Story Poster
Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Returning Production for ND Opponents

May 21, 2021

Earlier this week I wrote about Notre Dame and their returning production for this year. In many ways, it hasn’t been a big factor for the Irish because of the way they have recruited and developed. When they have lost impact players, they’ve generally been able to replace them with players who have talent, but little to no production before taking on bigger roles.

That’s not that common with many programs and certainly not for some of Notre Dame’s opponents. Where do Notre Dame’s opponents stand with returning production and what might that mean for this season? We might as well go through every one and look at what they’ve got coming back.

Florida State

53rd in returning production. 25th on offense and 90th on defense.

There is a reason to believe that FSU could be a lot better this season.

There is also reason to doubt them as they were 27th in returning production (9th on defense) in 2020 and had a miserable first year under Mike Norvell. They underachieved with NFL talent on defense and finished 108th in FEI dropping from 39th. They slid to 95th on offense from 67th.

They are probably going to be better on offense in Mike Norvell’s second year, but how much better? It is rare to be flat out bad and then make the jump to better than average. The offensive line is still going to be a problem and they just took a transfer from Notre Dame who was projected to be a backup.

There is also no obvious replacement for deep threat Tamorrion Terry either. He had 146 of FSU’s 252 yards against Notre Dame last fall.

They have tried to fill holes on defense too with several transfers, but they didn’t get anyone who is as good as Asante Samuel Jr., Janarius Robinson, or Josh Kaindoh. And those guys certainly didn’t help them play good team defense last year.

Year two under Norvell and more talent than they’ve shown on the field means they should be better. However, they have dropped from fourth in 247Sports’ team talent ranking to 16th in 2020 over the last few years. Notre Dame, 8th last season, will be the more talented team when they meet.


They are 96th in returning production. 111th on offense and 64th on defense. A handful of All-MAC players are returning.

Even if they were 1st in any of these categories, they would be severely outmatched. Don’t let Matt Freeman try to convince you otherwise.


They’re 38th in returning production. 17th on offense and 68th on defense. This could be one of those sneaky tough matchups for the Irish because of what they have coming back on offense, especially wide receiver David Bell. If they get good quarterback play, they could present a challenge.

Jeff Brohm has done an outstanding job of upgrading the talent too. They have climbed up all the way from 71st to 38th during his time as head coach.

The problem is on defense where they have been 80th, 80th, and 90th in FEI on defense the last three years. They hired Brad Lambert as their new defensive coordinator and he did a nice job at Marshall, but average on defense feels like a stretch when they’ve been bad for a while.

They are getting back a healthy George Karlaftis. He only played three games at defensive end last year after being a disruptive presence as a freshman (21 Havoc plays). He’s the only one who projects as a game wrecker on that side of the ball and he will likely be doubled on most snaps.


They’re 14th in returning production. 24th on offense and 22nd on defense.

This has all of the makings of being the best team Notre Dame will face. For one, they’ve upgraded their talent year over year and were 27th in the team talent rankings. Two, they are the type of program that develops well with guys getting better the longer time they spend in the program.

That returning production is going to matter more for them than others. How much of a threat they will be to win the game will largely come down to their defense.

It’s going to be elite again. That’s the standard for them. They’ve been top-10 in FEI all but one season of the last five. It was in 2018 when they were 124th in returning production and dropped to 35th.

Will they be able to score enough points on offense against Notre Dame’s defense? I guess we’ll see, but they dropped to 98th on offense last season and though they are bringing back experience, they don’t have NFL talent returning at wide receiver. They really need Chimere Dike (12 catches for 15.9 yards per reception as a freshman) to emerge as a big play threat.


Cincinnati is 41st in returning production. 31st on offense and 60th on defense.

They lost two starting safeties, but they are going to be very good in the front seven and Myjai Sanders might be the best pass rusher the Irish face in 2021. Cornerback Ahmad Gardner may be the best corner. That pretty much says it all about their defense and considering that Luke Fickell still has his fingerprints on it, they’ll still be a stingy group even if they aren’t quite as good as they were last season (2nd in FEI).

The offense is set up to be very good with Desmond Ridder returning at quarterback and they have Alabama transfer Jerome Ford in the backfield and Notre Dame transfer Michael Young as their leading receiver. However, the big difference between Group of 5 and Power 5 teams is always on the offensive line and they lost their two starting tackles. They added a former FCS All-American at tackle, but he may not be eligible this season as it was his second transfer.

If they don’t get that tackle spot right, it could be a big issue against ND’s front four. As mentioned in 6 Thoughts yesterday, Ridder has to be very good as well and he hasn’t been great against top-40 defenses the last couple of years.

Virginia Tech

They are 72nd in returning production. 71st on offense and 76th on defense. Frankly, they just aren’t built well enough to stop people on defense. They were 5th in returning production on defense last year and yet struggled all season (dropped to 69th in FEI) with corner Caleb Farley opting out and the loss of Bud Foster as defensive coordinator.

Defensive end Amare Barno is a tremendous individual talent and getting corner Jermaine Waller back will help, but those days of dominating defense appear to be over. They identified and developed as well as anybody and they just aren’t doing that enough at all three levels.

The Hokies play North Carolina early in the year so we’ll likely have a good idea what the defense is all about before they face the Irish.

They were a top-40 offense last season and a lot of that was the running game. They have to replace Khalil Herbert in the backfield, dual-threat Hendon Hooker transferred, and their first round left tackle is gone.

They are built to be in the middle tier of the ACC. This game is on the road for Notre Dame and possibly a night game.


They are 67th in returning production. 69th on offense and 73rd on defense.

I think everyone understands that USC is always going to have great skill talent like quarterback Kedon Clovis and receiver Drake London. It’s that line that is going to be a problem for them against Notre Dame.

On defense they have to replace their two best interior linemen and an impact player at safety. The defense finished 32nd in FEI last season and Drake Jackson is a heck of an edge defender, but they may have to rely on some highly rated freshmen and Alabama defensive tackle transfer Ismael Sopsher to be as good as they were.

For years they were the most talented team on ND’s schedule, but they have dropped from third in team talent to 10th in the last four years. Strictly from a raw recruited talent perspective, the Irish are going to be right there with them with less deficiencies at certain spots on the roster.

North Carolina

They are 32nd in returning production. 37th on offense and 28th on defense.

If Wisconsin isn’t the toughest game for the Irish, this is likely going to be it. Though they lost some big time skill talent (two stud running backs and two explosive receivers), Sam Howell is back at quarterback and everyone returns up front for them. I guess that could be a bad thing against Notre Dame who really took over the game with their pass rush last season.

Tennessee transfer Ty Chandler should help immediately to replace what was lost with the running game, but he wasn’t the same kind of tackle breaker that Javonte Williams and Michael Carter were (both in the top-six in missed tackles forced).

Chances are that UNC will take a step back from being 7th in FEI like they were last year, but it won’t be a drastic drop. I do think what will make this game more dangerous is UNC’s defense.

Yes, they were 89th in FEI and are losing a pretty great athlete at linebacker, but most of their top players are back and there are young players like Desmond Evans and Tony Grimes who could make the leap to elite this season. They also will be getting back Storm Duck (yes, that’s his real name). He was their top corner and he missed most of last season.

If there was a team who could go from not good to a top-25 on defense, UNC would be right at the top of the list. Mack Brown had recruited really well since he arrived and they should be a top-20 program in team talent this fall.


They are 80th in returning production. 98th on offense and 55th on defense.

If any program deserves to have their 2020 record thrown out, it’s Navy. They weren’t able to practice like they typically do in the lead up to their season and were horrendous because of it.

Even without a ton of production returning, they’ll be a lot better than 110th in FEI on offense. Probably not better enough to give Notre Dame a tough time, but better enough to get them back to being bowl eligible.


They are 77th in returning production. 63rd on offense and 95th on defense.

Virginia is near the bottom of the Power 5 when it comes to raw talent that they recruit. They’ll benefit from getting some players back returning for an extra year of eligibility, but they lost several key pieces on defense, specifically in the front seven with Charles Snowden gone (double digit tackles for loss).

When they’ve had their production come back on that side of the ball, they’ve been one of the better defenses in the ACC. When they’ve lost, they’ve dipped back down and that is what is likely to happen this season.

Their offense has typically hovered around average levels during the Bronco Mendenhall, but much like it was with previous quarterback Bryce Perkins, their offense pretty much ran everything through Brennan Armstrong. He’s a good athlete, but he needs help.

Wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. looked like a potential star averaging over 25 yards per reception on 20 catches as a freshman, but he’s expected to be out for most of the season after an injury suffered this spring.

Georgia Tech

They are 13th in returning production. 21st on offense and 23rd on defense.

This makes it seem like Tech could be in line for a big bump after struggling the last couple of years and it’s likely they’ll be better on offense with year two of quarterback Jeff Sims and running back Jahmyr Gibbs. The offense is going to be better than 92nd in FEI and I wouldn’t be shocked to see them be a top-40 offense.

But then there is the defense.

They were 2nd overall in returning production on defense last year. With Geoff Collins track record of success coaching that side of the ball at Temple, Mississippi State and Florida, it would have seemed like a slam dunk they’d improve drastically. That didn’t happen. They only jumped to 88th in FEI from 96th and were one of the worst units in the ACC.

I would expect improvement, but not enough for them to go from bad to good on that side of the ball. There’s a stronger chance that they get to average.

They added six transfers on defense and a few of those guys are going to need to hit for them to get closer to the kind of group Collins is used to coaching. They were only 80th in Havoc Rate last season, but adding ODU defensive end should help with that. He had 19 TFLs for loss in 2019.


They are 111th in returning production. 122nd on offense and 81st on defense.

David Shaw’s program had a bit of a bounce back season last year after having a horrific 2019. What partially led to that 2019 disaster was the fact that they were 108th in returning production, including 112th on offense. They dropped from 39th in FEI to 81st.

They got back up to 20th last year, but losing Simi Fehoko, Walker Little, Drew Dalman, and Davis Mills sets them up for another regression on offense.

As for the defense, they were 112th in FEI in 2020. They aren’t getting back to those Vic Fangio/Derek Mason defenses and it’s doubtful they have the personnel to stop most of the Pac-12 and Notre Dame. Their one NFL Draft pick on defense from last season was a Paulson Adebo and he opted out.

They just don’t have elite players there like they’ve had in the past and that’s why they have continued to decline on that side of the ball.

subscribe Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.