Notre Dame Football: 2012 ND opponent pre

We overlooked previewing Notre Dame’s Week 6 opponent, Stanford, last month. Thanks to eagle-eyed reader Robert from San Diego for pointing it out. Now, without further adieu …

Week 6: Oct. 13 vs. Stanford (at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.)

Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 17-9

2011 record: 11-2 (8-1 Pac-12; second place, North Division)

Head coach: David Shaw (11-2, one year)

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Stepfan Taylor, FB Ryan Hewitt, TE Zach Ertz, TE Levine Toilolo, C Sam Schwartzstein, OG David Yankey, OT Cameron Fleming, OLB Chase Thomas, LB Shayne Skov, DE Ben Gardner

Key losses

QB Andrew Luck, WR Chris Owusu, TE Coby Fleener, OL David DeCastro, OL Jonathan Martin, S Delano Howell, DE Matt Masifilo, S Michael Thomas

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Stepfan Taylor* (1,330 yards)

Passing: Andrew Luck (3,517 yards)

Receiving: Griff Whalen (749 yards)

Tackles: Jarek Lancaster* (70)

Sacks: Chase Thomas* (8.5)

Interceptions: Michael Thomas (3)

Three questions for ... Stanford blogger Kevin Gemmell:

Despite the talent around Andrew Luck, there are many non-believers about Stanford. Who will be his replacement, and how will the Cardinal fare in Year 1 after Luck?

Kevin Gemmell: Well, that seems to be the million-dollar question. There are a couple of guys fighting to replace Luck -- Josh Nunes and Brett Nottingham. Those two emerged from the pack of five in the spring and will continue the competition into fall camp. As for how they will fare? Well, I think we can certainly expect some drop-off. But it might not be as significant as people think. Luck was a once-in-a-generation quarterback, but they still return three talented offensive linemen (two were freshmen All-Americans) and a back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher in Stepfan Taylor. Luck is gone, but the team's identity isn't. They are a run-first, power football team that will grind away on opponents.

And, by the way, they return six of the starting front seven on defense and they get Shayne Skov -- one of the top middle linebackers in the country -- back after he missed the bulk of last season with a knee injury suffered in Week 3.

One point head coach David Shaw has been making is that whoever does replace Luck shouldn't try to be Luck. That's the easiest way for them not to win the job.

Aside from the QB position, what will the offense look like now without Colby Fleener? Stanford's three-tight end sets proved to be frustrating for defenses, but will they be as effective without a high NFL draft pick looming as one of the big threats? Will it even matter, given the depth the Cardinal have in the backfield?

KG: I'd expect they'll still run a lot of multiple tight end sets. Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo -- two of the three tight ends -- are back, and they do some things better than Fleener did. What made them such a talented group all together is they complemented each other very well.

The backfield depth did take a hit when Tyler Gaffney opted to pursue a professional baseball career rather than returning to Stanford. But Anthony Wilkerson will likely start as Taylor's immediate change-of-pace back and Ricky Seale emerged in the spring.

Also, fullback Ryan Hewitt returns as possibly the most versatile player in college football. He's great on short yardage, is an outstanding run-blocker and can line up as a tight end to give the Cardinal three-tight end looks. With the personnel they have, the Cardinal can still be very multiple.

Will the secondary be a liability? Who's most likely to step up and make plays there for Stanford?

KG: I'd expect the secondary to make some big strides this year -- mainly because of highly-touted cornerback Wayne Lyons. He missed most of his true freshman season with a foot injury, but he's that lockdown corner that the Cardinal were missing last year. They also add a very talented player in Alex Carter from this year's recruiting class. He could make an immediate impact as well. But losing safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas will take its toll leadership wise. They need youngsters Devon Carrington and Jordan Richards to build off of the experience they got last season and really take charge of the secondary.
Week 12: Nov. 24 at USC (at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles)


Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 43-35-5

2011 record: 10-2 (7-2 Pac-12; first, South Division)

Head coach: Lane Kiffin (18-7, two years)

Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Matt Barkley, RB Curtis McNeal, WR Robert Woods, WR Marqise Lee, OL Khaled Holmes, DL Devon Kennard, DL Wes Horton, LB Dion Bailey, LB Hayes Pullard, CB Nickell Robey, S T.J. McDonald, K Andre Heidari

Key losses

RB Marc Tyler, FB Rhett Ellison, WR Brandon Carswell, OL Matt Kalil, DL Nick Perry, DL DaJohn Harris, DL Christian Tupou, LB Chris Galippo, LS Chris Pousson

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Curtis McNeal* (1,005 yards)

Passing: Matt Barkley* (3,528 yards)

Receiving: Robert Woods* (1,292 yards)

Tackles: Dion Bailey*, Hayes Pullard* (81)

Sacks: Nick Perry (9.5)

Interceptions: T.J. McDonald* (3)

Three questions for ... Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller:

So let me get this straight: USC returns 17 starters from a 10-2 team, including the Heisman frontrunner at quarterback. Where are the weaknesses with the 2012 Trojans?

Ted Miller: Officially, it's 19 starters -- don't forget both specialists! -- but who's counting? The only position that gets hit by attrition is the defensive line, which loses three starters. If you were to try and peg one area where the Trojans lack certainty, it would be the D-line, though it's worth noting there's plenty of talent up front. In general, the most notable area where USC could run into trouble is depth. The starting 24 -- including both specialists -- looks like the best collection of starters in the nation. But a couple of injuries could give the Trojans problems.

The 2011 season and this year's recruiting push has been remarkable, especially given the program's limitations in the wake of NCAA sanctions. How has Lane Kiffin done it?

TM: Well, Kiffin is selling a pretty good product: An elite football power in the middle of L.A. While Kiffin has been heavily criticized through the years -- and not without justification -- there are plenty of people who will tell you he's a good coach and a smart guy. There has to be a reason that USC, Tennessee and the Oakland Raiders gave him opportunities when he was so young and unproven. Further, USC has resources, and that allowed Kiffin to hire a very good staff, including his dad Monte Kiffin, a defensive coaching legend, and recruiting savant Ed Orgeron. All this said: Let's keep in mind that Kiffin hasn't captured any big prizes yet. Yes, the recruiting has been outstanding and seems to be rising to another level. Yes, last year's Top-5 finish was impressive with no postseason to motivate players. But let's see him win the conference and a national title before we crown him.

Putting you on the spot here: Does USC enter its clash with Notre Dame undefeated, and are the Trojans winning it all this year?

TM: The big date on USC's schedule is a Nov. 3 visit from Oregon. That could be a battle of undefeated teams with the winner setting itself up for the national title game. Because that game is in L.A., I believe the Trojans will prevail. I think the odds, therefore, are decent the Irish square off in the Coliseum on Nov. 24 with an undefeated team eyeballing the national title game. Talk about a spoiler opportunity. But -- and this is a big "but" -- going undefeated is extremely difficult, even when a team is better than everyone on its schedule. Under Pete Carroll, USC was notorious for blowing one game a season. USC's schedule isn't brutal, but there are no true patsies. If the Trojans decide not to show up one weekend, they could get clipped and knocked out of the title chase.

Week 11: Nov. 17 vs. Wake Forest (at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.)

Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 1-0

2011 record: 6-7 (5-3 ACC; tied second place, Atlantic Division)

Head coach: Jim Grobe (68-67, 11 years)

Returning starters: Offense: 3; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Tanner Price, WR Michael Campanaro, C Garrick Williams, DE Zach Thompson, NG Nikita Whitlock, OLB Joey Ehrmann, ILB Scott Betros, ILB Riley Haynes, CB Merrill Noel, FS Kenny Okoro

Key losses

RB Brandon Pendergrass, WR Chris Givens, TE Cameron Ford, T Dennis Godfrey, T Doug Weaver, G Joe Looney, G Michael Hoag, DE Tristan Dorty, DE Kyle Wilber, SS Cyhl Quarles, FS Josh Bush

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Brandon Pendergrass (823 yards)

Passing: Tanner Price* (3,017 yards)

Receiving: Chris Givens (1,330 yards)

Tackles: Cyhl Quarles (101)

Sacks: Kyle Wilber/Nikita Whitlock* (3.5)

Interceptions: Josh Bush (6)

Three questions for ... ACC blogger Heather Dinich:

Wake returns plenty of talent at the skill positions, but it is tasked with replacing four starters on the offensive line. What's a realistic timeline for the newcomers to jell and form a cohesive unit?

Heather Dinich: Well, it’s more like three starters at this point, because Steven Chase, who missed the spring for undisclosed reasons, has since returned. The group also got a huge boost from the move of Frank Souza from the defensive line. Chase’s return has allowed the staff a little more flexibility with the depth chart. He or Souza -- whoever develops into the better pass protector — will likely slide into the right guard position. Souza was backup to talented noseguard Nikita Whitlock and saw the writing on the wall: Whitlock wasn’t coming off the field anytime soon. So he jumped at the opportunity to see more snaps on offense. Coach Jim Grobe told me they “hit a home run with Souza.” Right now he’s got five guys he’s comfortable with. Depth? That’s another question.

Head coach Jim Grobe rarely has much staff turnover, but three new assistants are aboard for 2012. What's new, and how will that translate on the field this season?

HD: Yes, the Deacs have long been one of the most stable staffs in the ACC, but there are a few new faces in new positions, and I think overall, it will make Wake Forest a better team. Tim Duffie will be in his first season coaching the secondary, and he has lots of talent to work with back there, particularly at the corner position. Jonathan Himebauch is in his first year coaching the offensive line, and Derrick Jackson is in his first season coaching the outside linebackers. The move of OC Steed Lobotzke to tight ends and fullbacks should help him manage his time better as a coordinator because he won’t have to deal with so many offensive linemen.

The Deacs surprised everyone but themselves last season, falling a field goal short of playing for the ACC title. There are obvious shortcomings (O-line, secondary) on this year's roster, but will they be able to overcome those and make another push at a division crown?

HD: If they did it last year, I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be able to make another run at it. They’ve got to be able to win those close games, though. The close losses to Syracuse, Clemson -- and of course Notre Dame -- are still stinging, and just about anyone in that program will tell you they could’ve played better against UNC. Jim Grobe has a very good football team to work with this year, and he has a defense that could be reminiscent of the old days with Aaron Curry and Alphonso Smith. There are some diamonds in that group, they’re just not very experienced. It wouldn’t be wise, though, for Wake Forest opponents to take this year’s team lightly.

ND's 2012 opponents, Week 10: BC

July, 27, 2012
Week 10: Nov. 10 at Boston College (at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass.)

Time/TV: TBA

Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 12-9

2011 record: 4-8 (3-5 ACC; fifth place, Atlantic Division)

Head coach: Frank Spaziani (20-19, three years)

Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Chase Rettig, RB Rolandan Finch, RB Tahj Kimble, RB Andre Williams, WR Colin Larmond, WR Bobby Swigert, TE Chris Pantale, LT John Wetzel, LG Bobby Vardaro, RG Ian White, RT Emmett Cleary, DE Kasim Edebali, DT Kaleb Ramsey, DT Dominic Appiah, DT Dillon Quinn, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB Steele Divitto, LB Sean Duggan, CB Jim Noel, SS Spenser Rositano

Key losses

RB Montel Harris, TE Lars Anderson, C Mark Spinney, DE Max Holloway, LB Luke Kuechly, CB Donnie Fletcher, FS Hampton Hughes, P Ryan Quigley

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Rolandan Finch* (705 yards)

Passing: Chase Rettig* (1,960 yards)

Receiving: Colin Larmond* (528 yards)

Tackles: Luke Kuechly (191)

Sacks: Max Holloway (2.5)

Interceptions: Luke Kuechly (3)

Three questions for ... ACC blogger Heather Dinich:

Coach Frank Spaziani and players talked a lot this spring about how the worst thing to happen in the 2011 season was the campaign ending, as BC made strides late. Is it possible to build off that momentum in 2012?

Heather Dinich: BC doesn’t have much choice but to answer that with an emphatic ‘yes’ because the Eagles open the season against Miami. That game will set the tone for both programs, and we’ll learn a lot about both of them in Week 1. Voting members of the media picked BC to finish fifth in the Atlantic Division this fall, ahead of only Maryland. The key to whether or not they surpass that is how quickly the offense executes the playbook of yet another offensive coordinator. Offensive lineman Emmett Cleary told me at media days that too much has been made of the turnover at the coordinator position -- that it’s just football and they can learn it. That’s coming from a BC offensive lineman, though -- they’re smart guys. The lack of continuity there will be a factor for some players.

All-everything players Montel Harris and Luke Kuechly are gone, but there is plenty of depth both in the backfield and at linebacker. Can those units maintain production this season?

HD: There’s talent and depth at both positions. Of course, BC would like to have the ACC’s record-setting running back on its roster, but the Eagles will survive without him, especially since the offensive line should be one of the more improved units on the roster. Rolandan Finch and Andre Williams combined to rush for 1,222 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Tahj Kimble had 43 carries and eight catches. At linebacker, nobody can replace Kuechly, but Steele Divitto is sure gonna try. Kevin Pierre-Louis could also be one of the more talented linebackers in the ACC.

Given recent seasons, staff turnover and the mysterious dismissing of Harris, it would appear -- at least on the surface -- to be a do or die year for Spaziani. How does BC respond this year?

HD: Yes, I think his job is on the line. The Eagles, at the very least, must go bowling for Spaz to keep his seat cool. At least that’s my guess. I have little doubt that BC responds like it always does -- with a chip on its shoulder. Spaziani told me at ACC media days that he has a chip on HIS shoulder, and those are the types of players BC recruits, too -- solid, hard-working, blue-collar guys who simply love the game. They’ll play for anybody. BC might not be the best team in the ACC, but you can always expect the Eagles’ best effort.
Week 9: Nov. 3 vs. Pitt (at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.)

Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 46-20-1

2011 record: 6-7 (4-3 Big East; tied fourth place)

Head coach: Paul Chryst (first year)

Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Tino Sunseri, RB Isaac Bennett, RB Ray Graham, WR Devin Street, OG Chris Jacobson, DT Aaron Donald, LB Todd Thomas, S Andrew Taglianetti, S Jason Hendricks, S Jarred Holley, CB K'Waun Williams

Key losses

DE Brandon Lindsey, DT Chas Alecxih, DT Myles Caragein, LB Max Gruder, CB Antwuan Reed

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Ray Graham* (958 yards)

Passing: Tino Sunseri* (2,616 yards)

Receiving: Devin Street* (754 yards)

Tackles: Max Gruder (116)

Sacks: Aaron Donald* (11)

Interceptions: Jarred Holley*, K'Waun Williams*, Chas Alecxih, Brandon Lindsey, Andrew Taglianetti*, Todd Thomas*, Jason Hendricks*, Carl Fleming (1)

Three questions for ... Big East blogger Andrea Adelson:

With four head coaches in three years, it is safe to say that the Panthers' program has been far from stable. How will the team benefit from Paul Chryst's simplified approach in his first year at the helm?

Andrea Adelson: I think the potential is there for this team to stabilize itself in Year 1 for one big reason: Chryst likes to run the football, and Pitt has been a very traditional running team. Blue-collar, as they say. Last year under Todd Graham was an entire departure not just from the identity of Pitt football, but from the identity of Pittsburgh itself. Pitt has some quality running backs, so I think a emphasis on the ground game is much needed for the Panthers to return to any sort of normalcy.

It seemed like Tino Sunseri took the brunt of the criticism from all corners whenever things fell flat on offense last year. What does he need to do this year to make it all go away and become an effective leader on offense?

AA: Great question. Believe it or not, Sunseri is going into his third season as the starting quarterback despite being roundly criticized for all three seasons. I think going away from the spread hurry-up will help him. He never really got the timing down, and was sacked many times because he just wouldn't get rid of the football. Getting more of a run-heavy, play-action attack is certainly going to help him. He just has to manage the game and limit all his mistakes, something he failed to do a season ago when he had more interceptions (11) than touchdown passes (10).

The defense is undergoing a bit of a makeover, especially in the front seven. How creative will new coordinator Dave Huxtable have to get to turn this into a solid unit?

AA: Well he has an excellent secondary, with some pretty good depth at safety. So perhaps that means he can take a few more risks up front, or feel more comfortable playing man. The front seven is a big concern, particularly the defensive line. Aaron Donald returns after getting 11 sacks a year ago, but he moves inside. Besides him, there is little in the way of experience. But I will say that Huxtable did some great things with the defensive line when he was UCF defensive coordinator. I watched him turn undersized Bruce Miller into the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year. UCF traditionally played very well against the run, so that has to be encouraging for Pitt fans. Plus, a return to the traditional 4-3 will definitely serve this team better because it lacks depth and playmakers at linebacker.
Week 8: Oct. 27 at Oklahoma (at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla.)
Time/TV: TBA
Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 8-1
2011 record: 10-3 (6-3 Big 12; tied third place)
Head coach: Bob Stoops (139-34, 13 years)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Landry Jones, RB Dominique Whaley, FB Trey Millard, WR Kenny Stills, OG Gabe Ikard, LB Tom Wort, CB Demontre Hurst, CB/S Aaron Colvin, FS Tony Jefferson

Key losses

WR Ryan Broyles, LT Donald Stephenson, TE James Hanna, DE Ronnell Lewis, DE Frank Alexander, LB Travis Lewis, CB Jamell Fleming

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Whaley* (627 yards)

Passing: Jones* (4,463 yards)

Receiving: Broyles (1,157 yards)

Tackles: Lewis and Colvin* (84)

Sacks: Frank Alexander (8.5)

Interceptions: Jefferson* (4)

Three questions for ... SoonerNation's Jake Trotter:

As we all know, it's been a long time since these two powers met. What's the excitement level like in Norman for this game?

Jake Trotter: It's huge. The game is a hot ticket, among homes probably right there with OU-Nebraska in 2001 and OU-Texas Tech in 2008. Notre Dame is a big name in of itself. When you add the fact that OU is 1-8 all-time against the Irish, that Notre Dame ended OU's 47-game winning streak in 1957, that Notre Dame hasn't been to Norman since the '60s, this is a game OU fans have been waiting for. Especially those who remember the '50s and '60s.

The Sooners are the popular preseason pick to win the Big 12. What are some potential weaknesses that Notre Dame may be able to exploit against them?

JT: OU doesn't have a dominating defensive line. The group is experienced, but it's hard to see anyone up front earning All-Big 12 honors. If the front four can't get pressure, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops will be forced to blitz from his back seven, and that could open big plays in the passing game. The secondary should be more sound this season, but the Sooners gave up a ton of big passing plays last season. When the Sooners have lost in the Bob Stoops era, it's often been because they got gashed deep with the pass.

Oklahoma's schedule is really backloaded this season, with the exception of the annual tilt with Texas. Do the Sooners enter this contest undefeated?

JT: You're right, the key stretch will be in November, with road games at West Virginia and TCU, and a home tilt with Oklahoma State, the defending Big 12 champion. But beginning Sept. 22, the Sooners play Kansas State at home, go to Texas Tech, then take on Texas. Kansas State has a ton of people back from its Cotton Bowl team from last season. Tech beat OU in Norman last year, and OU has been a disaster recently in Lubbock, losing the last three there. Texas, meanwhile, probably has the best defense in the Big 12, and will be a dangerous team if it gets anything out of the quarterback position. I expect OU to be undefeated going into the Notre Dame game, but I wouldn't be stunned if they slipped up during that three-game stretch.

ND's 2012 opponents, Week 7: BYU

July, 24, 2012
Week 7: Oct. 20 vs. BYU (at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.)
Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 4-2
2011 record: 10-3
Head coach: Bronco Mendenhall (66-24, seven years)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Riley Nelson, RB Zed Mendenhall, WR Cody Hoffman, TE Austin Holt, LG Braden Hansen, C Houston Reynolds, RT Braden Brown, DE Eathyn Manumaleuna, NT Romney Fuga, LB Uona Kaveinga, LB Brandon Ogletree, LB Kyle Van Noy, CB Preston Hadley, S Daniel Sorensen

Key losses

QB Jake Heaps, RB J.J. Di Luigi, WR McKay Jacobson, LT Matt Reynolds, OL Terence Brown, DT Hebron Fangupo, LB Jordan Pendelton, CB Corby Eason, S Travis Uale

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: J.J. Di Luigi (584 yards)

Passing: Riley Nelson* (1,717 yards)

Receiving: Cody Hoffman* (943 yards)

Tackles: Brandon Ogletree* (76)

Sacks: Kyle Van Noy* (7)

Interceptions: Kyle Van Noy* and Travis Uale (3)

Three questions for ... College football nation blogger Andrea Adelson:

Simply, how good is Riley Nelson?

Andrea Adelson: Truthfully, I think everybody is waiting to find out. Nelson has had a really strange ride at BYU. He was a co-starter in 2010 and then hurt his shoulder, sending him to the sideline for the rest of the year. He was not given a chance to win the starting quarterback job in 2011. But when Jake Heaps struggled, BYU turned to Nelson to spark its season. Now he goes into the year as the unquestioned starter and leader of this team. He does not fit your typical BYU quarterback mold, because he can run with the football. He is not going to sit in the pocket and chuck it. But BYU wants him to try to limit some of his scrambling out of the pocket to focus more on the passing game, especially so he avoids taking so many hits. BYU traditionally does very well with a senior starting quarterback, so I think expectations are high for Nelson to have an outstanding season.

Bronco Mendenhall has been vocal about how good this year's defense can be. What potential holes are there, if any, that Notre Dame will be able to exploit?

AA: I think BYU has a terrific set of linebackers, and I think they are all really underrated. Watch out for Kyle Van Noy, who always seems to make big plays around the ball. He finished second on the team in tackles, right behind another linebacker, Brandon Ogletree. If there is one area of concern, it could be in the secondary, where the team loses Travis Uale and Corby Eason. Both were really solid players for the Cougars. I know Notre Dame likes to throw and spread the ball around, so the Irish may have the chance to exploit this area of the defense.

What's the significance to BYU of the renewed rivalry with Notre Dame, especially now that the Cougars are independent?

AA: It is huge for BYU, which fashions itself as the Notre Dame of the West. I think having Notre Dame on the schedule lends credibility to BYU as it forges its way into independence. Make no mistake, BYU has paid close attention to how Notre Dame has built its brand and gone it alone. Notre Dame was heavily consulted before BYU made the decision to leave the Mountain West. With so few teams willing to put a tough team like the Cougars on the schedule, I think it is huge for the Irish to agree to play them.
Week 4: Sept. 22 vs. Michigan (at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.)
Time/TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Series: Michigan leads all-time, 23-15-1
2011 record: 11-2 (6-2 Big Ten; second place, Legends Division)
Head coach: Brady Hoke (11-2, one year)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Denard Robinson, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, WR Roy Roundtree, WR Jeremy Gallon, LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, DE Craig Roh, LB Jake Ryan, LB Kenny Demens, LB Desmond Morgan, CB J.T. Floyd, CB Blake Countess, S Thomas Gordon, S Jordan Kovacs

Key losses

WR Junior Hemingway, WR Darryl Stonum, WR/KR Martavious Odoms, TE Kevin Koger, C David Molk, RT Mark Huyge, DT Mike Martin, DE/DT Ryan Van Bergen, DT Will Heininger

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Denard Robinson* (1,176 yards)

Passing: Denard Robinson* (2,173 yards)

Receiving: Junior Hemingway (699 yards)

Tackles: Kenny Demens* (94)

Sacks: Ryan Van Bergen (5.5)

Interceptions: Courtney Avery* and J.T. Floyd* (2)

Three questions for ... WolverineNation reporter Michael Rothstein:

Brady Hoke has been a hit through one year at Michigan, both on the field and on the recruiting trail. What do you think has led to so much success so soon, and what makes you think this is sustainable?

Michael Rothstein: Multiple factors. One of the underlying things is the experience Michigan's players had the past two seasons under Rich Rodriguez. The Wolverines had an experienced defensive line, a secondary which had played a lot but been picked apart and a quarterback entering his second season as a starter. Combine that with a superior coaching staff -- especially at the coordinator spots with Al Borges on offense and Greg Mattison on defense -- and the chance to improve was there. The schedule, with Ohio State, Nebraska and Notre Dame at home last season, also helped.

As far as recruiting goes, Hoke knows the Midwest. He could sell playing time at certain positions and is turning into a dynamic closer. Plus, Mattison is one of the best recruiters in college football, period. He is the one who helped reel Tim Tebow in at Florida after a coaching transition. The staff is usually up front and genuine, which also helps. They've done a great job of evaluating talent early.

The Wolverines' defense returns plenty of talent, save for its defensive line. What can be expected from Greg Mattison's crew, and can this unit get to the quarterback on a consistent basis?

MR: So much of that is dependent on the defensive line. If the line can't pressure the quarterback at a good pace, it'll hamper what Mattison can call and force some of the more exotic packages he has to the shelf for a while. His back seven -- particularly the once-maligned secondary -- is going to be good. Michigan could have the best secondary in the Big Ten this season and the depth is growing. While it is unlikely he'll start, freshman Jarrod Wilson impressed coaches this spring. He could contend for playing time and give Mattison the chance to rotate the secondary somewhat similarly to the defensive line to keep players fresh throughout the season.

Three games. Three instant classics. Three Michigan wins. Why should Notre Dame fans feel like the fourth time will be the charm against Michigan?

MR: As the Notre Dame basketball coach, Mike Brey, used to like to say, Law of Averages, baby. The Irish defense should be good this season and Brian Kelly's staff is certainly going to try everything possible to neutralize Robinson. The main concern with Notre Dame is what will happen at quarterback. If the Irish haven't figured that out by week 4, it'll be four straight Michigan wins for sure. The one thing I will tell you, that I'm sure our bosses might not like, I plan to write very few words before the last 10 seconds of the game. Have scrapped most of it the past three years anyway.

ND's 2012 opponents, Week 3: MSU

July, 18, 2012
Week 3: Sept. 15 at Michigan State (at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.)
Time/TV: 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 46-28-1
2011 record: 11-3 (7-1 Big Ten; first place, Legends Division)
Head coach: Mark Dantonio (44-22, five years)
Returning starters: Offense: 5; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

RB Le'Veon Bell, LT Dan France, C Travis Jackson, DE William Gholston, DE Marcus Rush, LB Denicos Allen, LB Max Bullough, LB Chris Norman, CB Johnny Adams, CB Darqueze Dennard, S Isaiah Lewis

Key losses

QB Kirk Cousins, RB Edwin Baker, WR Keshawn Martin, WR B.J. Cunningham, TE Brian Linthicum, DT Jerel Worthy, S Trenton Robinson

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Le'Veon Bell* (948 yards)

Passing: Kirk Cousins (3,316 yards)

Receiving: B.J. Cunningham (1,306 yards)

Tackles: Max Bullough* (89)

Sacks: Denicos Allen* (11)

Interceptions: Isaiah Lewis* and Trenton Robinson (4)

Three questions for ... Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg:

Their in-state rivals seem to be generating most of the hype this summer, but the Spartans bring back an awful lot from a division-title team last year. Is Michigan State the team to beat in the Big Ten?

Adam Rittenberg: I believe so. Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin enter the season as the potential favorites, but I like Michigan State because of its defense, which I believe to be the single best unit in the Big Ten right now. Despite losing standout tackle Jerel Worthy, the Spartans return a lot of talent. They're headlined by defensive end William Gholston, a bona fide All-America candidate who ended last season with a breakout performance in the Outback Bowl. Junior linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen also return, and the secondary could be the strongest part of the unit. Michigan State was a top 10 defense last year, and even in its loss to Notre Dame, it held the Irish offense mostly in check.

The bigger questions marks come on offense, as almost every valuable skill player departs.

How good is Andrew Maxwell, and, perhaps more importantly, can he be the kind of leader that Kirk Cousins was?

AR: Some are saying Cousins is the greatest quarterback in team history, so Maxwell certainly has some big shoes to fill. The good thing is he has had time to prepare for this role. This isn't a true freshman being thrown to the wolves. Maxwell has been Cousins' backup the past two seasons and has a lot of similar personality traits to his predecessor. The coaches really like what they've seen from him in practices and scrimmages, but he certainly needs to prove himself in the spotlight. He missed the second half of spring ball with a knee injury but is back to full strength. It's really important he builds chemistry with a new look receiving corps that includes Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett.

Maxwell's role is important, but Michigan State undoubtedly will be much more of a run-first team in 2012. An offensive line that struggled at times last season returns almost fully intact, and junior running back Le'Veon Ball also is back in the fold. Bell has the potential to be a superstar, and he'll see his carries load increase.

What's the ceiling on this defense, which returns eight starters and plenty of more young talent?

AR: This defense can be at least as good as it was last season, if not better. Sure, Worthy is a big loss, but defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said Worthy and Anthony Rashad White, who returns, were virtually interchangeable at the end of last season. If several young players step up on the D-line, Michigan State should be strong there. The secondary appears to be the defense's strength, and cornerback Johnny Adams, a likely high draft pick next April, leads the way. There's also a lot of excitement about Bullough and Allen at linebacker. Michigan State will have to lean on its defense, particularly early in the season with so many changes on offense, but the unit looks ready to answer the bell.
Week 2: Sept. 8 versus Purdue (at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.)
Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 72-12-2
2011 record: 7-6 (4-4 Big Ten; third place, Leaders Division)
Head coach: Danny Hope (16-21, three years)
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Caleb TerBush, QB Robert Marve, QB Rob Henry, RB Akeem Shavers, RB Ralph Bolden, WR Antavian Edison, DT Bruce Gaston, OT Trevor Foy, DE Ryan Russell, DT Kawann Short, CB Ricardo Allen

Key losses

WR Justin Siller, LT Dennis Kelly, OG Nick Mondek, K Carson Wiggs, LB Joe Holland, S Albert Evans

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Bolden* (674 yards)
Passing: TerBush* (1,905 yards)
Receiving: Edison* (584 yards)
Tackles: Holland (94)
Sacks: Short* (6.5)
Interceptions: Allen* (3)

Three questions for ... Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg:

Simply, what do we make of the quarterback situation here? Purdue has three guys with starting experience, but that may make for an unhappy camper or two down the line.

Adam Rittenberg: It could, but Purdue is used to playing more than one quarterback. TerBush started throughout the 2011 season and enters camp at the No. 1 spot. Marve, the former Miami player, stepped in for TerBush at times last season and had some big moments, particularly in the overtime win against Ohio State. He has the most natural talent of the three but has struggled with injuries throughout his career. The most intriguing player, in my mind, is Henry, a tremendous athlete who nearly switched to safety in 2010 before becoming the team's starting quarterback after a rash of injuries. Henry had a tremendous offseason and was clearly the team's top option before tearing his ACL weeks before the 2011 season. His health is a major question mark, but he's a guy who gives Purdue different skills and can get the team to rally behind him. There's also a chance Henry lines up at other spots just to get his speed on the field.

While the situation is a bit unusual, both TerBush and Marve are veterans who have shared snaps before. I don't see there being too many problems.

Tim Tibesar is Purdue's third defensive coordinator in as many years. What is he expected to bring to the table, and why should fans expect the Boilermakers to be any better on defense this season?

AR: It was surprising to me -- and to a few Purdue players who expressed their frustrations on Twitter -- when Danny Hope dumped defensive coordinator Gary Emanuel after the season. The defense wasn't great last year (73rd nationally), but Emanuel had coached a line that produced first-round draft pick Ryan Kerrigan and now Kawann Short. Tibesar is an interesting choice, to say the least. He didn't have a great run as Kansas State's defensive coordinator, and then went to the CFL, where he fared well overseeing the defense for the Montreal Alouettes. If anything, he knows how to defend the spread because everyone runs it in the CFL -- and does so on a larger field. I'm particularly interested to see how Tibesar impacts the linebackers, a position he coaches. Purdue has underachieved a bit there in recent years, and if the group can take a step forward this fall, the overall defense should be very solid.

Given the changes on the offensive line and Bolden's recovery from knee surgery, how effective can the ground game be?

AR: Purdue remains a run-first team. The Boilers have an interesting offense -- part spread, part pro-style, a lot of motions and formations. They provide a defense with some unique looks. But they definitely want to run the ball and have several options, especially if Bolden gets healthy. Shavers, a junior college transfer, had a nice 2011 season and enters the fall as the team's top back and a co-captain. Hunt, at just 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, is a smaller, quicker guy who can do damage in space. Bolden would be a really nice addition as an experienced runner, but it's hard to count on him too much following his third ACL tear since his senior year in high school.

ND's 2012 opponents, Week 1: Navy

July, 16, 2012
Week 1: Sept. 1 versus Navy (at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland)
Time/TV: 9 a.m. ET, CBS
Series: Notre Dame leads all-time, 72-12-2
2011 record: 5-7
Head coach: Ken Niumatalolo (32-21, four years)
Returning starters: Offense: 4; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Trey Miller, RB Gee Gee Greene, WR Brandon Turner, WR Matt Aiken, WR Casey Bolena, LT Graham Vickers, LG Josh Cabral, DE Wes Henderson, LB Brye French, LB Matt Warrick, LB Matt Brewer, CB Jonathan Wev, CB David Sperry, CB Parrish Gaines, S Tra'ves Bush, S Chris Ferguson, P Pablo Beltran

Key losses

QB Kriss Proctor, RB Alexander Teich, C Brady DeMell, G John Dowd, RT Ryan Basford, NG Jared Marks, DE Jabaree Tuani, LB Caleb King, LB Jarred Shannon, CB Kwesi Mitchell, K Jon Teague

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Proctor (914 yards)
Proctor (787 yards)
Receiving: Turner* (300 yards)
Tackles: Warrick* (103)
Sacks: Tuani (5.5)
Interceptions: Mitchell, Bush*, Ferguson*, Sperry* (2)

Three questions for ... College Football Nation blogger Andrea Adelson:

Versus Notre Dame in Ireland, at Penn State (following a bye). One can think of easier ways to open the season, but Navy has laid a tough task ahead of itself. What can this program take away from those games and environments early on, and do the Midshipmen actually have a shot of stealing one?

Andrea Adelson: Navy is no stranger to playing tough games. This is a program that continually challenges itself. The Midshipmen nearly upset South
Carolina early last year, and have beaten Notre Dame twice in the last three years. If anything, I think opening the season with two incredibly tough games will set this team up for the rest of the season, even if it loses both. There are some young players that are going to get valuable on-the-job training against two traditional power teams and to me, there is no substitute for that as the season moves on. Can they steal one? Absolutely. Last time I checked, neither team is Alabama. I never count Navy out of a game.

Quarterback Trey Miller got thrown into the fire early last season following Kriss Proctor's injury. How much will that help Miller this year, especially with running an offense as sophisticated as Navy's?

AA: I spoke with coach Ken Niumatalolo during the spring, and he is really excited about having Miller start this year. Niumatalolo called Miller's performance against Notre Dame last year "baptism under fire," so I think he learned a valuable lesson from that experience. Any time you can go into the year with some game experience as the bona fide starting quarterback, it helps. But no question, opening the season on the road against the Irish is going to be a huge task for Miller and the entire offense.

There's no beating around the bush. Navy, due to turnovers and poor execution, often beat itself last season. (That may sound familiar to readers of this space.) With five of last season's losses coming by three points or fewer, just how close is Navy this year to getting back on track and returning to a bowl game?

AA: I think Navy will get back to a bowl game. What really surprised me about last season is Navy rarely beats itself. In fact, Navy is usually one of the most disciplined teams in all of college football. Niumatalolo basically went back to the basics this spring and stressed that discipline. "We are paying more attention to detail," he told me. "I know we lost close games last year and there are small little things we missed that cost us a game, and I think that resonates with our guys because they know losing five games by 11 points, they saw all the little things we could get better."


Notre Dame Uneven, Still Gets The Win
Notre Dame wasn't at its best on Saturday night, but it was still good enough to beat in-state rival Purdue in Indianapolis.


Saturday, 9/20