Notre Dame (0-0) vs. South Florida (0-0)
Series Record: 1st Meeting
Last Time: 1st Meeting
South Florida Offense: The Bulls return five starters to an offense that was anemic at times last year, averaging just over 10 points per game in four Big East losses. South Florida has high expectations for junior quarterback B.J. Daniels, who seems to have a better command of the Bulls offense heading into 2011.
Notre Dame Defense: The Irish return nine starters on defense and look to pick up where they left off in the final four games of last season. Fans and analysts have lauded the improved Irish defense, and some have even suggested the front seven could match up with anyone in the nation.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME. The Irish defense appears to be a team strength, and, matched against an offense that didn’t scare very many teams last season, the Irish should have the opportunity to control this game. Nevertheless, an improved B.J. Daniels could present issues for the Irish if his accuracy and command of the offense have improved.
Notre Dame Offense: After speculation and heavy competition, Dayne Crist has emerged as the signal caller for Notre Dame. Depth is an area of concern for the Irish at the running back position, so it will be imperative that Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray stay healthy. Notre Dame features one of the best receivers in college football in Michael Floyd, and an emerging superstar in Theo Riddick.
South Florida Defense: South Florida returns six starters and virtually their entire secondary. Last season the Bulls finished 17th in the nation in total defense. Although they must replace a few pieces up front, this should still be a good defense.
EDGE: EVEN South Florida returns a solid corps to a defense that allowed 20 points per game last season. The Irish have a number of questions heading into the opener, particularly with regard to the play of Dayne Crist and a running attack with very little depth.
Special Teams: Both teams return their kicker and punter. Notre Dame kicker David Ruffer was one of the top place kickers in the nation last season. Maikon Bonai also had an excellent season kicking for South Florida. The Irish do feature a better punter in Ben Turk although South Florida features dangerous return men Lindsay Lamar and Terrence Mitchell in both the kickoff return and punt return game, respectively.
EDGE: EVEN Both kickers are solid. South Florida has a better overall return game while Notre Dame features the better punter.
Intangibles: Notre Dame alum Skip Holtz brings South Florida to Notre Dame with an upset on the agenda. This game will be huge in the eyes of the South Florida program as they continue to be a program on the rise and attempt to make further in-roads in the tough Florida recruiting wars. Much has been said about the various sightings of Lou Holtz on the South Florida practice field this summer. Notre Dame enters the season with high expectations and aspirations of a BCS berth and high national ranking. The sights, sounds and ghosts of South Bend have been known to present problems for teams making their first appearance in arguably the most hallowed grounds that college football has to offer.
EDGE: EVEN Notre Dame will face enormous pressure as they open up the season, while a young South Florida team gets a chance to play on the big stage.
Final Analysis: Make no mistake, this is no gimme for the Irish. South Florida is a solid team that has a shot at winning the Big East and perhaps making a BCS appearance of their own. I think this game will be close into the fourth quarter, when an Irish touchdown salts it away and allows uneasy fans and alumni to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Notre Dame 28, South Florida 17