The 2013 season is going to be a test in consistency for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
After back-to-back 8-5 seasons to kick off the Brian Kelly era, the Golden Domers broke onto the scene for the first time since the 2006 season with a perfect 12-0 season that earned them a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.
Fresh off of the breakthrough season Kelly will want to show that his program is ready to be a consistent presence in the BCS and/or playoffs for years to come.
That's a task that won't be easy, though. The Irish have plenty of talent coming back all over the field but will be tested throughout their schedule.
Here's a look at the full schedule and the three toughest tests that Notre Dame will face in its quest to get back to the national spotlight.
Sept. 7 at Michigan Wolverines
The past four times these two teams have met, the game has been decided by a touchdown or less. Don't expect that trend to come to an end this season.
The Wolverines lose Denard Robinson at quarterback, but Devin Gardner is not to be taken lightly. The former wide receiver still has enough athleticism to extend the play and boasted a much better touchdown-to-interception ratio than Robinson. Gardner tossed 11 touchdowns to just five interceptions, while Robinson threw nine touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Considering four of Robinson's interceptions came against the Irish last season, the departure of the electric quarterback actually makes this matchup a bit more difficult than last season.
The Irish won this game last season despite getting just 115 passing yards out of Tommy Rees at quarterback. If Kelly can manage the team to another win over Michigan, it will go a long way in setting up momentum for a successful season.
Sept. 28 vs. Oklahoma Sooners
Last year's 30-13 victory over the Sooners was a pivotal moment in Notre Dame's 2012 campaign.
Not only was it the last ranked team on the schedule, but it provided the stage for one of Everett Golson's best performances of the season. The Irish pounded the ball on the ground for 215 yards, and the athletic quarterback was responsible for 64 of them.
Finding that success on the ground will be a challenge this time. Unless Malik Zaire or Andrew Hendrix has taken over at this point in the season, the Irish will have a far less athletic quarterback in Rees at the helm. Key contributors on the ground, Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, are also gone.
Oklahoma isn't without its losses, though. Landry Jones, who passed for over 350 yards against the Irish, is gone and will be replaced by Blake Bell. The junior quarterback has 24 rushing touchdowns in the past two seasons but isn't proven as a passer yet.
Coming in at No. 16 in the USA Today football coaches poll, the Sooners are expected to be one of the best teams in the Big 12 again. A win over them would confirm Notre Dame's status as a BCS contender.
Nov. 30 at Stanford Cardinal
This is the greatest test of all for the Irish.
They won this game by the slimmest of margins last year as the college football universe erupted with controversy when the Irish held their ground against Stepfan Taylor to win 20-13 in overtime.
This year's clash could be just as fun.
The Cardinal didn't lose a single game after the loss to the Irish last season and bring back quarterback Kevin Hogan, who didn't play in the Notre Dame game. They also bring back plenty of talent from the defense that was No. 11 in the nation in scoring defense.
The Irish return plenty of key contributors on the defense that was No. 2 in the category, including the big anchors, Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt. This has all of the makings of a classic to finish off the season as both teams could be ranked in the Top Five.
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