Game-by-game previews will appear each week, so I've only touched on each of the 12 contests below. Last year's game week record was a strong 10-2 straight up and 8-5 against the spread. But hope remains no readers remembers how badly I whiffed on my 2009 season projection for the disappointing Irish…
September: No Powers but No GimmesHome Games: Purdue, Michigan, Stanford
Road Contests: Michigan State
The slate includes two of Notre Dame's four most frequent rivals (this will be the 82nd meeting with Purdue and 79th with MSU); a matchup with the rival of my generation (more on that below) and a battle with one of only four future opponents ranked in the top 30 of the season's opening polls (Stanford is No. 32 in the Coach's Poll; No. 26 in the A.P.).
My view of the Purdue matchup hasn't changed since April: the Irish will win comfortably – not "Nevada" comfortably, but with less angst involved than the 2008 season-opening snore-fest vs. San Diego State. The contest vs. the Boilers will receive about 20,000 words of coverage on this site throughout the week, so I'll spare you the details here.
13-12-1: that's the series record between the Irish (13) and the Wolverines since the two college football powers resumed their semi-annual series in 1978. Neither school has won more than four straight (as ND did from 87-90) and 17 of the 26 contests have been decided by fewer than 8 points (one possession). Make that 18 of 27, regardless of the relative outcome of ND's matchup with Purdue or the Wolverines tricky home-opener vs. the north-south rushing attack of Connecticut.
Irish and Spartans' fans in their 20s look at the rivalry as one-sided…the wrong way. MSU has won 9 of 13 since Lou Holtz left South Bend; Holtz finished 8-1 vs. Sparty including 8 straight from '87 through '94. The 2010 matchup has a little of everything:
- A nationally televised, prime-time setting
- The first career road start for Irish QB Dayne Crist
- Ample skill position talent on both sides of the ball (MSU trails only Ohio State in this category among Big 10 teams)
- Lingering resentment among the coaching staffs (Kelly and Co. followed Mark Dantonio's crew into Cincinnati)
- Familiarity: ND running backs coach Tim Hinton held the same position under Dantonio in the Queen City
- Subjectively: the likelihood that the winner, entering at 2-0: will earn its first spot in the national polls the following Monday evening.
Notre Dame won 3 of 5 in East Lansing from 2000-2008. Current Vegas odds have the Spartans favored by a single point…I give a slight edge to the Spartans – a program that has played its best football in September for the better part of two decades.
The Irish will then entertain the Cardinal to conclude the opening month. Both teams will be tested (Stanford faces UCLA and Wake Forest); both teams can score; both teams had miserable secondary play last season – Stanford was among the nation's worst. Look for the highest scoring game of the month and possibly of the season, with the Irish winning a thrilled thanks to an improved last line of defense and an offense that begins to click.
September by the Numbers: These odds will change depending on game outcomes, but Notre Dame's point spreads for the quartet of opening games are as follows: ND favored by 10.5 over Purdue; ND favored by 5.5 over Michigan; Michigan State favored by 1 over Notre Dame; Notre Dame favored by 1 over Stanford.
September Verdict: One opening month loss for the 19th time in the last 21 seasons.
October: Where's My Bye?The five-game month means the Irish will play football on nine consecutive Saturdays. No team on their schedule faces the same task.
Home Games: Pittsburgh, Western Michigan, Tulsa
Road Contests: Boston College, Navy (neutral at the New Meadowlands)
Kelly, who graduated from Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., faces a difficult homecoming. The October 2 tilt vs. Boston College (Game 5) won't be easy – the Irish haven't won on Chestnut Hill since 1998. Look for the lowest scoring game of the season (by the winning team) vs. the always undervalued Eagles and the potentially top-notch linebacker pair of sophomore Luke Kuechly and inspirational senior Mark Herzlich – who beat Ewing's Sarcoma last year. I'll always root for Herzlich; I'll always hate BC for 1993.
Game Six brings the pre-season No. 14 Pitt Panthers to South Bend. Kelly and the Panthers have squared off in each of the last three seasons (Kelly holds a 3-1 edge) while Pittsburgh and head coach Dave Wannstedt have beaten the Irish in consecutive seasons. The Panthers combo of TB Dion Lewis and WR Jonathan Baldwin is the best the Irish will face as is Pittsburgh's four-man front, capable of generating a pass rush without blitz help from the back seven.
The Irish, entering with either 1 or 2 losses, will define their season by the outcome of this early October contest.
Two contests vs. unheralded teams (Western Michigan and Tulsa) follow. One will be a cakewalk; the other…? Look for points aplenty when the Irish take on the Golden Hurricane in front of a sleepy South Bend crowd that generally needs a reason to cheer vs. non-traditional powers.
The second month and 9-weekend streak of games ends with a matchup vs. Navy in New Jersey. Thankfully it's not in South Bend, where the Midshipmen have won two straight, but haven't defeated the Irish outside of northern Indiana since 1960.
It won't be easy vs. returning QB Ricky Dobbs, but even in defeat, the Irish offense has run roughshod over the Middies – this time they'll finish drives in the end zone rather than dazed and confused inside the 5-yard line.
October by the Numbers: Odds will of course change, but Vegas has two ND point spreads for the season's second month: Boston College is favored by 2.5 over Notre Dame; Notre Dame is favored by just 5.5 over Navy.
October Verdict: One loss during the month; two total entering the Bye Week and home stretch.
November: Prediction No. 19 – Eight is EnoughHome Game: Utah Road Contests: Army (neutral at the new Yankee Stadium), at USC
The month opens with a much-needed Bye; one that coincides with Utah's Game of the Year matchup vs. Conference Rival and fellow BCS hopeful TCU in Salt Lake City. Conventional wisdom suggests the Irish draw the Utes in an ideal situation – but there's nothing conventional about Senior Day in South Bend, where the Irish have lost two straight and once lost three of four – at the height of the program's powers (1990-93) to ruin championship level seasons.
ND hasn't finished the season's final month without a loss since 2005 and has done so on just five occasions since 1990.
Game 11 takes the Irish to the new Yankee Stadium for the pomp and circumstance contest of 2010 vs. Army. It will be difficult for the Irish to be sharp, considering both the game's setting and placement – sandwiched between Utah and USC – the two best team's on the 2010 schedule. It would be even more difficult for Kelly's squad to drop a decision to the improved but overmatched Cadets.
Game 12 brings Prediction No. 19 in our off-season series: For the first time since the 2001 season, the Irish will defeat USC.
November by the Numbers: Each of the month's contests has an early Vegas line available: Notre Dame is favored by 3 over Utah; by 19.5 over Army; and is currently an 8-point underdog to USC.
November Verdict: One loss during the month; three at season's end. A Gator Bowl bid as the program builds toward greatness in 2011.
Monday Afternoon column: My fool-proof (or foolish, you decide…) statistical formula for predicting the 2010 season.
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