In the second part of our breakdown of the 2013 Irish schedule by difficulty, we will take a look at what we consider to be the top 6 most difficult opponents of this upcoming season. This is where it starts to become a little more difficult and opinions will differ wildly, which is a good thing. With player turnover being such a large part of college football, we are gauging how we think the Irish will do this upcoming year, and not necessarily based of off last year.
While their defense shined last year, the Cougar offense struggled, so much so that during the off-season, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall fired his entire offensive coaching staff, and asked them to reapply for their positions, which has never been done before. The Cougar offense while not a powerhouse, did put up 29 points a game, almost 250 yards in the air, and 153 yards on the ground. We assume something else was going on behind the scenes for Mendenhall to take such drastic measures, but that’s why he is the head coach. They don’t lose a lot on the offensive side of the ball, but what they do lose is big. Graduation hit hard, as both Riley Nelson and James Lark(QB’s) are gone, which means that BYU has to replace 2,789 yards, 21 touchdowns and will try and do so with freshman Taysom Hill.
While defensive side of ball may not be as good in 2013 as they were in 2012, they should still be tough. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy returns to lead the defense , and that is really important as that same Cougar defense will find themselves with 6 new starters. The loss of leading tackler Brian Ogletree and their best secondary player Preston Hadley will not help, but the staff in Provo are extremely familiar with plugging in new guys as over 75% of their team are required to go on the 2 year LDS mission.
Prediction – Irish victory It’s in South Bend again, and not having to travel to Provo is always a positive thing
5) Arizona State
Head coach Todd Graham is hoping to build on the success his team enjoyed in his first year at Arizona State. The Sun Devils enjoyed an 8-5 season and topped it off by smashing Navy 62-28 in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. The offense will once again be led by quarterback Taylor Kelly who threw for 3039 yards, 29 touchdowns, and completed 67% of his pass attempts. The offense will miss starting back Cameron Marshall (graduated), but Marion Grice looks to have enough talent and durability to be the featured back. Grice ran for almost 700 yards, 11 touchdowns, and a very robust 6.6 yards per carry in 2012. Stand out tight-end Chris Coyle looks to be another major factor in the offense in 2013, and should top his 57 catch, and 5 touchdowns of a year ago.
Boasting a defensive squad that ranked 40th in the nation, the Sun Devils actually lose very little on that side of the ball. While the loss of linebacker Brandon Magee will hurt some, the return of Pac-12 Defensive player of the year Will Sutton(DE) will help, as he should anchor a squad that coaches feel will be incredibly strong. Sutton had an outstanding 2012 campaign that saw him with 13 sacks and 23 tackles for losses.
Prediction – Irish victory Much closer game than people are expecting
Although USC had an extremely disappointing 2012 season that saw them go 7-6(5-4) it was on the defensive side of the ball that saw the most disappointment. The Trojan defense gave up 24 points a game, but against Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona they surrendered an average of 43 points per game. With NCAA sanctions still lingering, and a 2013 recruiting class that only saw 12 kids sign, depth should once again be a problem. It truly is a matter of quality over quantity for USC, as they have some great talent, but limited depth and experience behind it. Embattled USC coach Lane Kiffin decided that his Father and defensive coordinator Monty Kiffin was the issue last year and replaced him with new coordinator Clancy Pendergast. The Trojan defense will have a new look as they transition from a 4-3 to 3-4 in 2013 and they are hoping that returning linebacker Lamar Dawson will benefit from the change. The defensive line should improve with some injected new youth, and linebacking corps should be fine also, but once again the secondary will be a major concern, and with Nikell Robey leaving for the NFL, it may be worse this year.
Kiffin will rely on sophomore Max Wittek and Cody Kessler to replace NFL bound Matt Barkley behind center. Quarterback could again be an area of concern, and if not solidified, could be a major reason the Trojans experience another mediocre season. Although the Trojans lose running back Curtis McNeal and receiver Robert Woods, they have no shortage of skill players. Silas Redd is back for his Senior year, and fans will get to enjoy the nation’s best receiver again, in the form of Marqise Lee. The offensive line will need to step up this year, after having an abysmal 2012 season, and the loss of center Khaled Holmes will not help. Don’t be fooled though, there is still a lot of front-line talent in Southern California, but there seems to be just as many questions.
Prediction – Irish victory We have a feeling this one will be close early, but lack of depth and experience will hurt USC in 2nd half.
The Denard Robinson era in Ann Arbor may be over, but returning quarterback Devin Gardner should continue to improve and give the Wolverines a true threat in throwing the ball. Gardner threw for almost the same yardage as Robinson did and did so with 40 fewer attempts. He completed almost 60% of his passes, and connected 11 times for touchdowns threw the air, while only throwing 5 interceptions. Gardner will struggle though finding playmakers on the field, as the Wolverines really only have one true threat at the receiver position, in Jeremy Gallon and Wolverine fans could see Devin Funchess contribute this year.
Head coach Brady Hoke will look to true freshman running back Derrick Green to inject new life into a Wolverine running attack that saw their top two running backs combine for just 750 yards, 9 touchdowns, and just over 4.0 yards per carry. It is no secret that Michigan’s offensive line struggled last year, and it will be an area of concern again in 2013 , as the only returning starter from last year is Taylor Lewan.
The Wolverine defense should be a strong point in 2013, as they return the majority of starters that saw them only allow their opponents an average of 20 points per game. They should also benefit from the return of corner(injury)Blake Countess and linebacker Jake Ryan should be the heart and soul of this squad. Ryan had 76 tackles and 4 sacks on 2012, and should be poised to top those numbers in 2013. This is the first year that Hoke and his staff should start to see the benefits of their recruiting efforts on the field, and while they may not be quite ready to challenge for a Big 10 or national title in 2013, 2014 could be a great year to be a Wolverine fan.
Prediction – Irish win Should be another extremely close game between these two teams. (go figure)
There is still a lot of good that happens in Norman these days, but it’s just not as often or as consistent as Sooner fans have come to expect. The Bob Stoops led squad only lost 2 regular season games, and they were both to top 15 teams (#5 ND, #15 KState) by a combined 22 points. The problem that sooner fans had is that they were both at home, and if you include the embarrassment of being hammered by #9 Texas A&M 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl, you can understand the restlessness that is starting to settle over Memorial Stadium these days.
On offense the Sooners lose quarterback Landry Jones, so Stoops will be looking to Blake Bell to replace his production. Most fans understand what Bell is capable of doing in goal-line and short yardage situations, but can he be the every-down quarterback? Bob Stoops sure is hoping so. If Bell happens to falter, he will have to turn to redshirt Trevor Knight. In the backfield, the Sooners should shine again. They return both Damien Williams and Brennan Clay. Those two combined for a total of 1500 yards on the ground, and ran for 15 touchdowns. Leading receiver Kenny Stills left for greener pastures in the NFL, but that doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare. The Sooners return Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard, who were responsible for over 100 catches and 1400 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, things are not quite as solidified, and some major concerns still hang over the team. The front four are huge question marks, as they ranked 80th in the nation in run defense and their top four tacklers were all defensive backs. The Sooners defense also has to replace 3-year starting linebacker Tom Wort, both starting safeties, one of who was their leading tackler (Tony Jefferson) and 3 defensive linemen, all with extended starting experience. They will be relying on a lot of young kids to step up early and often, and if your goal is to win a Big 12 championship, and contend for a BCS national championship, it’s probably not how you want to enter a season. The good news for Sooner fans is that they have 3 home games against lesser teams, before they make the trek to South Bend.
Prediction – Irish win While they still have a lot of talent in Oklahoma, there are too many question marks.
In what most considered one of the best college games of the year in 2012, the Irish stood tall at the goal-line and produced arguably one of the best sequences ever at Notre Dame Stadium. This year it is being played at Stanford, a stadium that Notre Dame has lost 5 times at since 1997. This is the last game of the year for both teams, and has a very real chance of pitting two undefeated teams against each other, on their last weekend of the regular season. There is a lot to love about Stanford in 2013, that is assuming of course that you’re a Cardinal fan. David Shaw has the luxury of returning 14 starters of both sides of the ball combined, and that is from a team that won 12 games in 2012.
On offense the Cardinal will once again trust Kevin Hogan behind center. As a mid-season replacement, the Virginia native threw for almost 1100 yards, 9 touchdowns, and ran for over 250 yards. While he still needs to develop and mature, he should end up being a very solid quarterback over his time at Stanford.
The offensive line will be another area of strength as they only lose one starter, but still have some question marks in the backfield, as Stefan Taylor graduated and took his 4300 career rushing yards, and 30 career touchdowns with him. There is a stable of running backs with some talent, and they should start to separate themselves during spring practice. The biggest question mark for Stanford is the receiving corps, or lack thereof. The Cardinal lost the tight-end duo of Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo to the NFL, and Drew Terrell and Jamal Rashad-Patterson have both graduated. It should be interesting to see how Hogan and a group of new receivers will find chemistry over the year, and if they don’t, Shaw may be forced to rely of his defense more often than he originally expected.
Speaking of defense, there is a lot of it at Stanford, and it’s very good. Even with the losses of linebacker Chase Thomas and nose tackle Terrance Stephens, their front seven has the ability to be as good as anyone this year, and the secondary isn’t far behind. This defense could be scary good, as long as everyone maintains their level of play and they stay healthy as a collective unit.
Prediction – Irish loss We are not a fan of this game, and it is the one game on the 2013 Irish schedule that truly scares us.
So there you have it, the 2013 Notre Dame schedule broken down and ranked by difficulty. If things go according to how we believe, the Irish will finish the season 11-1 and another BCS bowl trip. We think most fans would be willing to accept those regular season results, although the obvious goal is to go undefeated again this year. (That has a nice ring to it)