Notre Dame vs Michigan State: Big-Stage Win Will Launch Irish into Spotlight

Steven GerwelContributor IIISeptember 15, 2012

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 17: Michigan State Spartans Kurtis Drummond #27 returns the ball on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish September 17, 2011at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Michigan State 31-13. (Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)
John Gress/Getty Images

Lately, the Notre Dame Irish have been going through head coaches at the same rate most people go through tube socks. 

The Irish were a top-10 team in 2005 and finished with a 10-3 record in 2006, but the majority of the past decade has consisted of mediocrity and performances that are unacceptable from a supposed powerhouse organization. 

With the dominance of the SEC and other major conferences, Notre Dame has come under scrutiny from skeptical media figures, who have repeatedly branded the Irish as pipe dreamers and "has-beens". 

But in South Bend, Indiana, the expectations are still high. And for the NBC network, the Irish are still worth featuring live every Saturday.

So far in 2012, the Irish have been worth talking about.

Notre Dame opened the season with a convincing 50-10 victory over Navy, which introduced us to the Irish's prominent new ground game after they racked up five rushing touchdowns. 

Week 2 against Purdue was not as convincing, as they narrowly escaped with a 20-17 win. But even so, the Irish controlled the game for the most part, until Purdue put together a 10-point fourth-quarter uprising that eventually fell short. 

Now, after dominating the news the past week thanks to their newly agreed upon affiliation with the ACC (according to Yahoo Sports), the Irish truly have a shot at becoming one of the hottest topics in college football with a win over No. 10 Michigan State. 


Notre Dame Enters the Big Stage at Michigan State

Now that the Irish are associated with a major conference (even though they retained their football independence), they would love to shoot up in the rankings with a upset win over Michigan State. 

A win would put Notre Dame on the right track as far as piecing together a respectable season for the first time in years, and will send a message to the college football world, letting them know the ACC made the right decision. 

But what can we expect out of this game? 

Notre Dame will surely attempt to utilize their aforementioned run game, but it won't be easy. They picked up 293 rushing yards against Navy, but Purdue held them to just 52 yards on 36 carries (1.4 yards per carry). 

The Irish will need to ensure that their run game is not limited for a second week in a row, and they'll need their backs running on all cylinders in order for the offense to effectively maintain drives. 

Part of the run game will depend on sophomore quarterback Everett Golson, who will need to get into a nice groove early on with Tyler Eifert in order to take some of the pressure off the run game. 

If Golson proves he can get the ball downfield early on in the game, then Michigan State will be less willing to crowd the line of scrimmage and stuff the run. 

On defense, the Irish will need to force Spartans quarterback Andrew Maxwell into making costly mistakes. 

The last time Michigan State played a competent opponent was Week 1 against Boise State, and Boise was able to limit Maxwell and force him to cough up three interceptions. As a result, the Spartans were lucky to come away with a 17-13 win. 

If the Irish can rattle Maxwell in a similar fashion, then they have a good shot at securing a win. 

Overall, if Notre Dame cannot come up big, it will hurt their season. 

The Irish have looked good early on, but this is their first real challenge of 2012. If they win, they're letting the NCAA know they are serious. If not, the season could once again end in disappointment.