BGI staff predictions: Toledo vs. Notre Dame
Brian Kelly is no stranger to the Mid-American Conference. His first Division I head coaching gig came at Central Michigan from 2004-06.
Now in his 12th season at Notre Dame, Kelly is set to coach against a MAC opponent for the sixth time in his Irish tenure when Notre Dame welcomes Toledo to South Bend. Notre Dame has won all five previous matchups against MAC teams dating back to 2010, which marked the first ever meeting between the Irish and a MAC program.
The Irish defeated Western Michigan 44-20 in 2010, blew out Massachusetts 62-27 in 2015, defeated Miami (Ohio) 52-17 in 2017, held off Ball State 24-16 in 2018 and blanked Bowling Green 52-0 in 2019.
Notre Dame is currently slated to play three games against MAC teams in the next four years. Kelly gets to go against his former team in Central Michigan at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 16, 2023; and Northern Illinois and Miami (Ohio) will make the trek to South Bend in 2024 on Sept. 7 and Sept. 21, respectively.
Todd Burlage, contributing writer
Notre Dame 49, Toledo 24
Sixth-year Toledo head coach Jason Candle returns 21 starters — including six All-MAC honorees from last season — on a dangerous Rockets team that’s expected to battle for a league championship this season.
After a troubling performance by the Irish rush defense Sunday night when Florida State racked up 264 rushing yards and a 6.0 yards-per-play average, Notre Dame welcomes Toledo’s third-year starting tailback Bryant Koback and a veteran Rockets offensive line.
Koback, 6-foot, 210 pounds, already has 2,678 yards and 32 touchdowns for his career, including two scores last weekend in a 49-10 win over Norfolk State.
Additionally, Toledo ranked ninth nationally last season in passing offense (325.8 yards per game) and 21st in scoring offense (35.0 points per game).
Toledo showed impressive offensive balance in its opener Saturday with 441 total yards — 205 rushing and 236 passing.
Kelly counters with a 24-game winning streak at home and 33 straight wins against unranked opponents, the second longest such streak in the country.
Talent and depth take this one.
Steve Downey, managing editor
Notre Dame 41, Toledo 14
The Rockets entered the season with a veteran team and legitimate hopes of winning their first MAC title since 2017, so it’s unlikely they’ll be able to sneak up on Notre Dame. In fact, Kelly declared this week that Toledo is “probably the finest MAC team that we’ve brought into the stadium since I’ve been here.”
The Fighting Irish, however, boast a 5-0 mark against MAC schools under Kelly, winning by an average score of 47-16. The lone outlier was a hard-fought 24-16 win over Ball State in 2018.
This Toledo squad is probably better that Ball State team, plus its program has a proven track record of pulling upsets. Toledo is 9-17 all time against top-25 teams, with its last win coming against No. 24 Temple in the 2015 Boca Raton Bowl in Candle’s very first game in charge.
The bottom line, though, is the Irish have won 25 of their last 26 games against programs from the Group of Five (and other independents). The only loss in that stretch was a 28-27 defeat at the hands of Navy on a neutral field in Jacksonville, Fla., during that disastrous 2016 campaign.
There is a talent disparity Notre Dame should be able to take advantage of, plus Kelly made it clear he wasn’t pleased with his team’s execution in the opener against Florida State. I expect he’ll have the Irish ready to play on Saturday and they will cruise to another victory versus a MAC school.
Patrick Engel, editor
Notre Dame 45, Toledo 10
As far as paycheck games go, Toledo is a solid opponent and does not operate entirely off the college football national radar. The Rockets are one of the MAC’s most consistent programs and haven’t had a losing season since 2009. They’ll be one of the most experienced teams in college football this year, with 16 “super seniors.” They return 89 percent of their production from last season (20th nationally).
At the same time, this is Notre Dame against a MAC team. The Irish should have little trouble covering a spread that has dropped to 16.5 points this week.
This is an opportunity for the run game to take a step and build some confidence. It’s a chance for the defense to test out some fixes after last week’s surprising end-of-game collapse. The passing offense should be able to build on an impressive debut that contained several explosive plays and downfield completions.
Even if the rushing attack doesn’t break out, Notre Dame is capable of putting up at least six offensive touchdowns.
Tyler Horka, staff writer
Notre Dame 38, Toledo 13
Notre Dame is going to have a much more balanced offense against Toledo. I don’t expect graduate student quarterback Jack Coan to throw for 366 yards like he did against Florida State. I do expect him to have another prolific, efficient game, but the Fighting Irish running game is finally going to hit the ground running and put its 65-yard performance behind it.
Junior running back Kyren Williams will run for more than 100 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore running back Chris Tyree will add 75 yards or so and another score. In the end, Notre Dame will have as many rushing yards and passing yards — somewhere in the vicinity of 250 for both.
Defensively, Notre Dame is going to give up a few more chunk plays like it did against Florida State. Overall, though, defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s group will have a bounce-back performance. Toledo won’t be able to consistently sustain drives against a Notre Dame team that has much to prove on that side of the ball.
Mike Singer, recruiting insider
Notre Dame 42, Toledo 9
While Toledo is typically one of the stronger teams in the Group of Five, the Rockets shouldn’t provide much of a challenge to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish will be ready for its home opener — despite the shortened week after playing Florida State six days before — and will win big against Toledo.
It’s been a noisy week for Notre Dame with Lawrence Keys III leaving the team, Xavier Watts moving to rover (that still feels weird to write) and an abundance of unfortunate, major injuries on both sides of the ball.
This worries me a bit. But I believe that Vegas is overrating Toledo. Unless the Irish come out absolutely flat, they should roll the Rockets.
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