When I first looked at Notre Dame's 2009 football schedule, I honestly felt pretty good about it. Not great, but I thought we would be a lock for eight wins.
Then I took a closer look...and my thoughts scared me.
Seemingly every team on the schedule is breaking in a quarterback with inexperience.
By the time the Irish play most of those teams, each QB will have had a few games under his belt, but the first year for new college QBs is always tumultuous.
Notre Dame returns Jr. Jimmy Clausen in his third year of meaningful snaps. Last season, he showed signs of brilliance at times and signs of incompetence at others.
The stage is set for a breakout season, a la Brady Quinn's junior campaign in 2005.
Wide receivers Golden Tate and Michael Floyd are also back to add to their already impressive collegiate resumes. They comprise arguably the best one-two WR punch in college football.
Sophomore Kyle Rudolph is the next pro-bound TE, following in the footsteps of predecessors Anthony Fasano and John Carlson.
The offseason addition of running backs coach Tony Alford and offensive line coach Frank Verducci will hopefully provide fill the void in the Irish offense: QB protection and a strong running game to set up play action bombs to Tate and Floyd.
Oh, and it doesn't hurt that Weis is back to calling offensive plays without the distraction of also coaching special teams and helping out on defense. That burden falls on newly appointed defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta.
Corwin Brown, previously the defensive coordinator, moves into a new role as associate head coach, co-defensive coordinator, and defensive backs coach.
So what do all of these moves mean for the Irish in 2009? Let's have a look into Brian's crystal ball...
If the Irish give a strong performance, expectations will be even higher. Conversely, a weak performance could be the prelude to a disappointing year.
The Wolfpack, with its Pistol offense, is an interesting matchup for any team.
While it's one of the few teams the Irish will face all year with experience at the QB position (Colin Kaepernick), the Irish aerial attack will be much more potent.
Irish linebacker Brian Smith records the first of many sacks for the Irish defense as Kaepernick is pressured all afternoon into making poor decisions.
Jimmy Clausen throws for 320 yards and three TDs with zero INTs and Armando Allen tacks on a rushing TD. Nick Tausch attempts his first collegiate FG and shows confidence by nailing a 38-yd FG straight through the uprights.
Final Score: Notre Dame 31, Nevada 17
A disappointing 3-9 season left a sour taste in Ann Arbor. Does the spread really have a chance to succeed in the Big Ten?
Round one for the Irish defense against a freshman QB (Tate Forcier) has the makings of an ugly afternoon for the winged-helmets.
Forcier will have a roller coaster game with several highlights, most of which to the delight of Notre Dame fans and to the dismay of the home crowd.
Whoever plays return man for ND (Armando Allen, Golden Tate or true Fr. Cierre Wood) will shimmy through the Wolverines' special teams for the first Irish kickoff return for a TD since Armando Allen's in the Hawaii Bowl last year.
Michigan manages to score two TDs with an additional FG tacked on for good measure.
Notre Dame proves to be too much to handle, though, as Clausen throws for 268 yards and three TDs while James Aldridge and Armando Allen each add one rushing TD.
Notre Dame has not beaten MSU at home in over a decade.
Despite this fact, I feel fairly confident in ND's ability to end that streak this year.
MSU has a bit of a QB circus going on as a decision has not yet been made on who will take the first snap of the season: RS So. Kirk Cousins or RS So. Keith Nichol.
There's no saying the starter of the Spartans' first game will still be the starter by the time MSU rolls into Notre Dame Stadium, either.
Even with the questions on offense, the Spartan defense will keep things interesting throughout the game.
The Irish will pound the ball early and often, eclipsing the 100-yard mark by the first series of the second half.
Allen gets into it not only on the ground, but through the air as well, catching a ball out of the backfield for a 30-yard Irish score in the second quarter.
Cousins and Nichol are rotated throughout the game, causing inconsistencies in the Spartan offense and numerous mis-communicated routes.
Nick Tausch connects on 2-of-3 FGs for the Irish on top of four passing TDs from Clausen to Tate (two), Floyd (one), and Kamara (one).
Final Score: Notre Dame 34, Michigan State 28
4. Notre Dame at Purdue—7p CST on ABC/ESPN, September 26
The opposing QB carousel continues with another new starter in Joey Elliot for the Boilermakers.
Elliot was supposed to engage in a battle last spring, but expected starter Justin Siller was dismissed from the team, earning Elliot a default victory.
A career backup to the departed Curtis Painter, Elliot is a RS Sr. who has played several games over the past three seasons.
Even his limited game experience, though, will not be enough to overcome the hurdle of learning a new system under first-year head coach Danny Hope.
ND pounces all over the Boilermakers in this contest. It's not even close.
Clausen throws for five TDs in a breakout game of more than 400 yards passing. Aldridge adds one rushing TD and Brian Smith recovers a fumble for another score.
Final Score: Notre Dame 49, Purdue 14
5. Washington at Notre Dame—2:30p CST on NBC, October 3
Former USC Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian is in his first year on the job as head coach of the Huskies.
There should be no doubt that Sarkisian can improve upon his predecessor's shortcomings. A winless 2008 campaign will hopefully represent rock bottom for a tradition-rich program.
QB Jake Locker is probably better than advertised and with the help of Sarkisian, could have a standout year.
His development will be marked this season as the Huskies put a more competitive product on the field than the previous few years under Tyrone Willingham.
Will Sarkisian provide enough spark to defeat the Irish? No. But it should be a slightly more competitive game than last year's.
Allen will rush for 140 yards, supplementing another solid performance from Clausen, who throws for 280 yards, three TDs and one INT.
Robert Blanton picks off an errant Jake Locker pass for a TD, too, though Locker throws for two TDs and rushes for another.
Final Score: Notre Dame 31, Washington 21
6. Southern California at Notre Dame—2:30p CST on NBC, October 17
Quick: Who was the last Notre Dame coach to beat USC? If you guessed Bob Davie, you are correct.
His 2001 Irish squad beat Pete Carroll's Trojans, 27-16, in South Bend.
The stage will be set for a matchup of two top 10 teams when the Irish and Trojans resume one of college football's most exciting rivalries.
Notre Dame will pull out all the stops for this game—green jerseys, stadium pep rally, Joe Montana, Jerome Bettis, and a host of other Irish greats.
Believe it or not, the Irish have a tremendous opportunity to take down the Trojans. Yes, I know this is essentially the same Notre Dame squad that last year failed to get a first down against the Trojans until last play of the third quarter, finished with nine yards in the first half, and managed only three points.
But ND's defense will face a green Trojan offense, led by RS So. Aaron Corp, who will have only five games under his belt at this point in the season.
Brian Smith, Robert Blanton, Ethan Johnson, and the rest of the Irish defense are eager to avenge last year's defeat at the Coliseum.
Couple that with the confidence from five straight wins and the advantage of 80,000 Irish faithful willing their team on to defeat the evil empire...smells like a recipe for success to me.
Can the Irish pull off the upset? Yes. Do I honestly believe that? Yes. Will they?
Yes. No Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush means a repeat of 2005's classic, except without the soul-crushing defeat.
Notre Dame asserts itself as a legitimate national title contender by squeaking out a victory and ending the eight-year drought.
Final Score: Notre Dame 21, Southern Cal 17
7. Notre Dame vs. Boston College—2:30p CST on NBC, October 24
With the Irish fresh off of a defeat over the Trojans, this is the very definition of a trap game.
Given the Eagles' recent success against the Irish, I am tempted to pick the upset here, but there are few key factors at stake that will enable the Irish to walk away with this one.
BC will be breaking in a new quarterback this season after the expected front-runner, Dominique Davis, was dismissed from the team for academic reasons and has since transferred.
Justin Tuggle, a RS Fr., or Codi Beck, a transfer from American River Junior College, will earn the starting nod in this one. Both have yet to log actual game time for the Eagles.
Moreover, the Eagles will be breaking in their third coach in four years.
The potent Irish offense will not repeat last season's embarrassing shutout in Chestnut Hill, en route to a comfortable victory.
Final Score: Notre Dame 34, Boston College 10
8. Notre Dame vs. Washington State @ San Antonio, TX—6:30p CST on NBC, October 31
This game will mark the first of several off site home games for the Irish, playing in hot recruiting beds around the country to add more exposure to the university.
Let's keep this one simple, though—Wazzou won two games last year and not much has changed to suggest they can eclipse that mark.
Armando Allen has a monster game with 150 yards on the ground, two rushing TDs, and one receiving TD. Clausen has a great game as well, throwing for 325 yards and three TDs.
Final Score: Notre Dame 38, Washington State 6
9. Notre Dame vs. Navy—1:30p CST on NBC, November 7
All is back to normal in the world as the Irish started another winning streak against the Midshipmen last season.
Gone is former QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, among a host of other key cogs (namely FB Eric Kettani) to the well-oiled Midshipmen option attack.
While its team is not chock full of blue chip future NFL stars, the Midshipmen are always a tough out due to their gimmicky offense and overall discipline.
Any man offering up his life for his country is certainly disciplined enough to run like a banshee on the football field for 60 minutes at full speed.
Navy did manage to snap Notre Dame's 43-game winning streak in 2007 in a rousing three-OT thriller. Will they do it again? No.
The Midshipmen secondary is too porous to combat ND's aerial attack. Clausen and co. will have a field day.
Final Score: Notre Dame 38, Navy 13
10. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh—time TBA, likely ESPN, ABC, or ESPN2, November 14
As unlikely as it may seem, the Irish will come into this game with the opportunity to tack on 10 wins in the regular season for the first time since 2006.
You better believe it can happen.
I don't expect as wide of a spread in this year's game, especially given the epic collapse last year in South Bend, but I do expect the Irish to finish strong and not blow an early lead in this one.
If Pitt still had "Shady" McCoy, I would be inclined to pick them in this bash. But Shady bolted Pitt after just two years in collegiate action (he was drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia Eagles.)
This won't be a high scoring game, but it will certainly be close.
Without a legitimate threat in the backfield, the Panthers will face an afternoon of white uniforms on their side of the ball.
Tenuta will unleash his blitz-happy defense upon the Panthers all afternoon, evening, or whatever time of day it is.
Darrin Walls, the hometown boy, will return an INT for a touchdown in this one as the Irish defense sets the pace early.
Final Score: Notre Dame 28, Pittsburgh 14
11. Notre Dame vs. Connecticut—1:30p CST on NBC, November 21
Senior day for the fighting Irish should have a much different ring to it in 2009 than it did last year.
If you recall, the Irish blew a lead against the lowly Syracuse Orange (3-9) in 2008.
This time around, though, ND will have learned to close out the games it could not shut the door on one year ago.
Led by seasoned veterans on both sides of the ball, the Irish will take command early in this one.
Former Irish QB Zach Frazer will be the likely starter for the Huskies in this clash. Last time he was in ND stadium, he was in a competition to earn the starting nod for the 2007 Irish squad.
After losing the battle to Demetrius Jones (now a converted LB at Cincinnati), Evan Sharpley, and Jimmy Clausen, he was granted permission to transfer to UCONN in July of '07.
Frazer has improved since his days in South Bend, but I don't expect him to be a miracle-worker.
The Irish win this one and to move to 11-0 on the year before heading to Stanford and an inevitable BCS bowl game.
Final Score: Notre Dame 34, UCONN 17
12. Notre Dame at Stanford—7p CST on ABC, November 28
By now you're probably thinking I'm crazy. What are the odds ND comes into the final regular season game of the season undefeated (let alone a win against USC)?
Total it up throughout the year and you're looking at a .049 percent chance of winning all 11 games to this point.
Here's where things get wild.
By this point, the bandwagon will be full of the usual array of lovers and haters.
One more win, and ND can possibly enter the national title game (depending on how other teams fare throughout the season and how much the Irish are penalized by their weak strength of schedule).
Will it happen? No. I find it rather discomforting that I feel this way, but I don't have a good feeling about this matchup.
Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh has silently been working miracles out west in Palo Alto, CA. The Cardinal have pulled recruits away from USC and even beat the Trojans two years ago at the Coliseum.
RS Fr. Andrew Luck beat out RS Sr. Tavita Pritchard in spring ball to win the starting QB position and is poised to follow in the lines of Stanford's rich tradition of talented signal-callers.
He clearly has the brain (he was valedictorian of his high school) and talent (rated as high as the No. 4 QB in his recruiting class) to lead the Cardinal offense.
Even if he doesn't pan out in his first year at the helm, Pritchard is capable of running the show.
It is with great regret I provide my final prediction for the 2009 Irish—an upset loss to the Cardinal over Thanksgiving weekend.
With so much riding on this game, the Irish will definitely be focused, but I fear they will be too stiff.
Harbaughs will take advantage of that tension, ending any talk of putting the Irish in the national championship game.
Final Score: Stanford 20, Notre Dame 14
Disagree? Feel free to leave a comment with your set of predictions. We encourage debate here at Stars and Slights.
Stay tuned for my outlook on the 2009 Virginia Tech Hokies as well as Justin's predictions for VT and ND.