- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our Mark Schlabach took another crack at his way-too early top 25 today. In response, we'll try again to rank Notre Dame's 2012 opponents.
1. USC (Nov. 24, away): Virtually every early outlook has the Trojans slated as the preseason No. 1 or No. 2 team, and rightfully so. Matt Barkley enters 2012 as the Heisman front-runner and USC will return to the familiar position of having the target on its back throughout the season.
2. Oklahoma (Oct. 27, away): Considering Notre Dame is the only current official, penned-in game that is absolutely going to happen for the Big 12 favorites next season, I'd imagine the Sooners would get up for that.
3. Michigan State (Sept. 15, away): A growing defense will keep Sparty plowing ahead in Year 6 of the Mark Dantonio era, which may just begin with MSU as the Big Ten favorite.
4. Michigan (Sept. 22, home): A number of early polls suggest Michigan as the leading Big Ten contender, but I think some of its losses on defense will be tough to replace. Nonetheless, any team with Denard Robinson under center has a chance to make big things happen, as Notre Dame fans are all too aware of.
5. Stanford (Oct. 13, home): Who needs Andrew Luck when you have that much time in the pocket? Throw anyone under center behind that offensive line and he'll have all the time he needs to make something happen.
6. Miami (Oct. 6, Chicago): The Hurricanes make the biggest jump from the last time we looked at the Irish's opponents. An experienced defense and a great recruiting year for Al Golden suggest this program is back on the rise, pending NCAA sanctions.
7. BYU (Oct. 20, home): I said it before and I'll say it again: If Riley Nelson has a big year, watch out.
8. Purdue (Sept. 8, home): This contest scares me if I'm an Irish fan. First game back from what is sure to be an exhausting season-opening trip in Dublin, with a hungry in-state rival waiting for them and looking to build on momentum following a strong 2011 finish and weak 2012 opener (Eastern Kentucky).
9. Wake Forest (Nov. 17, home): Jim Grobe teams usually perform better than they should, but the Deacs must recover from a weak finish in 2011.
10. Boston College (Nov. 10, away): No more Luke Kuechly means happier offenses everywhere. The Eagles just hope that means theirs, too, which will be in its first year under coordinator Doug Martin.
11. Navy (Sept. 1, Dublin): The Midshipmen have a brutal start to the 2012 schedule, facing the Irish in Dublin before going to Happy Valley to face Penn State, but things get easier afterward. Can they put the awful luck of 2011 behind them and beat the beatable opponents?
12. Pitt (Nov. 3, home): Paul Chryst seems like the right fit, but asking him to lift the Panthers out of their underachieving ways in Year 1 is a bit much.