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Notre Dame Opponent Watch: Top Games to Scout in 2010

Typically around this time of year, you’ll see various lists breaking down each of Notre Dame’s 12 opponents and what to expect for the upcoming season.

Well I wanted to do things a little differently.

The following is a list of games for fans to watch in order to scout Irish opponents before they play Notre Dame.

If you’re wondering how good an opponent may be, what better than to watch them play and witness them first hand?

Don’t just listen to the pundits and preseason magazines!

Tune in for yourself and see how good the Michigan State defense will be, or how explosive the Tulsa offense will be and how many quarterbacks Michigan will use.

With over a hundred combined games to sit through, I have cut it down to the most vital contests to watch.

Here’s the must-see viewing list.

Thursday September 2nd

Pittsburgh at Utah

Out of a mind-boggling 18 Thursday night games to open the 2010 season, this match up stands alone as the night’s most attractive.

Unless you prefer Wake Forest vs. Presbyterian, Rutgers vs. Norfolk State or Indiana vs. Towson, your eyes should be glued to the Utes hosting the Panthers.

Quite an intriguing match up in that both are top 30 teams and both are on the Irish schedule. It won’t take long to see which club has a realistic shot at a BCS bowl or something greater, that’s for sure.

In my opinion, these are two of the most underrated programs in the country and as much of a treat as it will be to see them battle, it is rather unfortunate that neither team will gain much from this victory.

In reality, this is one of the best non-conference match ups of the year, but perception-wise, most will treat it no differently than an Arkansas-South Carolina game.

That is why despite the fact that both Pitt and Utah could beat all but a handful of teams in the country on a regular basis, the skeptics barely bat an eye-lash at their inclusion on the Notre Dame schedule.

Saturday September 4th

UConn at Michigan

And so the third year of Rich Rodriguez at Michigan begins with a stiff test from a gritty Connecticut club. In fact, the Wolverines may very well be home underdogs when they run out onto the field at the Big House.

Assuming this will be an early starting game, most Notre Dame fans should tune in before the Irish open their season later in the afternoon.

How confident is Michigan feeling about this game right now? I can’t imagine Rodriguez is getting much sleep knowing his job is on the line with his team opening up against UConn followed by a visit to South Bend.

It’s not going to be easy for Michigan to turn their program around but beating UConn would be an excellent start.

On the slip side, a victory for the Huskies would solidify their program as a real contender and perhaps give their players enough confidence to win the Big East.

Saturday September 4th

Western Michigan at Michigan State

In most circumstances this game would not be included in this list, however, both teams are on the Irish schedule in 2010.

On paper this should be a blowout and I expect the Spartans to dominate this contest and put it on cruise control in the second half.

Still, this game will give us a glimpse at the explosiveness of the Michigan State offense and allow us the chance to see if Western Michigan has improved from their disappointing season in 2009.

Monday September 6th

Navy at Maryland

The Crab Bowl Classic, the on again/off again inter-state rivalry between these two schools gets an odd 4 o’clock start time on the Monday after week one.

The question with this game concerns the Midshipmen and just how good they will be in 2010. After another solid season in 2009, it is expected that Navy will once again field a very dangerous team in the fall.

Maryland hasn’t had a lot to cheer for in recent years, but they won’t be a pushover in this game. Still, their defense better be ready for Navy’s triple option attack or the Terrapins could find themselves quickly in a deficit.

This game may not set the world on fire but it’s a nice little Monday afternoon contest to catch when you get out of work.

Saturday September 11th

Stanford at UCLA

An early season Pac-10 match up will be important for both schools.

For Stanford and Jim Harbaugh, expectations are growing and this game kicks off a brutal five week stretch where the Cardinal will face Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Oregon, and USC in addition to this contest with UCLA.

The Bruins will be looking to make the jump into the top of the Pac-10 and take advantage of the sanctions that have befallen their cross-city rivals.

This is an important game to watch for Irish fans because a convincing victory for Stanford could mean the Cardinal are legit and may be favored when they roll into South Bend two weeks later.

Saturday September 18th

Tulsa at Oklahoma State

This will be Tulsa’s only game against a BCS opponent during the regular season (two if you count Notre Dame), so this will be a good measuring stick for the Golden Hurricanes.

The general consensus seems to be that Tulsa isn’t very good, but they are a dangerous team with some weapons to work with.

Oklahoma State looks to be taking a big step back with the loss of some key players so this is a very winnable game for Tulsa.

If the Golden Hurricanes can pull out a victory on the road at a Big 12 school, look for them to get a lot more respect when they play Notre Dame.

Thursday September 23rd

Miami at Pittsburgh

This game has so much potential it’s not even funny.

Both teams have really tough schedules and are among the favorites to win their respective conferences, and a win could send one of them soaring into the top 10.

Miami will have a hard time having played Ohio State the previous week, but if the Hurricanes get past the Buckeyes there’s no telling the amount of confidence they will have. If they beat OSU and Pitt in back to back weeks, they could be the nation’s number one team.

This will be a pivotal game for Pitt, especially if Miami comes in undefeated. A win for the Panthers and they will be an unquestioned top team with a ton of momentum going into the rest of the season.

If Pittsburgh defeats both Utah and Miami, look for the Panthers to have a top 5 ranking when they visit Notre Dame Stadium.

Saturday September 25th

Virginia Tech at Boston College

Boston College opens up against two soft opponents but has to host Frank Beamer and the Hokies a week before welcoming Notre Dame.

Needless to say, a lot of Irish eyes will be watching the outcome of this game.

You have to hand it to Boston College though, for the past couple years they have not been given the respect they deserved, and they have still remained one of the better teams in the ACC.

Will they be able to build momentum and beat a very talented Virginia Tech team so early in the season?

Virginia Tech opens the season against Boise State and could be tripped up before heading to Chestnut Hill, but this is one of the better Hokie teams in recent memory and I expect a very strong outing against Boston College.

Saturday October 2nd

Washington at USC

Finally, the Trojans make the list looking for some payback against the rising Washington Huskies.

It is certain that most Notre Dame fans will be watching USC with interest all season long as most of the nation will also do. But this is the first major test for the Trojans who should get off to a good start with games against Hawaii, Virginia, Minnesota and Washington State to open the season.

This game will also be interesting to watch because of the spotlight that will be on media darling and Washington quarterback Jake Locker.

Will this be the game in which he solidifies himself as the top pick in the NFL draft?

Or will USC reassert itself as the dominant Pac-10 team in its first big conference game?

Saturday October 9th

Navy at Wake Forest

Navy is going to be favored in a lot of games in 2010 and they most likely will be when they visit the Deamon Deacons in early October.

Wake Forest may struggle in 2010 and a lot of people are picking them as a basement dweller in the ACC.

Nevertheless, this will be a gritty road game for Navy and one in which they will have to win if they want to gain 10 or more victories or even get into a BCS game.

Saturday October 9th

USC at Stanford

Notre Dame will have already hosted the Cardinal before this game takes place so it will be interesting to see how Stanford plays against USC.

Stanford has won two out of the last three match ups against USC, including scoring 55 points last season at the Coliseum.

What are the odds that Lane Kiffin brings that up to the press the week before this tilt?

This will be the third of a brutal three game stretch for Stanford who will have played Notre Dame and Oregon both on the road before hosting the Trojans. If Harbaugh pulls out another victory, those voices calling for him at Michigan may grow increasingly louder.

Saturday October 16th

Army at Rutgers

There aren’t a lot of good teams on Army’s schedule and their trip to Piscataway will be their most noteworthy game before playing Notre Dame in late November.

If you’re interested to see what kind of opponent the Black Knights will be, this may be the right game to watch.

This also may be one of the few opportunities to catch Army on television before they meet the Irish inside the new Yankee Stadium.

Saturday October 30th

Oregon at USC

Before a rash of problems and suspensions hit Oregon in the offseason and the NCAA issued harsh penalties against USC, this was viewed as the potential Pac-10 championship game.

Now, the conference may look a little bit different in 2010.

Nevertheless, these are probably the Pac-10’s most talented teams and could be USC’s stiffest test all season long.

Without the ability to win a championship or attend a bowl game, this will be the kind of game that Lane Kiffin will have to win to keep hope alive for the future at USC.

Saturday November 6th

TCU at Utah

As already mentioned, Utah opens up its season against Pittsburgh, but then faces a row of uninspiring opponents for the next two months before hosting TCU in early November.

Last year, TCU roughed up Utah to the tune of a 55-28 victory, stealing the Utes’ Mountain West hegemony for a year and making this a big payback game.

This will be a must-see match up for any Notre Dame fan as Utah will be travelling to South Bend to play the Irish the following week.

Saturday November 20th

USC @ Oregon State

One week before hosting Notre Dame, the Trojans will travel to Oregon State where USC has lost their last two meetings inside Reser Stadium.

Last year, the Beavers gave USC a great game but the Trojans ultimately came out on top in a down year for recent Trojan football standards.

The USC schedule is very favorable early but really heats up as the season progresses. The exact opposite is true of Notre Dame’s schedule which is front loaded with quality opponents.

A lot of scenarios are possible this late in the season. We may see a beat up USC team who has dropped a handful of games and are reeling from a loss in the northwest.

Or we may see a confident USC squad that is riding high after dispatching numerous conference opponents over the prior two months.

Either way, Notre Dame fans will keep a an eye on the Trojans and see how they are playing the week before Brian Kelly seeks his first victory in the classic rivalry.