There has been a lot of change the past few weeks, Marcus Freeman became the Head Coach, Tommy Rees chose to stay in South Bend, and national signing day has passed. Notre Dame fans should be thrilled for the Fiesta Bowl matchup with Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State Cowboys. Not only can the Fighting Irish win a major bowl game, but they can create momentum heading into the 2022 season and week one matchup with the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus.
Oklahoma State will present challenges
The Cowboys were on the cusp of the playoffs. Mike Gundy’s team finished 11-2 with a loss to Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game. After mounting a remarkable comeback, the Cowboys had four opportunities to punch the football into the endzone and were inches away from scoring on 4th down against the Baylor Bears.
Clearly, with Alabama defeating the Georgia Bulldogs, Oklahoma State likely would have finished 5th, but they are certainly a top-10 caliber opponent this year.
On New Year’s Day these programs will meet for the first time. It is hard to believe that in the illustrious history of Notre Dame Football, this is the first time the Fighting Irish will meet the Cowboys, a power-five program. Under Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State has been known for high-powered offenses and standout wide receivers. However, the 2021 team has been defined by impressive defensive play.
Unfortunately for Oklahoma State, Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles took the same position at Ohio State and will not be coaching in this showdown (I will discuss the impact in next week’s game primer).
Kyle Hamilton and Kyren Williams out
Notre Dame’s Defense has had time to adjust without Hamilton. After Kyle Hamilton’s injury in the USC game, the entire defense stepped up and played relentlessly in his absence. Certainly, losing an All-American and likely Top-10 pick in the NFL Draft is not beneficial, but the defense was able to come together towards the end of the season.
In the last four matchups, Marcus Freeman’s unit only surrendered two touchdowns.
The future of the offense will be on display New Year’s Day. It certainly hurts that the Fighting Irish will not be at full strength, but I cannot blame the players at all. They have their career, families, and futures to think about. Notre Dame fans should be happy for the time they spent in South Bend because these players gave the program everything they had each Saturday.
With that being said, the offense has revolved around Kyren Williams the last two seasons and without him, Tommy Rees will face a major challenge against a hard-hitting Oklahoma State Defense.
First Game for Head Coach Marcus Freeman
This is a major opportunity for the new Irish Head Coach. Most head coaches do not make their first appearance on New Year’s Day. Coach Freeman has no intentions of looking towards next fall until he secures a victory against the Cowboys. I have a lot of respect for everything he has done for the seniors the last few weeks, as well as the other coaches who have stayed.
There is no better way to send off the seniors than doing something no “senior class” has accomplished since 1994.
How will the energy translate to the field? There has been a lot of enthusiasm surrounding Notre Dame Football since Marcus Freeman addressed the team and media. Coach Freeman has been referred to as a “player’s coach” and no one can question that from all the videos posted the last several weeks.
The big question is how will the Fighting Irish look “in-game” against the Cowboys. Certainly, Coach Freeman will play a major role on defense and Tommy Rees will continue to call plays. No matter what happens, I just want fans to give Marcus Freeman time to see what he can do in South Bend. His first two games will be against top-10 opponents in Oklahoma State and Ohio State (likely).
Irish have not won a major bowl since 1994
The last “New Year’s Six Bowl” victory came against Texas A & M. After finishing the 1993 regular season 10-1, Lou Holtz and the Irish punctuated their season with a 24 to 21 victory over the Aggies on New Year’s Day. How big would a victory be for the program? I do not believe there is a player on the roster who was alive then.
Since the 1988 national title, the Irish have lost four straight Fiesta Bowls. The last two appearances in this bowl game were headlined by losses to Ohio State, and now the Irish have a chance to start the new year off with a key victory for the program. Notre Dame and Oklahoma State will be one of the most highly anticipated games outside of the College Football Playoffs.
A lot of eyes will be on Freeman and the Fighting Irish, it will be a great opportunity to rewrite the narrative about Notre Dame in big games.
It is time to finally win a New Year’s Six Bowl Game. The Fiesta Bowl may not be a part of the playoffs this season, but it is the next best thing. Notre Dame has made the College Football Playoffs two of the past four seasons, and they were only one spot away this year from making it three out of four appearances.
Yes, 1988 still seems like a lifetime ago but a victory on New Year’s Day would sure feel good and potentially be a lasting memory for Irish fans.
This matchup can lead to major momentum for the 2022 campaign. As I mentioned earlier, Marcus Freeman could use the energy from a victory in this matchup to springboard the Irish to a pre-season 10 ranking next fall and create confidence against a likely top-5 opponent in the Ohio State Buckeyes in week one.
No matter the outcome on New Year’s Day, the future is bright in South Bend. However, a victory over a top-10 Oklahoma State team would provide an extra spark over the winter months.