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2021 Notre Dame college football preview: The Irish have plenty to replace

Notre Dame appeared in the College Football Playoff twice in the past three years, and cracking the top four would be incredibly impressive with all the Irish need to replace.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Notre Dame vs Alabama Robert Franklin-USA TODAY Sports

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will see plenty of changes throughout their football program in the 2021-22 season. ND returns to independent status, and they will need to replace a ton of talent on the roster with few returning starters.

The Irish played in a conference for the first time in program history last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic as they finished 9-0 in the ACC before being blown out by Clemson in the ACC title game. ND were handled yet again by the eventual national champion Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff semifinal to close out their season.

A return to the Playoff for the third time in four years is not the expectation for the Irish heading into this season, as they will likely take a step back. Quarterback Ian Book was drafted into the NFL and will be replaced by Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan. Offensive line depth will also be a question as Notre Dame lost four starters among the group including three draft picks.

2020 Season Review

  • 10-2, 9-0 ACC, Lost ACC Championship Game (34-10 vs. Clemson), Rose Bowl loss (31-14 vs. Alabama)
  • Played in a conference for the first time ever as a program, beat Clemson in the regular season, qualified for the College Football Playoff, lost to Clemson and Alabama by a combined 41 points to close out the season

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 9
ESPN Returning Production: 49% overall (No. 123): 44% offense (No. 123), 53% defense (No. 108)
Returning starters: 3/11 offense, 6/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: Jack Coan (Senior)

Jack Coan was expected to be Wisconsin’s starting quarterback heading into last season, but a broken foot during preseason practice led to Graham Mertz starting every game. Coan was an efficient quarterback in his lone season as a full-time starter in 2019. In 14 games, he completed 69.6% of his passes for 2,727 yards with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions and led Wisconsin to the Big Ten title game where they led by 14 points before ultimately losing to Ohio State.

Offense (non-QB): RB Kyren Williams (Sophomore)

Notre Dame ran the ball more than they passed last season, and Kyren Williams broke out as a redshirt freshman. He rushed for 1,125 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 35 passes for 313 yards and a receiving touchdown. How the Irish’s rushing attack will perform this season will be interesting to watch as the offensive line lost quite a bit of talent to the NFL.

Defense: FS Kyle Hamilton (Junior)

As a preseason First Team All-American by plenty of publications, safety Kyle Hamilton is a very important part to the success of the Notre Dame defense. The Irish lost defensive coordinator Clark Lea, who is now the head coach at Vanderbilt, and incoming DC Marcus Freeman will be helped tremendously by Hamilton’s ability as an excellent tackler at the back of the defense.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 16th overall: 19th offense, 20th defense, 122nd special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 25th overall: 34th offense, 26th defense

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

To win national title: +8000
Win total: 9 (Over +100, Under -125)

2020 Against The Spread: 6-6-0
2020 Point Total: Over 6-6-0

2021 Notre Dame Schedule

2021 Notre Dame Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Sunday, Sep. 5 at Florida State 7:30 pm/NBC ND -10
Saturday, Sep. 11 vs. Toledo 2:30 pm/NBC ND -19.5
Saturday, Sep. 18 vs. Purdue 2:30 pm/NBC ND -12
Saturday, Sep. 25 vs. Wisconsin (Solider Field, Chicago) 12:00 pm/Fox ND +2.5
Saturday, Oct. 2 Cincinnati 2:30 pm/NBC ND -3.5
Saturday, Oct. 9 at Virginia Tech TBA/ESPN ND -5.5
Saturday, Oct. 16 Open
Saturday, Oct. 23 vs. USC 7:30 pm/NBC ND -3
Saturday, Oct. 30 vs. North Carolina 7:30 pm/NBC ND -1.5
Saturday, Nov. 6 vs. Navy 3:30 pm/NBC ND -24.5
Saturday, Nov. 13 at Virginia TBA ND -6
Saturday, Nov. 20 vs. Georgia Tech 2:30 pm/NBC ND -14.5
Saturday. Nov. 27 at Stanford TBA ND -10