Notre Dame Football: Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions for 2013
One of the most unique aspects of Notre Dame's historic tradition is playing one of the nation's most challenging schedules, and the Irish's 2013 slate has only reinforced that notion.
Per college football expert and ESPN Insider Phil Steele, Notre Dame ranks 13th nationally in preseason strength of schedule.
Factoring into that ranking are the four preseason AP Top 25 teams among the Irish's 12 regular-season opponents—No. 24 USC, No. 17 Michigan, No. 16 Oklahoma and No. 4 Stanford.
How Notre Dame fares against that quartet of ranked foes will be a telling factor in the team's postseason fate, which, also per Steele, is a return trip to the BCS.
For a forecast of those four matchups, as well as the other eight contests, follow along.
Aug. 31 vs. Temple
The start of first-year Temple head coach Matt Rhule's maiden voyage with the Owls will be at Notre Dame Stadium, with both teams playing their first contest of the 2013 season.
The game also marks the first chapter of Notre Dame's quest to return to the BCS National Championship Game.
The Irish should have no trouble running over Temple—literally. The Owls are coming off a 2012 season in which they ranked 100th nationally in rushing defense, yielding an average of 199.82 yards per game. And with the defensive line featuring just one returning starter, the porous nature of the Owls' rushing defense is likely to continue.
Notre Dame should hold a multiple-touchdown lead by halftime, allowing the second- and third-string units to get experience and build the team's depth.
Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Temple 10
Sept. 7 at Michigan
The past four installments of the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry have provided a collection of breathtaking moments and nail-biting finishes.
A significant contributor to the drama was former starting quarterback Denard Robinson, who was selected 135th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2013 NFL draft.
Robinson's replacement—Devin Gardner—will be no less of a challenge, particularly because of his ability as a passer in offensive coordinator Al Borges' pro-style offense. And while Gardner isn't as dangerous a rusher as Robinson was, the Detroit native is still a threat to move the chains with his feet.
How Gardner and a youthful offensive line stack up against Notre Dame's stout front seven will be the storyline to follow leading up to this contest at Michigan Stadium.
Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Michigan 21
Sept. 14 at Purdue
Notre Dame is in the midst of a five-game winning streak against intrastate rival Purdue.
The Boilermakers will have a new look this season under the direction of first-year head coach Darrell Hazell, who brings with him from Toledo an up-tempo offense.
Hazell and offensive coordinator John Shoop will attempt to use their high-octane approach to spread out and disorient Notre Dame's front seven while moving down the field at a rapid pace.
However, that attack only proves effective if the offense establishes the run early and often. A Boilermaker offensive line featuring three returning starters will be tasked with controlling the line of scrimmage, a tall task against the likes of Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt and Co.
Struggling to run the football will spell doom for Purdue, which will lose its sixth consecutive game to the Irish.
Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Purdue 14
Sept. 21 vs. Michigan State
The most descriptive adjective that can be applied to the recent trend of Notre Dame's rivalry with Michigan State is "smashmouth."
Both teams are physical, aggressive clubs that stress defense and running the football.
Last season's contest, a 20-3 Notre Dame victory at Spartan Stadium, was a perfect illustration of those two similar ideologies clashing. That will once again be on display this season in South Bend, Ind.
Despite a strong showing from its offensive line, Michigan State will experience difficulty in the passing game as it did a season ago, allowing Notre Dame to load the box and sell out against the run.
Remember that the Irish have out-rushed the Spartans, 236-79, in the last two matchups of the series.
Prediction: Notre Dame 21, Michigan State 10*
*I originally predicted Notre Dame to win 17-10, but I now see a wider margin of victory for the Irish.
Sept. 28 vs. Oklahoma
The last time Oklahoma played at Notre Dame Stadium—1999—then-first-year head coach Bob Stoops and his Sooners were upset, 34-30.
Last season's shot at redemption was unsuccessful, as the Irish left Norman, Okla. with a 30-13 victory to keep their undefeated record intact.
Notre Dame will continue its winning ways against Oklahoma this season, especially with the Sooners' alarming lack of depth at defensive back in the 4-2-5 defensive scheme. Considering that Oklahoma also lost five of its top defensive linemen, the front seven won't be able to mask the weakness of the secondary.
Thus, points will be at a premium for the Sooners, who will drop a second consecutive decision to the Irish.
Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Oklahoma 16
Oct. 5 vs. Arizona State (Cowboys Stadium)
One word should come to mind when discussing Notre Dame's Shamrock Series contest against Arizona State at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington: Danger.
The Sun Devils, led by second-year head coach Todd Graham, return a total of 14 starters from last season's squad that finished with an 8-5 record, including a 62-28 victory against Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
Working against the Irish are the circumstances of this matchup—the neutral site location, Arizona State's electric, hurry-up offense and the taxing games preceding.
Another X-factor to consider is Graham's relative success against Notre Dame in recent seasons. His Tulsa squad upset the Irish at Notre Dame Stadium in 2010, while his Pittsburgh team was narrowly defeated, 15-12, in 2011 at Heinz Field.
I've been predicting this game as the Irish's letdown game since discussion of the 2013 season began in earnest.
Prediction: Arizona State 27, Notre Dame 17
Oct. 19 vs. USC
The central theme of Notre Dame's contest against USC will be defeating the Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since 2001.
USC, led by the fourth-year and oft-criticized head coach Lane Kiffin, will feature a new starting quarterback in place of Matt Barkley, currently a member of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles.
The battle has come down to Max Wittek—who started against the Irish last season—and Cody Kessler.
If the Irish defense can consistently rattle Wittek or Kessler into making poor decisions with the football , Notre Dame could end its losing streak to the Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium.
Prediction: Notre Dame 28, USC 10
Oct. 26 at Air Force
Defeating Air Force is easier said than done.
Containing the triple-option attack constructed by head coach Troy Calhoun is never a simple task, though Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has formulated an effective game plan for the option offense presented by the service academies.
The Irish held a 40-point lead against the Falcons late in the fourth quarter during the teams' last meeting in 2011, though the Falcons managed two touchdowns in garbage time, eventually losing 59-33.
More of the same should be in store this season.
Prediction: Notre Dame 42, Air Force 13
Nov. 2 vs. Navy
After an embarrassing 35-17 loss to the Midshipmen in 2010, Notre Dame's coaching staff dedicated itself to containing Navy's tricky triple-option offense.
The result was winning the ensuing two meetings by a combined score of 106-24.
Last season's 50-10 demolition of head coach Ken Niumatalolo's squad in Dublin, Ireland was the third contest in which Notre Dame scored 50 or more points against a service academy during Brian Kelly's tenure in South Bend, Ind.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Irish should cruise against the Midshipmen once again.
Prediction: Notre Dame 45, Navy 17
Nov. 9 at Pittsburgh
Notre Dame's national championship aspirations were nearly derailed by Pittsburgh last season.
Late in the third quarter of last season's contest, the Panthers held a 20-6 lead, with the Irish's undefeated season clinging to life support.
However, former starting quarterback Everett Golson rallied the team to a stunning 29-26 victory that required three overtimes. Three Irish turnovers and a handful of defensive miscues placed Notre Dame at odds against the Panthers, who have now lost consecutive games to Notre Dame by a total of six points.
With former Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage replacing the departed Tino Sunseri, Pittsburgh won't have a drop-off in experience at the position, though the transfer of running back Rushel Shell and a retooled offensive line won't do the Panthers any favors.
Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Pittsburgh 13
Nov. 23 vs. BYU
Had Notre Dame's schedule not allowed for a bye week preceding this matchup, I would have immediately labeled it a trap game.
However, the Irish do indeed have a bye week to prepare. Along with this game being senior day, head coach Brian Kelly will have his team fully focused on the Cougars, who were narrowly defeated, 17-14, at Notre Dame Stadium last season.
Two Cougars to keep an eye on are linebacker Kyle Van Noy and wide receiver Cody Hoffman, two potential first-round selections in the 2014 NFL draft.
If the Irish contain those two, a victory should be in store.
But with the temperature likely to be in the high 30s and both teams possessing dominant defenses, a slugfest could be in the works.
Prediction: Notre Dame 17, BYU 3
Nov. 30 at Stanford
Had former Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor been ruled to have broken the plane at the end zone during overtime at Notre Dame Stadium last season, the Cardinal very well could have been in contention to play in last season's national title game.
The controversial goal-line call has likely left Stanford to wonder "what if" during the offseason, and it will be a heavy topic of discussion leading up to the teams' meeting at Stanford Stadium the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
With these two teams nearly identical in their philosophies, the winner will be the team that makes the fewest mistakes.
Prediction: Stanford 17, Notre Dame 10
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