Recruiting is not finished, player injuries and attrition will occur, players will rise and fall in Spring and pre-Fall practice, but we’ll give a good faith estimate of the relative strength as of press time. We have used the Rivals recruiting for January 20th as the 2013 recruiting ranking.
(Each of these four were in contention for a BCS bowl as late as November of 2012)
(1) STANFORD – Facts speak for themselves-Stanford has been in a BCS game three years in a row, and only an overtime loss to Oklahoma State after the 2011 season marred their BCS record. Further, the Cardinal have defeated USC the last four seasons.
Three year record: 35-5
2012 point differential: 27-20
2012 yardage differential: 374-336 PLUS 38 yards
Last beat Notre Dame: 11/26/2011 Stanford 28-Notre Dame 14 Palo Alto
Return: 16 starters, 7 offensive, 9 defensive
Recruiting last 5 years: 52/5/22/26/20
Watch out for: 2012’s OL recruiting class, Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy, Josh Garnett, and qb Kevni Hogan, who replaced Nunes in mid season.
Stanford may be our most IMPORTANT opponent, focused solely on program development, because their physical play provides the benchmark for Notre Dame. Most thought Harbaugh’s departure would lead to a steady downdraft, following the pattern of Larry Coker succeeding Butch Davis at Miami and Bill Stewart succeeding Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia. What you see is what you get with Stanford. They will attempt to pound the ball on offense, and it will be intriguing to see if the four returning OL starters can hold off the super-sophs, Peat, Murphy and Garnett. And rejoice not over the graduation of Stepfan Taylor. Barry Sanders’ kid was in the incubator this year.
(2) MICHIGAN – contended for their division’s slot in Big X championship game until Robinson’s injury at Nebraska cost them a chance to win. But that was the two-edged sword, for Borges and Hoke began working Devin Gardner in, reconventionalizing the offense, and giving them both a productive offense against South Carolina and jumpstarting their preparation for 2013. It is no secret that Borges and Hoke inherited Denard rather than choosing him, but they did fairly well, a BCS victory over VA Tech for the 2011 season, and a New Year’s Day Bowl for 2011. Remember this: 2013 is Hoke’s third year, and we saw last year in South Bend what a third year coach of high quality can do EVEN WHEN BREAKING IN A NEW QUARTERBACK.
Three year record: 26-13
2012 point differential: 30-20
2012 yardage differential: 383-320 PLUS 63 yards
Last beat Notre Dame: 9/10/11 Michigan 35- Notre Dame 31 Ann Arbor
Return: 11 starters, 5 offensive, 6 defensive
recruiting last 5 years: 5/7/21/20/8
WATCH OUT FOR: A significant offensive improvement as Robinson departs.. Borges has been waiting for this. Mattison has now toughened up the defense after the Rodriguez fiasco, and it will only get better with their young studs.
(3) OKLAHOMA – the voters and publications love them, but they have not been EXCELLENT for some time now. They won their single championship with a rock-ribbed defense, but that focus has been lost. Unless they fix it they will remain more glamorous than impactful.
Three year record: 32-8
2012 point differential: 39-25 (good hit, no field)
2012 yardage differential: 497-398 PLUS 99
Last beat Notre Dame: 1956 Oklahoma 40-Notre Dame O South Bend, Indiana
Return: 12 starters, 8 offensive, 4 defensive
recruiting last 5 years: 14/11/14/7/13
WATCH OUT FOR: Mike Stoops may have more of an impact in his second year as defensive coordinator, This was true of brother Mark at FSU. Bob should realize that unless his defense gets fixed, BCS wins will be as infrequent as the one over poor UCONN after 2011. Their receivers are excellent and Williams a potential star at running back. Will they bring a defense to South Bend?
(4) USC – Coaching matters. Further, post game brawl in locker rooms in El Paso constitute something less than a buy signal for USC fortunes in 2013. That black mist over Heritage Hall is not merely LA smog; it is buzzards circling and descending. Is SC talented? Their athletes are drool-worthy, including the gems in their soft midriffed, soft playing OLS and DLS. Put Saban, Kelly or Hoke in charge of this team right now, and they’d cruise, I mean CRUISE to the Pac-XII South title. The dismissal of Monte Kiffin so he could land with Jerry Jones was sheerly marvelous. Some adults abandon babies. Some babies abandon their old man and ship him off to Arlington. Lane is sui generis.
Three year record: 25-12
2012 point differential: 32-23
2012 yardage differential: 432-394 PLUS 38
Last beat Notre Dame: 10/22/11 USC 31-ND 17 South Bend
Return: 15 starters, 7 offensive, 8 defensive
recruiting last 5 years: 7/8/4/1/4
WATCH OUT FOR: USC’s players warm up before the game in South Bend. You will see length, speed, size, QBS with great arms, tall, fast receivers with great hands. Feel free to then depart before the coin toss and return to the USC locker room for the post game intrasquad fight. As Elaine Benes famously said about the lobster bisque before the “ya da Ya da” date with the lawyer, the best part has been mentioned.
SOLID BOWL TEAMS
These are most probably not BCS contenders, but have sound programs and should field good teams which the 2013 Irish can not take lightly.
(5) Arizona State – the itinerant Todd Graham, springboarding from stops at Tulsa and Pitt, may have righted the ship that the estimable Dennis Erickson left listing to port. Considering the starting point, an 8-5 record, with 5 Pac-XII wins, including over archrival Arizona, buttressed by a bowl win, was a great leap forward.
Three year record: 20-18
2012 point differential: 38-24
2012 yardage differential: 464-351 PLUS 113
Last Beat Notre Dame: NEVER, NOWHERE
Return: 14 starters, 6 offensive, 8 defensive
recruiting last five years: 29/38/57/35/30
WATCH OUT FOR: Graham’s team will move the ball. It is conceivable that Kelly, the returning QB will be no worse than 3rd of the QBS we face in 2013. Graham beat Brian Kelly while at Tulsa, and took Brian Kelly to the wire while at Pitt. He has already received 8 juco commitments. This will be no gimmee.
(6) MICHIGAN STATE – year in, year out, the most steady and predictable team we face. Nearly a perfect early barometer of how good the Irish are. Dantonio begins his seventh season on the banks of the Red Cedar. The risk is that recovering Michigan may again become THE school in Michigan.
Three year record: 29-11 (won last two bowls over SEC”s Georgia and then TCU)
2012 point differential: 20-16
2012 yardage differential: 359-274 PLUS 85
Last Beat Notre Dame: 9/18/10 MSU and Little Giant 34-Notre Dame 31 East Lansing
Return: 16 starters, 9 offensive, 7 defensive
recruiting last five years: 49/41/31/30/17
WATCH OUT FOR: Even with Gholston and Bell leaving, the Spartans will put up a fight. In a weakening big X, they seem to be staying in the echelon well below Michigan and Ohio State, and right there with Wisconsin (beat Badgers three of last four). They’ll be nettlesome defensively, but will, again, lack playmakers on offense.
(7) PITT – Chryst played the post-Wannstedt/Haywood/Graham hand he was dealt and never blinked. To understand his vision, think of the Wisconsin running game for the last several years. And while Western PA high school football is in a secular decline, Chryst will be able to locate some big studs. After the embarassing loss to the Penguins of Youngstown State and the thumping by Cincinnati, the Panthers were respectable.
Three year record: 20-19
2012 point differential: 24-23
2012 yardage differential: 390-330 PLUS 60
Last Beat Notre Dame: 11/14/09 PITT 27-Notre Dame 22 Ketchup Bottle
return: 14 starters, 5 offensive, 9 defensive
recruiting last five years: 32/47/58/33/47
WATCH OUT FOR: A team that has been a tough out for ND the last two seasons. Sure, Sunseri leaves, but the fulcrum of Chryst’s offenses is comprised by the OL and at tailback. Pitt was a surprising 17th in total defense in ’12, and returns 9 starters.
(8) BYU – Somewhat shapeless and formless, may be struggling with identity as an independent. Outside of Utah and Utah State, does not have a lot of natural or traditional rivals. Mendenhall, starting his 9th year in Provo is the dean of our opposing coaches.
Three year record: 25-14
2012 point differential: 29-14
2012 yardage differential: 400-266 PLUS 134
Last Beat Notre Dame: 9/4/04 Cougars 20-Notre Dame 17 Provo
return: 14 starters, 10 offensive, 4 defensive
recruiting last five years: 59/61/62/40/52
WATCH OUT FOR: They’re all excited about Taysom Hall, the Wasatch Mr. Football. But they lack playmakers on offense and are fundamentally and schematically sound, but limited on defense
These are teams that we should beat by several touchdowns. They’re D-1A (the abominable “FBS” is not used here) but these teams will struggle to get into bowl games.
(9) Air Force Academy – Finished a shameful last in the Commander-in-Chief Trophy race in ’12. A lot more passing emphasis than Navy.
Three year record: 22-17
2012 point differential: 27-28
2012 yardage differential: 418-409 PLUS 9
Last beat Notre Dame: 11/10/07 AFA 41-ND 27 South Bend
recruiting last five years: 95/107/95/108/118
WATCH OUT FOR: Typical service academy offense, which Notre Dame can control if the team is ready to play that day.
(10) Purdue – The Boilers lost hope in Danny and hired Darrell Hazell from Kent State. He ran a very exciting offense for the Golden Flashes. Purdue suffers from a paucity of football talent in the Hoosier State. ND gets the good ones: Goodman, Springman, Kiel, Cave, Day, Smith. Purdue used to recruit from “Da Region” and the Catholic and Public Leagues in Chicago, but that well is fairly dry. A second tier program in the Big X, and it’s unlikely to change.
Three year record: 17-21
2012 point differential: 31-34
2012 yardage differential: 403-416 MINUS 13
Last beat Notre Dame: 9/29/2007 Purdue 33-Notre Dame 19, West Lafayette
return: 13 starters, 6 offensive, 7 defensive recruiting last five years 73/33/93/54/74
WATCH OUT FOR: A possibly revived team under Hazell. Notre Dame has occasionally stumbled in Ross-Ade, but this is another Big X Ten team living on faded glory.
(11) Navy – Well, the “University of Navy’ no longer “scares us to death.” Diaco, after the initial mulligan, knows how to control this offense and they have no ability to slow down our offense. There is a massive speed differential, and if you doubt that, look up Stephon Tuitt’s gallop to glory in Dublin.
Three year record: 22-16
2012 point differential: 25-26
2012 yardage differential: 383-408 MINUS 25
Last beat Notre Dame: 10/23/10 Navy 35-Notre Dame 17 Meadowlands
return: 13 starters, 6 offensive, 7 defensive
recruiting last five years: 98/86/102/111/120
WATCH OUT FOR: Overconfidence, or a poor weak of practice.
(12) Temple – Al Golden brought them to their apex, Addazio sort of held on before going to Boston College, and their new coach, is, uh, Matt Rhule. Precisely, I’d never heard of him either.
Three year record: 21-15
2012 point differential: 25-31
2012 yardage differential: 322-437 MINUS 115
Last beat Notre Dame: Are you Serious?
return: 16 starters, 8 offensive, 8 defensive
recruiting last five years: 87/76/107/75/112
WATCH OUT FOR: Notre Dame will have the de riguer opening tilt challenges with timing, penalties and mistakes. Temple will play on sacred soil, and then return to the non-soil of North Broad Street.
NOTE ABOUT THE SCHEDULE: The Irish get two Saturdays off in 2013. They occur between Arizona State and USC, and the second is between Pitt and BYU. These two breaks give the coaching staff the opportunity for some in season “coaching up.” It especially helps with the new starters.