With high expectations in South Bend many analysts have the Irish pegged for a 9-10 win season with some even placing the Irish back in the BCS. If Notre Dame plans a return to a higher tier bowl or BCS appearance, these are five games that must be navigated with minimal damage. Losses in two or more of these games and the Irish will be fighting for table scraps at Bowl time.
There was a time when you could mark this as an automatic W on the schedule come August. That was a long time ago. Navy has won three of the last four matchups including the last two at Notre Dame. But Navy must replace star QB Ricky Dobb, and this game comes a week after an emotional matchup with USC and leaves the Irish only a week to prepare for the vaunted Midshipmen option attack.
The Irish will be coming off a difficult roadie to Ann Arbor when Sparty rolls into South Bend. Notre Dame is just 4-7 versus Michigan State since 2000. This has become an entertaining matchup recently with several dramatic finishes. Last year “Little Giants” sparked Sparty’s run to the BCS. Will a similar fate await the Irish this season?
The Irish will face a new coach, QB Denard Robinson, and a hostile environment as they make their 1st road trip of the 2011 season. The Irish have dropped four of five to Michigan the last two in the waning seconds. In 2005, first year coach Charlie Weis surprised a favored Michigan team. New Wolverine coach Brady Hoke will look to return the favor when they meet in Week 2.
The Irish will meet the Trojans under the lights. USC is facing another year without postseason play will be looking to ruin any hopes the Irish have of a BCS bid. I don’t like the spot of this game as it falls during fall break and is between the Air Force and Navy contests.
If all goes according to plan, the Irish will likely play for a BCS bid and perhaps more when they venture to Palo Alto over Thanksgiving. Although Stanford returns Andrew Luck, this game could not come at a better time for the Irish. With injuries and attrition, a late-season gauntlet run of Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame will prove difficult for the Cardinal. Note to Brian Kelly: Tell the chef to hold the turkey during the pre-game meal.