It’s finally here. No more careful study and commentary on player weight gains or rewinding the tiny glimpses of fall camp video footage for any potential glimmer of insight, and no more charts as to the geographic makeup of the team. Come Saturday, it will no longer matter who you are or what you did the previous year – it will simply be time to pad up and let the hitting do the talking. Notre Dame’s 2013 season is finally set to begin.
As a Michigan native who has followed Brian Kelly’s career trajectory since his tenure at Grand Valley State with keen interest – and one who was thrilled beyond words at his acceptance of the Notre Dame position – you’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger Kelly supporter amongst the Irish faithful. However, with the toughest schedule in the nation looming and a redshirt freshman quarterback pulling the trigger, even I predicted a lowly 6-6 mark (or, at best, 8-5) for the Irish in 2012. So what will 2013 bring? Let’s dive in.
Notre Dame vs. Temple
Summary: Temple’s offense is in flux, with the loss of running back Montel Harris (1,054 yards and 12 touchdowns in 10 games in 2012) to graduation and the announcement that former 4th string quarterback Connor Reilly is now the starting signal caller. Such news does not bode well for an offensive unit that finished 107th nationally in its last season.
Prediction: Temple serves as nothing more than an opportunity to shake off seven months of rust, as the Irish take it to the Owls.
Result: Notre Dame 30, Temple 7
Notre Dame at Michigan
Summary: There seems to be very little mention as to how big a role starting Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees has had in this series. In 2011, Rees led ND to a dominating 24-7 lead, chipping in 3 touchdown passes and over 300 yards through the air before Notre Dame’s epic defensive collapse in the 4th quarter. And few seem to recall that it was toward Rees’ corner where Kelly placed his confidence in 2012’s victory when the lights shined a bit too bright for the redshirt freshman starter, Everett Golson. While Rees being named the starter was unexpected this season, it’s far from new to the Michigan Wolverines.
Michigan’s strength in 2013 is its youthful talent, with at least five freshmen or sophomores heavily in the mix for playing time in Michigan’s defensive front seven. This strength, however, is also a weakness against a seasoned and strong Notre Dame offensive line unit. Michigan’s potential shortcoming along its defensive front seven is exacerbated by the loss of junior star linebacker and co-captain, Jake Ryan, until October due to an ACL tear.
Prediction: The one pattern in this series rivalry is that there isn’t one, with all logic going out the window. ND lost to Michigan in 2011 despite being 4.5 point favorites, and ND won in 2012 after Heisman contender Denard Robinson was pressured into throwing 4 interceptions. Still, the logic that games are won in the trenches is too potent to be dismissed, and Notre Dame’s experience along the offensive and defensive lines proves too much in a very tight game.
Result: Notre Dame 17, Michigan 10
Notre Dame at Purdue
Summary: First year head coach Darrell Hazell was a dynamite hire for a Boilermaker program that has been nothing but fizz. Hazell was able to morph perennial doormat Kent State into an 11-win unit that threatened to kick in the doors of the BCS party last season. Though Hazell might inevitably prove himself to be one of the best coaches in the nation, that day is not today.
Prediction: Purdue returns only 5 starters from an offensive group that managed to rank 58th nationally, and those losses come courtesy of the starting quarterback, running back and wide receiver positions. Hazell could pose a danger to Notre Dame in the future, but building a foundation of winning takes time, and the cracks from the previous coaching regime were numerous.
Result: Notre Dame 27, Purdue 10
Notre Dame vs. Michigan State
Summary: In the past 20 years Notre Dame has only managed to beat Michigan and Michigan State in the same season four times, which has almost always led to a magical season (the one exception being 2004 when a Tyrone Willingham-led ND squad finished 6-6 on the year). Will Notre Dame be able to overcome the recent historical odds and defeat Michigan and Michigan State in the same season two years in a row?
Prediction: Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is learning the hard way how difficult it is to field a consistent winner in East Lansing with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame in your backyard. The fact the Spartans are still in a four-way quarterback race less than a week before kickoff offers evidence the quarterback inefficiency that plagued MSU and led to a 95th overall offensive ranking has not been solved. Notre Dame faces yet another hard-fought, low-scoring battle with Sparty before pulling away in the 2nd half.
Result: Notre Dame 24, Michigan State 10
Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma
Summary: Star quarterback Landry Jones is gone and Blake Bell, the expected heir-apparent, has been usurped by redshirt freshman Trevor Knight. While all media eyes are focused on the upset results of the quarterback battle, the Sooners’ ultimate downfall comes courtesy of another position entirely.
Prediction: Sometimes timing is everything, and Oklahoma happens to be playing Notre Dame during a slight rebuilding year. Major question marks dot the defensive line and linebacker corps of Oklahoma, with the potential for the Sooners’ defense to finish even worse than their 89th ranking in rush defense in 2012. Notre Dame’s strong offensive line and rushing attack will prove too much for a depleted Oklahoma front seven to handle, and the Fighting Irish manage an undefeated campaign in September for the second year in a row.
Result: Notre Dame 30, Oklahoma 17
Notre Dame at Arizona State (Dallas)
Summary: Arizona State head coach Todd Graham has been a thorn in Notre Dame’s side for several years. In addition to beating Notre Dame as Tulsa’s head coach in 2010, in 2011 Graham and his Pittsburgh Panthers gave the Fighting Irish all they could handle before ND pulled out a squeaker victory, 15-12.
Prediction: Sandwiched between Oklahoma and USC, the Arizona State match can be categorized as a classic “trap game” for Notre Dame. Returning 17 starters, including dual threat quarterback Taylor Kelly, Arizona State is considered a dark horse candidate for the Pac-12 title, and ultimately proves too much for Notre Dame. With talented pieces at his disposal the likes of which he did not possess at Tulsa or Pittsburgh, Graham and the Sun Devils pull off the upset and catch Notre Dame napping in Dallas.
Result: Arizona State 24, Notre Dame 20
Notre Dame vs. USC
Summary: What to make of a team that was preseason #1 in 2012 and ultimately ended with a shockingly laughable 7-6 record? Better yet, what does one make of that same program planning to open its 2013 season rotating between two players at the quarterback position?
Prediction: USC has as much talent as any football team in America and could beat nearly any program on any given week. The problem resides in poor coaching courtesy of head coach, Lane Kiffin. With all being even between Notre Dame and the USC Trojans, Notre Dame gains the edge in the coaching column as well as home field advantage, though new USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast proves to be an immediate impact and upgrade. Notre Dame regains its focus after the Arizona State loss and wins in a game of inches against its historic rival.
Result: Notre Dame 17, USC 14
Notre Dame at Air Force
Summary: Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun has done an outstanding job as he enters his seventh season in Colorado Springs. What can Notre Dame expect against yet another program boasting an option attack? The Falcons return only four starters on offense and are forced to replace three starting offensive linemen, as well as their starting quarterback and running back.
Result: Notre Dame 40, Air Force 7
Notre Dame vs. Navy
Summary: Notre Dame seems to have shaken the Midshipmen monkey off its back after blasting Navy out of Dublin, 50-10, in 2012.
Prediction: With two straight weeks to prepare for the option after beating Air Force the previous Saturday, Notre Dame brushes aside the Naval Academy, even with the emergence of Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds as a bona fide playmaker.
Result: Notre Dame 40, Navy 21
Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
Summary: Sometimes you need a field goal to sail wide in order to maintain a perfect season. Pittsburgh gave Notre Dame such a gift in 2012 when ND managed to hang on against the Panthers in overtime, 29-26.
Prediction: The Panthers have more questions than answers on offense, with newly appointed starting quarterback Tom Savage and the loss of star running back Rushel Shell to transfer. The lack of depth at the wide receiver position is also a critical concern for Pitt. What the Panthers lack on offense they more than make up for on defense, however. Returning nine starters from a defensive squad that finished 17th nationally in 2012 – including defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a Bednarik Award finalist – the Panthers defense will be as swarming and feisty as ever. The Fighting Irish emerge with a victory after yet another slugfest with Pitt.
Result: Notre Dame 14, Pittsburgh 10
Notre Dame vs. BYU
Summary: While the faces may change, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall has built a program with remarkable consistency. This stability means Notre Dame fans shouldn’t make too much of a new starting quarterback in Taysom Hill. Green quarterback or not, wide receiver Cody Hoffman, who leads the nation in career touchdown receptions with 28, will be ready to make plays.
Prediction: The Fighting Irish will face a battle very similar to the one they found themselves in with BYU in 2012. The end result will be the same, too.
Result: Notre Dame 17, BYU 10
Notre Dame at Stanford
Summary: The showdown begins. Notre Dame arrives in Palo Alto with a 10-1 record for a top-ranked contest with the future Pac-12 champion, the Stanford Cardinal. Will Stanford gain its revenge on Notre Dame for 2012’s goal line defeat?
Prediction: Stanford’s ability to throw punches in this heavyweight bout will be hampered by the loss of five of its main playmakers from the previous year, most notably in the form of running back Stepfan Taylor and star tight end, Zach Ertz. The inexperience at the skill position is mostly negated, however, by a veteran offensive line and a dominant defense. The loss of Everett Golson’s athletic ability is felt more than ever against the swarming defense of Stanford and is ultimately too much to overcome.
Notre Dame fights valiantly in a true smash mouth classic but the Cardinal claim their revenge. The score is the exact same as 2012, though this time in Stanford’s favor.
Result: Stanford 20, Notre Dame 13
Notre Dame Season Overview
Notre Dame posts a 10-2 regular season record in 2013, with starting quarterback Tommy Rees leading Notre Dame to a BCS berth in true underdog fashion. With back-to-back BCS caliber seasons, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly ushers in a new and long-awaited era to Fighting Irish football.
After twenty years of stumbling and mismanagement, the Fighting Irish have finally solidified their position once again as a stable, elite-level program.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles as well as co-founded a nationally-featured non-profit organization. In his spare time he takes his NCAA Football ’13 online dynasty way too seriously and alienates those around him by discussing football 24 hours a day. Scott can be reached at email@example.com