The beauty of Notre Dame's journey to the 2013 BCS National Championship Game was the improbable context in which it transpired.
College football pundits had predicted that the Irish should have been ecstatic with a regular-season record of 8-4, while others blathered on endlessly that 2012 would, much to the dismay of the Irish faithful, be a rebuilding season for then third-year head coach Brian Kelly.
Yet the discussion of the ever-unpredictable world of college football is what makes the sport, in this humble writer's opinion, the best league on the planet.
And while the commencement of the 2013 regular season is six arduous months away, it's never too early to hand out game-by-game predictions for how the Irish will fare in Kelly's fourth season.
Could he lead Notre Dame to another appearance in the title game?
For that answer and more, enjoy the following slides.
Temple University, which has been commonly referred to as a "basketball school," saw its football program soar to unprecedented heights under former head coach Al Golden, who is leading the Miami Hurricanes.
When Golden took the Miami job, the program landed in safe hands with former Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, who, in December, accepted the Boston College head coaching job, forcing the Owls to search for their second head coach in three seasons.
The Owls were able to successfully lure Matt Rhule from his post as an assistant offensive line coach with the NFL's New York Giants to replace Addazio.
Rhule inherits a team that finished the 2012 season with a disappointing 4-7 record, one year after defeating Wyoming in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl.
Under the direction of a first-year head coach, the Owls pose no threat to spring the upset in South Bend.
The last time Notre Dame made the trek to The Big House, it was handed, perhaps, the most devastating loss the program had seen since a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of USC in 2005.
The catalyst of Michigan's 28-point explosion in the fourth quarter of the Wolverines' stunning 35-31 victory against the Irish in 2011 was Denard Robinson, who is currently preparing for April's NFL Draft. Without Robinson's heroics, one would assume the Wolverines don't pose a threat to the Irish in 2013. But that would be an asinine assumption.
Head coach Brady Hoke will have the services of Devin Gardner at quarterback, who, undoubtedly, is a more gifted passer than Robinson.
If the Wolverines take care of the football—Michigan turned the ball over six times against the Irish in 2012—they'll stand a legitimate chance of knocking off Notre Dame under the lights at Michigan Stadium.
I see the Irish escaping this game late in the fourth quarter on the strength of their defense.
In a 2012 season filled with nail-biting finishes for Notre Dame, one of the closest occurred against an unlikely foe: Purdue.
The Boilermakers, led by former head coach Danny Hope, were deadlocked with the Irish at 17 late in the fourth quarter, before Notre Dame was saved by a successful field goal from kicker Kyle Brindza.
Hope is no longer at Purdue, and was replaced by former Akron head coach Darrell Hazell.
Implementing his high-octane, fast-paced offense will take time, and the defense will be a headache to shore up with defensive tackles Bruce Gaston and Kawann Short now chasing their professional aspirations.
After being defeated in heartbreaking fashion at Spartan Stadium in 2010, Notre Dame has throttled Michigan State in consecutive seasons by a combined score of 51-16.
That streak isn't likely to come to an end in 2013, as the Spartans are tasked with replacing three critical players in running back Le'Veon Bell, tight end Dion Sims and defensive end William Gholston.
Michigan State does have Andrew Maxwell returning as its starting quarterback, and he'll be counted upon to make strides as a passer in Bell's absence in the backfield.
I don't see Michigan State running the ball effectively enough to earn a victory at Notre Dame Stadium.
Oklahoma will be making the trip to Notre Dame Stadium in 2013 as part of a home-and-home agreement with the Irish.
Brian Kelly and Co. won the first meeting in Norman, Oklahoma last season, 30-13, which pushed the Irish into the forefront of the national title discussion.
The Sooners will be tasked with replacing quarterback Landry Jones. He is likely to replaced by Blake Bell, who is also commonly referred to as the "Belldozer."
How Bell transitions into that starting role will likely determine how the Sooners fare against the Irish.
Notre Dame and Todd Graham will renew their acquaintances in Arlington, Tex. on Oct. 5.
In 2010, Graham's Tulsa squad upset the Irish, 28-27, at Notre Dame Stadium in one of the most painstaking losses that the program has experienced during the past decade.
Graham is now leading the Arizona State Sun Devils, who are coming off a 2012 season in which they finished 8-5, including a 62-28 victory against Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
I like Arizona State as a candidate to upset the Irish in "Jerry World" due to its high-octane offense that will be led by returning starting quarterback Taylor Kelly.
I see the Irish escaping this contest late in the fourth quarter.
USC will be making its first trip to Notre Dame since a 31-17 victory in 2011 and will be aiming to increase its winning streak at Notre Dame Stadium to six.
Without former starting quarterback Matt Barkley and the loss of key pieces along the offensive line, the Trojans will struggle to compete for a Pac-12 championship in 2013, especially considering the presences of UCLA, Stanford and Oregon.
Defeating Notre Dame on its own turf will also be a tall order, and one that would be considered a rather shocking upset.
The Irish will walk away with a comfortable victory.
Air Force and Notre Dame will be meeting for the first time since 2011, when the Irish defeated the Falcons, 59-33.
The trip to Colorado Springs, Colo., will be the first for the Irish since 2006, and likely won't present any real challenge, as defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has become well-versed in containing the triple-option attack.
Conveniently for Notre Dame, back-to-back games were scheduled against the service academies, making Diaco's job easier.
The Irish have owned the rivalry against the Midshipmen during the past two seasons, winning each by a combined score of 106-24, after being embarrassed by Ken Niumatalolo's squad, 35-17, in 2010.
Based on the condition that the Irish defense executes consistently, they'll encounter no problems sinking Navy.
A season ago, Pittsburgh nearly dashed Notre Dame's national championship dreams, taking the Irish to triple overtime before succumbing, 29-26.
The Panthers, under the direction of second-year head coach Paul Chryst, must replace quarterback Tino Sunseri, though it has been widely assumed that redshirt freshman Chad Voytik will be an even better passer than Sunseri.
The Irish won't have a similar scare against the Panthers in 2013 if they are able to convert red-zone trips into points and if they are able to avoid turnovers.
Notre Dame was without the services of starting quarterback Everett Golson against BYU last season, when the Irish narrowly defeated the Cougars, 17-14.
Having Golson healthy for this season's matchup will add another dimension to the Irish offense against the Cougars' stingy defense.
However, this contest could very well mark a trap game, as the Irish may be looking ahead to a highly anticipated date with Stanford to end the season the following week.
This contest will be much, much closer than fans expect.
There's a distinct possibility that Notre Dame and Stanford could enter this contest each undefeated and playing for a spot in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game.
In what I believe will be one of the best five games of the 2013 college football season, the Irish and Cardinal will slug it out like a pair of prize fighters, with the team to land the final punch likely earning the victory.
With Stanford returning the bulk of its offensive line, as well as quarterback Kevin Hogan, the Cardinal will be an extremely dangerous matchup, especially at home.
The odds are stacked against Notre Dame, which hasn't defeated Stanford at Stanford Stadium since 2007.