Can Louisville Actually Beat Notre Dame?
Across the college football universe, Notre Dame is drawing national attention for two pivotal road games. The first game is against the University of Georgia and the second game is against the University of Michigan.
History has shown Fighting Irish fans the dangers of looking ahead. But, perhaps the greater danger of entering the season as a heavy favorite on the road.
Notre Dame will kick-off the college football season against the Louisville Cardinals, at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky. In addition, the game will be held under the lights on a Labor Day Monday night broadcast.
The last time Notre Dame was in a similar favored position was the 2016 season opener. Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish fell short in Austin, Texas and the Texas Longhorns edged the Fighting Irish 50-47 in double overtime.
Texas had finished just 5-7 in 2015, so the 2016 opener was a shock wave that propelled the Irish into a downward spiral where they finished 4-8. This was Kelly’s worst season as a Head Coach for any team.
In a comparable downward trending fashion, Louisville is coming off a two-win 2018 season. They are also riding a nine-game losing streak.
Now looking for a fresh start, the Louisville Cardinals have sights on an upset against the favored Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Playing the Numbers
According to ESPN, Notre Dame has a projected 88.1% chance to win. For perspective, Louisville has a 3.4% chance of winning against Clemson at home in week seven.
The Football Power Index (FPI) “measures a team’s true strength on net points scale; expected point margin vs average opponent on a neutral field.” Louisville’s FPI is -1.0. Louisville’s FPI is slightly below average at 66 overall.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame has an FPI of 18.2 which ranks seventh nationally. Clemson (FPI 29.2) and Alabama (FPI 27.9) are one and two respectively and set the bar for FPI.
Louisville is returning a healthy amount of productive personnel for 2019, according to one report from SBNation, the Cardinals are ranked 24th returning an estimated 74% of their team production, while Notre Dame ranks 97th only returning 56%.
Diving deeper into these statistics, Louisville posted 19.8 points per game last season to Notre Dame’s 33.8 PPG. Both teams will return Quarterback’s – Louisville has both Jawon Pass and Malik Cunningham who combined for 2,433 passing yards, nine touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
Edge: Notre Dame
On the ground, Cunningham was actually the leading rusher for Louisville with 497 yards and five touchdowns.
Book quietly added 250 yards rushing and four touchdowns, but it will be a Running Back by Committee between Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr. for the Irish in 2019. They combined for 10 touchdowns at 769 yards as a change of pace backs behind the starter Dexter Williams last season. Both Armstrong and Jones Jr. were recently named to the 2019 Doak Walker Award Watch List
Edge: Notre Dame
Louisville does bring back a deep receiving corps returning four out of five of their receiving yardage leaders last year, where Notre Dame will need some production only bringing back proven talent in Chase Claypool and Chris Finke.
Offensive production is largely dependent on the offensive line. Louisville is going to be returning some key offensive line pieces, but Notre Dame is on track to continue the Offensive Line NFL pipeline production with high expectations from returning top tier draft prospects, Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer.
Edge: Notre Dame
Defensively speaking, Louisville is returning 79% of their production from last season. This puts them at 18th in the NCAA in the returning defensive production category. Notre Dame brings back only 55% of their production with key losses of Jerry Tillery, Drue Tranquil, and Julian Love.
Notre Dame does have Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem coming back to secure the defensive edges. Both Okwara and Kareem have both been named to the 2019 Bednarik Award Watch List which has the potential to alleviate the secondary losses of Tranquil and Love.
Circled on the Schedule
It should not be forgotten, that in 2018, Notre Dame hosted College GameDay for the season opener against Michigan, and was victorious by way of a 24-17 victory in a matchup where the score did not exactly depict the true story.
The truth was that Notre Dame came out and took away the Wolverines will to win early in the game. A game where many doubted the Fighting Irish stood a chance. Notre Dame jumped out to a big lead early and withstood all surges from the Michigan Wolverines.
Now, clear favorites for this season opener, Notre Dame will need to get through Louisville to get the 2019 season off on the right foot.
Notre Dame may have Georgia and Michigan circled on their upcoming schedule as their teams to beat, so you better believe Louisville has Notre Dame circled.
Now, the question remains, can Louisville actually beat Notre Dame? We will just have to wait and see.
For more on Ian Book and how he compares to other Notre Dame Quarterbacks go here