Blue and Gold Illustrated

June/July 2023

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

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NOT READY TO RENEW? Preorder the 2023 Notre Dame Football Preview for only $18.95 and SAVE $5 with FREE shipping (order before June 12, 2023). $14.95 $14.95 F WWW.BLUEANDGOLD.COM WWW.BLUEANDGOLD.COM EST. 1981 EST. 1981 SAVE $13! TWO EASY WAYS TO ORDER: CALL: 800-421-7751 10:00-4:00 ET, Mon.-Fri. Or call 919-688-0218 if outside the continental U.S. ONLINE: Order 24 hours a day from our online store! Order yours today! THE 2023 THE 2023 NOTRE DAME NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL FOOTBALL PREVIEW PREVIEW 2. Wisconsin (Sept. 25) The Irish's 2020 showdown with the Badgers at historic Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., was also postponed by the pandemic (and rescheduled for 2026), so this year's game at Chicago's Soldier Field will mark the first meeting between the two programs since 1964. There will be plenty of intrigue in this matchup with former Badgers starting quarterback Jack Coan expected to be under center for Notre Dame against the man who took the job from him last year — Graham Mertz, a top-50 recruit two years ago. The Badgers finished just 4-3 a year ago, but its program has been a model of consistency. Since 1993, Wisconsin has finished in the Associated Press top 10 eight times, in the top 25 nine other times, has had 19 straight winning seasons, and since 2004 has not finished out of the top 25 two straight years. This September showdown should provide a clear picture of whether the Irish will be a bona fide College Football Playoff contender after advancing there two of the past three years. 3. North Carolina (Oct. 30) The Tar Heels' talent level has elevated the past few years under head coach Mack Brown — and ESPN even had them No. 7 nationally in their "way too early" 2021 rankings (Notre Dame was No. 15). The lofty rating is thanks mainly to the return of quarterback Sam Howell, who is a Heisman Trophy candidate and potential first-round NFL Draft pick. In addition, all five offensive line starters are back and UNC will have a much more experienced defense. Brown has reinvigorated the recruiting and excitement in the North Carolina program, but it demonstrated it wasn't quite yet ready for prime-time action and handling success after ascending to No. 5 in the country before finishing with an 8-4 mark. After the Tar Heels jumped out to a 14-0 lead in last year's game, Notre Dame controlled and physically dominated the remainder of the contest on its way to a 31-17 victory. The Tar Heels catch Notre Dame at an ideal time, though, with the Irish coming off the previous week's showdown with archrival USC. 4. Florida State (Sept. 5) The once-powerful Seminoles have fallen on hard times, winning just 14 of 34 games while posting three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since an abysmal (9-35) four- year stretch from 1973-76. Although recruiting has dipped some, individual talent is not the issue in Tallahassee. The program has been bereft of strong leadership and guidance, and last year there were even threats of player boycotts when some of new head coach Mike Norvell's comments became interpreted as disingenuous. Still, this game is reminiscent of Notre Dame's only other Sunday night opener — a 50-47 double-overtime loss at Texas in 2016. The underachieving Longhorns were 11-14 in head coach Charlie Strong's first two years, were crushed 38-3 at Notre Dame the year prior and were in desperation, full-hunger mode to regain credibility in a new season versus a strong Irish program. Florida State, which lost 42-26 at Notre Dame last year, is facing a similar situa- tion under Norvell. Doak Campbell Stadium could be rocking while the Irish adjust to life with a new offensive line, new quarterback and new defensive coordinator. 5. Cincinnati (Oct. 2) For the second time in their history, the Bearcats posted an unbeaten regular season (9-0). UC earned a bid to a New Year's Six Bowl (Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl), where it lost to a short-handed Georgia team 24-21 on a 53-yard field goal with three seconds left, and tied a program best with a No. 8 finish in the AP poll. The only other unbeaten regular season at Cincinnati, of course, was in 2009 under head coach Brian Kelly, who parlayed that 12-0 outcome and final No. 8 ranking into getting hired at Notre Dame. In addition, former Bearcats defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman will be going against his former team that he helped to a 31-6 record the past three seasons. A strong case can be made that the Bearcats should be even higher on this list because of a winning culture that has been developed, quality coaching with fifth-year head man Luke Fickell and a fourth-year starter at quarterback in Des- mond Ridder who is one of the nation's premier dual threats. — Steve Downey 26 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW MOST ANTICIPATED GAMES 1. USC (Oct. 23) With the COVID-19 pandemic alter- ing college football schedules across the country last year, the Irish and Trojans did not play for the first time in 75 years. The only other time the two rivals had not faced each other since the series started in 1926 was a three-year break from 1943-45 due to World War II. Head coach Clay Helton may have earned a temporary reprieve from his per- petual hot seat after leading the Trojans to a 5-1 record, the Pac-12 South title and the program's first top-25 finish (No. 21) since 2017, but there is no doubt that more is expected of his program. There might be other teams with better program infrastructure and/or coaching, but in terms of sheer potential NFL tal- ent on virtually every unit, USC is going to be at the top among the Irish's 2021 opponents. In particular, USC features an explosive passing game led by quarter- back Kedon Slovis that will provide a stiff challenge for Notre Dame's inexperienced secondary. Notre Dame and USC will resume acquaintances this fall after not facing each other for the first time in 75 years last season. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS 24-31.Season Preview.indd 26 24-31.Season Preview.indd 26 6/25/21 12:05 PM 6/25/21 12:05 PM 2. Junior Running Back Kyren Williams Lindy's listed him as the No. 5 running back in college football heading into 2021, and though the position has been devalued in the draft, Williams turned heads with 1,125 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing, plus 313 more yards and another score through the air, in his first season as a starter. That was enough to catch the eye of, who included him in the first round of its first 2022 mock draft, coming off the board at No. 28 overall. "A 5-9, 195-pound wrecking ball with deep speed, Williams has the hands, power, vision and balance to be an elite NFL running back," they wrote. 3. Senior Offensive Lineman Jarrett Patterson Kiper ranks Patterson as the No. 3 center eligible for the 2022 draft, while Pro Football Focus (PFF) dubbed him the No. 4 interior offensive lineman returning to college football this fall. Per the latter outlet, Patterson was graded 11th among Power Five centers in his starting debut (2019) and didn't allow a pressure in 13 starts. He was even better last fall, rising to No. 6 at his position. He has not allowed a sack yet in his career, something only one other Power Five interior blocker who has played at least 650 pass-blocking snaps can claim. 4. Graduate Student Offensive Guard Cain Madden The Marshall transfer and former walk-on earned several All-America honors in 2020. The 6-3, 313-pounder has posted PFF pass blocking grades of at least 79.0 in each of his three years as a starter (82.0 in 2020, tied for 20th among guards with at least 200 pass blocks), and he took his run blocking to an elite level of 93.0 last season, which led all FBS guards. The "Dump Truck" also logged 64 knockdown blocks in nine games. PFF listed him the No. 2 returning interior offensive lineman in the country — ahead of Patterson — and he'll get a chance to shine on the big stage as perhaps the best guard in college football this fall. 5. Sophomore Tight End Michael Mayer Though he's not eligible for the NFL Draft until 2023, there will be no shortage of eyes on the next in line at "Tight End U." All he did as a rookie was tie for the team lead with 42 receptions en route to Freshman All-America honors from numerous outlets. PFF awarded him above-average marks in overall offense grade (71.0), pass blocking (73.7) and receiving (68.7). His overall offense grade ranked 14th among all FBS tight ends last year who garnered at least 40 targets (Mayer had 59), and only three with that many targets scored better in both overall and pass-blocking grade. — Ryan Tice PREMIER PRO PROSPECTS Looking ahead to next spring's NFL Draft (and beyond), these are the players that will garner the most attention from scouts: 1. JUNIOR SAFETY KYLE HAMILTON Nearly every outlet that did a mock draft after the 2021 event ended listed the explosive All-American as a future top-10 pick. "It's finally time to talk about Kyle Hamilton after loving his game as an underclassman for the last two years," noted. "The Notre Dame safety is picture-perfect at 6-4 and 219 pounds as a [All-Pro] Derwin James-like defender." "A long, explosive safety, Hamilton is a unique athlete for his size with the competitive mentality to match," The Athletic's Dane Brugler added. "Though he has the physical skill set to be a top pick, his mental development has also been apparent during his first two seasons in South Bend." ESPN expert Mel Kiper Jr. proclaimed the junior as the No. 1 safety eligible for the 2022 draft and the No. 8 overall prospect. "Hamilton's size and speed jump off the film; he's impressive physically," Kiper explained. "… He can play close to the line and stuff ball carriers or play deep as a center fielder, where he has the speed to make plays on the ball." BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ✦ 27 PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS 24-31.Season Preview.indd 27 24-31.Season Preview.indd 27 6/25/21 12:06 PM 6/25/21 12:06 PM Page samples from a previous edition. 64 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW TIGHT ENDS I n any given year, there's little risk in as- suming Notre Dame's tight ends will be a strength. The program's "Tight End U" moniker speaks for itself. Tommy Tremble's selec- tion in the third round this year extended the Irish's streak of opening-day No. 1 tight ends becoming draft picks. It began in 2003. It's also a safe assumption to think the run will continue with Michael Mayer. Mayer, Notre Dame's highest-ranked tight end recruit since Kyle Rudolph in 2008, de- livered a freshman performance that evoked visions of a Rudolph-like career. He tied for the team lead in catches with 42 last year, the first Fighting Irish tight end to so since Tyler Eifert in 2012. He played 564 snaps and es- tablished himself as the primary tight end in a room with an eventual day-two pick in it. The only questions involve how high he can go. Can he lead the team in receptions in 2021? A tight end has not been the Irish's top pass catcher since John Carlson in 2007. Is hitting the 55- or 60-catch mark doable? Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees isn't rul- ing anything out. There are other factors in play there, of course. The receivers' reliability is first and foremost. No matter what, Notre Dame will feature Mayer, who may be its best way to create matchup problems. How Rees' finds new ways to feed him the ball remains the primary curiosity around him. Notre Dame won't use just one tight end, though. Irish tight ends caught 68 passes for 724 yards last season. The former was the most in the Brian Kelly era, surpassing the 2011 mark of 66. That year, Eifert had 63 catches. In each of the last three years, the non-primary tight ends have combined to catch at least 20 passes. The No. 2 tight end role is a notable weekly presence. Someone new — at least in terms of game experience — will have to fill it. Behind Mayer, Notre Dame has two fresh- men in Cane Berrong and Mitchell Evans. Sophomore Kevin Bauman impressed the coaching staff in fall camp last year, but played in just four games because of the tal- ent in front of him. Senior George Takacs, blocked by future pros for three years, is finally getting a chance to play a bigger role. Takacs was the No. 4 tight end in 2020. His non-garbage time work came mostly in goal-line and short-yardage situations. Notre Dame used 14 personnel (one running back and four tight ends) more than anyone in the country (13 plays) except Rutgers (22), so there's a bigger sample size for evaluating him compared to other fourth tight ends. He played 67 snaps in 2020. At 6-6 and 245 pounds, Takacs has the frame of a good in-line blocker. With estab- lished blockers Tremble and Brock Wright gone from a multi-tight end offense, finding another strong blocker at the position is on the checklist for this offseason. But with Mayer around, that checklist isn't too lengthy. ✦ Mayer tied for the team lead with 42 catches and was a third-team All-ACC selection as a freshman in 2020. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS NEXT MAN UP Michael Mayer is poised to keep Notre Dame's tight end tradition thriving 64-67.TEs.indd 64 64-67.TEs.indd 64 6/25/21 11:06 AM 6/25/21 11:06 AM BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ✦ 65 TIGHT ENDS SCHOLARSHIP PLAYERS (5) Years of eligibility remaining are listed after the class year. 87 Michael Mayer (6-4½, 249), So./4 85 George Takacs (6-6, 245), Sr./3 84 Kevin Bauman (6-4½, 240), So./4 80 Cane Berrong (6-3½, 235), Fr./4 88 Mitchell Evans (6-5 1 ⁄8, 248), Fr./4 NOTABLE DATA In the 17 seasons from 2004-20, all 10 of Notre Dame's starting tight ends were drafted to the NFL, five of them in the second round and one in the first. That streak continued during the 2021 draft in April when 2020 opening-day starter Tommy Tremble was taken in the third round. Tremble became the fourth Irish tight end to be selected after his junior year. Kyle Rudolph (2011), Troy Niklas (2014) and Cole Kmet (2020) are the others. Graduated Irish senior Brock Wright, a bor- derline 2021 draft prospect, was not selected but subsequently signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Detroit Lions. DID YOU KNOW? In the last 20 years, both Miami from 2000-09 and Stanford from 2010-19 have had strong cases to claim the "Tight End U" moniker. Miami had four first-round selections at the posi- tion in an eight-year stretch from 2000-07, while Stanford earned its recognition after having seven tight ends drafted from 2010-19, topping Notre Dame's six in those 10 years. Yet, looking at the consistent and overall produc- tion from Notre Dame tight ends during the last 50- plus years, no other program comes close. The Irish had 24 tight ends drafted since 1969, 11 of them in the first or second rounds. From the 1970s through the 2010s, Notre Dame produced a minimum of two first- and/or second-round draft picks at tight end in each of those five decades. 2020 VS. 2021: STOCK UP OR DOWN? The good news for Notre Dame is that Freshman All-American Michael Mayer is back to build his case as the best tight end in the country. The bad news for Notre Dame's 2021 outlook is that versatile tight end Tommy Tremble left eligibility on the table after last season and entered the 2021 NFL Draft. The Carolina Panthers took him in the third round with the No. 83 overall pick. The departure of Tremble coupled with the return of Mayer — along with plenty of talented but inexperienced backups — leave the tight end stock this season high but unchanged from this time last year. Notre Dame also lost graduated senior Brock Wright, an accomplished run blocker, after the 2020 season. X-FACTOR If there is one certainty to an offense de- signed by Irish head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, it's to expect two tight ends and sometimes even three on the field at the same time. That's where the importance of a breakout season — or at least marked production improvement — from senior George Takacs becomes an important storyline within this position group. Takacs recorded three catches in 10 games last season and has five recep- tions for 42 yards with one touchdown in 16 career appearances. He had three catches for 32 yards in the 2021 Blue-Gold Game. Kelly sidelined Mayer for the spring game out of injury pre- caution, which gave the other four more targets. Beyond Mayer and Takacs, sopho- more Kevin Bauman (four games and one catch in 2020) is the only other scholarship tight end with any game experience. FRESHMAN OUTLOOK Notre Dame's propensity to play multiple tight ends coupled with the departures of Tremble and Wright could provide one or both early enrollee freshmen, Cane Berrong and Mitchell Evans, a chance to earn some quick playing time. As January arrivals, both Berrong and Evans will carry the lessons of a spring sea- son into fall camp. Evans — a three-star recruit from the 2021 class and the No. 35 tight end per Rivals — played well in the Blue-Gold Game with three catches for 59 yards, including a 32-yard grab. Berrong — a three-star player and the No. 26 tight end — had a three-yard catch in the spring game. QUOTABLE: HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY ON SENIOR GEORGE TAKACS: "He's now in a position where he can complement the offense. He plays physical at the line of scrimmage. He's a guy who's going to help us as an in-line blocker. He's a guy who has some talent catching the football." George Takacs was blocked by fu- ture pros his first three years, but may be the No. 2 tight end in 2021. PHOTO BY ROBERT WILLETT, THE NEWS & OBSERVER 64-67.TEs.indd 65 64-67.TEs.indd 65 6/25/21 11:06 AM 6/25/21 11:06 AM Preorder The 2023 Notre Dame Football Preview As Low As $10.95 $10.95 SAVE $13 Regularly $18.95 plus S&H With over 160 full-color, glossy action-packed pages of Notre Dame football information, this magazine is a must-have for the upcoming season! • Player Features • Historical Articles • Detailed Position-by-Position Analysis • Opponent Previews • And much more! Offer expires June 12, 2023 Mails in a protective polybag in July 2023 *Special price only available with a subscription order, renewal or gift.

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