Bye Week #2: Three Silver Linings for the Notre Dame Future

Two regular season games along with an as-yet-unknown bowl opponent remain for the 2023 edition of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The team’s three losses this season have resulted in some looking for silver linings in what’s turned out to be another frustrating season of near-misses and aggravating mistakes.

Those bright spots have been the emergence of certain players who either began the year with question marks attached or were likely not even on the radar of the Irish fan base. While another infusion of recruiting talent and the addition of more players through the transfer portal awaits, the three players below have already managed to at least enter the conversation for next season’s starting units.

Jordan Faison

A player who arrived on campus with a lacrosse scholarship has already impressed Marcus Freeman and his staff enough that his scholarship will now be for football. Faison will keep playing for Notre Dame’s lacrosse team, but the fact that his ability garnered such a switch is a testament to his potential.

Faison was a high school quarterback but is now on the receiving end of throws, hauling in seven passes for 102 yards and one touchdown. That one score came in his Irish debut at Louisville on a 36-yard pass from Sam Hartman and he fished with two grabs for 48 yards.

One week later, he made his first Notre Dame start and caught two passes for eight yards in the rout of USC. That small amount was supplemented with a 16-yard run and gave an inkling about the different ways he could be an asset to the Irish offense. He followed that up two weeks later with one catch for 14 yards and also returned a punt 20 yards in the Pitt pounding.

Last week, his two grabs for 32 yards were one of the very few positives in the Clemson defeat. His arrival on the scene may have been expedited by injuries and overshadowed by the even more prominent emergence. Yet, his ability to make things happen is something that will be fascinating to watch unfold over the next few years.

Christian Gray

While Xavier Watts’ six interceptions on the year serve as the bold headline within the Notre Dame secondary, Christian Gray has managed to see action in nine of the Irish’s 10 games. His lone game away from the field was against Ohio State, a school he was strongly considering attending.

Gray’s six tackles on the year are a modest acknowledgment of his performance that’s largely taken place on special teams. In Notre Dame’s blowouts, he’s gotten the opportunity to see action in the secondary and has managed to collect one interception and also break up a pass. The pick came in the rout of Pitt and enlivened the garbage-time atmosphere of the contest, thanks to his acrobatic talents in snagging the ball.

The slow emergence of Gray was likely tied to his recovery from a knee injury during this year’s spring ball. He was an early enrollee who managed to avoid surgery, but with Benjamin Morrison and Cam Gray already in place, there was no need to rush him back.

Even though Hart has the option of coming back next season, he appears ready to take the plunge at the next level. If that occurs, a potential starting berth for Gray emerges, though he will likely have to take on Jaden Mickey and other defensive backfield talents also waiting in the wings.

Cooper Flanagan

As part of a talented group of tight ends, Flanagan’s first year at the collegiate level might have been an otherwise quiet one. However, once Mitchell Evans went down for the year, Flanagan’s importance rose, with Freeman stating during his pre-Clemson press conference that Flanagan and his fellow tight ends needed to pick up the slack.

Flanagan’s emergence was hailed by Freeman, who noted that the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder brings a more physical presence that surpasses his fellow receivers. That was in evidence during team practices and was shown off during the Duke win when he opened up a hole for Audric Estime to score the game’s first touchdown.

Blocking may have been Flanagan’s most impressive calling card this season but he also managed to make the most of his one catch on the season. That was a 19-yard grab in the mauling of Pittsburgh. Many more catches could be on the horizon for a player who already has something of a bullseye on his back, given that he’s wearing the number of Notre Dame great Michael Mayer.

Bottom Line

There’s certainly no guarantee that all three of the above players are destined for standout careers. Still, is a season that now is staggering from a third loss, such promise is one way to envision the possibility of more playoff appearances in the years ahead.

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  1. I think offensive coordinators will be a major priority more than ever this offseason. Notre Dame should get ahead of the ballgame, like Penn State and Iowa, and fire Parker.

  2. Freeman made it clear today that ND will be utilizing the Portal for a 4th scholarship quarterback for the 2024 season.

  3. One of the blogs is already hoping for the Duke QB to transfer to ND if Elko takes the A&M job. That idea bothers me.
    Sam Hartman really fits as an ND guy and he’s a great QB and was a good find in the portal. But why would another QB from the South want to come to a Catholic school in Indiana?

    And furthermore, when is ND going to show consistency developing QBs?

    I’d prefer to see Steve Angeli or Kenny Minchy bust out.

    I get that the transfer portal is here and you have to use it. But how about using it minimally and developing an identity reflecting the history of the school?

  4. The silver lining from the Clemson loss is that the problem with the team this season was fully illuminated. Had they somehow squeaked out a W, and won out, perhaps the thought would have been to give Parker another chance/season. They need a solid hire for OC in the off season. And if that doesn’t happen, Marcus can “write two letters.”

  5. This is what happens when you have high expectations for a team. We all knew that talent wise we had no experience WR and lost good defense players. We lacked a veteran OC of choice and what makes Fans and all of these Pod Casters think that Sam Hartman was the answer????? He was not because ND has not had any QB of elite talent. Everyone wants to be top dog but good programs take time and recruiting 🤔
    Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State etcccc didn’t happen overnight

  6. NDless Saturday football viewing :
    re: IL – IND
    The eyes of Mich – State Penn.
    The Illini, with their back-up transfer portal QB from Ball State, rallied his team to an OT 48-45 W vs. Indiana, throwing for nearly 500 yards or so, with both teams with WRs who made outstanding receptions while covered. I’m not used to that as a ND fan, not since . . . ??
    Utah, with their O’ game plan, scored every possession in the first half after their first two possessions versus #5 Washington, scoring 4 first half TDs with a varied scheme well executed.
    Ah ! What could have been this year if ND only could’ve afforded to get an experienced proven OC. Maybe next year the sports administration could have a bake sale or something when their next hire is interviewed and wanted by the head coach- goodbye Big Daddy Swarbucks- hoping the next guy doesn’t mind spending the money the school has – to win.
    Meanwhile Michigan ran 32 consecutive plays (with one PI for them) in their second half to run the ball down the throats of an elite Penn State D’.
    A transfer portal QB from Ball State who rallies IL with a ‘W’, an OC who remains @ Utah, too “pricey” for ND, and an OL from Ann Arbor who needs not a head coach to win, who not only decides to run the ball, but does, with dominance, reminding me ND has such a long way to go to even make it to the top 12 next season, and be among the elite, and who knows when, beyond.
    Kelly’s two visits to the big game the past thirty years= two batterings. As a fan, calling for patience feels a lot like blind foolishness, with a sports program not that interested in winning it all.
    So if you expect as much, it’s time for plan B.

    1. Michael ,you are spot on in everything you said. I watched Oregon last night, I also watched, Washington, Florida State. Those offenses are so different from Notredame it is beyond belief. It’s a lot more coaching than it is talent. That Utah coordinator is really good. The creativity the way he changed tempo, the quick strikes in the run game, the way he worked the perimeter . I would have loved to see him with, Love Estime, Price, Mitchell Evans Tyree,Faison, Braylon James , Greathouse ,Flores.

  7. The trend in college football continues to be in order to win a National championship a team must have a good defense, good special teams and a great 40+ points a game offense that can some shoot outs. Notre dame continues as the last 10 years continues to not be able to put a championship offense on the field. They have had different players but the results are very similar every year. The only way I see this changing is for Freeman to move on bringing in an elite experienced offensive coordinator and give him total charge of the offense. Christian Taylor William and Mary offensive coordinator is who I would take a hard look at.

  8. 4th Silver Lining. Notre Dame is not in Michigan.

    One Michigan school has a sign thief and the other has a wanker for a coach.

    Just be glad we’re not them.

    1. 5th silver lining – the pity
      ranking (still) in the top 25. Let’s hope we can show we are worth it.


      BGC 77 82

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