophomore season-but some depth exists behind him, too, with the likes of Chris Tyree (SO) and and C’Bo Flemister (SR).
Notable Departures: Ian Book, Liam Eichenberg, Aaron Banks, Tommy Tremble, Robert Hainsey and Ben Skowronek
Notre Dame (Defense)
Two words: Kyle Hamilton.
An incoming junior safety, Hamilton qualifies as the biggest factor on the Irish defense. He’s a future fringe top 20 pick (if not higher) who’s recorded 104 tackles and five interceptions in two seasons at South Bend.
The defense does see the loss of LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, someone who by most standards is irreplaceable. However, big names such as Drew White, Jack Kiser and Isaiah Foskey should step up big time. White enters 2021 as a senior LB with 136 recorded tackles for the Irish in his last two seasons.
As for former Bearcats defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, he takes over the reigns of a team that finished 25th in total team defense through 2020 with only 343.6 yards allowed per game.
Notable Departures: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Daelin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji
A packed stadium full of the 80,000 Notre Dame faithful, Brian Kelly vs his former team and Cincinnati’s possible ticket for a CFP appearance. It really will be one of the best things to happen in the sport since Coach Kelly led the Bearcats to a BCS Bowl back in 2009.
Should UC do their simple job on defense, the keys to the game will fall into the hands of QB Desmond Ridder (as always). He’s got to deal with a scary defensive backfield led by Hamilton and a few other big names. Then there’s the inevitability of an ambiguous pass rush.
Oh, and as stated earlier, South Bend’s army of 80,000 or so will be booming.
We’ve got UC taking the W due to a top five lockdown defense along with an ever-changing-early season Notre Dame offense, but this one will be brutal from beginning to end.
Final Prediction: 28-27 Cincinnati
Notre Dame 2021 Season Preview
Perhaps the most daunting attribute for Notre Dame this football season is the schedule itself. The Irish own the unwanted privilege of playing four preseason AP Top 15 teams (Cincinnati, North Carolina, USC and Wisconsin) all within a span of five games. Bill Connelly’s infamous SP+ rating system gave the team a 2021 projection of 7-5, a prediction vastly different from that of the usual.
Will that in all likelihood be the outcome? No. But the chances of going undefeated in the regular season again-especially when Ian Book and a few other key contributors are on their way out-seems dire. We’ll give Brian Kelly the benefit of the doubt and say they win most of their dogfight games; however, the Irish aren’t here to contend for a national championship.
Matchup rankings from most to least challenging: 1. Wisconsin, 2. Cincinnati, 3. North Carolina, 4. USC, 5. Florida State, 6. Virginia Tech, 7. Stanford, 8. Virginia, 9. Georgia Tech, 10. Purdue, 11. Toledo, 12. Navy
Final Projection: 10-2