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Notre Dame Football: 5 Games the Irish Must Win in 2012

Randy ChambersAnalyst IMarch 21, 2012

Notre Dame Football: 5 Games the Irish Must Win in 2012

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    While teams are just beginning spring practices, we're already looking forward to the regular season. Sure, it is still a good six months away, but it's never too early to think about everything that comes with college football and the games that actually matter.

    Notre Dame returns a total of 15 starters and are heading into head coach Brian Kelly's third season. The Irish are desperate to climb back on top of the college football world, but this season's schedule aren't doing do them any favors. They will have several difficult games they'll have to win if this is going to be the year.

    With all of that said, here are five games that Notre Dame must win if they want to take that next step.

Michigan

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    Despite losing five of the last six games against the Wolverines, this will be a must-win game simply because it's the first true test of the season. The Irish also have to win because they have to get that bad taste out of their mouth from last year. You know, the touchdown drive in 28 seconds to end up winning the game just after Tommy Rees and company put the Irish up three.

    This will be a huge night game with the entire country watching. Notre Dame may want to answer the bell and take care of business in this early-season test.

Miami (In Chicago)

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    Ah, the Catholics vs. convicts rivalry is reborn. 

    These two teams have so much history together, as well as on their own, and it's great to see them finally square off once again. The thing about this game is that neither team is at the level they used to be. Although with that said, it's still going to be highly-watched game and should bring back so many memories for the old timers.

    The reason this is a must-win game for the Irish is because Miami is a lost team right now. Sure, they did have a solid recruiting class this year, but you have to believe the Irish are the more complete team as of right now. If Notre Dame wants to be a BCS bowl contender, they can't let a game like this get away from them.

Stanford

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    Before Andrew Luck came along, the Irish had a seven-game winning streak against the Cardinal. Guess what? Now Luck and seven other starters from last year's team is no longer around to help Stanford out.

    Sure, Stanford remains a very talented team and recruited extremely well this year, but  questions at quarterback and lack of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball make this a winnable game for Notre Dame. Playing at home with a few more difficult contests ahead, the Irish simply can't afford to lose a game like this. 

    Look for that three-game losing streak against Stanford to come to an end.

@ Oklahoma

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    Many will say this isn't a winnable game for the Irish because Oklahoma is a team that once again has national championship dreams and returns a total of 15 starters. But if you're a fan of history, you'll like the fact that the Irish have won eight of the nine meetings against the Sooners.

    Now of course all but one of those games were in the 50s and 60s, but it has to still count for something. Sometimes a team just has your number for whatever reason.

    Oklahoma wins this game on paper, but you could call it a must-win for the Irish because a victory would have them on cloud nine heading into the last month of the season. A win here makes their season and greatly improves their chances of reaching a BCS bowl.

@ USC

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    Speaking of national championships and BCS bowls, it doesn't get much better than USC. The Trojans are one of the overwhelming favorites to not only run the table, but also win the national championship and snap the streak of the SEC.

    The Irish could not only destroy those hopes, they could also improve their chances as well. A victory here would also pump some life into this historic rivalry, considering the Trojans have won nine of the past 10 meetings. Now this is the most difficult game on the schedule for Notre Dame, but if you want to win national championships, you have to knock off the big boys.

    This would be a huge test to see just how far this program is from accomplishing their dreams.

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