While week one of the NCAA college football season is an exciting time, the Notre Dame vs. Ohio State game has a heightened level of anticipation to it. Both juggernauts flirted with a spot in the College Football Playoff in the latter stages of the 2021 season and have plenty to prove. The Fighting Irish and Buckeyes will go at it on Sept. 3 on ABC, and there’s plenty to break down between these two top-tier programs.
History of Notre Dame and Ohio State
Ohio State leads the all-time series 4-2 over Notre Dame and has won four consecutive contests dating back to the Buckeyes’ 45-26 win in 1995. The last time these two teams met, the Buckeyes came out victorious 44-28 over the Fighting Irish in Glendale, Arizona. Both teams have earned their fair share of awards, and sports collectibles for their fans, as they lead the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in Heisman winners at seven.
Notre Dame has 11 national championships (second in the FBS), and Ohio State has won it all on eight occasions (sixth in the FBS), so fanatics for both sides have had plenty to cheer about. Both teams boast top three all-time winning percentages coming into the 2022 season, as the Buckeyes sit at .731 (first in the FBS) and the Fighting Irish sit at .730 (third in the FBS).
Collegiate recognition has translated to players being drafted at a high frequency, as Notre Dame (522, first in FBS) and Ohio State (479, third in FBS) are at the top of that category as well.
Both teams were part of the College Football Playoff conversation throughout the 2021 season. Each program has also established itself as a powerhouse in the sports world. They throttled lesser competition to establish themselves as the cream of the crop. However, each squad suffered a crucial loss against a ranked team to be booted out of contention in 2021.
The Buckeyes took care of business in week one before losing their first matchup against a ranked opponent in Oregon during week two. Ohio State faced a 28-14 deficit heading into the fourth quarter, but C.J. Stroud and the offense came up short 35-28 for the team’s first loss of the season. Ryan Day’s team needed to run the table from there to impress the committee, and that’s exactly what happened throughout the remainder of the regular season.
With the committee and millions watching as Ohio State took on the Michigan Wolverines, the Buckeyes fell to a top-25 ranked opponent once again. The Buckeyes found themselves sitting behind the eight ball, as they were down 28-13 heading into the final quarter. Despite the fact that running back TreVeyon Henderson racked up two total touchdowns on the day, the Wolverines escaped victoriously 42-27 to capture the Big Ten Title.
Ohio State fans watched their team conclude the season on a high note, able to purchase plenty of memorabilia, as the red and black took out Utah State 48-45 in the Rose Bowl. The team finished the season 4-2 against ranked opponents.
Notre Dame had a near-perfect season, as the squad went 11-1 on the year and had wins by margins of 52, 49 on two occasions, and 47 points. Brian Kelly’s team succeeded in defeating its first-ranked opponent of the year, as the Fighting Irish throttled the Wisconsin Badgers 41-13 in week four. The only blemish on their card was a 24-13 defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Bearcats in the following week.
Cincinnati ended up taking one of the four coveted College Football Playoff spots, and Notre Dame ended up losing 37-35 to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Fiesta Bowl. Quarterback Jack Coan ended up throwing for a season-high 509 yards with five touchdowns through the air, but the Fighting Irish came back too little too late after bringing the game to within two points with 1:05 to go in the final quarter. Nonetheless, Notre Dame finished the year with an 11-2 record.
Led by Jack Coan, who had 25 passing touchdowns to just seven interceptions with 3,150 yards through the year, the Fighting Irish put up 35.2 points per game. This was a tad better than their 33.4 game average of the year prior. Coan helped the team eclipse the 40-point mark on five occasions. Kyren Williams led the team on the ground, as he rushed for 1,002 yards on 204 carries with 14 trips to the end zone. Kevin Austin Jr. led the Notre Dame pass-catchers with 888 receiving yards.
The Buckeyes were led by Stroud, the Heisman candidate who tossed 44 touchdowns, third in the FBS, in the 2021 campaign. The sophomore signal-caller from California led an offense that put up more points per game (45.7) than any other team in college football. Henderson rushed for 1,248 yards with 15 scores while averaging 6.8 yards per carry. Jaxon Smith-Njigba had 1,606 receiving yards, third in the FBS, while hauling in nine touchdowns.
While having a dominant organization has its perks, there is a downfall in that many key players are lost to the NFL Draft on a yearly basis. Notre Dame will have to operate without Coan, who was their main option under center in 2021. Coan was signed on by the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent back in April and will sit behind Matt Ryan, Nick Foles, and Sam Ehlinger ahead of the 53-man deadline on Aug. 31. Tyler Buchner is listed as the current projected starter.
The Fighting Irish also said goodbye to a pair of prominent offensive linemen in the second round in Liam Eichenberg, taken by the Miami Dolphins, and Aaron Banks, drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. Offensive linemen hold one of the most underappreciated yet most important roles across all leagues, and the performance at that role could make or break Notre Dame’s matchup against Ohio State.
While Ohio State is bringing back Stroud, they are losing their second and third options at wide receiver. The New York Jets selected Garrett Wilson with the 10th overall pick, and the New Orleans Saints gave Chris Olave the call for the very next pick. Wilson finished the year with 70 catches for 1,058 yards and 12 receiving touchdowns. Olave completed the year with 65 catches, 936 yards, and a team-high 13 catches in the end zone. With those two missing, Stroud will have to exercise new options to match his 4,425 passing yard total from 2021.
Fulfilling Larger Roles
With Coan moving on to the NFL, Buchner has some pretty large shoes to fill at Notre Dame. In limited time last season, the San Diego, California native threw for three touchdowns and three interceptions with 298 yards through the air. He’ll still have primary targets in Avery Davis and Michael Mayer to depend on after both players were in the top three in receiving yards and touchdowns on the team last season.
With Eichenberg and Banks taking their talents to the next level, sophomore Blake Fisher’s starting role at right tackle is of the utmost importance. Fischer was the second freshman in program history to start on the Fighting Irish offensive line for an opening week last season. His stint fell short mid-season after he had a meniscus tear, but he came back and appeared in the Fiesta Bowl. Now he’ll be tested with protecting a new quarterback in Buchner.
The Buckeyes may still have Stroud orchestrating the offense, but the absence of Wilson and Olave means receivers like Marvin Harrison Jr. and Julian Fleming have to take advantage of the extra opportunities coming their way in 2022. Harrison Jr. hauled in 11 catches for 139 yards and three touchdowns, while Fleming had 12 catches for 86 yards and a single score in 2021. In order for the Buckeyes to win in week one and give their fans a chance at getting some College Football Playoff officially licensed sports apparel, both receivers must fill the shoes of some first-round talent.
Stakes for the 2022 Season
While this matchup is only the first of at least 12 for each team this season, it creates a must-win scenario for a pair of programs that see anything short of a top-four finish as a bust. While 12-0 regular season finishes and conference championships are appealing in the eyes of the playoff committee, ranked wins can serve as tiebreakers between teams that have a loss or two on their record. Cincinnati was able to bring a perfect record into the two-round tournament, but Michigan, Georgia, and Alabama had to lean heavier ranked wins since they each had a loss.
Michigan lost their lone game heading into the playoff against their Big Ten rivals in Michigan State, but wins against Iowa and Ohio State bolstered their resume just enough. Georgia lost the SEC Championship to Alabama, but wins over Arkansas, Clemson, Kentucky, and Auburn helped their cause. Alabama fell to Texas A&M, but their victories against Miami, Florida, Ole Miss, Arkansas, and Georgia impressed the committee enough for them to be considered a top-four team.
Notre Dame likely has games against Stanford, Clemson, and USC circled on their calendar, but winning against a Big Ten powerhouse like Ohio State can prevent a loss somewhere else from eradicating their playoff chances.
Iowa, Michigan State, Michigan, and Wisconsin are all chalked up to be high-stakes matchups for Ohio State, but if they can’t make it through those games with a 4-0 record, a win against this Notre Dame team could push them over the hump.
While this showdown is taking place in early September, the chances of both teams playing into the new year could be heavily swayed by the result of this game.