Last year at this time, while most Domers were predicting 10 wins and a solid shot for a BCS game, I said, "Watch out, the schedule isn't that easy."
I'm saying the same thing about this year's Notre Dame football schedule—It's not easy. This is a tough schedule!
The 2010 schedule is tough because, other than Army and Western Michigan, there's no game that doesn't appear to cause problems for the inexperienced Irish—a team with a new head coach and his new spread offense.
The Irish will open the 2010 campaign with an untested quarterback.
They'll face 10 teams with experienced quarterbacks. Pittsburgh and Western Michigan have to replace theirs, but neither expect a drop-off in performance.
Four opponenets (USC, Pitt, Utah & Stanford) are on everyone's preseason top 25. Navy made ESPN's Mark Schlabach's early top 25.
Boston College and Michigan State look like two dark horses that could surprise a lot of people this coming season. Notre Dame plays both on the road.
The Irish have to play Purdue, Michigan, @Michigan State, Stanford, @ Boston College, and Pitt, on six consecutive Saturdays, to start the season. Tell me that's not tough!
THE GOOD NEWS
The best thing about the 2010 edition of Irish football is their coach Brian Kelly.
In three previous head coaching jobs (Grand Valley State, Central Michigan & Cincinnati), Kelly performed miraculously.
He won multiple National Championships at Grand Valley, turned perennial loser CMU into a winner, and instantly made Cincinnati a top 25 team.
Kelly's a no-nonsense guy.
Remember all those missed tackles in the last half of the 2009 season? That won't happen anymore at Notre Dame!
Another bit of good news: Opponents will have to spend more than one week to prepare properly for Kelly's offense.
THE BAD NEWS
The bad news is twofold: The Irish lost the most potent part of last year's offense when quarterback Jimmy Clausen, and his favorite receiver Golden Tate, left school early for the NFL. Both were taken in the second round of the NFL draft.
Dayne Crist, Clausen's replacement, has only thrown 20 passes in his career and he is coming off surgery for a torn acl.
Crist has supposedly healed well and made a strong performance in spring practice.
If Clausen had remained in school, he too would have to learn Kelly's system from the beginning.
THE SCHEDULE (FROM EASIEST TO TOUGHEST)
ARMY This game will be the first football game played at the new Yankee Stadium. It's uncertain who will have the home-field advantage. My guess is the Irish will, but if the game is close, the neutrals could jump on Army's band wagon.
Army's coming off a 5-7 season with a win over the SEC's Vanderbilt. This is the second season under the leadership of Coach Rich Ellerson, and the Cadets should show improvement.
Quarterback Trent Steelman got a lot of experience last year and proved efficient at running the option.
The offensive line is improved and the defense played unexpectedly well in 2009. Army hopes to end a 15 year bowl drought in 2010.
WESTERN MICHIGAN WMU is coming off a 5-7 season, without a good win.
RB Brandon West, the NCAA all-time leader in all purpose yards, has graduated.
Quarterback Alex Carter didn't play a lot last year, but he's big (6'2", 225 lbs) and has a big-time arm. WMU returns four on the offensive line and two receivers.
TULSA Tulsa's another team coming off a 5-7 record in 2009. They lost 46-45 to top 25 Houston.
Junior quarterback G. J. Kline is the real deal and so is wr Maris Johnson, the team's best player.
Kline threw for over 2200 yards (22 tds, 10 ints) in 2009. Tulsa could end up with the same record as last year and be an improved team. The schedule has gotten tougher.
PURDUE Purdue finished 5-7 last year but beat Michigan and Ohio State. Everyone remembers their loss to Notre Dame in the last minute (24-21). They also lost close games to Oregon (38-36) and Michigan State (40-37).
Does the name Robert Marve ring a bell?
He's the quarterback who started for the University of Miami as a freshman, but couldn't get along with Randy Shannon. He'll be starting for Purdue this season.
The defense has to replace the entire secondary but will be very strong in six of the seven up-front positions.
The offense is going to put points on the board with experience at rb and wr.
MICHIGAN Everyone remembers last year's 38-34 road loss to the Wolverines.
Michigan finished 5-7 with tough losses to Iowa (30-28) and Purdue (38-36). They also finished strong with a gutty performance against Ohio State.
This team is the biggest mystery on Notre Dame's schedule.
With so much pressure for Rich Rodriguez to win, and controversy over the "practice scandal", who knows how they will respond.
Michigan's offense was young last season, and will get better with experience. The defense needs major fixing.
Quarterback Tate Forcier, the hero of last year's Notre Dame game, played well early, got hurt in the mid-season, and finished with over 200 rushing yards against Ohio State.
NAVY Navy finished 10-4 last year with a Texas Bowl win over Missouri. They lost in the last minute to Ohio State (31-27), and some thought 2009 was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Middies.
Notre Dame plays Navy in the Jersey Meadowlands, and like the Army game, it's hard to tell who the neutrals will support. I say this because Navy is one of the most likeable teams in the country.
The offense returns seven starters, and the defense has to replace all the linebackers but most everyone else comes back.
Quarterback Ricky Dobbs has been mentioned as an outside possibility to win the Heisman. Navy wants to make it three wins over the Irish in the last four years.
MICHIGAN STATE Sparty finished 6-7 in 2009 with a three point road loss to Notre Dame (33-30). The biggest question for them is if there will be repercussions from last year's infamous rumble, where 11 players were arrested.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins took control last season and threw for just under 2700 yards. He threw 19 td's with only nine ints.
There are holes to fill at receiver and defensive line, but this team has a chance to hang with the big boys in the Big Ten.
All-American lb Greg Jones leads an experienced defense, and eight starters return on offense.
BOSTON COLLEGE The Eagles finished 8-5 last year with a 20-16 road loss to Notre Dame. All-American rb Montel Harris rushed for 1457 yards in 2009, and he will be the man they rely on in 2010.
Harris will run behind a typical Boston College line—big and experienced. All-ACC ot Anthony Castanzo will return with six other offensive starters. The Defense returns seven starters.
Dave Schinskie, Boston College's 26 year old quarterback, has to improve if the Eagles want to win their third Atlantic Division crown, in the last four years.
STANFORD The Cardinal finished 8-5 in 2009 with a close Sun Bowl loss to Oklahoma (31-27). They beat Notre Dame (45-38) at home.
In his first three years, Jim Harbough has turned Stanford's program around.
They lose rb Toby Gerhart to the NFL, but bring back sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck, and two great receivers in Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu.
Luck is considered a sure-fire NFL prospect and had a great freshman year. Stanford returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense.
Their game plan is simple: outscore your opponent. In 2009, they beat PAC Ten champion Oregon (51-42) and USC (55-21).
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA While most experts pick USC in their top ten, I'm guessing all the off-season turmoil will have an affect on their season. The controversial coaching change, and the sanctions, could easily hurt their performance.
Notre Dame will still have their hands full because USC is still USC, and the game is scheduled on the road.
USC finished a disappointing 9-4 last season but managed to beat Notre Dame in South Bend (34-27).
Although Matt Barkley is projected as just the fourth best quarterback in the PAC Ten, he had a great freshman season and looks to have another good one in 2010. Remember, Barkley is the first true freshman to start at quarterback for USC. He has to work at cutting down the interceptions.
Alan Bradford ( 5'-11", 235 lbs) will replace Joe McKnight to lead the running game. He should be able to get the job done, but USC will have to replace three All-PAC Ten players from last year's secondary.
USC will have less pressure to win in 2010. This could help, or it could set them back.
PITTSBURGH Pitt finished 10-3 in 2009 with a Meineke Car Car Bowl win over North Carolina. They beat Notre Dame in a very close game (27-22) in Pittsburgh.
Their biggest challenges are to replace Bill Stull at quarterback and three offensive lineman.
Sophomore Tino Sunseri is ready to go at quarterback. If he has any trouble, veteran Pat Bostick will be the back-up.
And really, what will they need Stull's replacement to do? He'll either hand off to one of the front-runners for the Heisman, rb Dion Lewis, or look for All-American receiver Jonathon Baldwin.
Pitt has another All-American: DE Greg Romeus will lead one of last year's stingiest defenses. Pitt gave up more than 20 points in only four games in 2009.
UTAH Utah went 10-3 in 2009. They went undefeated in 2008 and 2004. They haven't had a losing season since 2002 (5-6).
Sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn took over last year, in the middle of his true freshman season. He finished the season going 26-36-338 in a Poinsettia Bowl win over Cal.
Utah is going to run the ball down the throat of all their opponents. They return, what looks to be, the first and second best runners in this years MWC.
Seniors Matt Asiata (5'11", 235 lbs) and Eddie Wide make up the tandem.
Utah returns seven starters on offense, three won All-MWC honors, and the defense is expected to be better than last year.
Notre Dame gets a break and plays the Utes at home.