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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Sánchez Córdova: Notre Dame has already raised its 2023 ceiling

I don’t care if it's “just” Navy and Tennessee State. Notre Dame football has already changed its 2023 outlook. 

Last year, the Irish started ranked No. 5 in the AP poll. From there, Notre Dame played a competitive game against No. 2 Ohio State before a collapse against Marshall left head coach Marcus Freeman with an 0-2 start to his tumultuous debut season. It got better from there with a dominant home win over No. 4 Clemson and a thrilling Gator Bowl victory, marking high points in 2022.

Notre Dame debuted at No. 13 in the 2023 AP Poll, signaling a slight improvement from their No. 18 finish at the end of last season. It was a reasonable assumption, with the addition of graduate transfer quarterback Sam Hartman, that they would improve. But the departure of record-breaking tight end Michael Mayer and several impact players on the defensive line left questions. Three games against preseason AP Top 10 opponents meant expectations had to be kept relatively tempered.

After two games, I am ready to raise those expectations.

Yes, I know they played Navy and an FCS school in these first two games. But the high level of the performances Notre Dame put together signals significant progress from a year ago. I believe some of those preseason questions have already been answered.

It all starts with graduate student quarterback Sam Hartman. Through two games, he has been all Freeman could've possibly dreamed of. Hartman has led the team admirably and has quickly become a star in a way no Irish quarterback has since Brady Quinn. And he's been even better on the field.

Through two games, Hartman has completed 82.5% of his passes and totaled 459 total yards with seven touchdowns and zero turnovers. He has the same number of incompletions as he does touchdowns. Of the 12 drives he's led this season, 11 have ended in touchdowns. With numbers like those, it's not hard for Irish fans to start dreaming big.

Even so, during the postgame press conference, Freeman shook his head at the suggestion that Hartman has been perfect. Is it possible Hartman can still find another gear?

Another big question entering the year was the Irish receiving corps. After two games, there's reason to believe those questions were unjustified. The depth has shined early, with 16 different players catching a pass in the opening two games. 

Junior Jayden Thomas has become the number-one receiver many expected after a solid season a year ago. True freshman Jaden Greathouse had a memorable debut in Ireland and followed it up with a solid performance against TSU. Senior Chris Tyree has adapted well to his new role and junior tight end Mitchell Evans made a few important catches during an impressive two-minute drill at the end of the first half against TSU.

This is all without mentioning the offensive line and running back room. Both of these units have lived up to their preseason billing as foundational strengths for the Irish offense. And the defense has been outstanding through two games, limiting Navy and TSU to a combined six points. 

This team has already shown that it will compete this season. The Irish have taken care of two potential trap games, passing with flying colors. Going to a hostile environment in Raleigh next weekend will show us even more, but Notre Dame has already raised its ceiling far beyond what most could’ve expected. 

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