Obstacles and challenges are inevitable aspects of any journey with a clearly-stated end goal.
For the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, the ultimate destination is a repeat appearance in the BCS National Championship Game. Transforming that dream into a reality requires that head coach Brian Kelly and the Irish traverse the path unscathed.
Not unlike seasons gone by, an amalgam of threats exist along the Irish's road to college football's title game.
The first of those potential pitfalls arrives in the second week of the 2013 season, when Kelly and Co. venture outside the confines of the Notre Dame campus to meet a traditional rival for the final time before entering the ACC scheduling agreement in 2014.
at Michigan, Sept. 7
The last time Notre Dame and Michigan met in Ann Arbor, Mich., the Wolverines stunned the Irish in the final two seconds of regulation to claim a shocking 35-31 victory to cap the first night game in Michigan Stadium history.
The 2013 edition of this rivalry that began in 1887 will, once again, transpire under the lights.
The Wolverines will be without quarterback Denard Robinson, who will be hoping to hear his name called during Thursday evening's NFL Draft.
In his place is Devin Gardner, an equally dangerous quarterback who started the final five games of the Wolverines' 2012 season. What makes Gardner such a threat is his ability as a passer, which, in this humble writer's opinion, makes him an even better quarterback than Robinson.
Even with Robinson under center last season, the Wolverines failed to reach the end zone against the Irish during a 13-6 loss in South Bend, Ind. If the Irish offense doesn't force the defense to bail it out, a second consecutive victory may be in the works.
vs. Oklahoma, Sept. 28
Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned about Oklahoma is to never count the Sooners out under the direction of 15th-year head coach Bob Stoops, who guided the program to a national title in 2000.
These two programs met last season in Norman, Okla., with Notre Dame leaving town with a 30-13 victory added to its résumé.
The Irish followed a simple game plan that entailed forcing Stoops' Oklahoma squad to become one-dimensional offensively. That plan worked to perfection, as the Sooners were limited to just 15 rushing yards.
Even three-year starting quarterback Landry Jones couldn't bring the Sooners back in the contest, and has since taken his talents to the NFL. Blake Bell, whose nickname is "Belldozer," has taken the reins from Jones, and will lead Oklahoma into Notre Dame Stadium this fall in search of redemption.
Bell, who gained notoriety for his "Belldozer" goal line package, will be forced to prove he can effectively move the ball down the field through the air against the Irish. Should he struggle in that regard, a similar outcome is likely.
at Stanford, Nov. 30
The most memorable moment of Notre Dame's 2012 season occurred against Stanford at Notre Dame Stadium.
Clinging to a 20-13 lead in overtime, the Irish defense was tasked with keeping the Cardinal out of the end zone to secure a victory. Quarterback Josh Nunes drove Stanford down to the one-yard line, where the Irish defense stonewalled the Cardinal, keeping Notre Dame's undefeated record intact.
A similar slugfest could ensue at Stanford Stadium the weekend following Thanksgiving in Notre Dame's annual trip to the West Coast.
And while the 2013 college football season is roughly four months away, it's fair to assume that this matchup could be a de facto playoff game for a spot in the national title game. The key word there is could.
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