Notre Dame Football: Why Tough October Schedule Will Be Irish's Downfall
College football's initial four weeks have bestowed a profound sense of joy on the Notre Dame fanbase, as the Fighting Irish are off to their best start in a decade.
Brian Kelly and his troops are currently sitting pretty with a 4-0 record to go along with being ranked 10th in the most recent AP poll. However, times may not be so rosy for the Irish entering a brutal October stretch.
Let's take a closer look at what Notre Dame faces during the month of October.
Oct. 6 vs. Miami (Chicago, IL)
Following Notre Dame's bye week, the Irish head to Chicago's Solider Field, where they'll meet the Miami Hurricanes. It'll be the first matchup of these historical rivals since the Irish defeated Miami, 33-17, in the 2010 Sun Bowl.
Unfortunately, this neutral-site game won't bring nearly as much hype as the vaunted "Catholics vs. Convicts" meetings in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Jimmy Johnson was leading "The U."
Currently, former Temple head coach Al Golden is leading a Miami program that is toeing the doorstep of major violations in the wake of the Nevin Shapiro scandal. The product on the field has taken a bit of a blow as a result of that severe transgression.
In its first test against a Top 25 opponent, Miami was throttled by then 21st-ranked Kansas State, 52-13, in Manhattan.
Against a much stiffer Notre Dame defense, the Hurricanes will be lucky to tack 13 points on the scoreboard.
I'll wait to give my score prediction until next week, but an Irish victory is a certainty.
Oct. 13 vs. Stanford
Mark your calendars for Saturday, October 13, folks. It's likely to be the pivotal point of Notre Dame's 2012 season.
The Stanford Cardinal will be in South Bend and will likely be sporting a top 10 ranking should they record a victory over Washington this evening. The Irish are also likely to be ranked in the top 10 given they defeated Miami the week prior.
To this point in the season, Stanford appears to be the best team on the Irish's schedule considering the Cardinal defeated then second-ranked USC nearly two weeks ago.
Where Notre Dame will encounter trouble is moving the ball against the Stanford defense. David Shaw's squad currently ranks first in the FBS in rush defense, yielding an average of 41.7 yards-per-game. And given the struggles Notre Dame has had running the football, a win won't be easy to come by.
Stanford's offense has been a different story, as the Cardinal hasn't been nearly as explosive without all-world quarterback Andrew Luck, who is currently the starting quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts.
The game will be a defensive struggle, with Stanford winning on a field goal in the final minute of regulation.
Oct. 20 vs. BYU
Like Stanford, the BYU Cougars pride themselves on playing lights-out defense.
The Cougs have been excellent on that side of the ball through four games, particularly against the run, limiting opponents to 68.75 rushing yards per game. Passing defense has also been a strong suit for Bronco Mendenhall's squad, as it has only allowed 177.25 yards per game through the air.
The Cougars are not well-rounded, though. They've struggled to tack points on the scoreboard through the first quarter of the season.
BYU's offensive struggles were apparent in its 7-6 loss to Boise State last week, its lowest output since a 31-3 loss to TCU back in October of 2010.
However, the first meeting of the Irish and Cougars since 2005 will be a trap game by definition, as Notre Dame may be looking ahead to its showdown at Oklahoma the following Saturday.
As of this publication, I consider this game to be a toss-up.
Oct. 27 at Oklahoma
This meeting between Notre Dame and Oklahoma will mark the first modern-day contest between the two institutions.
Notre Dame has had this game circled on its calendar since the conclusion of the 2011 season, as the Sooners were a favorite to begin the current season as a Top 10 team. Indeed, Oklahoma was ranked fourth nationally, but has since dropped to 16th after a 24-19 loss to Kansas State.
That loss marked only the fourth home loss in the Bob Stoops era, making the Sooners appear to be a vulnerable team. Quarterback Landry Jones has been a root cause of the disappointment.
Jones has regressed as starting quarterback each season, throwing the most interceptions (15) of his career last season.
Despite the surprising play of the Irish secondary, it hasn't seen a quarterback of Jones' caliber. Add in the fact that this game is being played in Norman, and an Irish loss isn't out of the question.
Depending on how you look at Notre Dame's October slate, the Irish could finish 4-0 or 1-3.
It's tough to say how Notre Dame will finish, particularly because of the offense's struggles to move the football. But with the best defense Irish fans have seen in nearly 20 years, anything is possible.
From what I've seen in the Irish's first four games, I have pegged Notre Dame to finish the month of October 2-2, with losses to Stanford and Oklahoma.
Have any thoughts? Feel free to leave them in the comments section.
Let the discussion commence.
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