The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have won 10 or more games in five straight seasons, joining Alabama and Clemson as the only schools to accomplish this feat. Even though the Irish fell two points short to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl this past January that doesn't erase Notre Dame's success as of late, which has consisted of 44 wins over the past four seasons alone.
That close loss to end the 2021 campaign certainly left a bad taste in the mouth of many fans and the team itself, but head coach Marcus Freeman and his staff enter their first spring eager to look ahead and not back. With many promising developments taking shape over the last several weeks, here are just three reasons to be excited and optimistic about the Irish's path in 2022.
Related: Notre Dame 2022 Spring Preview
1. Incoming staff's experience
Only three coaches — offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, defensive backs/safeties coach Chris O’Leary and cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens — of the 11 total (including head coach, both coordinators and position coaches) possess the same title with the Irish as this time last year. Rees enters his sixth season on Notre Dame's staff and third as the OC. Mickens and O'Leary are entering their third and second seasons, respectively, in their current roles.
While the eight others cannot lay claim to similar continuity, they all have accumulated plenty of experience elsewhere: from the sidelines to the booth upstairs, from the locker room to the recruiting trail. Seven of them combine for more than five decades of experience as position coaches, coordinators or head coaches with Power 5 programs, with nine seasons of NFL tenure sprinkled in as well.
And that’s not to mention the eighth member of that group: Harry Hiestand. His return as offensive line coach after six years with the program (2012-17) bolsters a résumé that contains 13 seasons at various colleges as well as two years (2018-19) with the Chicago Bears.
That group presents a vast array of familiarity with both the peaks and valleys of a college football season, as well as the distinct perspectives offered by their individual roles and circumstances. As Marcus Freeman organizes his team in anticipation of his first full season as a head coach, his staff will provide a strong group of reliable shoulders on which he can certainly rely.
2. Talented and well-developed defense
The coaching staff isn't the only group with plenty of collective experience. Even though All-American safety Kyle Hamilton heads to the NFL, the unit returns a majority of its most dynamic playmakers. Isaiah Foskey finished third in program history with 11 sacks last season, the most since Stephon Tuitt collected 12 in 2012.
Foskey is hardly the only upperclassman set to lead this defense in 2022. Jayson Ademilola will once again provide a brotherly force along the defensive line as a graduate student alongside his brother Justin, while linebacker JD Bertrand joined Foskey, Jayson Ademilola and defensive back Clarence Lewis as starters for all 13 games last season.
Notre Dame also collected a valuable transfer in safety Brandon Joseph, a consensus All-American in 2020 after snagging six interceptions for Northwestern. His arrival, alongside the continued progression of linebackers Jack Kiser and Bo Bauer, adds even more maturity and development to an experienced group that has led Notre Dame to 36 consecutive wins when allowing fewer than 20 points.
3. High-upside underclassmen
The Fighting Irish won’t only be featuring upperclassmen, of course, as a highly touted recruiting class arrives this spring. Ten of Notre Dame’s incoming freshman class were ranked as a top-100 recruit by at least one service, with six among the top-100 by two or more sites. Of Notre Dame’s 20 position players, 17 were composite 5- or 4-star recruits. Leading the pack on defense is linebacker Jaylen Sneed, a top-three linebacker and the No. 2-ranked player from South Carolina in this class.
The arrival of Sneed and other freshmen with plenty of potential provides a promising impact. When combined with a talented group of freshmen from last year’s team — including quarterback Tyler Buchner, offensive linemen Blake Fisher and Rocco Spindler, running back Logan Diggs, and wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. — who earned valuable playing time, the outlook only gets better.
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— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.