Notre Dame Spring Drills Countdown: 10 To 1
10 Victories, at minimum, Notre Dame has achieved each of the last four seasons from 2017-20 while posting a 43-8 record. They join Alabama (51-4) and Clemson (51-5) as the three to achieve that feat in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Ohio State was limited to 7-1 last season because of the pandemic, and is 45-5 the past four years. Oklahoma was limited to 9-2 in 2020 after three straight 12-2 finishes for a 45-8 mark.
9 Ranking of Notre Dame by Athlon in its “way too early” poll for 2021. That was one of the higher placements by the most recognizable outlets, above SI.com (10th), NCAA.com (13th) and ESPN (15th).
Among the 2021 Irish opponents, Athlon also has Cincinnati (7), North Carolina (10), Wisconsin (11) and USC (15). Three are at home, while the meeting with Wisconsin will be in Chicago.
8 Defensive linemen returning for the Fighting Irish who recorded at least 141 snaps last season, or about 12 per game. Led by the fifth-year interior duo of Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, this overall unit remains one of the most experienced and deepest on the team.
7 Interceptions registered by the Irish defense last year (one by a cornerback), the lowest since it had the same amount during a 6-5-1 finish in 1994. Generating more turnovers will be needed in 2020 against a schedule that features prominent quarterback experience from late September through October.
Two years ago, the Irish forced 28 turnovers, fourth in the country and the best by the program since 2003.
6 Starters returning among the 11 on defense. In addition to Hinish and Tagovailoa-Amosa, the include linebackers Drew White and Shayne Simon (eight starts), All-America safety Kyle Hamilton and cornerback Clarence Lewis, who started six overall as a freshman, and four of the last five.
Junior Marist Liufau began to emerge more at linebacker late in the year, while senior cornerback TaRiq Bracy has eight starts the past two years.
5 Quarterbacks on scholarship this spring, a first in Brian Kelly’s 12 seasons — and perhaps since the 1980s.
Kelly almost had it 10 years ago in 2011 before moving Luke Massa to receiver prior to spring drills because reps could only be limited to the quartet of Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix and early entrant Everett Golson.
This year the quintet has Wisconsin graduate transfer and landslide favorite to start Jack Coan, junior Brendon Clark — who might be limited because of reported knee issues — sophomore Drew Pyne and early entrants Tyler Buchner and Ron Powlus III.
4 Starters returning on offense, when not including Coan’s 18 career starts at Wisconsin (four in 2018 and all 14 in 2019): junior running back Kyren Williams, fifth-year senior slot Avery Davis, sophomore tight end Michael Mayer — who actually had only three “starts” last year but whose 564 snaps (47 per game) were the most on the unit — and senior center Jarrett Patterson, who likely will be sidelined this spring because of November foot surgery and could conceivably be aligned elsewhere.
3 Straight years Notre Dame has finished unbeaten at home. The 24-game winning streak in Notre Dame Stadium is four short of tying the 1942-50 school record. The Class of 2022 could be the first Fighting Irish group since 1950 to not lose a home game all four of their undergraduate years.
2 New on-field staff members: Defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Marcus Freeman replacing Clark Lea, now the head coach at Vanderbilt after a superb four-year run with the Irish from 2017-20, and safeties coach Chris O’Leary, who replaces Terry Joseph (now at Texas).
Following a successful stint at Cincinnati that included a 31-6 record since 2018, Freeman already has established himself as a potential rainmaker on the recruiting trail. O’Leary was promoted after serving as a graduate assistant with the Irish since 2018.
1 Spring practice held last year before the pandemic halted the operation. Notre Dame was in better position than most schools to rebound from that setback because it possessed one of the most veteran units in school history, including an offensive line with a school record 114 career returning starts and a third-year starting quarterback.
This year, all 15 practices, capped with the May 1 Blue-Gold Game, will be needed much more.
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