Power Ranking Notre Dame's 2013 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

Connor Killoren@@Connor_KillorenSenior Analyst IJune 17, 2013

Power Ranking Notre Dame's 2013 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

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    Notre Dame and tradition are synonymous. 

    Of the variety of the unique tenets within the program, perhaps none set the Irish apart from others as powerfully as their annually grueling schedule. 

    The 2013 slate awaiting head coach Brian Kelly and Co. is a continuance of that tradition. It is replete with harrowing challenges. 

    And with Notre Dame at the forefront of the BCS National Championship discussion, each of the Irish's opponents will carry with them the fire of acute motivation. 

    Which of those challengers poses the greatest threat to knock the Irish from the pedestal? 

12. Navy

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    For a stretch in the late 2000s, Navy had become a thorn the Irish's side. 

    Prior to the teams' meeting in 2007, Notre Dame had won 43 consecutive games in the series, which was, at the time, an NCAA record. 

    However, the tables were turned in dramatic fashion. Navy ended the streak in 2007 and won three of the next four installments of the rivalry. 

    Luckily for the Irish, Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco have concocted a recipe for success against Navy's tricky triple-option offense, outscoring the Midshipmen by a combined score of 106-24 during the past two seasons. 

    With eight defensive starters returning from a unit that limited Navy to just 149 rushing yards in Dublin, Ireland last season, a similar outcome is likely to transpire at Notre Dame Stadium this season. 

11. Air Force

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    The Irish will be locked in and focused on defending the triple-option offense, since the Air Force game is scheduled right before the Navy game. Yet the most worrisome adjustment facing the Irish is playing in high altitude, as the contest will take place at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the Air Force Academy. 

    The last time Notre Dame traveled to Falcon Stadium—2006—former head coach Charlie Weis guided his Irish squad to a resounding 39-17 victory against the academy. 

10. Temple

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    Temple's trip to South Bend, Indiana to open the 2013 season will mark the first meeting between the schools. 

    The Owls find themselves in a state of transition. Former head coach Steve Addazio, who guided the team to a 13-11 record during the past two seasons, accepted the head-coaching job at Boston College. 

    The school moved quickly to hire a replacement, which it accomplished by hiring Matt Rhule, a former Temple assistant from 2006 through 2011.

    Unfortunately for Rhule, the first game of his head-coaching career will arrive on the road against a team likely to be ranked in the top 10 of the season's initial rankings. That circumstance in itself is enough to make a tally mark in Sharpie in the win column. 

9. Purdue

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    Like Temple, the Purdue Boilermakers are adjusting to life with a new head coach. 

    Darrell Hazell, who spent the past two seasons as the head coach at Kent State, has taken over a program that ended last season in embarrassing fashion, suffering a 58-0 defeat at the hands of Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. 

    One of the many tasks facing Hazell is ending the Boilermakers' five-game losing streak against Notre Dame, which dates back to 2008. 

    This season's meeting, which may be the last meeting between the schools for the foreseeable future due to the Irish's scheduling agreement with Atlantic Coast Conference, is set for Ross-Ade Stadium, where Notre Dame cruised to a 38-10 victory in 2011. 

    Tommy Rees, who has been announced as the Irish's starting quarterback, was a key factor during that 28-point win, completing 24 of 40 pass attempts for 254 yards and three touchdowns while not committing a turnover. 

8. Arizona State

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    One of three Pac-12 teams on Notre Dame's 2013 schedule, Arizona State will meet the Irish at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas in the fifth installment of the Shamrock Series. 

    The Sun Devils, who finished 8-5 last season, are led by second-year head coach Todd Graham, who has given the Irish problems during the Kelly era at Notre Dame. 

    Graham's Tulsa squad earned a shocking 28-27 victory against the Irish at Notre Dame Stadium in 2010.

    One season later, Graham faced Notre Dame once again, though this time as the head coach at Pittsburgh. His Panthers narrowly lost a nail-biting contest 15-12 at Heinz Field. 

    Either way you frame it, Graham has Notre Dame's number, and a close contest on October 5 shouldn't be a surprise. 

7. Pittsburgh

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    Had it not been for a heroic comeback, Pittsburgh would have been the killer of Irish dreams. 

    Last season, holding an eight-point lead late in the fourth quarter at Notre Dame Stadium, the Panthers were on the verge of shattering Notre Dame's undefeated record and hopes of reaching the BCS National Championship Game. 

    But former starting quarterback Everett Golson led the Irish offense down the field to tie the game at 20 before diving into the end zone for the winning score in the third overtime session.

    This season, the Panthers will be intent upon avenging the soul-crushing loss, and they'll have the opportunity to do so on their home turf at Heinz Field.

    But with former starting quarterback Tino Sunseri having graduated and running back Rushel Shell having transferred, the Panthers will be undermanned and thin on experience offensively. And had Notre Dame not committed three turnovers in last season's meeting, the drama of the three-overtime affair wouldn't have occurred.

    Just as the 2011 season taught Irish fans, turnovers can make or break a season.  

6. Michigan State

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    After converting a fake field-goal pass to defeat Notre Dame at Spartan Stadium in 2010, Michigan State has been outclassed by the Irish in consecutive seasons. 

    The Spartans have been outscored 51-16 by Notre Dame in the previous two meetings, though this season's matchup is likely to be more evenly balanced. 

    With a wealth of experience along the offensive line, defending the run against the Spartans will be no small task for the Irish defense. Incumbent starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell has a bevy of playmakers to distribute the ball to, and the Spartan offense will be much improved.

    Because both teams are intent upon winning the battle at the line of scrimmage and running the football, special teams plays and turnovers will be major factors in the outcome of this contest. 

5. BYU

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    Following a similar storyline to Notre Dame's victory against Pittsburgh, the Irish were shockingly pushed to the brink by a BYU team that was similar to Notre Dame. 

    Yet despite outrushing the Cougars by 204 yards, the Irish's minimal scoring production was their downfall in yet another dangerously close contest, narrowly defeating the Cougars, 17-14. 

    Head coach Bronco Mendenhall and the Cougars will make a return trip to South Bend, Indiana this fall, and the same stifling defense will be in tow, led by linebacker Kyle Van Noy. 

    Should Notre Dame's offense struggle to put points on the board once again against the Cougars, the Irish may be in for another long afternoon. 

4. USC

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    Notre Dame has the opportunity to end a rather bothersome streak when USC visits campus October 19. 

    The Irish haven't defeated the Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium since 2001, though their best chance to do so is this season. 

    Former offensive stars Matt Barkley and Robert Woods have taken their talents to the NFL, leaving the Trojans with one certified playmaker in receiver Marqise Lee. However, quarterback Max Wittek, who is widely expected to win the starting job, earned his first career start last season against the Irish. 

    Wittek, a redshirt sophomore, completed 14 of 23 passing attempts for 186 yards and one touchdown, but he threw two interceptions in an eventual 22-13 loss that propelled Notre Dame to the BCS National Championship Game. 

    The Irish struggled to convert in the red zone in that contest, settling for five Kyle Brindza field goals. 

    Should the Irish put the ball in the end zone consistently against the Trojans, their first victory against USC at Notre Dame Stadium in 12 years may become a reality. 

3. Michigan

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    Perhaps the only game on Notre Dame's 2013 schedule that will have connotations of revenge attached is a date with Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan on September 7. 

    The last time Notre Dame visited Michigan Stadium, former Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson led a comeback for the ages, digging the team out of a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to earn a 35-31 victory that dropped the Irish to 0-2 on a young 2011 season. 

    This season's contest will once again be played under the lights, setting up similar conditions to that of the 2011 matchup. 

    Rees completed 27 of 39 passing attempts for 315 yards and three touchdowns, but he committed three crucial turnovers that spelled doom for the Irish. 

    Rees will likely be the Irish's starter at the Big House once again. He needs to avoid turnovers, specifically in the red zone, if Notre Dame is to avenge its 2011 loss in the same facility. 

2. Oklahoma

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    In their first trip to Notre Dame Stadium since 1999, the Oklahoma Sooners will be seeking to avenge last season's 30-13 loss to the Irish at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. 

    The challenge facing head coach Bob Stoops is replacing record-setting quarterback Landry Jones, who was selected 115th overall by the Pittsburgh Steeler's in April's NFL draft. 

    Blake "Belldozer" Bell is the next in line at quarterback, though his ability as a passer will need to be proven. The Sooners have used him primarily as a running quarterback in goal-line situations. 

    How he transitions to the starting role will play a large role in the Sooners' fortunes during the 2013 season. 

1. Stanford

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    In what was perhaps one of the most memorable games in program history, especially given the circumstances, Notre Dame defeated Stanford 20-13 on an epic goal-line stand in overtime a season ago. 

    Yet defeating the Cardinal in consecutive seasons is a tall order for the Irish. 

    Head coach David Shaw's squad returns a formidable offensive line, but he must replace running back Stepfan Taylor, who became Stanford's all-time leading rusher last season. 

    The Cardinal will be a stout defensive team once again, led by defensive end Ben Gardner and linebacker Trent Murphy.