These are the games that could go either way, Brian Kelly must split these games as a worst case scenario while escaping with only 1 loss would set up a good first season (as long as they win the 5 games that I think they should). I don't think there is a Michigan pick in the bunch (one that arguably fits better else where) but we'll see.
One of the best games, well most exciting, games of 2009 will be without the three standout offensive stars of the game in 2010 (Gerhart, Tate and Clausen all left early). This year Stanford will be passing more with sophomore Andrew Luck at QB. They will also start a soph at running back either Stepfan Taylor or Tyler Gaffney. Former Domer Konrad Reuland is a TE along with Coby Fleener while their starters at wide out are also split with a sr. and a jr. in Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu. Another Irish transfer kicks for the Cardinal in Nate Whitaker. Owusu doubles as a KR and tied a Pac-10 record with 3 KR TD's last year. The defense is switching to a 3-4 and both starting DE's from last year have moved to outside line backer. The defensive backfield returns 2 or 3 starters from last year as one of the returnees lost his starting spot after getting injured. Without Gerhart you'd expect the running game to struggle but they return 4 Ofensive Linemen and their defense will take some time to adjust to the 3-4, unfortunately I think about the 4th game is when both sides will figure things out. I'm expecting a back and forth battle and the fourth quarter will decide this one.
Boston College (Chestnut Hill)
Another close game from last year that should be the same way this year. Mark Herzlich is expected to be as close to 100% as he can be this year and BC shot themselves in the foot last year with five turn overs. They return their sophomore qb Dave Shinskie, RB Montel Harris, a Flutie at WR and 4 of their starting offensive linemen. The defense returns 4 players that have started in the past on the line and 5 starters at LB with Herzlich back. They only return 2 starters in the DFB so that will probably be the weakest part of what should be a good to great defense. I don't have a good feeling about this game, but I expect it to be close and probably low scoring.
Navy (East Rutherford)
The Midshipmen return a sleeper Heisman candidate in Ricky Dobbs and their version of the option has given ND fits recently. The full back is the workhorse in this offense and SR Vince Murray appears ready for the work, Marcus Curry and Gee Gee Greene are the slot backs. The offensive line features 4 upper class men but having only 3 line man to cut could hurt their offensive game plan. The strength of Navy's defense should be their back field where they return 3 starters which is good because they lose 6 players from the front 7. I expect a grind it out game with Navy chewing clock as The Irish try to score as fast as possible which could equal some mistakes by ND's defense.
The team that probably sneaks under most Irish fans radar but that could change after their first game of the season, at home against Pitt. Their starting QB is Jordan Wynn a sophomore that was expected to red shirt last year until they needed a spark to beat Wyoming last year, he remained the starter for the rest of the year. They have to replace a lot in the receiving core but they have two SR running back's that should help the offense. They return 5 DL that started last year which is hard to do when you lose two starters. The line backers are very inexperienced but should be up to to speed by November and their DFB has only one player that started full time last year. I expect a game that is decided in the second half, but we'll know more after both teams have played Pitt.
These are the games that will swing Brian Kelly's first year and I think the BC game is probably the toughest of the four with Stanford a close second.