No. 2 Notre Dame's bye week was hardly uneventful

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The Notre Dame football team got better on defense during a bye week.

Statistically, that is, relative to the rest of the now 127-team FBS contingent.

The Irish (8-0, 7-0 ACC), holding steady at No. 2 in both the AP and Amway coaches college football polls Sunday, also lost two offensive linemen since their last game, though only center Jarrett Patterson’s foot injury is necessarily season-ending.

And the portion of the ND fan base who held out hopes that quarterback Ian Book might exercise his COVID-rule option and return to school for a sixth year in 2021, learned of his intention to push forward toward a shot at the NFL instead.

First, to the polls. Alabama is a unanimous No. 1 selection in the AP poll, while Notre Dame garnered a couple of first-place votes in the coaches poll. The top eight in both rankings remained the same from a week ago.

The curiosity is how closely — or not — the first set of College Football Playoff rankings will mirror those. ESPN’s reveal starts at 7 p.m. EST on Tuesday.

With most of the college football world playing and looking like the offense-leaning Big 12 teams normally do, enough teams nationally took a hit defensively this week that Notre Dame moved from 12th to ninth nationally in total defense (304.1 yards per game allowed) and fifth to fourth in rushing defense (85.1) without playing this weekend.

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Both ratings will be put to the test, as well as ND’s No. 17 ranking in pass-efficiency defense, when the Irish visit North Carolina (6-2, 6-2 ACC) on Friday. The Tar Heels are the No. 4 team nationally in total offense (563.4 yards per game) and re-entered the AP poll at No. 25 on Sunday.

Sophomore quarterback Sam Howell is ninth nationally in pass efficiency, one spot ahead of Clemson All-American Trevor Lawrence. The Tar Heels and Irish are tied for the 14th-most-prolific running game nationally (233.5).

The national stat rankings, for the first time in 2020, reflect all 127 teams committed to playing fall football, as Utah finally opened its season Saturday night with a 33-17 loss to USC. Old Dominion, New Mexico State and Connecticut are the three FBS teams that permanently opted out of fall football in 2020.

The North Carolina game will be the first time in almost four decades that the Irish played a regular-season game on Friday (3:30 p.m. EST; ABC-TV) and only the fifth time they’ve done so in the last 100 years.

The most recent Friday contest for the Irish was a 37-15 drubbing from Miami (Fla.) on the road in the final game of the 1981 season in which ND had spent a week at No. 1 in September and finished with a 5-6 record under coach Gerry Faust.

Their last regular-season win on a Friday was a 24-22 victory at Miami by Ara Parseghian’s Irish in the final game of an 8-2 season in 1967.

Both Patterson and right guard Tommy Kraemer are expected to miss the Friday festivities. Patterson suffered a foot injury but played through it in ND’s 45-31 win at Boston College on Nov. 14. He reportedly had surgery this past week.

Then on Friday night Kraemer reportedly had to have an appendectomy. His recovery timeline will likely be revealed by head coach Brian Kelly during his weekly Monday Zoom conference call with the media.

Also during the past week, five Notre Dame players — including Book — accepted invitations to play in the 2021 Senior Bowl. The game and the practices leading up to it comprise the premier NFL Draft showcase.

The game is set for Jan. 30 in Mobile, Ala.

Book’s short-term focus is on making his 32nd career start, and at the same venue — North Carolina’s Kenan Memorial Stadium — where he made his first one. The Irish beat the Tar Heels 33-10 back in 2017, when Book filled in for an injured Brandon Wimbush.

His longer-term look is playing himself into the NFL Draft conversation, even if it’s on the periphery. ND offensives tackle Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey, and defensive ends Daelin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji also were extended invitations and accepted.

The Irish contingent could grow in the coming weeks as the Senior Bowl continues to fill its rosters.

In ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s latest player rankings, Eichenberg (fifth), Ogundeji (eighth) and Hayes (10th) are ranked among the top 10 prospects at their respective positions.

Notre Dame’s top draft prospect, senior rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, is ND’s top draft-eligible prospect. He’s Kiper’s top outside linebacker and No. 15 prospect overall. However, because he did not have expiring eligibility, he would have to declare for the 2021 draft.

All 13 of the Notre Dame players with expiring eligibility could conceivably return to school because of the NCAA’s blanket rule of an extra year across the board for all players due to COVID-19.

Those players, and only those with expiring eligibility, wouldn’t count against the 85-scholarship limit in 2021.

Only kicker Jonathan Doerer among them to this point has expressed an interest in strongly considering a return.

Rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and the Notre Dame defense face the nation’s No. 4 offense Friday in North Carolina.

No. 2 NOTRE DAME (8-0) vs. No. 25 NORTH CAROLINA (6-2)

Kickoff: Friday at 3:30 p.m. EST

Where: Kenan Memorial Stadium; Chapel Hill, N.C.


Radio: WSBT (AM 960, FM 96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)

Line: Notre Dame by 3 1/2