Notre Dame finished the 2007 with victories over bottom feeders Duke and Stanford. Those two wins do not translate to the Irish becoming a juggernaut this upcoming season, but the Irish should swing its record more than 180 degrees due to the nature of College Football: opponents undergoing transition years.
Looking at the 2008 schedule game by game, there are trends serious Irish fans should not overlook. Here we go…
Sep. 6 San Diego State lost just about all of its offensive skill position talent, including its quarterback, a starter from his freshman season forward. Notre Dame rolls, 34-17, behind the powerful legs of Robert Hughes and his two rushing touchdowns.
Sep. 13 Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez to be its new head coach. That's great. Now let everyone watch as the Wolverines flounder with no running threat at QB. Notre Dame will throttle the Wolverines as their defense continually goes back onto the field after its offensive teammates either turned the ball over or punted after three plays. Notre Dame spikes the Wolverines, 35-14.
Sep. 20 @ Michigan State catches Notre Dame at a great time, after manhandling Michigan. Plus, the game will be played in East Lansing, at night, uh-oh. But wait! Michigan State's defense is rebuilding with both of its starting defensive ends now departed, and while its QB returns, and he's a Sr., is simply mediocre. Additionally, the lone big play wide receiver left for the NFL a year early. Notre Dame slips by the Spartans in enemy territory, 24-21.
Sep. 27 Purdue comes to South Bend much the same way as the Aztecs, but with its quarterback, too. It will not be enough to stop the Irish, as Notre Dame has more offensive skill position talent returning than the Boilermakers, and it will be the coming out party for freshman sensation Michael Floyd, as Jimmy Clausen makes him a prime target. Remember the name. The Irish prevail, 30-17.
Oct. 4 Stanford could be a threat in two or three years, but not right now. The Cardinal had a solid senior class last season. Too bad that class graduated. Notre Dame wins, but does not win impressively due to not being excited to play a porous opponent and playing for the fifth week in a row. Notre Dame survives for a sluggish, 27-16. victory.
Oct. 11 @ North Carolina makes a few big plays when necessary with its defense, and they send Notre Dame home with its first loss of the season, 23-13, in an ugly turnover-marred game. Notre Dame needed the off week to come one week sooner. Still, 5-1 trumps the 2007 disaster.
Oct. 25 @ Washington lost several key skill position players, most notably its tailback. Jake Locker can only do so much. The skill position talent surrounding Locker will not suffice against Notre Dame. The Irish win, 31-20, after a well deserved off week.
Nov. 1 Pittsburgh provides a stern test for the Irish rush defense, which will not shut down "Shady" and the power running game of the Panthers. Losing RT Jeff Otah to the NFL Draft, however, depletes the Panthers' rushing attack. Pittsburgh's inconsistent passing game will lead to turnovers and the Irish having an excellent third down conversion defense in a, 27-20, Notre Dame victory.
Nov. 8 Boston College lost Matt Ryan and still does not enjoy the wide receiver talent necessary to run a pro-style offense. But oh, wait, the Eagles are going to the spread. What? Boston College, that's right, Boston College and its traditionally huge OL will employ the spread moving forward. Bad move. The Eagles lost their top two running backs as well. Notre Dame hammers the Eagles, 42-14.
Nov. 15 Navy will play the Irish in Baltimore this year and there will be no holding back for the Irish after the streak ended last season. A new head coach for the Midshipmen will not help matters. A new streak begins for the Irish as the Irish roll up over 500 yards of offense and defeat the Middies, 45-14.
Nov. 22 Syracuse will be a little bit better, but not enough to defeat Notre Dame or for its head coach to save his job. Notre Dame blows out Syracuse, 35-6.
Nov. 29 @ Southern California defeats Notre Dame again as its overall team speed and superior depth in its fifth-year and senior classes does in the Irish. Notre Dame hangs tough, but loses, 31-21.
Minus the Trojans, every team the Irish face undergoes a major change or two or three…or more. Simply put, sans significant injuries to important contributors, Notre Dame should win at least nine games in 2008, and really ten wins should be the measuring stick against an underwhelming schedule. Notre Dame must take advantage of the situation, and it will.