NDFB: Irish finish 2021 season in the top-10; What does that mean for 2022?
The clock struck midnight on the 2021 college football season as No. 3 Georgia defeated No. 1 Alabama, 33-18 Monday Night at Lucas Oil Stadium, to capture its third national title in program history.
Following the win, the Bulldogs claimed the top spot in Monday's final Associated Press Top-25 poll, leapfrogging the Tide, who finished No. 2 and Michigan, which fell to No. 3 after its loss to Georgia in the Orange Bowl.
The Irish (11-2) finished as the No. 8 team in the final AP college football poll, one spot below No. 7 Oklahoma State, which beat Notre Dame 37-35 in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. In all, the Irish were 0-2 against teams ranked in the final poll (also falling, 24-13 to No. 4 Cincinnati), while holding wins against Wisconsin (9-4) and Purdue (9-4), who each received votes, but were ultimately left out of the top-25.
In the USA Today coaches' poll, Notre Dame landed at No. 9, flipping spots with Michigan State.
Not even 24 hours after Georgia's victory, some publications were looking at the 2022 season with early top-25 prediction polls.
On ESPN, the Irish are projected as the No. 6 team in the country, behind Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Texas A&M and Michigan.
USA Today, meanwhile, slots Notre Dame at No. 9 next season, stating that, "How promoted defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman changes tack after taking over for Brian Kelly will determine where the Irish go in 2022 and beyond."
Notre Dame's lofty projections likely has to do with the talent that Freeman will have back for his first full year as the Irish head coach.
On offense, Notre Dame will return four of its five starting offensive lineman, with soon-to-be sophomore tackles, Joe Alt and Blake Fisher each getting another year of experience under their belts.
Super senior, Josh Lugg, who announced his return for next season, could also slide back into his right tackle spot after missing the Fiesta Bowl with a torn meniscus, or kick inside at right guard to replace Cain Madden. Senior Andrew Kristofic will likely hold down the left guard position. Three-year starting center Jarrett Patterson will also be back after announcing his decision to return for a fifth season.
On defense, Notre Dame received tons of good news the past week with lineman, Justin Ademilola, Jayson Ademilola and Isaiah Foskey, each announcing they will return for the 2022 season to help mitigate the losses of nose tackle, Kurt Hinish and defensive end, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, who both entered the 2022 NFL Draft.
Senior linebacker Bo Bauer will also be back in South Bend for a fifth season.
Notre Dame picked up a major commitment out of the transfer portal from Brandon Joseph, a 2021 All-American safety previously at Northwestern, who should help mitigate the loss of two-time All-American Kyle Hamilton in the back end of the secondary. Hamilton, who missed the second half of the season with a knee injury, is declaring for the NFL draft after three seasons at Notre Dame.
Challenging 2022 schedule
All that returning experience is significant for a 2022 Notre Dame team that appears to have a loaded schedule next season.
The Irish open the season on Sept. 3 at Ohio State, Freeman's alma mater. The Buckeyes, coming off a Rose Bowl championship over Utah, return their quarterback, C.J. Stroud, who will likely be in the running for next season's Heisman Trophy. Sophomore running back TreyVeyon Henderson and wideout, Jaxon Smith-Njigba will also be primed for breakout years.
Three other opponents on next year's schedule are likely to be ranked heading into the season. Clemson, which Notre Dame plays on Nov. 5, could possibly return all 11 starters on offense, but will also have a new offensive coordinator in Brandon Streeter and new defensive coordinator in Wes Goodwin.
Notre Dame plays a BYU team in Las Vegas on Oct. 8 that finished this year ranked No. 19 in Monday's AP Poll after a 10-3 season.
And USC, now under the leadership of former Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, checked in at No. 22 in ESPN's way-too-early 2022 poll. The Irish travel to Los Angeles on Nov. 26.
This season, the Bulldogs' national title ended their program's 41-year drought, with Georgia's last title coming in 1980 with a 17-10 win against the Irish in the Sugar Bowl behind the running of freshman Herschel Walker. Notre Dame will look to end its own title drought, dating back to 1988, in 2022.
2022 Notre Dame football schedule
(Home game is CAPS)
Sept. 3 — At Ohio State
Sept. 10 — MARSHALL
Sept. 17 — CALIFORNIA
Sept. 24 — At North Carolina
Oct. 8 — Vs. BYU Shamrock Series at Las Vegas
Oct. 15 — STANFORD
Oct. 22 — UNLV
Oct. 29 — At Syracuse
Nov. 5 — CLEMSON
Nov. 12 — Vs. Navy at Baltimore
Nov. 19 — BOSTON COLLEGE
Nov. 26 — At USC