With the start of the season only a few days away the time has come for me to go on the record with how I expect 2010 to unfold for the Fighting Irish.
I have taken a close look at the SEC, Big 12, ACC, Big Ten, Pac 10, Big East and the Non-BCS Conferences. After looking around the country I have come to the conclusion that the 2010 season has all of the necessary ingredients for a wild and wide open race to the BCS.
No BCS Conference has a true lock em’ up pick to win the conference. While many of the teams that have recently been dominant will remain strong the level of disparity between the top teams in each conference appears to be smaller than it has in the recent past. In the end I expect that we will see several 1-2 loss teams vying for the available 10 BCS bids. Will Notre Dame be among them? I will get to that.
Our own Eric Murtaugh has already provided us with a great two part Notre Dame preview and in the last few months Eric, LB Coach and myself have collectively discussed the litany of reasons that we expect to see a good showing from the Fighting Irish in 2010. So I will take a slightly different approach with this preview than I did with the rest of the country. I will provide very brief offensive and defensive outlooks followed by a quick look at each of the actual games.
On offense the Fighting Irish replace two tackles, a center, departed QB Jimmy Clausen and Biletnikoff winner Golden Tate. That sounds bad but it should not be the death blow that it might appear to be on the surface. Green offensive linemen are always a concern but they should be serviceable enough to give an outstanding young group of skill players the time and room required to operate. If QB Dayne Crist can keep the turnovers to a minimum as he acclimates early in the season this offense should be more than capable of scoring points.
On defense I think the Irish are a true sleeper. While the defense tended to be a liability in seasons past I think the combination of experience, quality depth and a shot of good coaching will have this unit ready to play by September 4th. The front seven has the potential to be very good and I expect that they will be. The secondary remains a concern but I expect that we will also see significant improvement under the direction of Chuck Martin.
With that here is what I expect to see unfold as the Irish work their way through the schedule.
4 Sept PURDUE 3:30pm NBC
With Robert Marve under center the Purdue offense could be better than expected this fall but their defense remains suspect. They replace every starter in the secondary and as a result I think Coach Kelly’s new offense might put on a show. On the flip side I expect Purdue to also have some success moving the football and will likely score enough points to have the ND faithful grumbling about the defense heading into week 2. I expect to see a 42-28 type victory for the Irish. WIN
11 Sept MICHIGAN 3:30pm NBC
Michigan could potentially be coming off of an opening loss to UCONN when they visit South Bend and regardless this will be a BIG game for Dick Rod and company. Michigan should be improved this season as they have 15 returning starters in the third year under Rodriguez. I expect the Michigan offense might also put some points on the board but that 3-3-5 stack should be easy for ND to spread out and run wild on. Expect a big game from the Armando Allen/ Cierre Wood tandem in another victory with quite a few total points on the board. WIN
18 Sept @ Michigan State 8:00pm ABC
This will be the first of 4 consecutive tough and physical games against similar programs. After getting spread out in the first two weeks the defense will have to line up and be ready to play some physical football in week three. The up side for ND is that the front 7 should definitely be up to the challenge which should force Sparty into throwing the ball up field. Sparty will be fired up for a nationally televised home game under the lights against the Irish so this could turn into a dog fight. In the end I don’t think Sparty will have a potent enough vertical passing game to keep pace for four quarters. WIN
25 Sept STANFORD 3:30pm NBC
Andrew Luck and the Cardinal passing game could be very good and will definitely test the Irish secondary but the Cardinal defense is less than daunting. Another pseudo shootout WIN
2 Oct @ Boston College TBA
Boston College should be a solid football team that will be fired up to play this game. That will be especially true if the WWL picks this up in a prime time slot. BC is the jinx but I think the streak remains snapped. WIN
9 Oct PITTSBURGH 3:30pm NBC
This will be a very tough game for ND especially considering the fact that they will be coming off of 3 consecutive tough games. Pitt will run, run some more and play defense. TOSS UP.
16 Oct WESTERN MICHIGAN 2:30pm NBC
This may end the sellout streak at ND Stadium. The Broncos are terrible. Big WIN and a lot of slop time to rest the starters and get some valuable game experience for the 2s and 3s.
23 Oct @ Navy (New Jersey) 12:00pm CBS
The Mids must always be respected and lean heavily on their option offense to shorten the game. This makes mistakes and wasted opportunities deadly. The offense will have to be sharp and mistake free as the defense might be on the field 45 minutes based on the pace that Kelly likes to play offense. This is a bigger game for Coach Kelly than one might think. The Irish need to win this game convincingly and I think they will find a way to make it happen. WIN
30 Oct TULSA 2:30pm NBC
See Western Michigan. WIN
13 Nov UTAH 2:30pm NBC
This is a dangerous game. Utah doesn’t look as strong as they have been in the recent past but by this point in the season they will be tough. Utah has big game experience and will be fired up to play in ND Stadium. This one won’t be easy. Toss Up
20 Nov ARMY (Yankee Stadium) 7:00pm NBC
This game will be very cool from a tradition standpoint but Army will not be good. That Rich Ellerson triple option may shorten the game enough to keep it from getting too out of hand though. WIN
27 Nov @ Southern Cal 8:00pm ABC
The trip to the Coliseum will be the ultimate litmus test for Brian Kelly. No matter what happens up to that point beating the Trojans on the road would make the season and most likely eliminate any remaining doubt as to whether or not he was the right man for the job. That will be especially true if the game has potential BCS implications for the Fighting Irish. This is going to be a good one. TOSS UP
I still see this schedule as being tough in a very non glamorous way. While it is short on marquee matchups there are 9 teams on this schedule that have the potential to win at least 8 games this fall. The first six games in particular are all winnable but collectively difficult. Best case would obviously be a 6-0 start, but dropping 1-2 close ones during that stretch is a more realistic expectation. That 6th game against Pitt will be especially difficult.
The second half of the season features what should be 3 automatic W’s and 3 tough ones. The days of Navy being automatic are no longer, and Utah will show up in South Bend ready to play. The Southern Cal game will be huge despite their NCAA sanctions.
Overall I think worst case scenario is an 8-4 season followed by a respectable bowl game. Best case scenario the Irish manage to win 10 or more and possibly sneak into a BCS game. As of today I am comfortable splitting that down the middle and going on the record with a prediction of 9-3 for the regular season. Five more days….