Notre Dame vs. Florida State Predictions: Are the Irish Worth Backing in Their Season Opener Against the Seminoles?
Notre Dame vs. Florida State Prediction:
Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Florida State Seminoles
Points Spread: Notre Dame -7.5
Game Time: Sunday, 7:30 PM ET
Notre Dame vs. Florida State Prediction:
Florida State and No. 9 Notre Dame are heading in opposite directions in 2021. The Fighting Irish were a playoff team a year ago, and some degree of decline is inevitable. Quarterback Ian Book and four of his five offensive linemen are gone, as are defensive coordinator Clark Lea (now the head coach at Vanderbilt) and his best player, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah. The Irish should still be good, but they are not much of a College Football Playoff contender this time around. On the other hand, the Seminoles have been a shell of their old selves for a while now, and last year’s pandemic-season 3-6 record was their lowest winning percentage since 1975. But they’re building something, it’s not precisely clear what yet under Mike Norvell and seems sure to be on at least somewhat of an upward trend this year. So as Notre Dame moves down, FSU should go up. Yet when they meet in Tallahassee in Week 1, the bet is that both teams’ stock changes will be slow enough for the Irish still to cover a spread of just over a touchdown.
Notre Dame will be worse, but the cupboard in South Bend is far from bare. The biggest concern might not be at quarterback, where Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan replaces Book, but on the offensive line. But, of course, any time a line sends four players to the NFL, as Notre Dame’s just did, it’ll have things to figure out the following fall. Notre Dame is in a better place there than Brian Kelly might have initially feared, though. Center Jarrett Patterson is back, and the Irish have gotten him some help in the form of Marshall transfer Cain Madden, one of the best players available this offseason. Madden looks set to play right guard, while top-60 2020 recruit Blake Fisher will slide into the starting left tackle job. That’s three-fifths of a pretty good-looking offensive line, even if it’s not quite the bullying force the Irish’s line became as 2020 wore on.
At any rate, Florida State’s defensive front is not all that positioned to exploit the Irish line. The Noles lost Joshua Kaindoh and Marvin Wilson, two former five-star line recruits who never quite lived up to their promise but were important players for Willie Taggart and Norvell’s teams. Norvell was busy in the transfer portal all over the roster, and he did well to add a couple of SEC transfers in defensive ends Keir Thomas (South Carolina) and Jermaine Johnson II (Georgia). Still, we’re asking a lot if we expect them to cause significant havoc against Notre Dame in their first game. Maybe they will! I just wouldn’t bet on it without seeing it.
The bigger problem for FSU is that it will struggle to move the ball on Notre Dame’s defense. Lea is gone, and so is Owusu-Koramoah. But new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, who recently architected the excellent Cincinnati unit that almost beat Georgia in the Peach Bowl, has a lot of talent still at his disposal. The seven returning starters on that side of the ball include perhaps the country’s best safety in Kyle Hamilton, who can cause problems for FSU whether he’s playing as a deep free safety, box linebacker, or slot cornerback. Notre Dame should have a top-10 defense again, and that’s a lot for a slapped-together FSU offense to handle in Week 1.
The Noles’ QB situation isn’t bad, as both UCF transfer McKenzie Milton and incumbent starter Jordan Travis have a good bit of skill. But both carry questions. Milton hasn’t played in a game since a devastating injury in 2018, and it’s not clear how quickly he’ll adjust to game speed or what he’ll be after so much time rehabbing. (Here’s to hoping he does great.) Travis is a great runner but hasn’t shown himself to have downfield passing chops. Maybe FSU will find excellent quarterback play in this game, and possibly Kansas receiver transfer Andrew Parchment will be an instant hit. But it’d be easier if Notre Dame’s defense weren’t the very first test for all of it.
FSU is improving. Norvell might yet be the man to make them a national contender again. But that process is still in its early stages, and Notre Dame should not be in such a reduced state that it can’t beat this current Noles team by something like two scores.
Notre Dame vs. Florida State Pick: Notre Dame -7.5 (+100)
Alex Kirshner covers college football for the Moon Crew newsletter. He is a co-author of The Sinful Seven: Sci-Fi Western Legends of the NCAA, and he lives in Washington, D.C.