Notre Dame Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
With the conclusion of spring practices and the annual Blue Gold Game, Notre Dame's focus now fully shifts to the quest of reaching a second consecutive berth in the BCS National Championship Game.
To successfully complete such a journey, the Irish must traverse their 2013 schedule unscathed, as an undefeated record is the only ticket to the title game (any team outside the SEC with one loss is virtually guaranteed a denial).
While it's still early—it's April 28 as these words are being typed—predicting the outcomes of each of the Irish's 12 regular-season games is an activity completed by fans and writers alike, and you're kidding yourself if you refute that claim.
Let's get started.
vs. Temple, Aug. 31
Unlike Notre Dame's 2012 season-opening contest in Dublin, Ireland, the 2013 edition will transpire on American soil at Notre Dame Stadium.
When the Temple Owls arrive in South Bend, Ind., they'll be under the direction of first-year head coach Matt Rhule, who replaces the departed Steve Addazio.
Rhule, who spent the 2012 as an assistant offensive line coach with the NFL's New York Giants, returns to Temple after serving in a slew of positions with the Owls from 2006 to 2011. He spent the 2011 campaign as the Owls assistant offensive coordinator, tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator.
Rhule's familiarity with the program should allow for a seamless transition, though the Owls are coming off a disappointing 2012 season that ended with a 4-7 record, one year after reaching a bowl game for just the fourth time in program history.
While Temple is an up-and-coming program with a young, charismatic head coach, a victory against Notre Dame on its home turf is all but out of the question.
at Michigan, Sept. 7
The Irish will be aiming for redemption when they travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., to battle the Michigan Wolverines for the final time before Notre Dame's scheduling agreement with the Atlantic Coast Conference begins in 2014.
When these two storied programs last met at Michigan Stadium—Sept. 10, 2011—the Wolverines overcame a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to stun the Irish, 35-31, in, perhaps, the most memorable game of the rivalry.
Brady Hoke was in his first season as head coach of the Wolverines at the time, and he is aiming to return his program to the BCS after finishing the 2012 season with a rather disappointing 8-5 record, including a 33-28 loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
Electrifying quarterback Denard Robinson has since taken his talents to the NFL, as he was drafted 135th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars as a hybrid running back/wide receiver during the weekend.
Devin Gardner, who started the final five games at quarterback for Michigan last season, will continue in the starting role, though depth is a concern due to backup Russell Bellomy having suffered a torn ACL during spring practices.
Having struggled to move the ball against Notre Dame last season in a 13-6 loss at Notre Dame Stadium, there's reason to believe the offensive woes against the Irish will continue, as head coach Brian Kelly has eight returning starters on the defensive side of the ball.
However, the Wolverines have not suffered the agony of defeat at Michigan Stadium in Brady Hoke's first two seasons on the job, though the Irish could end that impressive streak.
at Purdue, Sept. 14
In this Week 3 matchup against Purdue, the Irish will be facing yet another program under the direction of a first-year head coach.
Darrell Hazell, who spent the previous two seasons as head coach at Kent State, replaces the fired Danny Hope.
Hazell was an attractive candidate for the job, after leading Kent State to 11 wins and an appearance in the GoDaddy.com Bowl last season. He inherits a Purdue program that has lost five consecutive games to the Irish, dating back to 2008.
The Boilermakers came within three points of ending the losing streak last season, suffering a 20-17 defeat at Notre Dame Stadium.
Quarterbacks Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve are no longer with the program, though fifth-year senior Rob Henry, who started seven games in 2010, is back from an ACL tear. He is the favorite to win the starting job.
Regardless of who Purdue's signal-caller is, he'll be directing an up-temp offense, which may give the Irish defense fits.
vs. Michigan State, Sept. 21
After a shocking 34-31 victory that ended with a successfully converted fake field-goal pass in 2010, Michigan State has lost consecutive games against Notre Dame for the first time since the 1993 and 1994 meetings.
The Irish have accomplished that feat by beating the Spartans at the their own game: Dominate the trenches, run the ball and play stellar defense.
The most telling statistic of Notre Dame's two-game winning streak against Michigan State is the 79 combined rushing yards allowed by the Irish defense during the streak.
Because the Spartan rushing attack has been ineffectual against Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's 3-4 scheme, Michigan State has been held to just 16 total points in the same stretch.
If the Irish defensive front seven can win the battle against Michigan State's experienced, mammoth offensive line, a third consecutive victory in the Battle for the Megaphone Trophy should be expected.
vs. Oklahoma, Sept. 28
The Oklahoma Sooners will be making their first trip to Notre Dame Stadium since 1999—the Irish defeated the 23rd-ranked Sooners, 34-30—when the two teams meet in the final week of September.
Fifteenth-year head coach Bob Stoops was in his first season on the job during the 1999 meeting and has since added a national championship to his resume.
However, defeating Notre Dame is not included on his impressive list of accomplishments.
He had a shot at accomplishing the feat last season, but the Irish left Norman, Okla., with a 30-13 victory that propelled them to the forefront of the national title discussion.
Avenging that loss will be challenging for the Sooners, as they are tasked with replacing record-setting quarterback Landry Jones, who was selected 115th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL draft.
Blake Bell will likely replace Jones, though his ability as a passer must be proven, for he has been utilized solely in red-zone and goal-line packages during his career at Oklahoma. Yet the Sooners will also need to prove they can run the ball effectively against the Irish, as they were limited to just 15 rushing yards in last season's meeting.
vs. Arizona State, Oct. 5 (Cowboys Stadium)
In the annual Shamrock Series game—always played at a neutral site—Notre Dame will battle Arizona State in Dallas at Cowboys Stadium, which is jovially referred to as "Jerry World."
The Irish have been not been defeated in any of the Shamrock Series games, which began in 2009. During that stretch, Notre Dame has defeated Washington State in San Antonio, Army in New York City, Maryland in Landover, Md. and Miami in Chicago.
Yet the greatest challenge of the Shamrock Series lies ahead in the form of Todd Graham and his Arizona State Sun Devils.
Graham's Tulsa squad defeated Notre Dame in 2010, following the tragic death of Declan Sullivan earlier in the week. It was, without question, one of the lowest points in program history.
Then, in 2011, Graham nearly upset Notre Dame again, this time as the head coach at Pittsburgh, though the Irish escaped with a 15-12 victory at Heinz Field.
Concisely, Graham has the Irish's number, and fans should not count the Sun Devils out.
This game has been marked on my calendar as Notre Dame's biggest upset possibility.
vs. USC, Oct. 19
Notre Dame's final obstacle to a berth in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game was its bitter rival, USC.
The Irish waltzed out of Los Angeles on the evening of Nov. 24, 2012 with a 22-13 victory, marking their second win in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum of the Kelly era.
The Trojans were without the services of starting quarterback Matt Barkley that evening and were forced to start redshirt freshman Max Wittek. Barkley has since been drafted by the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, effectively handing the job to Wittek.
How well the Irish defense contains Wittek and an explosive USC offensive will likely determine the outcome of this contest.
That same offense was limited to 95 rushing yards in last season's meeting, compared to Notre Dame's 222. If the same imbalance in the statistic occurs once again, the Irish could earn their first victory against USC at Notre Dame Stadium since 2001.
The Irish's offensive coaching staff would be wise to study film of Cal's defense of the past three seasons, as USC has hired former Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast to the same position. Pendergast was the Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator when they advanced to the 2009 Super Bowl.
Pendergast has established himself as an architect of the 3-4 defensive scheme, which is interesting due to the fact that USC has favored a 4-3 scheme under now fourth-year head coach Lane Kiffin.
at Air Force, Oct. 26
For the first time since 2006, Notre Dame will make the trek to the United States Air Force Academy.
Led by quarterback Brady Quinn, the Irish won that contest, 39-17. In the most recent meeting between these two schools, Notre Dame defeated the Falcons in a shootout, 59-33, at Notre Dame Stadium in 2011.
Head coach Troy Calhoun's triple-option offense racked up 565 total yards in that meeting, which were countered by Notre Dame's 560.
Allowing a similar amount of yards to the Falcons at Falcons Stadium the weekend before Halloween could spell doom for the Irish, though defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has shown a mastery of a similar offense in Navy's, allowing a combined 24 points to the Midshipmen during the past two seasons.
An uncontrollable variable to keep an eye on during this contest is Notre Dame's ability to adapt to the higher altitude, as the Air Force Academy is located in Colorado Springs, Colo.
vs. Navy, Nov. 2
After being thoroughly embarrassed by Navy's triple-option attack in 2010 during a 35-17 loss to the Midshipmen, the Irish defense has since put a clamp on the tricky scheme.
In the ensuing two matchups, Notre Dame has outscored Navy, 106-24, with the Midshipmen never truly being competitive with the Irish in either contest.
In last season's meeting at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, the Midshipmen were limited to just 149 rushing yards, a far cry from their average amount of 278.46. The same storyline carried out in 2011, with Navy being held far below its average, with only 196 yards on the ground.
It's a simple yet complex strategy against Navy and the service academies: Stop the run and victory is assured. Allow the triple-option to run wild and a loss awaits.
at Pittsburgh, Nov. 9
Pittsburgh nearly derailed Notre Dame's national championship aspirations last season at Notre Dame Stadium.
With the Panthers holding a 20-12 lead late in the fourth quarter, the Irish's undefeated record was seemingly coming to a bitter end, before quarterback Everett Golson led the Irish on a memorable tying drive that pushed the game into overtime.
Three overtimes later, and Notre Dame had escaped with a thrilling 29-26 victory.
The contest nearly lived up to its potential as a trap game, as the Irish had defeated then-eighth-ranked Oklahoma on the road, 30-13, the previous Saturday.
This season's meeting doesn't fall into the category of "trap game," though coming off two consecutive games against triple-option teams may make preparation for the Panthers a tad difficult.
How the Irish defense fares against Pittsburgh's methodical, downhill style of play will dictate the outcome of this contest. Fans should also have learned to not count out a Paul Chryst-coached team.
vs. BYU, Nov. 23
Like Pittsburgh, the BYU Cougars were another team to place Notre Dame's national championship aspirations in danger.
Leading 14-10 entering the fourth quarter, BYU was in command, as its defense had stymied a Notre Dame offense that was without starting quarterback Everett Golson, who was out with post-concussion syndromes.
Backup Tommy Rees displayed why Golson usurped him as the starter, as the soon-to-be senior completed just seven of 16 passing attempts for 117 yards, one TD and one interception on the afternoon.
Peering at the statistics, Rees was the sole reason the game was ever in question, as the Irish racked up 270 rushing yards on a Cougar defense that finished the 2012 season ranked second nationally in rushing yards allowed, yielding an average of 86.92.
If Golson proves he can move the ball through the air, a victory shouldn't be tough to come by, though BYU is my second upset candidate, along with Arizona State.
at Stanford, Nov. 30
Perhaps the most formidable annual opponent on the Notre Dame schedule during the Kelly era has been Stanford.
Under former head coach Jim Harbaugh—currently the head coach of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers—Stanford defeated the Irish in three consecutive seasons, before last season's epic 20-13 overtime victory at Notre Dame Stadium.
Both programs have been constructed with similar principles: Control the line of scrimmage, play sound defense and run the football.
Those principles were on display during last season's contest, as the team's combined for just 606 total yards on a chilly, rain-soaked afternoon. It was football's equivalent of a prize fight, with the teams trading blows until the other fell to the mat.
A similar contest is likely to ensue in Palo Alto, Calif., the weekend after Thanksgiving.
And if the football gods are kind to the fans, the stakes could be extraordinarily high.