Notre Dame Football: The Ins and Outs, Highs and Lows of the 2012 Schedule
With spring practice over and done with, this is the time that we begin looking forward to the real stuff. The regular season is still months away, but with so much to talk about, there's no better time to get a head start than now.
Notre Dame returns a total of 15 starters, including eight on the offensive side of the ball. There is talent all over this roster, but many have their doubts about the Irish, mainly because of the brutal schedule that awaits them. It's certainly going to be no cakewalk for Notre Dame this year.
As we inch closer to the regular season, let's break down the 2012 Notre Dame schedule and see exactly what the hype is about.
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It was kind of difficult to find an "easy" game out of this schedule, but Boston College has to be it.
There was a time when the Golden Eagles had won seven of the last eight meetings against Notre Dame, but those days are over. The Irish have won the last three games against Boston College, while the Eagles have won a combined 11 games the last two seasons.
This is a rivalry game and it's on the road, but the Golden Eagles were absolutely terrible on the offensive side of the ball, averaging only 18 points per game a season ago. I don't see them making that big of a difference in one season, and that's why I give the Irish the rather easy victory in this contest.
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Notre Dame has lost nine of the last 10 meetings against USC, and this contest may be the hardest one in recent memory. We've heard all offseason just how good the Trojans are, and on paper, yes, they're extremely talented and deserve to be considered one of the favorites to win the national championship.
The Trojans score oodles of points, and I'm not sure the Irish will be able to stop Matt Barkley and company or match them on the offensive end. The Irish have only won two of the last eight meetings in Los Angeles, and with that high-scoring offense, it will be hard for even Irish fans to give their team a shot in this one.
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In 2011, Wake Forest was the surprise team early on but then ended up losing six of their last eight games and nearly missed a bowl game all together. They showed what they were capable of in upsetting Florida State and playing Notre Dame close. Then they lost to Syracuse in overtime and lost by 34 points to Vanderbilt.
The Demon Deacons only return three starters on the offensive side of the ball, which can't be good last time I checked. I'll go out on a limb here and say that the Irish will take care of business in a blowout at home.
Potential for Disaster
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Although the last meeting between these teams took place in 1999, the Irish have only lost once against Oklahoma in the nine times they've played. The Sooners come into this game with majority of their starters returning, including eight on offense and seven on defense.
Unlike the Irish, Oklahoma already has its quarterback in place with Landry Jones. The Sooners are also a physical team defensively that could really rattle whoever wins the Irish quarterback competition. The game will also take place in Norman, which is another thing that favors the Sooners.
Notre Dame could shock a few people if they're able to avoid turnovers, but we've seen this team play the last two seasons.
Most Intriguing Matchup
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College football is based on tradition, and one of the more interesting matchups I'm looking forward to is the Catholics vs. Convicts game. These teams have only met once since 1990 and it's nice to see them renew a rivalry that has featured so many great games.
Of course, neither one of these programs are where they'd like to be, but that's another thing that makes this game so interesting: two prestigious programs that are both trying to rise to the top at the same time. Combine that with the fact that the game takes place at Soldier Field, and you have yourself some must-see television.
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No Andrew Luck? No problem.
Ever since the Cardinal has lost their franchise quarterback, it seems like everyone is quick to write them off. Not so fast. They still have a 1,000-yard rusher in running back Stepfan Taylor. They have a loaded recruiting class coming in that should help keep that offensive line top notch. They have a solid head coach in David Shaw and are returning eight starters from a defense that was ranked 30th in points allowed.
Not to mention they'll have motivation on their side and confidence knowing they've won the last three meetings against the Irish.
Don't write Stanford off just yet.
Rivalry Game Prediction
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We've already touched on this game a little bit, so you can imagine the direction I'm going to go in with this one. Matt Barkley is without question the top quarterback in the country, and he has several top receivers he can throw the ball to. This offense is capable of being one of the best units we've seen in a very long time.
Defensively they return seven starters, including four All-Conference players from a year ago. The Irish really had no answer for this team last season, as the defense allowed over 400 yards and the offense only put up 17 points. And that game was at home; this time they're traveling on the road.
USC is the more complete team and seems to be on a mission. I do think the Irish could keep it close if they can avoid turnovers, but I'm not so sure Notre Dame has enough offense to actually pull off a victory.
USC wins: 35-21
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Purdue is a young team that didn't stand a chance against Notre Dame last year, as the Boilermakers lost the game by 28 points. This season they return a total of 15 starters, including eight on offense, and should be much better than they were last year. You could even see them improving as the season went on, beating Ohio State, staying competitive with Iowa and winning the final two games of the year.
The Boilermakers haven't had much success against the Irish as of late, but this is another trap game that could cause a few hiccups. Nobody expects Purdue to win the game—it's only the second game of the season, and they're one of those teams that could play with nothing to lose.
Don't hold me to this prediction, but don't be surprised if the game is much closer than expected, and with a bounce here or a bounce there, the Boilermakers could actually squeeze out a victory.
Heisman Highlight Game
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I think it's safe to say that running back Cierre Wood would be Notre Dame's Heisman candidate, if you had to pick one guy. He's coming off a 1,000-yard season and with the quarterback position up in the air, he'll once again be one of the main focuses on the offensive end. But his chances to win the award will be determined by the success of his team.
That's why I have the Heisman game against the Michigan Wolverines. It's a prime-time game at night, so you know everybody will be watching. It's against a possible national championship contender, a team that won 11 games and a BCS bowl last season. And with the game taking place in Week 4, it's early enough for Wood to make a statement and have people paying attention the rest of the season.
The Wolverines were solid defensively last season, only allowing 131 yards on the ground. If he can score a couple touchdowns and rack up 125-plus yards, Wood will get some early Heisman love, with plenty of statement games ahead.
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Speaking of the Wolverines, Notre Dame must beat them this season. No reason to be up three points and let Denard Robinson and company go down the field in 30 seconds to win the game last year. I'm sure that has left a sour taste in everyone's mouth and they can't wait to get back on the field to return the favor.
But regardless of Notre Dame's personal beef, this is a must-win game because it'll get everyone's attention and set the tone for the rest of the season. It's the first true test of the year, and a victory over Brady Hoke's club will catch everyone by surprise and move the Irish up a few notches in the polls.
The Wolverines are an extremely talented team, but a win would build so much momentum heading into the tougher part of the schedule.