Every fall millions of people turn their eyes to South Bend and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The throngs of fans have not witnessed a national title since 1989, and have not had consistent winners since Lou Holtz was coach. In his second season at the helm, Brian Kelly is looking to build on a solid finish to last season and do what has become the trend of second year coaches at major programs: compete for a national title.
The Irish are in good position to open the season, ranked 16th in the AP and 18th in the USA Today preseason polls. The Irish have just 3 preseason top 25 teams on their schedule, (17) Michigan State, (25) USC, and (7) Stanford, and USC is on sanctions and is possibly not even that good.
Notre Dame opens the season at home against South Florida in what should be a tune-up for the Michigan game. With the Irish defense stronger than it has been since the 1990s, and the offense growing, the Sept. 3 home opener should be an easy win.
The next week the Irish play a special night game at Michigan, a team undergoing a coaching change that itself is returning to defensive football after a dreadful run under former coach Rich Rod. The Wolverines are coached by Brady Hoke, a former Michigan assistant who turned two programs from losers to winners, and hopes to do the same with the Maize and Blue. It will be very difficult for the Irish to properly prepare for this game, as Hoke will not be running his traditional offense with "Shoelace" Robinson at quarterback.
The Irish then play host to 17th ranked MSU in what is always a very challenging rivalry, followed by two road games at Pittsburgh and Purdue, both of which should be victories. The Irish will return home October 8 against Air Force, followed by 25th ranked USC and Navy.
The Navy game should be interesting. The Midshipmen have found confidence and victories in recent years against the Irish and hope to do so again this season. Notre Dame should find itself in a close one this year as well, but will be up for the game as they wish to avoid another loss to their rivals.
Kelly will take his team to Wake Forest before playing Maryland at a neutral site. They will finish the season with rivalry games against Boston College and at 7th ranked Stanford. The Stanford game is of special interest as the winner could potentially be headed to a major BCS Bowl, or better.
If the Irish can avoid being upset, and handle their numerous rivalries well, a victory at Stanford could see the Irish looking for a National Title Game bid.
This season is full of excitement. The return to defensive football, coupled with stars filling the offensive roster, should make for a very exciting season in South Bend.