Coming off an 8-5 season and a tough loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl, Notre Dame enters 2012 with a huge chip on its shoulder.
To overcome its sometimes frustrating 2011 campaign, Notre Dame will have to win while facing what Phil Steele ranks as the toughest schedule in all of college football.
Highlighted by a trip to Ireland and road games against two top-10 teams, Brian Kelly and the Irish will have to be competing at an incredibly high level to become bowl-eligible. If they finish this schedule above .500, no team is more deserving of finishing in the top 25.
Although it doesn't appear to be among the toughest games on the Irish slate, this is your definition of a trap game.
It's the opener, which is when anything can happen. How will this year's freshmen perform? Will an older guy step up? Will there be any confusion on the plays?
Now factor in the three huge components of this game. Last year's leading passer Tommy Rees is suspended for the game. The Irish are playing in Ireland, so undoubtedly some players may not be completely focused, and Navy has defeated the Irish two of the past three years.
The Irish should win this one, but they can't take Navy lightly.
For some reason, no matter what, Notre Dame versus Michigan is always a dogfight.
Since 2005, four games in this series have been decided by three or fewer points. That could definitely be the story again this year.
Michigan State enters 2012 ranked 13th in the nation and has the advantage of playing this game at home.
Notre Dame had a huge win over the Spartans last year, but have dropped the last two at Michigan State.
The stage is set. Now it's time for Notre Dame to perform.
This game has a couple of built-in advantages for the Irish. It is at home and Stanford arrives without Andrew Luck. But this is still no easy task.
The Cardinal are ranked 18th and have beaten the Irish each of the past three seasons. The most lopsided of those defeats, a 37-14 blowout, came at Notre Dame Stadium.
This is a game the Irish need if they want to remain in the rankings. It's against a ranked opponent, but the Irish are at home and Stanford is transitioning to life after Luck.
Notre Dame should steal this one.
Mark your calendars for this one. The Irish head to Oklahoma to take on the fourth-ranked Sooners in a game that has all the makings of a classic. Two historically dominant college football programs are facing off for the first time in 13 years in a series that Notre Dame leads 8-1.
Landry Jones leads a Sooners offense that can seemingly score at will. The Irish defense will need to come prepared for this one, and the offense better be prepared to put some points on the board.
A win in this game would shock the rest of the college football world, but Notre Dame has a chance.
It's tough to believe any team could have a more difficult game on its schedule than playing the Sooners in Oklahoma, but Notre Dame has it.
The last week of the season, the Irish head to Southern California to face off with the USC Trojans, led by quarterback phenom Matt Barkley.
The Trojans enter the year ranked third, but don't be surprised if they finish the year at No. 1. They have the best quarterback in the country, a top defense and speed at running back and receiver.
Notre Dame leads the all-time series 43-35-5, but USC has won nine of the past 10.
The Irish are due for a big upset over USC. Let's hope this is the year.