In the first installment of a 12-part series previewing Notre Dame's 2013 opponents, I'll dissect the Irish's first opponent: Temple.
For the first time since 2011, Notre Dame will be opening its season at home, this season against Temple, a member of the newly formed American Athletic Conference.
The meeting will be the first between the two schools, with the Irish slated to visit Temple at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field in 2014, along with a third meeting tentatively scheduled for 2017.
With the Irish on a mission to make a return trip to the BCS National Championship Game, beginning the season with a statement victory would aid in that process. While Temple isn't a marquee opponent, running the Owls out of South Bend, Ind., would be the first step in cementing the Irish as contenders.
However, a road date at Michigan looms large the following week, setting up for the possibility of Notre Dame coming out flat against an inferior opponent.
Anyone who remembers the Irish's 2011 season-opening contest, a 23-20 loss to South Florida at Notre Dame Stadium, understands that concept.
For now, a primer of the Irish's initial contest of 2013 will have to suffice.
Game Day Information
Who: Notre Dame vs. Temple
When: Aug. 31, 3:30 p.m. EDT
Where: Notre Dame Stadium
Head Coach: Matt Rhule (first season)
Conference: American Athletic
Returning Starters: Offense (8), Defense (6)
2012 Record: 4-7
Under former head coach Steve Addazio—who has since accepted the same position at Boston College—the Owls employed a spread offense similar to what Florida ran with quarterback Tim Tebow while Addazio was the Gators' offensive coordinator.
With Rhule taking the reins, the Owls will shift to a more traditional, pro-style approach that begins with a dropback passer at quarterback.
The Owls will turn to redshirt junior Connor Reilly to lead the offense, despite the Fairfax, Va., native lacking live game experience. However, the 6'2", 200-pound Reilly ended spring practice as the Owls' No. 1 quarterback.
Fortunately for Reilly and the offense, a veteran offensive line will be in place that boasts a combined 58 starts and paved the way for the Owls' 31st-ranked rushing attack that averaged 201.18 yard per game last season.
Rhule will be left to think about what could have been if former running backs Matt Brown and Montel Harris had been in tow this season, but both exhausted their collegiate eligibility at the conclusion of last season.
Kenneth Harper Jr. is assumed to fill the vacant starting role, with two true freshmen, Zaire Williams and Jihaad Pretlow, expected to battle for carries.
First-year defensive coordinator Phil Snow arrives at Temple with a bevy of experience at his disposal, having served as a defensive assistant with the NFL's Detroit Lions from 2005-09.
After his stint with the Lions, Snow accepted the defensive coordinator job at Eastern Michigan, where he also coached the Eagles' defensive backs.
Snow has quite a harrowing task awaiting him, as Temple's rushing defense is in desperate need of repair after finishing the 2012 season with a national ranking of 100th in the category, allowing an average of 199.82 yards per game.
And with only one returning starter along the defensive line, that task likely won't be accomplished during the 2013 season.
However, the Owls do have the services of 2012 freshman All-American linebacker Tyler Matakevich anchoring the front seven.
Undoubtedly, the defense will be the team's weak link in 2013, though the path to improvement will be well on its way, with a stronger unit likely to be produced in 2014.
While the hiring of Rhule was the best hire Temple could have made given his familiarity and experience with the program (Rhule served as an assistant at the school from 2006-11), his first season as a head coach isn't likely to see an improvement from last season's 4-7 record.
And with his first career game as a head coach arriving on the road against an opponent that played in last season's BCS National Championship Game, earning a victory is likely out of the question.
The Irish are simply too stout along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and they boast a top-10 caliber defense that was the catalyst of the team's run to last season's national title game.
While the Owls could keep things interesting early on, expect Notre Dame to have this one wrapped up by the second quarter.
Predicted Score: Notre Dame 38, Temple 10
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