The start of the 2021 Notre Dame football season falls in a unique spot in the Week 1 schedule, as the No. 9 Fighting Irish face Florida State on Sunday night in Tallahassee, Florida. The two teams will have the attention of the entire college football world under the lights in Doak Campbell Stadium where there will be plenty of enthusiasm for what coach Mike Norvell can accomplish in his second season with the Seminoles as well as what's ahead for the Fighting Irish as they look to fight back to the College Football Playoff.
Notre Dame enters the game having reestablished its independent status after one year as a full football member of the ACC, playing 10 conference games in 2020 due to the pandemic. The Irish remain partial members with a handful of games against ACC opponents every year, but they also welcome traditional rivals like USC, Navy and Stanford back to the schedule. Notre Dame has won 19 consecutive regular-season games against ACC opponents, including a 42-26 win against the Noles and a double-overtime victory against Clemson in 2020. Of those 19 wins across the last three-plus seasons, 15 have been by 10 points or more.
Will Notre Dame continue its recent dominance against the ACC or will Florida State use this game as a springboard for a bounce-back season in 2021? Let's get into some of the key storylines to follow in the game.
Notre Dame at Florida State: Need to know
Brian Kelly taps Wisconsin transfer as new QB: Ian Book left Notre Dame as one of the winningest starting quarterbacks in program history, with 30 wins across three seasons a a starter with two College Football Playoff appearances. The battle to replace him started in spring practice with Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan, Drew Pyne and early enrollee freshman Tyler Buchner as the apparent top contenders for the job. Early in fall camp coach Brian Kelly announced that Coan would be the team's starter to open the season, allowing the former Badger plenty of time to settle in as the leader of the offense heading into Week 1. Coan had a 12-6 record as a starter and played in 25 games total across his four-year Wisconsin career, leaving the program ranked third all-time in completion percentage and pass efficiency rating.
Florida State listing co-starters at QB: One of the most interesting stories in all of college football is the return of former UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton to the field. Milton suffered a catastrophic leg injury at the end of the 2018 season and has been battling through rehabilitation and recovery in hopes of writing a new final chapter to his college career. He's been battling for the QB1 duties this spring and fall with Jordan Travis, one of several quarterbacks the Seminoles used last season in Mike Norvell's first year at the helm. Norvell has listed both players as starters for Notre Dame, and the expectation seems to be that both will see time in the game. There's a sentimental side that has fans rooting for Milton to be successful, but ultimately, whoever wins the job, what Florida State needs is something it hasn't had since 2014: consistency at the quarterback position.
Notre Dame replacing high-profile DC: After Mike Elko left for Texas A&M following just one year with the Fighting Irish, Kelly promoted linebackers coach Clark Lea to the defensive coordinator job and saw that group become among the most reliable units in the entire country under his leadership. Lea's defense's held opponents under 30 points in 33-of-38 games with him as defensive coordinator, a run that included ranked opponents LSU, Michigan, Stanford, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Clemson, Georgia, Virginia, Navy and North Carolina. After Vanderbilt hired Lea to be its head coach, Kelly went outside the staff to bring in one of the game's rising stars in Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. Many have viewed Freeman as one of the top defensive coaches in the game but here at Notre Dame he's got a chance to set himself up for a similar move to Lea's if the Fighting Irish remain as steady defensively as they have been since 2018.
How to watch Notre Dame at Florida State live
Date: Sunday, Sept. 5 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Doak Campbell Stadium -- Tallahassee, Florida
TV: ABC | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Notre Dame at Florida State prediction, picks
Styles make fights and I think this is a bad matchup for Florida State. The Seminoles defense is better-suited to stop modern, spread-based offenses with a multiple-front scheme that utilizes five defensive backs. Being lighter and relying on speed is a great way to counteract the up-tempo approach that Florida State will see later against Clemson, North Carolina and Miami but that's not what we're expecting from the Fighting Irish. With a heavy dose of the ground game behind an offensive line looking to utilize its size advantage in the trenches, I think Notre Dame can establish and edge and ride it to a double-digit win. Prediction: Notre Dame (-7.5)
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 1, and which national title contender will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread -- all from a proven computer model that has returned over $3,600 in profit over the past five-plus seasons -- and find out.