An 8-5 campaign that included an upset loss by South Florida and a hard-to-swallow bowl game loss to Florida State was the story of the Fighting Irish's 2011 season.
This season, the Fighting Irish bring back 15 players (eight offense, seven defense) including key players like running back Cierre Wood (1,102 yards, nine touchdowns), wideout Tyler Eifert (803 yards, five touchdowns) and linebacker Manti Te'o (128 tackles, 62 solo and five sacks).
The only question mark the Irish have is at starting quarterback. Tommy Rees threw for 2,871 yards with 20 touchdowns and 14 picks, but legal problems could hurt him.
Rees was charged with one count of battery, two counts of resisting law enforcement and one count of illegal consumption of alcohol by a minor. Rees pleaded not guilty and has a court date on July 17.
Not knowing what's going to happen, Rees may lose his job to red-shirt freshman Everett Golson, or true freshman Gunneer Kiel could take over. Despite the quarterback situation, Brian Kelly's Irish look solid.
There's no question about it, USC is the best team in college football and deserved to be picked as the preseason No. 1.
Lane Kiffin has 15 returning starters (eight offense, seven defense), most notably Heisman Trophy-hopeful Matt Barkley. The senior threw for an astonishing 3,528 yards with 39 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Last season, the Trojans turned a 2010 8-5 team into a 10-2 powerhouse that upset Rose Bowl-bound Oregon in Eugene. After a two-year bowl ban, the Trojan players are hungry to get to a bowl and are strong enough to make it to the BCS National Championship in January.
The "Battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh" is a rivalry that has died down a bit due to USC's recent dominance (8-2 in the last 10 meetings).
Notre Dame has a tough schedule ahead of them. The Fighting Irish have to play three 11-win opponents in Michigan, Stanford and Michigan State, and two 10-win squads in USC and Oklahoma.
The tough schedule should prepare Notre Dame enough to propel the Irish over the Trojans. This game will be exactly like the classic October 15, 2005 matchup that went down to the final seconds, and will forever be known as "The Bush Push."
Prediction: Notre Dame wins 34-27