The 2022 college football season has arrived. Notre Dame football will be at the center of the conversation in the sport. More than that, the Notre Dame football 2022 schedule begins with a top-tier showcase against Ohio State. You surely want to know: Who is the Notre Dame football X-factor? Let’s start here: It’s not quarterback Tyler Buchner.

Notre Dame Football X-Factor for 2022: Jarrett Patterson

Let’s start with the point that Patterson suffered a right foot sprain just over a week ago in practice, and is questionable for the huge game against Ohio State on September 3. The Irish are already 15-point underdogs in that game. If they want to beat the Buckeyes, they badly need Patterson on the field and in condition to play reasonably well. If not, that leaves a gaping hole in their offensive line.

Let’s dive into the Ohio State game for a brief moment. The Notre Dame football blueprint under coach Marcus Freeman, who is in his first season at the helm in South Bend, is to run the ball and establish dominance up front. This will keep the defense fresh, reduce pressure and responsibility on the quarterback, and enable the Fighting Irish to play the style and tempo of game they want.

Notre Dame is not a shootout program. It never has been. Not even when it had future NFL great Joe Montana, Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown in 1987, or Rocket Ismail in 1990 did the Irish become a freewheeling team with a modernized offense. Notre Dame simply doesn’t line up with five wide receivers or use the run and shoot. That has never been the template for the program. Notre Dame has never been built or designed to win games 52-38. The offense needs to mash the ball between the tackles. The defense needs to carry a substantial share of the workload. Containing the opponent’s offense increases the margin for error. This adds to one’s understanding of what Notre Dame wants to do on a broader level.

The 2022 college football season will magnify the Fighting Irish’s attempt to play the game the way they want to. It will be a necessity for Notre Dame to establish its familiar identity as a run-first, defense-first team.

Not only does Notre Dame face Ohio State this season; the Irish will play Clemson and USC. Maybe Notre Dame could beat Clemson in a 17-14-style rock fight, especially if Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei continues to struggle, as he did last year. Fine. However, Notre Dame will likely need more offense to beat Ohio State and USC. The Irish will have to score more and keep the ball away from two of the best quarterbacks in the country, C.J. Stroud of Ohio State and Caleb Williams of USC.

Notre Dame isn’t going to score 45 points in those games. The Irish probably need to score 30 and control the clock for 37 or more minutes. That’s the most likely path to victory and a place in the College Football Playoff. That’s an offensive lineman’s job more than a quarterback’s job. Jarrett Patterson will need to produce those kinds of results.

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Notre Dame football writer Michael Chen noted this about Patterson in a recent article:

“As the season is set to begin this weekend for a few teams,” Chen wrote, “the greatness of a few players is being highlighted by Pro Football Focus, and recently it was Patterson’s turn. As PFF pointed out, during his career in South Bend, Patterson has had 1,306 pass block snaps and has not allowed a single sack.”

That is mind-blowing consistency at the highest level of performance. You can see why Freeman and the Notre Dame staff badly need Patterson to play, and play well, against the Ohio State-Clemson-USC trio, in addition to the other opponents on the 2022 college football schedule.

Why Tyler Buchner is not the key player on the team

If we’re going to say that Jarrett Patterson is the key player on this team, we have to briefly mention why Tyler Buchner is not the heart of Notre Dame football in the 2022 college football season.

Even in seasons when Notre Dame did really well, would you or anyone else identify the quarterback as the most important player on the Fighting Irish roster for that particular year?

Everett Golson and Tommy Rees were not special in the 2012 season when the Irish reached the BCS National Championship Game. Ian Book was good, not great, when the Irish made the College Football Playoff in 2020. When Notre Dame won the national championship in 1988, Tony Rice was a very good quarterback who did what Lou Holtz asked him to do, but he was hardly a dominant signal-caller. No one would confuse him with Joe Montana or Joe Theismann, to name two great Notre Dame quarterbacks from a more distant past.

Notre Dame quarterbacks are expected to make the right read and execute the basic play which is right there in front of them, waiting to be completed. Notre Dame quarterbacks aren’t necessarily expected to win games; they are definitely expected to not lose games. This is what will be asked of Tyler Buchner in 2022. He won’t beat C.J. Stroud or Caleb Williams in a video game; he will make just enough plays to win, but Jarrett Patterson will be asked to lead an offensive line which can establish physical control of a game and keep explosive opposing offenses off the field. This is why Patterson, not Buchner, is the Notre Dame football X-factor for the 2022 college football season.