The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are back on campus and preparing for the upcoming campaign after a tough offseason.
Months after a dismantling by the Alabama Crimson Tide in the BCS National Championship game, head coach Chip Kelly’s squad is retooled from the top down and looks ready for another run.
Let’s take a look at a few critical contests in 2013 that the Irish cannot afford to overlook if they are going to get back to the national title game.
Notre Dame at Michigan Wolverines: Sept. 7, 8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/2 (TBA)
The second game of the season will be one of the last contests between the two historic rivals for quite some time, as the longtime foes have cancelled all contests between 2015 and 2017.
With this early-season showdown serving as the first of two matchups left before the two pack it in for a few years, you can expect the competition to be tougher than ever.
Devin Gardner should be under center for the Maize and Blue when the action kicks off in early September, with former superstar quarterback Denard Robinson now competing in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Gardner is another dual-threat signal-caller who may be an even more dangerous passer than Shoelace. The key to the game for Notre Dame will be getting pressure on the QB, which the Irish should be fantastic at doing in 2013.
With one of the best defensive lines in football coming at him repeatedly, expect Gardner to be flushed from the pocket and harried around the field at The Big House.
As long as the Irish can force a few turnovers and keep Gardner uncomfortable, they will have no problem walking away with a victory.
Notre Dame vs. USC Trojans: Oct. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC
The Trojans are one of Notre Dame’s fiercest rivals, but the two programs have gone in different directions over the past few years.
While the Irish have been winning plenty of games and competing in major bowl contests, USC has been struggling to find consistency and escape NCAA sanctions.
Coach Lane Kiffin will be trying to change that in his third campaign in Southern California and knows that coming up with a victory in South Bend would be huge, as his squad ran away with a win there back in 2011 on the way to a 10-2 season.
The Irish had their revenge last year, heading into the Coliseum to nab a 22-13 win as the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.
One fact looming over this game is that Notre Dame hasn’t been able to fend off the Trojans at home since 2001.
Which side will win this matchup?
That should all change in October, as the experienced and deep Fighting Irish take on an opponent with inexperience at the quarterback position due to Matt Barkley’s tenure under center coming to an end.
It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if the Irish have their way with Southern Cal and end up with a blowout victory, but they still need to be on their toes and remember that this is a foe that has excelled at winning in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus.