Notre Dame Football: Irish's Top 5 Trap Games of 2013
Notre Dame had a spectacular season in 2012. The Irish, unranked in the preseason, went 12-0 in their regular season, securing themselves a No. 1 AP ranking and a BCS national title berth.
Ironically, it was not a scrape with a high-ranked opponent that almost cost the Irish a title shot. It was the unranked Pittsburgh Panthers. Were it not for a missed 33-yard field goal by Panthers kicker Kevin Harper, the Irish would have never made the trip to Miami.
This poignantly illustrates how a single trap game can unravel an entire season of hard work.
In 2013, Brian Kelly and Co. will attempt to recapture the success of last season and make their way back to the national championship. With major opponents like Michigan, Oklahoma and Stanford looming large on the horizon, it might be tempting to overlook the lesser teams on the schedule.
Let's take a look at the top five potential trap games on deck for the Irish this season.
In their second-to-last game of the season, Notre Dame takes on the BYU Cougars at Notre Dame Stadium in the second of their six-game series. The last time these two teams met, it wasn't exactly a blowout victory for the Irish, either. Notre Dame squeaked past the Cougars 17-14.
There are two reasons I consider this a trap game.
The first is because of its location on the schedule. The Fighting Irish play the Cougars after a bye week and before their final game of the regular season against West Coast powerhouse Stanford.
Stanford is one of the biggest contenders on the Irish schedule, and BYU could easily be overlooked as the Irish prep for the big game against the Cardinal.
The second is because BYU has a very strong defense. Last season the Cougars averaged a stingy 14 points allowed per game last season, ranking them No. 3 in total defense for the season (via NCAA.com).
With the Fighting Irish offense having to replace key players like Cierre Wood and Tyler Eifert, a powerful defense like this could be difficult to overcome.
All in all, Brian Kelly needs to keep an eye on this game. The potential to overlook the powerful BYU defense in preparation for the season-ending showdown with Stanford could cost the Irish a perfect season if they aren't prepared.
That's right, USC is a trap game this year.
Let's just be real here: last season USC was awful.
The preseason No. 1-ranked Trojans imploded toward the end of their regular season, losing four of their last five games. Preseason Heisman favorite quarterback Matt Barkley limped away from a rough game with in-town rival UCLA and never took the field again, leaving USC to be helmed by an unprepared freshman quarterback.
There is also the bizarre and erratic play-calling of embattled head coach Lane Kiffin, which many blame for last season's failures.
So why is this a trap game?
Last season a lot of things went wrong with USC, and most outsiders anticipate the team will continue to underperform until the USC athletic director Pat Haden comes to his senses and finds a replacement for Kiffin as head coach.
But if all those things were to suddenly go right, Notre Dame could have a problem on their hands.
The Trojans' single ray of light in 2013 is wide receiver Marqise Lee, who is in the Heisman hunt this year. Lee will have difficulty being an effective receiver if sophomore quarterback Max Wittek continues to have difficulty getting the ball to him, as he did in USC's final regular-season game against Notre Dame last year. If these two click, however, watch out.
Scheduling shouldn't be too much of an issue here, as the Irish take on the Trojans after their second bye week of the 2013 season.
Last season Notre Dame squeaked by the unranked Boilermakers 20-17.
The reason they are on trap-game alert this year is not so much due to the Boilermakers' skills as it is to their position on the schedule: Purdue sits directly between two rivalry games with Michigan teams.
The week before the Irish take on Purdue, they will play the Michigan Wolverines at the Big House in Ann Arbor.
This sets the stage for the hangover game with Purdue. Whether the Irish win or lose against Michigan, the game will no doubt take a lot out of them.
The week after Notre Dame faces the Boilermakers, it will have another fierce rivalry game against Michigan State.
The alignment of the schedule will, no doubt, make it difficult for the coaches to prep the team for all three games equally. Preference will most likely be given to the Michigan and Michigan State games, giving Purdue an opportunity to upset the Irish.
It is worth noting that last year, when the Irish slipped past the Boilermakers, the scheduling was similar, with Purdue coming directly before Michigan State and Michigan.
The responsibility to avoid this potential pitfall game rests squarely on the shoulders of the coaching staff, who must avoid the temptation mentioned above to overlook the Boilermakers.
Honestly, who doesn't think this will be a trap game?
For those who do not recall, during last year's game with Pitt, Notre Dame entered the fourth quarter down 20-6.
The Irish rallied to tie the game, which went into overtime. During the second OT, Notre Dame fumbled the ball, and all Pitt had to do was kick a field goal for the win. The 33-yard kick went wide right, and the Irish went on to win in triple overtime, but the damage to Notre Dame's reputation was done.
When everyone said Notre Dame couldn't beat Alabama, they cited the Pitt game.
The question now is, will the Panthers wreak havoc on the 2013 season the way they did last year?
The Panthers have not released their full 2013 schedule, but let's just go ahead and assume they will come into this game playing like it's the Super Bowl.
The Pittsburgh game comes at the end of a four-game stretch, where the Irish will face USC in South Bend, Air Force on the road, Navy back in South Bend, and finally the Panthers on the road at Heinz Field.
All that travel without a bye week will undoubtedly wear on the Irish.
The opponents immediately preceding the Pitt game aren't the toughest on the schedule, but as third-to-last game of the season—and last before Notre Dame's second bye week—they will most likely be a little off their game.
On the other hand, Notre Dame could come into Heinz Field like rolling thunder, looking to avenge the near-loss last season.
We'll just have to wait and see, but keep an eye out for this game.
Arizona State Sun Devils
The Irish will take on the Arizona State Sun Devils at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas as part of Notre Dame's Shamrock Series.
Notre Dame's game with the Sun Devils comes one week after the Irish take on the Oklahoma Sooners in South Bend. If you watched Notre Dame football last season, you know the Irish did not perform at home as well as they did in other locations.
Oklahoma lost star quarterback Landry Jones to the NFL draft, but don't expect the Sooners to go down without a fight. I anticipate this will be a tough, physical matchup, laying the groundwork for a hangover game against the Sun Devils.
The Sun Devils will not have an easy schedule building up to the game, either.
They will face Wisconsin, Stanford and USC in the three weeks prior to their matchup with the Irish. This could soften them up for the Irish—Notre Dame tends to select weaker teams to play in the Shamrock Series—but it could also have the opposite effect, toughening Arizona State up for the big game with the Irish.
Arizona State is looking to be a Pac-12 Southern-division contender this season after going 8-5 last year. In 2012, the Sun Devils offense ranked No. 14 in the nation in scoring, and with stars like quarterback Taylor Kelly and running backs Marion Grice and D.J Foster all returning, this season looks promising.
Underestimating the Sun Devils could be a lethal mistake for the Irish.