Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 6 of 47 JANUARY 2021 7 UNDER THE DOME ticularly puts immense pressure on defenses. "You're just dealing with this whole new version [of zone read] where the side of the read, the movement of the back, the running of the quarterback, you're requiring your players to win their one-on-ones, to be impeccable when it comes to the execution of the defense … and you pay with explo- sive-play touchdowns when you miss in the execution," Lea said. "With ev- ery year you have time to study in the offseason and you pore into new ways and creative ways to change the way we can diagnose, to change the way we recognize formations. "Defensive football is still going to be about playing fast and physi- cal and swarming the ball. Certainly I think we will catch up — and I also think offenses will continue to evolve. That's what make this fun." As a teacher, Lea said he has learned there is no such thing as a concept set in stone, otherwise every- one would use the silver bullet. "It may be set in stone for a year, but someone somewhere is going to find a way to break that concept and you're going to have to adapt to stay relevant," he said. ✦ No, Too Many Prime Personnel Losses By Todd D. Burlage After four straight seasons with at least 10 wins for a program that has won 41 of its last 46 regular-season games since 2017, of course the Fighting Irish are going to win at least 10 again in 2021, right? Well, as veteran ESPN analyst Lee Corso often says during his prediction segment on the popular Game- Day, "Not so fast, my friend!" Making 2021 roster projections for Notre Dame be- came more difficult in October after the NCAA granted all 2020 players an extra year of eligibility next season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that extra season was impertinent along Notre Dame's offensive line, which is losing four start- ers off arguably the best unit in the country. The Irish also will need to replace Ian Book, the starting quarter- back with the most wins ever at Notre Dame. Replacing beloved defensive coordinator Clark Lea won't be a snap, both in personality and as a tactician. Assessing the quality of a future schedule eight months in advance leaves plenty of room for error. That said, with consecutive games from Sept. 25 to Oct. 30 against Wisconsin at Soldier Field in Chicago; home against Cincin- nati, which finished No. 8 in the final 2020 College Football Playoff rankings; at Virginia Tech; home against USC, which played for a Pac-12 title; and home against North Carolina, a program on the rise under head coach Mack Brown, surviving this minefield with a rebuilt offensive line and a new quarterback will be too difficult. Ten wins are a bar too high to reach in 2021. 10 Wins Are Now The Floor, Not The Ceiling By Lou Somogyi When projecting a new season, I don't look as much on who is leaving and who is coming back, but more so the strength of schedule. After you become a top-10 operation the way Notre Dame has since 2017, it's about who and when you play. When I peruse the 2021 schedule, I see two pro- grams that can recruit at Notre Dame's level: at Florida State in the opener and USC at home, with the Trojans coming after an Irish bye week. FSU (3-6 in 2020) has been a grease fire for several years, including roster imbalance, and it seems USC head coach Clay Helton is on a perpetual hot seat. One of these two could pull off the win, but not both. Toledo, Purdue, Navy, Virginia, Georgia Tech should get the Irish to at least six wins. Yes, Cincinnati had a fantastic year in 2020, but the Bearcats' senior class in 2021 was ranked 47th in recruiting and the junior haul 89th. How would you feel if Notre Dame had those kind of classes? That makes it seven wins. That leaves potential "upset specials" with Wisconsin, at Virginia Tech, North Carolina and at Stanford — but the Irish are still better than each, at least on paper. Worst case from that group should be 2-2, which in a down year leaves the Irish at 9-3 prior to a bowl win to get to 10. Quarterback and the offensive line need revamping, but head coach Brian Kelly's track record with first-year starting quarterbacks has been strong, including 12-1 with both Everett Golson (2012) and Ian Book (2018). Point ✦ Counterpoint: WILL NOTRE DAME WIN AT LEAST 10 GAMES FOR A FIFTH STRAIGHT YEAR IN 2021? Head coach Brian Kelly has led the Fighting Irish to a 43‑8 record over the last four seasons. PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN SEVERAL IRISH PLAYERS ARE BEING TOUTED AS TOP NFL DRAFT PROSPECTS A handful of Notre Dame players are already being discussed by foot- ball analysts as high selections for the NFL Draft that begins April 29. Most notable is senior rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who an- nounced Jan. 4 he won't return for a fifth season in 2021. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. released his latest 2021 Big Board in December, and ranked Owusu-Koramoah as the top outside linebacker and the No. 9 overall prospect. "With a stellar ability to find the ball and react, and with the speed to cover tight ends in the passing game, Owusu-Koramoah just keeps rising in my rankings," Kiper wrote. "He's a perfect fit for today's NFL because he's a three-down, off-ball linebacker with sideline-to-sideline speed." No other current Notre Dame players are mentioned amongst Kiper's overall top 25, but several are listed as top-10 prospects at their positions. The other Notre Dame player with the potential to be a first-round pick is fifth-year senior left tackle Liam Eichenberg, Kiper's No. 6 offensive tackle eligible for the draft. His position is always in high de- mand to protect a quarterback's blind side, with six taken in last year's first round. One other Notre Dame offensive lineman also made the cut: left guard Aaron Banks. Kiper rates him as the No. 5 offensive guard eligible for the 2021 draft class. Rounding out the offense is fifth-year senior quarterback Ian Book, the No. 9 signal-caller in Kiper's rankings. Clemson's Trevor Lawrence is No. 1 and Alabama's Mac Jones is No. 4. Kiper projects each of his top five quarterbacks will be selected in the first round, which could make Book one of the best available passers in the later rounds. Fifth-year senior defensive ends and 2020 captains Ade Ogundeji and Daelin Hayes also are receiving some buzz in draft circles. Ogundeji is rated the No. 5 overall player at his position, while Hayes is No. 10. Also with the potential to be selected in the upcoming draft are senior right tackle Robert Hainsey, fifth-year senior right guard Tommy Kraemer, fifth-year senior wideouts Javon McKinley and Ben Skow- ronek, and fifth-year senior cornerback Nick McCloud. — Andrew Mentock OWUSU‑KORAMOAH

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