Notre Dame's 2023 season under head coach Marcus Freeman was marked by both progress and missed opportunities. Despite upset losses to Marshall and Stanford, the team showed improvement by winning one more game than the previous year. The ultimate goal for the program in 2024 is to host a College Football Playoff game, and to achieve that, they need to win the close games that slipped away in 2023.
In order to succeed in close games, the Fighting Irish need to raise their effectiveness, execution, and energy. They must strive to dominate their opponents and not let games come down to last-minute heroics or goal-line stands. Winning games they are favored in, like their road matchups against Louisville and Clemson, is crucial to their success.
A key area of focus for Notre Dame in the offseason will be rebuilding their offensive line. Losing three starting linemen from the 2023 roster is a challenge, but freshman left tackle Charles Jagusah showed promise in the Sun Bowl and may be a key piece moving forward. Combined with returning starters and talented underclassmen, the Irish should have a solid offensive line foundation for the upcoming season.
The addition of new offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, who has experience coaching high-octane offenses, should also boost Notre Dame's offensive performance. Denbrock's familiarity with Freeman from their time together at Cincinnati will aid in a smooth transition and development of quarterback Riley Leonard.
On the defensive side, coordinator Al Golden has done an excellent job preparing the team, resulting in a strong defense for the Irish. Retaining Golden and reacquiring four key defenders for the 2024 season, including defensive tackles Howard Cross and Rylie Mills, linebacker Jack Kiser, and safety Xavier Watts, will solidify their defense as one of the best in the country.
Notre Dame's 2023 campaign showcased the strength of their defense, but their offensive struggles on the road hindered them from reaching greater heights. With improvements in offensive production under Denbrock and the protection of Jagusah on the offensive line, Freeman and the Fighting Irish are optimistic about the future. They believe an 11 or 12-win season is within reach in Freeman's third year as head coach.
The program is confident in its direction and is excited about the incoming players and coaching staff. The combination of talent and coaching expertise gives them reason to believe they will continue making strides in the coming years. As they move forward, the goal is clear: to consistently win close games and establish themselves as one of the elite programs in college football.