The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame have a new leader on the sidelines and the usual grand expectations entering the 2022 college football season.
Thirty-six-year-old Marcus Freeman replaces Brian Kelly as head coach. Kelly surprisingly left South Bend to take over as the leader at Southeastern Conference power Louisiana State.
Freeman, a former linebacker at Ohio State, has won over players with his fiery presence and participation in offseason workouts. He's already making splashes on the recruiting trail. Can he match Kelly's success on the field? Kelly is the winningest coach in Notre Dame history, surpassing legendary Knute Rockne.
DraftKings has the Fighting Irish at -145 to win more than 8.5 regular-season games. The under comes in at +125.
There will be a new quarterback, likely dual-threat sophomore Tyler Buchner. Running back Chris Tyree and tight end Michael Mayer are impact players. The defense is loaded with sackmaster Isaiah Foskey and versatile linebacker Marist Liufau, back from injury.
Opening on the road in Columbus against perennial national championship contender Ohio State seems like a tall task for Freeman and ND. I'd expect consensus top-5 team Clemson to prevail in Notre Dame Stadium in November. The rest of the slate looks winnable, with some potential landmines.
FrontPageBets looks at the Irish's schedule with predictions and some key games that will determine if they can exceed 8.5 victories.
Key games to determining O/U: BYU, USC.
Vs. BYU (Las Vegas), Oct. 8
Facing the Cougars, a talented top-20 team, in neutral-site Vegas will test Notre Dame's focus.
That will be especially true for Buchner and his ability to counter BYU standout QB Jaren Hall.
The Cougars could be poised to pull the upset should the Irish let down even a smidge.
At USC, Nov. 26
The Trojans have reloaded under former Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley.
Quarterback Caleb Williams transfers in from OU and uber-skilled wideout Jordan Addison joins the party from Pitt.
USC will be a force to be reckoned with. The question is how long will it take to get there with a new system and revamped personnel.
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Gerry Ahern is senior content editor for FrontPageBets. A 35-year veteran sports editor and digital media executive, he has led coverage of the biggest events in sports, from Super Bowls, to Final Fours, to Olympics, to the Masters.