One week before the 2021 NFL season begins, there is still Sunday Night Football, just of the college variety. Taking center stage is the no. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who are visiting the Florida State Seminoles in a rivalry game. The Irish are listed as 7-point favorites on the road, with the over/under set at 55.5 points.
This is just the second season of the Mike Norvell era, but it already feels as if he’s on the hot seat. The Seminoles were just 3-6 last season, with several of those defeats coming in blowout fashion. However, they did hold their own during a trip to Notre Dame, with a 42-26 loss being one of their more competitive losses in 2020.
As for Notre Dame, Brian Kelly’s team ran the table during the regular season, going 10-0 as a temporary member of the ACC. However, the Irish lost the ACC Championship Game to the Clemson Tigers and then lost the College Football Playoff semifinal to the Alabama Crimson Tide. Nevertheless, it was a step in the right direction for Notre Dame, who is back to being an independent program in 2021.
After losing nine players who were selected in the NFL Draft, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will have plenty of new faces in 2021. The hope is that Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan can bring the same type of steady quarterback play that Notre Dame got from Ian Book over the last few years. The good news is that Notre Dame’s backfield is loaded behind starter Kyren Williams, although replacing three offensive linemen that were taken in the draft could take some time.
Defensively, the Irish also have to replace three players from their front-7 who were NFL draft picks. The silver lining is that that group brings back a lot of experience, so there shouldn’t be a huge drop-off. The secondary is also in good shape with star safety Kyle Hamilton, keeping the Notre Dame defense in good shape after giving up less than 20 points per game last year.
For the season opener, all eyes at FSU are on Central Florida transfer McKenzie Milton, who is expected to share the quarterback duties with Jordan Travis to begin the season. McKenzie is coming back from a terrible knee injury in 2018 and figures to be a huge wild card for the Florida State Seminoles this season. Of course, the offensive line has been an issue for several years, while the Seminoles also find themselves unusually short on proven receivers.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Seminoles have a lot of work to do after giving up 36 points per game in 2020. The addition of half a dozen transfers should give the FSU defense an immediate infusion of talent and some much-needed depth. However, this is still a defense that’s made up primarily of underclassmen, so there could be growing pains early in the season.
While Florida State is hoping to take a step forward this season, the Irish are trying to avoid a drop-off after losing so many key players. However, the Irish have a solid foundation in place, which should allow them to hit the ground running against a team with a lot of rebuilding left to do. Bet on Notre Dame to win comfortably and cover the spread against Florida State.
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