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Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Three predictions: Notre Dame

By Brian Bennett

Here are three predictions for Notre Dame in the 2011 season:

1. At least three quarterbacks will see significant action: In the past three seasons, including two at Cincinnati, Brian Kelly has had to juggle starting quarterbacks. This year, he has Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees battling it out for the starting job. Crist will start the season, but after suffering two straight season-ending knee problems, he's a major injury risk. Rees will start at least one game because Crist got hurt or was ineffective. And one of the two change-of-pace quarterbacks, Everett Golson and Andrew Hendrix, will get plenty of snaps. The guess here is Golson.

2. The defense puts up its best stats since the Holtz heydays: The strong finish by Bob Diaco's defense allowed Notre Dame to finish in the top 25 in both points allowed and pass efficiency defense last year. Those numbers will continue to improve with veterans like Harrison Smith, Darius Fleming, Ethan Johnson and Manti Te'o leading the way, with talented newcomers such as Aaron Lynch, Ishaq Williams and Stephon Tuitt providing not just depth but playmaking skills. It will be tough for the defense to rank in the top 10 nationally because of the schedule it plays, but this will be the strength of the team as it was down the stretch in 2010.

3. The Irish will finish 9-3 and play in the Champs Sports Bowl: A BCS game is within the realm of possibility, but the schedule offers few letups and will cause Notre Dame to lose at least three times. The team will still be in BCS contention heading out to Stanford for the season finale. That's when Andrew Luck and the Cardinal kill the Irish dreams. The Champs Sports Bowl, which can take Notre Dame once in the next three years, happily grabs its chance.