(Photo: Robin Alam)

ND’s prospects for the 2024 season, particularly as college football enters the 12 team playoff era are promising. Lots of returning starters from a 10-3, 2023, and some highly regarded additions from the transfer portal. Combine that with a promising incoming freshman class and a schedule that looks favorable has Irish eyes are smiling during the long off season. Let’s take a closer look.

Here is a preview of ND’s opponents for this coming season.

At Texas A&M- August 31, Kyle Field-College Station, Texas, 7:30 PM The Irish will kickoff season number 136 on the road in a matchup full of storylines. With eight five star recruits on their roster, and the transfer in of the best pass rusher in the Big Ten Nic Scourton, along with 27 others in 247’s #4 overall portal class, Texas A&M is loaded. But they were also loaded last year and the year before, and those talented rosters have not translated into a lot of wins. 7-6 last year, 5-7 in 2022. So out goes Jimbo Fisher a long with a record setting $77.5 million buyout, and in comes Mike Elko who most recently headed up the program at Duke. But he also has coached at Texas A&M. Elko famously walked out on Brian Kelly as the Notre Dame defensive coordinator after just one successful season in South Bend, 2017. That move was a lateral one and from 2018-2021 he coordinated the A&M defense under Jimbo Fisher, before taking the head job at Duke. Expect the temperatures to be scorching, the humidity suffocating and the crowd to be in a frenzy by the 7:30 PM kickoff time. The early line has A&M favored by 1.5.

Prediction: Toss-up

Northern Illinois-September 7, Notre Dame Stadium, 3:30 PM Survive week one and the Irish task would seem to lighten up against first time ever opponent the NIU Huskies, out of the MAC conference. But beware the letdown, and Northern Illinois has weapons, particularly at the receiver positions. Returning TE Grayson Barnes had 5 TDs a year ago, Travon Rudolph led the team with 51 catches and Kenji Lewis who averaged 23 yards a catch at Arkansas-Pine Bluff has transferred in. NIU was 7-6 a year ago and were the winners of the Camellia Bowl over Arkansas State. The Huskies have an experienced secondary and as a team posted a respectable 23 sacks last season. But they will need to replace their three year starter at Quarterback, Rocky Lombardi. Vying for the QB position will be last year’s back up, Ethan Hampton who in spot duty over three seasons has been a 57.6% (95-165) passer with 9 TDs and 8 INTs and another Arkansas Pine-Bluff transfer, Jalen Macon. NIU’s Thomas Hammock who starred at running back for the Huskies from 1999-2002 is in his 6th season as head coach. . Hammock played his prep ball just down the road from Notre Dame at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Prediction: Likely win

At Purdue-September 14, Ross Ade Stadium, 3:30 PM For years an annual match up, Purdue returns to ND’s schedule for just the second time since 2014, the year the Irish started it’s affiliation with the ACC. Ryan Walters came over from Illinois in 2023 to succeed Jeff Brohm after a successful stint as defensive coordinator. In his first season in West Lafayette he led the Boilermakers to a 4-8 record (3-6 in the Big 10). Gone is arguably the best pass rusher in the Big 10 last year Nic Scourton, (but the Irish will get to see him, Scourton transferred to Texas A&M). Despite this loss, the Boiler defense should be improved overall in its second year under Ryan Walters system. Hudson Card, with a year under his belt is a solid QB and should show improvement in his second season with the Boilers. The Boilers have brought in 14 new players via the portal and two juco transfers. They should be improved over 2023, and the Purdue home crowd could be a factor.

Prediction: Likely Win

Miami (Ohio)-September 21, Notre Dame Stadium, 3:30 PM Since Chuck Martin left Brian Kelly’s staff in South Bend as offensive coordinator after the 2013 season to move over to the RedHawks, he has built a solid culture and winning program. 11-3 a year ago, they are a favorite to win the MAC in 2024. Brett Gabbert returns for his sixth season after a serious leg injury last October ended his season in game eight. Gabbert was a partial participant in spring practices and is on track to be full go for 2024. He is third all-time at Miami in passing yards, passing touchdowns and total offense. The RedHawk defense was 7th nationally with 15.9 points allowed per game. Defensive end Brian Ugwu, who piled up 8 sacks and 10 QBHs in 2023 returns to a defensive line that will otherwise have to be rebuilt. MAC Defensive Player of the year Matt Salopek returns at linebacker and two solid starter return in the secondary. The Red Hawks are solidly coached and know how to win football games. It is unlikely that a visit to Notre Dame Stadium will intimidate them.

Prediction: Likely win

Louisville-September 28, Notre Dame Stadium, 3:30 PM After last year’s 33-20 loss at Louisville, expect revenge to be in the air in South Bend for this match-up. Jeff Brohm’s Cardinals finished last season 10-4 but on a three game losing streak, dropping their last three to Kentucky (31-38), at Florida State (16-6) and against USC in the Holiday Bowl, (42-28). Last year’s starting QB Jack Plummer has run out of eligibility so the Cardinals will turn to Texas Tech transfer Tyler Shough. The 6-5, 230 Shough, whose college career dates back to 2018 at Oregon has thrown 36 career TD passes against 17 interceptions and has rushed for 714 career yards and 10 TDs. He headlines a whopping sized class of 31 incoming Cardinal players via the portal (ranked the 13th best class by 247 Sports). On defense Ashton Gillotte returns on the defensive line. In the 2023 game Gillotte harrassed ND’s Sam Hartman all night and played a big role in Hartman’s 3 interception, two lost fumbles evening. With such a huge roster churn, it is tough to figure out how good this Louisville team might be, but Jeff Brohm can coach and if his offense develops more to his liking in year two? ND will need all the motivation it can get from the home crowd and that revenge factor. All that said ND is an early 9.5 point favorite.

Prediction: Lean to ND

Stanford-October 12, Notre Dame Stadium, 3:30 PM

Other than a 4-2 mark during the pandemic year of 2020, Stanford has not had a winning record since 2018. Long time head Coach David Shaw, who led the Cardinal to Pac-12 Championships and national prominence for much of his tenure from 2011-2022 was fired after consecutive 3-9 records in 2021 and 2022. In came Troy Taylor from FCS Sacramento State for 2023 with a reputation for offense. Not a lot of progress in Palo Alto was obvious in Taylor’s first year and the Cardinal posted their 3rd straight 3-9 mark. That slate included a 56-23 loss to the Irish as Marcus Freeman got a bit of revenge for that 16-14 upset loss in 2022. The series returns to South Bend this season and Troy Taylor will have one of the better WR’s in the country in Elic Ayomanor at his disposal. Ayomanor had 62 catches a year ago good for 1013 yards and 6 TDs. Back to throw him the ball will be QB Ashton Daniels, but 4 star recruit Elijah Brown may push for playing time. Stanford’s defense was 129th in yards allowed last year and really have no place to go but up in year two of Taylor’s rebuild. Linebackers Gaethan Brendal and Tristan Sinclair, the team’s top two tacklers return. Troy Taylor may have the Cardinal heading in the right direction, but this rebuild has a ways to go.

Prediction: Likely Win

Georgia Tech October 19, Mercedes-Benz Stadium/Atlanta

Georgia Tech is coming off a 7-6 record in Brent Key’s 2nd full season and the Yellow Jackets have the look of a program on the rise. So the Irish must be wary. The GT offense was the 12th best rushing attack in the country, and Haynes King who returns, was explosive at the QB position. King passed for 2,842 yards, ran for 737 yards and accounted for 37 touchdowns. Tech overall returns 9 starters on offense. On the other side of the ball Tech has a long way to go. So Key revamped his defensive staff by the hiring of former ND defensive analyst (2017), Tyler Santucci as defensive coordinator and three other defensive assistants. Santucci will install a 4-2-5 scheme. Overall Tech’s offense should be potent, but it is hard to imagine that the defense will be up to the task of stopping the Irish. Technically a neutral site game, but Mercedes-Benz stadium is located less than two miles away from Tech’s “home” stadium.

Prediction: Likely Win

Navy, October 26, MetLife Stadium/East Rutherford, NJ, 12:00 PM

Last year the Irish had their way against the Middies in the season opener in Ireland, 42-3. That game featured the debut of brand new head coach Brian Newberry. In his first season Navy finished 5-7. Newberry had been promoted to head coach from the Navy defensive coordinator position, where he had served from 2019-2021. For 2024 Newberry has brought in a new offensive coordinator in Drew Cronic from the head coaching job at FCS Mercer. Cronic runs a variation of the wing-T that is sometimes referred to as the “sling-T”. Look for a lot of the option that Navy is famous for, but Cronic’s offense will also spread the field more and will even run some RPO. Navy will need to replace graduating veteran quarterbacks Xavier Airline and Tai Lavatai. It may well be a big benefit for Al Golden and his defensive staff that the Irish will have six Navy games on tape before taking on the novel offense. Defensively Navy will return 7 starters, including first-team All-AAC Linebacker Colin Ramos. The Midshipman allowed 22.4 points per game in 2023, a solid 37th nationally. Part of that success though can be attributed to the Navy offensive style that runs the clock and limits possessions.

Prediction: Likely Win

Florida State, November 9, Notre Dame Stadium, 7:30 PM

After the season’s second bye week, Mike Norvell’s defending ACC champion Seminoles will visit South Bend for a prime time match-up. In case anyone has forgotten FSU went 13-0 in the 2023 regular season but they were snubbed by the playoff committee and not invited to the playoffs. One of the best Seminole QBs in their history, Jordan Travis has moved on to the NFL. FSU has brought in a name familiar to ND fans to take over the offense. DJ Uiagalelei who faced the Irish twice while at Clemson, played at Oregon St. last year and he now moves onto his 3rd team for his final year of eligibility. FSU will be replacing seven starters on offense, mostly at the skill positions. The offensive line has 190 combined starts and will be at least very good. The defense also will be replacing seven starters from 2023. To plug gaps on both side of the ball Mike Norvell has turned to the transfer portal. Beside Uiagalelei, FSU has brought in five transfers from Alabama and 17 in total. The transfer class is ranked #7 overall by 247 Sports. Norvell is an excellent coach, and the Seminoles will have had 9 games for all the new talent to gel. There is reason to believe that Florida State football has reloaded for 2024. ND is an early 3.5 point favorite.

Prediction: Toss-up

Virgina, November 16, Notre Dame Stadium, 3:30 PM

As the Irish enter the home stretch of the regular season they will take on a team that is 6-16 over the last two seasons under Tony Elliott. Elliott just might be on the hot seat when he comes into South Bend this season. His Cavaliers in 2023 finished 93rd in scoring offense and 116th in scoring defense. A strength may be that two quarterbacks that split starts last season both return. Anthony Colandra is a gunslinging sophomore and Tony Muskett, a senior with extensive experience. The offensive line returns four starters. Chris Tyree after a successful transition to slot receiver last season at ND will spend his grad transfer season back in his home state with the Cavaliers. Defensively Virginia does return eight starters but will have to hope that those players improve significantly after a lackluster 2023.

Prediction: Likely Win

Army, November 23, Yankee Stadium/The Bronx, 7:00 PM

The Shamrock Series moves to Yankee Stadium for game 11 against the Army Black Knights. Army was 6-6 a year ago under veteran head coach Todd Monken. Monken is a respectable 70-55 in 10 seasons at West Point. For 2024 the Black Knights move from Independent status and into the AAC. 2023 was a choppy season at West Point to say the least. The season started with a 13-17 loss to Louisiana-Monroe but ended with a victory over Navy 17-11. In between they barely lost to Boston College (27-24), were blown out at LSU 62-0 and notched a quality win over Coastal Carolina (28-21). to start last season, on offense Army experimented with a more open version of their traditional option attack by utilizing shotgun formations and more passing. That experiment was not particularly successful but then Army reeled off four wins to end the season when they returned to their triple option roots. QB Bryson Daily returns to lead the offense. He led the team with 901 yards rushing and 9 TDs on the ground, and added 7 TDs passing. Like Navy, Army controls time of possession by systematically mostly keeping the ball on the ground. That fact always puts a premium on each and every offensive possession by Army opponents. Defensively they will return just three starters but one of them is safety Max DiDomenico. He Notched 53 tackles, a forced fumble and two interception in 2023, including a pick that clinched the Army win over Navy.

Prediction: Likely Win

Southern California, November 30, Memorial Coliseum/Los Angeles

After the Shamrock Series game in New York City, the Irish will fly home for Thanksgiving and then head to the opposite corner of the country to close out the regular season against Lincoln Riley’s USC Trojans. Losers at Notre Dame Stadium 48-20 last year, USC ended 2023, 8-5. For 2024, they move into the Big 10 and will face a schedule with the look of a murder’s row. It will include among others: LSU, MIchigan, Penn State, and Washington and of course their traditional rival, Notre Dame. With Caleb Williams at the helm Trojan offensive attack has been potent of late but the defenses at USC have been just this side of awful. While the offense last season finished 3rd nationally in points scored per game (41.8), the defense was 118th ranked and gave up 34.4 points per game. To address the defensive shortcomings, Riley poached a new defensive coordinator from crosstown rival UCLA in D’Anton Lynn. Lynn turned things around in the one year with the Bruins by taking them from 87th in total defense in 2022, to 11th during his single season in Westwood. Junior Miller Moss is USC’s heir apparent at QB. In his first and only start in last year’s Holiday Bowl, a 42-28 win over Louisville, he passed for 372 yards and six touchdowns. Overall only three starters will return on offense. To reload Riley brought in transfer Woody Marks, who made 32 starts at Mississippi State and is regarded as one of the best tailbacks in the nation. In all USC has enrolled 17 transfers and their transfer class ranks 20th (247 Sports). If Notre Dame enters this game at 11-0, considering USC will be solid at the very least, expect a season ending battle in the Coliseum.

Prediction: Lean to Notre Dame

12-0 or 11-1 will get the Irish into the new 12 team playoff, 10-2 might. Fighting Irish Preview’s summer prediction rates the ND 12 game schedule as 8 likely wins, 2 leans to Notre Dame and two toss-ups.

In that regard, it has been years since a season opener for the Irish had as much riding on it as this year’s toss-up tilt in College Station. Beat A&M and the Irish have a shot at glory. Lose and the Irish won’t be able to afford anymore stumbles.

Are you ready for some FOOTBALL?!

ByPhil Houk

For over 25 years, bringing you the glory of Notre Dame football.

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