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Make or Break: A Look Into Notre Dame's 2024-25 Season

Written by Noah Wehby Writer

Photo by Irish Tribune


As the 2024-25 college football season is just a little over two months away, it comes alongside many challenges and changes. Mainly, this season will mark the implementation of the 12-team playoff. With this format, along with a strong coaching staff and a talented roster, Notre Dame is poised for a successful season. But are they ready to make the next big jump under Marcus Freeman?


Coaching


The 2024-25 season marks the third year under Head Coach Marcus Freeman, and it is without question his most important one yet. Freeman's first two years were a bit of a roller coaster ride. While he has recorded some big wins, he has also lost some disappointing games. In 2022, the Freeman era began with a rough start after losing the first two games to Ohio State and Marshall. The Marshall loss was an eye opener to everyone close to the program, and was not the impression Freeman was hoping for. The first half of that season didn't get much better when Notre Dame dropped another game to Stanford. With a 3-3 record, Notre Dame was looking at the worst start to a season since 2016, and Freeman was already feeling the pressure that is associated with the role of head coach at Notre Dame. With all that pressure, he proceeded to lead the Irish on a 5-game winning streak, including a dominant performance against No. 4 Clemson in South Bend. Although Notre Dame lost the final game of the regular season to USC, confidence at Notre Dame had been restored after an impressive second half of the year, concluding with a Gator Bowl win against South Carolina. After a rocky start, the improvements that the team made throughout the year showed Freeman's ability to coach, but he still did not meet Notre Dame expectations, which made the 2023 season important.


Freeman got off to a much better start in 2023. The team started 4-0, but had their first real test of the year against Ohio State in their fifth game. Notre Dame proved to themselves and the rest of the country that they had the players to not only compete with college football's elite, but that they could actually beat them. Notre Dame came up with a huge fourth down stop late in the game that gave them a chance to end it with the ball in Sam Hartman's hands. Notre Dame proceeded to make a questionable play call on third down, choosing to pass instead of run, which allowed Ohio State to keep their last timeout. With less than two minutes remaining, Ohio State drove down the field but then was called for intentional grounding in the redzone. Ohio State stopped the clock using the timeout they were able to save, keeping the game alive. Ohio State eventually scored with gaming-winning touchdown while Notre Dame only had 10 men on the field. Freeman received lot of criticism for how they handled the last few minutes. Notre Dame ended up going 10-3 this season, with big wins against USC and Oregon State in the Sun Bowl. This season also contained disappointing losses to Louisville and Clemson - the up and down nature of a season that many Notre Dame fans have grown accustomed to.


In this upcoming season, Freeman must show that all the growing pains of a new head coach have led to a more consistent product on the field. He has already shown an ability to win some big games, but it is about winning more of them while cutting out the bad losses that he has had in the past. There is no doubt that Freeman has a great rapport with his players and gets the most out of them. He's a terrific recruiter, and brings great energy to the program. In his third year, he needs to show improvement with late game tactics and let down games, like Louisville last year. Notre Dame coaches have a volatile history in their third year. Some coaches have seen success in their third year, like Lou Holtz and Dan Devine winning a National Championship, and Brian Kelly having an undefeated regular season. While other coaches such as Gerry Faust and Charlie Weis, have had less than stellar third seasons. Freeman is about to enter this pivotal time, and it will be interesting to see which way the season will swing for him. One advantage he will have is help from two very exciting coordinators.


Defensive coordinator Al Golden and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock are set to make up Freeman's best coaching staff since becoming the Notre Dame head coach. Golden is also entering his third year at Notre Dame as one of the best coordinators in the country. During his short time at Notre Dame, Golden has built a very strong defense with pro level players at a lot of different positions. He has been able to show off his prowess against high powered offenses like USC and Ohio State. OC Mike Denbrock returns to South Bend for the third time in his coaching career after a very successful stint at LSU. Denbrock is a very experienced coach with 36 years of coaching under his belt, but has not lost any of his flair. Last season, he conducted one of the nation's best offenses that produced Heisman trophy winner, Jayden Daniels. With Freeman being a young and defensive-minded coach, having an experienced play-caller like Denbrock will definitely lighten the load. Together, both coaches offer talent and experience to not only put the team in the best position to win but also develop young talent.


Schedule


Another component of a breakout season for the Fighting Irish is scheduling. Notre Dame's 2024 schedule looks very favorable, for now. There are always teams that turn out to be better or worse than their preseason rankings. The schedule consists of three crucial games spread out between the beginning, middle, and end of the season. The first test of the season comes in week one against Texas A&M in College Station. College Station is an incredibly hostile place to play, and while Texas A&M may not be projected to have the same talent as Notre Dame, an opener like this will be a tough game. The next benchmark game comes in week 11 against Florida State in South Bend. Florida State has rebounded in recent years and had an undefeated regular season last year. They lost a lot of talent to the draft, but a good program like Florida State will surely have their share of talented players returning. Notre Dame will have home field advantage, but this game could easily be the hardest of the season. The last of the three crucial games will be played at the Coliseum in Los Angeles against USC. Notre Dame has a better roster than USC, but a rivalry game on the road at the end of the year can be a dangerous game. USC will have enough talent to pull off an upset, so Notre Dame will have to be at their best to avoid a late season loss. These three games are the headliners of the season, but Notre Dame will have to be careful with the other games as well. Games like Louisville and Purdue are the type of trap games they must be ready for. Freeman has a history of losing smaller games, so although the big games get a lot of the attention, the other nine are just as important.


Roster


The coaching staff has built a roster that has lined up to be the most talented team Notre Dame has had in recent years. There is talent all over the field and on both sides of the ball, making them extremely balanced. The defense is headlined by players such as Benjamin Morrison, Xavier Watts, Howard Cross III, Jack Kiser, and many more. The offense contains players like Riley Leonard, Jeremiah Love, Jadarian Price, Jaden Greathouse, Kris Mitchell, and a plethora of other playmakers. Notre Dame has a great number of players returning from last year, along with a new crop of transfers and freshmen, adding new talent to a familiar locker room. The starting lineups of both groups is something for people to get excited about, but the depth Notre Dame is building will take this program to the next level. When Notre Dame played in the 2012 National Championship and the two playoff losses, it was the depth of talent that was the deciding factor. Notre Dame's bench was never able to match up with the benches of Alabama or Clemson. This team may be able to change that due to the roster building Freeman and the rest of the staff have been curating since their arrival. As this upcoming season progresses, it will be interesting to see how this roster and its depth hold up throughout an entire season.


Projection


With all of this being said, I think Notre Dame is finally ready to contest with the best teams in the country and compete for a home game in the College Football Playoffs. This means that they would end up finishing with a rank between 5-8 and a record of 11-1 or 12-0. I believe the mix of coaching, schedule, and roster all line up for Notre Dame to do so. This is why it is a make-or-break season for the Irish and Marcus Freeman. Another disappointing season would call into question Freeman's leadership and future with the team, but a playoff appearance would reinforce Freeman's position with the team and would garner excitement about Notre Dame's future.

 

1 Comment


Guest
Jul 05

Wishing for much success this season for the Irish! The season is favorable for them, but the playoffs will be another story and test their mettle. I’m a life long Irish fan and remember well their 1988 season. There were some close games during that season with very tough opponents, but the team gelled as the season went on. Lou had a way of setting the stage and having the team ready for anything. I like Marcus, too, but he really needs to make this season a big turning point. Bring back the thunder, Irish!!

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