We are less than a week away from the start of the annual Big Ten Football Media Days and there is no better time than now to start looking at each of Ohio State’s upcoming opponents. There will be time for a deep-dive leading into each individual week but now is the time to take a top-down view of teams, some very familiar to Ohio State fans and others not as much.
In week one, Notre Dame is about as familiar of a team as there is outside of the Big Ten conference. It is not a case of Ohio State having a long history of playing against the Fighting Irish, only six head-to-head games in the history of the series, the last two taking place in bowl games. But the proximity of the two schools between one another and the frequent recruiting battles over top players has these two bluebloods firmly in the sites of one another.
Oh, and then there is first-year head coach Marcus Freeman for the Fighting Irish, a former Ohio State standout defensive player and increasingly frequent “mis-speaker” when it comes to talking about Ohio State, if you believe the reports.
There will be no shortage of hype around this game when foot meets leather around 7:30pm (EDT) on September 3rd, 2022. Let’s take a quick look at what is going on in South Bend (Ind.).
All-time Series Record: Ohio State leads 4-2-0
Last Meeting: Ohio State def. Notre Dame 44-26 in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl
2021 Record: 11-2 (Lost to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, 37-35)
Returning Starters: 15 (7 Off., 8 Def.)
Head Coach: Marcus Freeman
Total Offense: 426.2 YPG (45th)
Rushing Offense: 143.8 YPG (83rd)
Passing Offense: 282.5 YPG (20th)
Scoring Offense: 35.2 PPG (T-19th)
Quick Thoughts: So much of Notre Dame’s success is going to come down to who steps into the quarterback role in 2022. Former Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan had high points and low points in the 2021 season, ending with a 500-plus yard effort against Oklahoma State, a game the Irish could close the door on. Coan is gone and now either Tyler Buchner or Drew Pyne will have to answer the call. Rewind a year ago and the Buckeyes were faced with starting an inexperienced quarterback to start the year but in the case of the Irish, Pyne has attempted 33 college passes over two seasons while Buchner has 35. Neither would be classified as seasoned veterans, but neither would be walking into Ohio Stadium with zero experience either.
Notre Dame will have to replace its leading rusher (Kyren Williams) and receiver (Kevin Austin) but look for a steady dose of tight end Michael Mayer, arguable the top returning tight end in the game, or at least on a short list).
It will be on Tommy Rees at offensive coordinator to replace some key pieces as there is no runway for the Irish prior to this game. One thing that the Irish should have going for them will be a solid offensive line to protect a young quarterback and test out a new Ohio State defense but for as much as some Ohio State critics want to assume that Ohio State’s defensive woes may carry over in early season action in 2022, can you say that this is the same Notre Dame offense that was scoring more than 35 points per game in 2021?
Total Defense: 359.5 YPG (43rd)
Rush Defense: 135.3 YPG (37th)
Pass Defense: 224.2 YPG (64th)
Scoring Defense: 19.7 PPG (15th)
Changes on the defensive side of the ball with former Temple and Miami (Fla.) head coach Al Golden coming in to take over the defensive duties under Freeman. The Irish return most of their key pieces on the defensive side of the ball, minus Drew White. The return of linebacker JD Bertrand is a big boost, the team’s leading tackler from a year ago is a year older and should be even more consistent.
It is hard to look at the previous season and make any grand conclusions about the next season just based on numbers on a page, but did Notre Dame really play many teams with an offensive pulse last year? Were the scoring numbers a result of playing against teams that were down like Georgia Tech, Navy and even USC? The argument can be made that even in a loss, holding Cincinnati to just 24 points was a bit of a win for the defense, holding UVA to just three points (granted, UVA starting QB Brennan Armstrong did not play in that game).
Notre Dame’s secondary is full of returning starters but have they seen anything to prepare for an onslaught of CJ Stroud throwing to receivers like Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison et al. But at least they have been pushing a sled around in South Bend with some pictures tape to them.
Notre Dame has not lost a season opener since the 2016 season with a trip to Texas, a 50-47 loss in double-overtime. Last year the Irish were taken to the brink by Florida State before ultimately winning that game in overtime. You have to go back to 2011 for the last time that someone got Notre Dame in a season opener in regulation, a loss to South Florida, 23-20.
It is unlikely we are going to know much more about any other dominos in college football expansion prior to this game, but don’t expect for a minute that Ohio State fans are going to be easy on Notre Dame as the Irish seem to be quite enamored with their own independent status in the college football world.
Year-in and year-out, people claim that Notre Dame is always overranked to start the season. We will have an early barometer to see if the brand name of Notre Dame carries more weight than the sum of its parts.