I should admit up front that--like most Notre Dame fans--my tendency is toward optimism at the beginning of every season, which is why I am so prone to disappointment. Indeed, a few friends are afraid to talk to me after losses. I'm not proud of this, but it is a fact. But I have tried, in this post, to allow my head a say and not just my heart. I do think even with a stacked schedule, Notre Dame will be better than expected in a crucial year for head coach Brian Kelly, but it depends--as Kelly has said--on a good start out of the gates.
I will spare you the same position analysis that everyone has already done (linebacker Manti Teo and tight end Tyler Eiffert are studs, quarterback Everett Golson and the cornerbacks are unproven, blah blah blah) and get right to what I think is going to happen. You will notice that I don't predict the scores because, let's face it, it's a really stupid exercise.
Notre Dame vs. Navy in Dublin (win)
Between running back Cierre Wood's suspension, Golson's first start, and a game that's being played across an ocean, I do not expect a blowout by any means. Remember that Navy has beaten Notre Dame three out of the past five times. But with the Irish's new dual-threat look and in the third year of Kelly's system, I do expect them to find a way in this tourist's dream of a game.
Purdue at Notre Dame (win)
Again, I expect a closer game than we might hope for here. Purdue should be better than they were last year, and Notre Dame will be trying to recover from jet lag. But Notre Dame will have the better offense and defense on the field, and it will help to be back in South Bend.
Notre Dame at Michigan State (loss)
If there is one game a year ago when most of the 50-50 opportunities went to the Irish, it was their 31-13 win over the Spartans. You can bet that MSU's head coach Mark Dantonio will be hungry for revenge, and East Lansing hasn't exactly been a forgiving place for Notre Dame in the past decade. I expect this game to be a close one where every series matters and perhaps even a wild finish, as tends to happen with those rivals from the north.
Michigan at Notre Dame (win)
I look forward to this game more than any other, perhaps because the games tend to be so epic. Last year, after a dominating 14-0 first quarter, I made the mistake of sending a good friend and Michigan alum the following text: "Welcome to the big leagues, Brady Hoke." Three quarters later, as I was stomping out of a bar in disbelief, cursing anything and everything about the world, I justly received his response: "Welcome to the big leagues, Brian Kelly. And next year don't talk too early."
Much to Notre Dame fans' torment, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and his Wolverines have gotten us three years in a row on their last possession. It will be interesting to watch a game this year with two dual quarterbacks on the field, and I'll be surprised if Golson isn't the better passer of the two. If it is the only thing they do this year, I think Notre Dame will beat Michigan at home (here I go, talking too early again!).
Notre Dame vs. Miami in Chicago (win)
This is one those "neutral site" games that's not really a neutral site at all. Chicago is full of Notre Dame fans, and you can bet they'll show up for this one against Notre Dame's rival from the 1980s (Catholics versus Convicts, anyone?). I doubt it will be easy, but Miami has struggled in recent years and will have a new quarterback this year after the Jacory Harris realm finally ended. Kelly should get his second win in three years over the Hurricanes if all goes as it should.
Stanford at Notre Dame (win)
This is the year we're going to find out if the post-Jim Harbaugh coaching staff at Stanford is legit. Sure, last year they went 11-2, but they had Andrew Luck to shield their inexperience. The Pac-12 should be a strong conference this year, and I'll be surprised if this Cardinal team doesn't take some lumps. One of them will be in South Bend.
BYU at Notre Dame (win)
This game scares me. BYU seems to quietly be one of the most underrated programs in the country, year in and year out. Sure, they don't play Notre Dame's schedule, but they have won at least 10 games in five of the last six seasons, and that deserves respect. It will be difficult for the Irish to not look ahead to the Sooners, but I think--after an early scare--Notre Dame ekes this one out late in the game.
Notre Dame at Oklahoma (loss)
Whose idea was this one? Let's stick an "at Oklahoma" in the middle of an already-tough schedule. I'm not very optimistic, as the Sooners hardly ever lose at home.
Pittsburgh at Notre Dame (win)
First-year coach two years in a row? Not really a winning strategy for Pittsburgh, after the opportunistic Todd Graham bolted for Arizona State last December. The Panthers have a history of giving Notre Dame everything it can handle, and I don't really anticipate that being all that different, but I do think Notre Dame wins, more comfortably than usual.
Notre Dame at Boston College (win)
This is another rivalry game, but the Eagles' program has been in shambles, and with linebacker Luke Kuechly departed early for the NFL and some momentum gaining in South Bend, the gap between these two programs should be wider than in recent years.
Wake Forest at Notre Dame (win)
At home, the Irish will continue their success against ACC programs and set up an end-of-season showdown with USC.
Notre Dame at USC (loss)
If there is a measuring stick for Notre Dame every year, it is USC. The Trojans have won this one nine out of the last ten times, so you know where Notre Dame's program has been. Last year, USC players accused Notre Dame of quitting with lots of time left in the fourth quarter of USC's 14-point loss. It was also the game of Dayne Crist's memorable and tragic fumble on the one-yard line with the Irish about to score. It was the last chance he got in a Notre Dame uniform.
As much as I wish it weren't so, I think Lane Kiffin and Matt Barkley will again best the blue and gold. They may even do it en route to a national championship and Heisman trophy. Blasphemy, I know!
Regular season record: 9-3