Notre Dame Football: Predicting the Second-Half Finish
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Halfway through the 2011 season, Brian Kelly and his Fighting Irish have established what kind of football team they want to be.
Beginning the year with two haunting losses, the Irish have now reeled off four impressive wins in a row. Each week, Kelly's team seems to be improving consistently and progressively.
The team that lost against South Florida and Michigan to open the year seems far and away different than what this team is now. Flaunting an offensive backfield that can compete with the best in the nation, along with both an offense and defense that have shown flashes of brilliance, there isn't a single team left on Notre Dame's slate that they cannot beat.
Kelly knows his team can still salvage their season despite the blemishes to start off the year. A 10-win Notre Dame team will be in a BCS bowl.
This team, with solid quarterback play, will do just that. Another key to that goal being accomplished is holding onto the football—an area the Irish have looked better with in recent weeks.
Next up for Notre Dame is the ever-exciting matchup with the Trojans of USC. Let's take a look at how we think the Irish will fare for their next six contests.
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The infamous and annual Notre Dame-USC showdown comes a few weeks early in 2011. The Trojans will make their way to South Bend and try to redeem themselves for a 20-16 loss to a Tommy Rees-led squad last season.
This isn't a USC team of the past, though. Matt Barkley may be an exciting talent and maturing quarterback, but his team, suffering from the beatdown of the recent NCAA hammerdown, is no longer top-five material. The Trojans have played plenty of close games against mediocre competition thus far, so don't expect a blowout from their side of things this year.
This is a must-win for USC and Kelly knows it. Rees and company will need to jump on this young yet talented team in order to secure a victory. If they let Barkley take charge through the air, however, this will be an offensive showdown. In Notre Dame's case, that doesn't play to their advantage.
Notre Dame 24, USC 17
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In what always seems to be the trap-game for the Irish, the Midshipmen come into South Bend with their fundamental triple-option attack once again.
Don't let the record fool you—this is your regular Navy team that can beat you on any given Saturday. If the Irish aren't up to the challenge and don't play assignment football, another debacle in South Bend against an academy is a reality.
But for that to happen, Notre Dame's strong defensive line would have to take a major step back. Run defense has been a strength for this team, and as long as the turnovers are kept to a bare minimum, this will be a win for the Irish.
Turn over the football and this Navy team will make you pay. An influx of possession changes can and most likely would lead to a close game with a Midshipmen team that knows how to control and win with the football.
Notre Dame 35, Navy 20
At Wake Forest
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Coming off an impressive win against Florida State, Wake Forest showed something that they hadn't in their previous contests this fall. While their resume doesn't look impressive to date, the win against the Seminole will have to catch the attention of opponents going forward—you cannot take this team as a cake-walk.
The Demon Deacons, however, still aren't a legitimate threat against this talented Notre Dame team. This game will be played away from South Bend, but no one should expect an upset in this one.
The Irish have been challenged and will be an even more improved team going into this matchup. If the Irish play their game, limiting turnovers and pressuring the quarterback, this won't—or shouldn't—be close.
Notre Dame 41, Wake Forest 17
Vs. Maryland (Neutral)
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Even though this "neutral game" is being played in Maryland, this is another game that Notre Dame should win on paper.
Coming into the 2011 season, the Terrapins were thought to have been a much better football team than what they have produced on the field thus far. With losses to Temple, West Virginia and most recently, Georgia Tech, they sit 2-3 heading into a showdown with No. 8 Clemson next Saturday.
With the improvement of the Irish and poor play of Maryland, it isn't hard to predict another victory for Notre Dame here. After all, Maryland doesn't rank in the top 50 in any major statistical categories as a team.
The Terps have some talent, yes. But Notre Dame's depth and clicking-offense isn't something this young team is ready to overcome in 2011.
Notre Dame 38, Maryland 21
Vs. Boston College
Boston College remains the easiest opponent on Notre Dame's 2011 slate.
Sitting at an ugly 1-5, the Eagles cannot afford to slip much further, as they have yet to face the daunting second-half of their schedule (which includes the Irish). With losses against UCF, Duke and Northwestern, and their only victory coming against a low-level Massachusetts team, you cannot expect Boston College to do much damage this season.
However, this is the Boston College-Notre Dame rivalry we're talking about. By the time this game takes place, you know every player on the BC sidelines will be amped and anxious to get a crack at beating a Notre Dame team on a mission for a BCS bowl-bid.
The Irish need to not play down to the level of their opponent, especially against a less-talented team in Boston College. If Notre Dame jumps on them early, as they have been getting better at as of late, this will be no contest. Expect just that to happen.
Notre Dame 48, Boston College 24
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The determining factor of Notre Dame's season: Will the Irish reach a BCS bowl or settle for another year on the outside looking in?
That answer will be determined against a tough, hard-nosed football team led by a future No. 1 overall pick. If that doesn't seem like a challenge in itself, it's also a game being played away from South Bend.
It's hard not to envision a loss here for the Irish. Quarterback Andrew Luck can do everything and then some, in addition to a defense that has given the Irish fits in recent years. This isn't the Stanford that was expected when scheduled, but rather a program on the rise that has consistently found itself sitting among the top-tier BCS programs the past few seasons.
Let's pencil in a loss here for the Irish. However, if they are able to beat Stanford on the road by some miracle, it's "Hello, BCS!" for Brian Kelly in his second season.
Notre Dame 24, Stanford 31