- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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It has been eight long months but the waiting game is down to two days. Forty-hours from now the Irish will kick their season off in Ireland, facing a Navy team that has topped them in three of the past five years. Can Notre Dame make it two in a row against the Midshipmen? Let's take a look.
When Notre Dame has the ball: All eyes will be on Everett Golson, who is appearing in his first college game and, just maybe, possibly, is Notre Dame's quarterback of the future. Coach Brian Kelly said he expects the turnover plague of last year to be curtailed so long as Golson plays within character. That means not too many risks against an experienced secondary, and plenty of ball control against a team that loves to hang on to the ball itself. Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III will be a key to taking the pressure off Golson, as both are replacing the suspended Cierre Wood and must, first and foremost, secure the football.
When Navy has the ball: If ever there were an ideal time to break in two new starting cornerbacks -- including a converted running back who just got to campus three months ago -- well, this might be it. The Midshipmen's triple-option offense can be confusing and maddening all at once for a front seven that can't afford to hesitate. Fortunately for the Irish, much of the unit that held Navy to just 14 points last season is back up front, with Ben Councell likely the only first-time starter among the defensive linemen and linebackers. Also working in the Irish's favor: Navy returns just one starter up front, left guard Josh Cabral. Keep an eye on senior slotbacks John Howell and Gee Gee Greene, who is the team's top returning rusher.
Intangible: Navy made eight consecutive bowl games before a 5-7 campaign in 2011. That season featured five losses by three points or less. Like the 2011 Irish, this was a more talented team than its record indicated, as it finished fourth nationally on the ground. There's also the not-at-all overlooked fact that this game will be played a 9 a.m. ET, in another country. Kelly cut the Irish's originally scheduled seven early-morning practices down to one -- the Wednesday his team took off for Dublin, so that the players could sleep on what was basically an overnight flight and be ready to go Thursday upon its 6:30 a.m. (local time) arrival.
Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Navy 17. The talent gap here is too wide, and the Irish have learned their lessons from recent mishaps against the Midshipmen to not take them seriously.