Despite a difficult schedule to start the season, Notre Dame has remained undefeated through its first four games, but the road forward will not get any easier.
The Fighting Irish’s defense has clamped down on every opponent it has faced, and has not allowed any of the four teams it has faced to score more than 17 points. Its average of nine points against per game ranks third in the nation.
After wins over Michigan State and Michigan, the team has risen to the No. 10 rank in the AP Top 25 poll. The Irish are now considered an elite team, and must continue playing at the same level due to a difficult schedule.
Here are the tricky matchups that lay ahead for the team.
October 13, vs. Stanford
The Cardinal are coming off an upset loss to Washington, and will look to get back on track against Arizona.
After taking on the Wildcats, they will travel to face Notre Dame in a matchup that will feature two extremely similar teams.
Both programs rely heavily on their elite defenses to set the tone in their games. Stanford has already shown how devastating its defense can be by holding the high-flying USC offense to just 14 points.
This will be a low-scoring, old-school game of football that will be settled in the trenches. Points will be at a premium, and whichever defense can make the most plays in this matchup will earn a victory for its team.
October 27, at Oklahoma
The Sooners are also coming off an upset loss. After dropping to Kansas State, the team’s national title hopes have taken a serious hit.
Oklahoma will be determined to make a statement against Texas in two weeks, then to continue defeating highly ranked teams in this matchup against the Irish.
Landry Jones and the Sooners' offense failed to impress against KSU, and Notre Dame stands an excellent chance of making the Oklahoma passer go through another frustrating performance.
If the Irish’s defense continues to play at the same level it has exhibited in the first four weeks of the season, it will pull off a victory on the road in this game.
November 24, at USC
Which team will provide Notre Dame with the toughest test?
The final game of the year will also be the toughest for the Fighting Irish.
USC looked dominant heading into this season, but Stanford proved that the Trojans are vulnerable and provided a blueprint for beating them.
The Cardinal held USC to under one yard per carry on the ground, and Notre Dame has a front-seven talented enough to do this as well. If the defense can force Matt Barkley and the Trojan offense to become one-dimensional, it will be able to force mistakes and give the team a chance to win.
On the other side of the ball, Everett Golson and the running backs will need to get chunks of yardage on the ground without making any mistakes. This will be a difficult atmosphere to succeed in, but the Irish have ideal personnel to take down the Trojans.