You might not have believed early on in 2012, but the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are for real. They’re coming off huge back-to-back wins against Michigan and Michigan State and hold a BCS bowl berth in their own fate.
If they can finish the season undefeated, there is no denying that the Irish have finally returned atop the mantle of the best college football programs in the nation.
It’s about time.
There’s something about Notre Dame being on top that makes sense and it’s a very real possibility in the immediate future. This year may present a better opportunity than most originally thought.
The 2012 Irish have a tremendous defense and an excellent, imposing offensive line that paves the way for a running game that is no slouch.
Let’s take a look at the three biggest challenges the Irish face as they attempt to complete a truly remarkable and unexpected undefeated season.
Saturday, October 13 vs. Stanford Cardinal
Stanford shocked the college football landscape with a huge upset win over USC on September 15. After nearly two weeks off, the team came out and laid a dud in a 17-13 loss to the Washington Huskies. The Huskies defense stifled the Cardinal.
Notre Dame leads the overall series 17-9 but it has been the Cardinal who have won the previous three meetings. Those wins came with the presence of Andrew Luck behind center. Without Luck, the Cardinal have relied more on their defense and tough running game.
Luckily for the Irish their strength is in their defense, specifically the ability to stop the run. This game is going to be a battle fought in the trenches. Whoever's hogs want it more are going to come away with a huge midseason win in South Bend.
Saturday, October 27 at Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma may have lost to Kansas State but they are still a prominent college football program in the Big 12 conference. They don’t jump off the page at you like they have in years past but they’re a very balanced team that can move the ball with their Landry Jones’ led offense
Their defense isn’t too shabby, either. They can keep teams from putting up points. Kansas State has a very potent offense and was limited to just 17 points in their upset over the Sooners on September 22. The team’s other touchdown, which ended up being the deciding factor, was a one-yard fumble return for a touchdown on a Landry Jones fumble near the goal-line.
Points have been at a premium at times for the Irish in 2012. Because of that and the Irish traveling into hostile territory in Norman, this game is one that may prematurely end the aspirations of the Irish in 2012.
Saturday, November 24 at USC Trojans
The last game of the season may end up being the most important for the 2012 Fighting Irish. USC has already stumbled, losing in Week 4 to the Stanford Cardinal.
Notre Dame needs to be at their best, though, as they only defeated their Southern California rivals once over the past ten years. Last year, the Irish put up a fight in South Bend but fell victim to the Trojans once again.
This year, the Irish has a much improved defense and will put it to the test against the Matt Barkley led Trojans offense. Will it be enough to contain their explosive passing game or will the Trojans continue to trend and knock off the Irish and end what could likely be their chance at a BCS bowl game?
Mike Hoag is a Breaking News Team writer with Bleacher Report and also covers the Cleveland Browns and the NFL for the site.