Here is a double-edged sword if I've ever seen one. Notre Dame's 2013 schedule is actually pretty tough, which I love to see; I mean, who doesn't want to see the Irish face the toughest opponents it can? However, if they can get through with just one minor blip on the screen, they're virtually guaranteed another shot at the title. Let's look at the schedule:
8/31 Temple: This is perhaps the only "gimme" on the Irish schedule. The Owls have had one of the most tumultuous histories in college football, getting kicked out of the Big East, becoming an Independent, joining the MAC for a few years, and then getting re-invited to the Big East once Al Golden started having some success. Golden then promptly brought his talents to South Beach. Steve Addazio led the team the following year, had a 9-4 season, then bolted after 2012's 4-7 campaign.
9/7 @ Michigan: Oh, yeah! Is there any possible way to top what happened in 2011? Is this going to be a repeat of that contest? The Irish made a valiant effort, but it wasn't the superhuman effort Michigan put forth. Yes, ND beat the Wolverines last year, but we can conveniently forget that...right? Recent history has shown that this game is going to be close and hard-fought. As a homer, I'm going to pick Michigan, but my nerves have always made this game a pick-em. I'm ashamed to admit that I almost walked out of Michigan Stadium before this...
9/14 @ Purdue: Soon the games against Michigan will be gone, but Purdue will still be there. Good for you, Notre Dame. I don't want to take anything away from new Purdue coach Darrell Hazell, but the Boilermakers haven't been very successful against the Irish, and it's clear that the only reason ND kept this rivalry is because it's a certain win. I mean, why would you want to play the best competition out there, right? That being said, Hazell seems like the type of coach who will have his guys fighting like mad in his first year.
9/21 Michigan State: As Wolverines fans, we have to hate each of these teams, but I bet that the vast majority of us would rather see State win. It's actually been a pretty decent rivalry, with each team going 6-6 since 2000. Notre Dame has won the last two, and much like ND's games with Michigan, those with State have been close.
9/28 Oklahoma: Bob Stoops has received a lot of criticism for not bringing more national titles to Norman during his tenure. Although that is somewhat deserved, don't confuse that with being a bad coach. The man is damn good. Since taking over in 1999, he's had only three sub 10-win seasons. Don't forget just how bad OU was in the '90s. With Kendal Thompson injured, Blake Bell in at QB, and guys like Jalen Saunders at WR, this is a dangerous passing team. However, it sounds like they may be ready to get the ground game going, too.
10/5 Arizona State (Cowboys Stadium, Dallas): QB Taylor Kelly threw for over 3,000 yards in 2012 and is on a few watch lists in 2013. Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham is very good, too, having only one losing season since starting his head coaching career in 2006. Although ASU's odds are set at 4-to-1 to win the PAC-12 South, this could be a team that really surprises in 2013. Chip Kelly isn't at Oregon, so that leaves open the possibility for someone else to become the PAC-12 Conference Champ. The Sun Devils could very well be 3-1 heading into Dallas, with their only loss being against Stanford.
10/19 USC: Lane Kiffin saw perhaps the most precipitous, and unforeseen, drop in college football last year. Starting out ranked #1 in the AP Poll, they fell out of the top ten by week three, and out all together by the end of the season. Kiffin is
a bit of a douche, so the slide was fun to watch. He has subsequently received the dreaded vote of confidence, so Fight On!, Lane, but if you have another sub-par year, you'll be doing it elsewhere. Marqise Lee is the best returning offensive player, but who is going to be the guy throwing to him? It seems even the Trojan faithful aren't even sure. Conquest Chronicles:
None of the QB's on the roster have run away with the starting job. That might not be a bad thing in the sense that all three QB's need to fight for the job...though I don't think Max Browne is a legitimate starter.
10/26 @ Air Force: The Falcons, ironically, are better on the ground than they are in the air. Watching all of their cut blocks on the Wolverines last year was damn frustrating. The 2013 squad will not have Connor Dietz, Cody Getz, or Wes Cobb (that was 2,447 yards and 23 touchdowns worth of offense in 2012), but they have always been able to get yards on the ground and points on the board. They'll have a new starting QB with Kale Pearson, who is a good runner himself. All in all, the Irish will probably win this. Even in losing, though, the Falcons are winners because of what they (and the guys the next week) are signing up for after football, and there's no way you can root against that.
11/2 Navy: Notre Dame has blown Navy out of the water the last two seasons (oh, man! did I really just type that?! It sickens me to be so cheap). Anyway, I don't expect Navy to be able to repeat '07, '09, or '10; those wins were great things of beauty, though.
11/9 @ Pitt: Here's how Pitt fans are evaluating their season. I suppose that pretty much sums up how they're going to do in this game. Tom Savage will be the starting QB after transferring to every school in the country (and Tra'Von Chapman's guilty plea to assault and subsequent suspension by Paul Chryst). With Rushel Shell transferring to West Virginia, the rushing duties will fall on Isaac Bennett.
11/23 BYU: Like everyone else in the country, the Cougars are hoping for a National Championship. Is this wild eyed optimism, or something that could actually be accomplished? Kyle Van Noy is poised to have an incredible season, and he's already a fantastic player. BYU was third in the nation in points against (14), while the Irish were second (12.8). However, the Irish were also 80th in the country in points for (25.8) and BYU was 65th (28.7). So, on paper, this game is going to be very evenly matched. Although the Cougars didn't score in the last two quarters last year, the Irish didn't really put them away, either, ending the game with only a 17-14 victory.
11/30 @ Stanford: This is called a touchdown where I come from. Stanford will avenge this loss.