Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Second-half preview: Notre Dame
By Matt Fortuna
Bold prediction: Notre Dame will lose a game between now and Nov. 26 at Stanford.
This is bold in the sense that the Irish will likely be favored in all five of their games before their trip to Palo Alto, Calif. Despite how Notre Dame has played the past four weeks, the fact remains that the Irish tripped over themselves twice to open the season and nearly did the same Week 4 at Pitt. Give the Irish credit for not folding after an 0-2 start, but there are still few real breaks remaining in the schedule, and you can be sure Notre Dame will get each team's best shot from here on out.
Brian Kelly and Notre Dame will likely be favored in every game until the season finale at Stanford.
What to look forward to: Can this offense sustain its momentum?
Notre Dame has eclipsed the 500-yard mark in four of its first six games, including its last two. The Irish haven't turned the ball over in either of their past two games, either. And they have added another threat under center in the mobile Andrew Hendrix. Four of the remaining six defenses Notre Dame will face are currently ranked 61st or lower in total defense, with Stanford (19th) and Wake Forest (26th) being the two best as of now. How lethal this offense looks out of the bye week -- under the lights against rival USC, no less -- will say a lot about the potential of the unit in its second year under Brian Kelly.
Top Three Impactful Games: Oct. 22 vs. USC, Oct. 29 vs. Navy, Nov. 26 at Stanford
Oct. 22 The USC game is always a big one, regardless of how well each team is playing. The Trojans may enter with just one loss depending on how they fare at Cal this Thursday. They feature an explosive offense that features quarterback Matt Barkley and the receiver Robert Woods. Throw in the first night game at Notre Dame Stadium in 21 years, in addition to extended rest for both teams, and the hype will be unlimited leading up to the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.
Oct. 29 We all know what Navy did to Notre Dame last year and what it has done to the Irish in three of the past four years. The Irish defense looked much better against the option this past Saturday against Air Force, and one would have to think Notre Dame knows better than to overlook the Midshipmen given their recent history with them. But this is a Navy team that currently leads the nation in rushing, at 366 yards per game, and one that the Irish will have to get up for after what is sure to be an emotionally taxing game against USC a week earlier.
Nov. 26 The Irish will likely be playing for a BCS spot if they win all five games before it, and Stanford may be playing for a national title spot if it enters at 11-0. Even a one-loss Cardinal team will likely be playing for a BCS spot as well, and this is certainly the biggest challenge remaining on Notre Dame's schedule. Closing the season with a road win at what is currently a top-10 team will certainly leave a strong impression on voters and bowl selection committees.