The Irish must protect their home turf to get to the 10 win mark.
The NCAA’s strength of schedule formula said that Notre Dame had the toughest schedule in the country last year. This upcoming campaign the Irish will face off against nine teams that went to bowls last season (and Southern Cal, which was ineligible to go to a bowl but would have qualified otherwise).
It seems as if Notre Dame once again will play an extremely difficult slate, so why would it be one of the 10 reasons they’ll win 10 games?
Let’s take a deeper dive to find out.
Sept. 3–South Florida…home opener is tricky, but ND will be favored.
Sept. 10–@ Michigan…The Big House will be out for blood, but they’ll be breaking in a new coach and unless they found a tree that grows defenses they’ll be in serious trouble.
Sept. 17–Michigan State…Tough game for the Irish, but once again ND has more talent across the board and will be favored at home.
Sept. 24–@ Pittsburgh…The Panthers are going through a coaching transition and a major change in the offensive system.
Oct. 1–@ Purdue…There’s serious rebuilding going on in West Lafayette.
Oct. 8–Air Force…The Zoomies are tough and disciplined, but if you’re to believe ND is on its way back, it will take care of business against the service academies.
Oct. 22–Southern Cal…The only team with more talent across the board than ND has a chance to be favored on the road, but Kiffin is still their coach last time I checked.
Oct. 29–Navy…See the Air Force analysis and add in the revenge factor of two humiliating losses.
Nov. 5–@ Wake Forest…The Demon Deacs are fresh off a dreadful 3-9 campaign.
Nov. 12–Maryland (in DC)…Terps are an interesting matchup, but once again Notre Dame should be favored.
Nov. 19–Boston College…The Eagles have given ND fits at home over the past 10 years, but this is yet another game where the Irish will be favored.
Nov. 26–@ Stanford…The Cardinal will be a Top 5 squad preseason. If they live up to the hype in their Post-Harbaugh World, then the Irish will likely be an underdog on The Farm.
So if you look at the schedule piece-by-piece, you realize that there isn’t a single “stretch” game out there. There are realistically three games where Notre Dame could be an underdog: Michigan, Southern Cal and Stanford. Chances are those spreads will be a touchdown or less (and ND might even be favored in the first two), which means the Irish certainly have a realistic shot of winning.
The days of plus-28 spreads for ND have mercifully come to a close.
The 2011 slate is by no means an easy schedule, but it is very manageable if the team takes care of business and wins the games it’s supposed to. Michigan and Southern Cal—historically the two most difficult opponents on the schedule—are both down and very beatable.
This is a schedule that should net the Irish at least 10 wins if they’re truly on their way back.