While the strength of the opponent was considered, so too was the timing of the game, likely attrition (by both ND and the given opponent) and the expected, varied intensity and focus from both sides of a matchup.
The games were ranked in descending order of difficulty three months prior to the start of the season. Aside from the first three (Trouble Spots 10, 11, 12) and top two, each played out a bit differently than forecasted:
Predicted Trouble Spot No. 12 – Western MichiganPerceived as the easiest foe in terms of talent, the matchup with the Broncos carried one red flag: a Week Seven matchup without a previous Bye (Notre Dame usually enjoys a week off sometime in early-to-mid-October).
IrishEyes Prediction: ND 41 WMU 16
Final Score: Irish 44 Broncos 20
Game Day Situation and Recap: The perceived "break" in the schedule came to fruition as the Irish muddled through six BCS conference foes to a 3-3 mark before this much-needed matchup with a less physically imposing roster. Armando Allen was withheld from action and Kyle Rudolph missed his first game due to season-ending hamstring surgery. Theo Riddick was lost for the next five weeks due to an ankle injury suffered early in the opening half.
ND led by a touchdown within 12 seconds; struggled a bit over the next 29 game minutes to lead just 27-17 at the break, but then put the clamps down – and, however briefly – discovered their running game with a 150-yard effort in the second stanza.
Final Analysis: As predicted by most, the Week Seven matchup vs. WMU proved to be the easiest of the 12 regular season contest and aside from the announcement that Rudolph was lost for the season, had few ancillary elements to deal with prior to kick-off.
Of interest: Just 2-4 exiting South Bend, WMU finished the season bowl eligible at 6-6.
Predicted Trouble Spot No. 11 – ArmyConsidered a "sandwich game" in the pre-season (between Senior Day vs. Utah and the trip to rival USC), Army nonetheless was noted as a must-win prior to the season; that figure of sports speech took on a literal meaning as the then 5-5 Irish needed a win to ensure bowl eligibility.
IrishEyes Prediction: ND 28 Army 21
Final Score: Irish 27 Black Knights 3
Game Day Situation: Notre Dame entered flying high off one of its best wins in at least three seasons, a 28-3 home upset of No. 14 Utah. The Cadets were 6-4 following their highest scoring game of the season, a 45-28 win over Kent State.
Final Analysis: The No. 11 slotting seems accurate though the Irish were much better over 60 minutes vs. the Cadets than they showed in Trouble Spot No. 12 against Western Michigan. Army is also bowl eligible with a 6-5 mark entering their traditional season-ending tussle with the Naval Academy. The Cadets will play in the Armed Forces Bowl vs. a Mountain West foe.
Predicted Trouble Spot No. 10 – PurdueI may have finished a mediocre 7-5 (6-4-2 vs. the spread) predicting Irish games this season, but at no point during the off-season did I believe Purdue would pull out a Week One win in South Bend.
IrishEyes Prediction: ND 30 Purdue 19
Final Score: Irish 23 Purdue 12
Game Day Situation: The easiest game situation to forecast as the season-opener for both teams, the Boilermakers were the perfect Game One foe: a traditional rival from a power conference…with limited talent.
Final Analysis: Purdue was the worst team on Notre Dame's 2010 schedule though the actual contest and its slotting as the No. 10 Trouble Spot was likely accurate considering the circumstances. Would Purdue beat Army or Western Michigan? Probably with starting QB Robert Marve in good health, but once Marve was lost due to another knee injury, the Boilers faded, losing six of eight including six straight to conclude the season after a 4-2 start.
Of Note: The Boilers are Notre Dame's only 2010 opponent that failed to qualify for a bowl game…well, not counting USC. But Purdue isn't being penalized for rampant cheating over the last decade.
Predicted Trouble Spot No. 9 – TulsaNoted in the pre-season as a "sleepy, non-descript" matchup, the game's outcome was minimized following the tragic death of team videographer Declan Sullivan.
IrishEyes Prediction: ND 31 Tulsa 29 (Yes…that field goal would have helped)
Final Score: Golden Hurricane 28 Irish 27
Game Day Situation: Arguably the most difficult game circumstances for the Notre Dame program in more than 45 years and at least since the 11-day mourning period between 9/11 and the contest vs. Michigan State. Aside from the game week tragedy, the matchup situation was nearly as advertised in the summer when we noted, "It's a no-win situation for ND from a perception standpoint, and a game that should not be scheduled in the future."
Final Analysis: Tulsa scored 28 points with one offensive touchdown and two field goals. A surreal Saturday and a terrible, inexcusable gift given by the home team to the thankful visitors. It's incredible the Irish team we see now is the same one that took the field vs. Tulsa (and the previous contest vs. Navy).
Of Note: Tulsa won six straight to finish 9-3, scoring 179 points in four games following their win in South Bend.
Predicted Trouble Spot No. 8 – NavyWe ranked Navy as a better team than Michigan (seriously), but the game situation was dubbed easier than the Week Two war with the Wolverines.
IrishEyes Prediction: ND 27 Navy 19
Final Score: Yikes…
Game Day Situation and Recap: The Irish certainly could have used their Week 10 Bye prior to this Game Eight battle with the Midshipmen. Or perhaps just a matchup with Army as a tune-up? Navy throttled Notre Dame 35-17 in its best effort of the season. Notre Dame had no answers for anything Navy offered: offensively, defensively, schematically or in terms of true football effort on every play. The end.
Final Analysis: Apparently the staff was right that this loss was "an aberration" because the defense has been lights out since, but here's hoping ND can make good on that mini-boast next fall when the cut-blocking, efficient, physical Midshipmen invade South Bend looking for win No. 3 straight in the House that Rockne Built.
In terms of the spirit of the Trouble Spots column, ND had accrued some attrition (no Rudolph, no Riddick, a hobbled Allen), but that's barely an excuse as personnel shouldn't enter the equation vs. a Service Academy.
Of interest: Navy lost to Duke (DUKE!!) the following week but scored 76 in a win over East Carolina, 38 in a victory over Central Michigan, and 35 to defeat Arkansas State. The Mid's sit at 8-3 and await the season-finale vs. Army.
Predicted Trouble Spot No. 7 – MichiganOh for a battle with Denard Robinson in Week 10 rather than Week Two…
IrishEyes Prediction: ND 30 Michigan 29
Final Score: Wolverines 28 Irish 24
Game Day Situation and Recap: Both programs entered 1-0 with confidence lifts in their season openers. Neither had suffered any real attrition though Jamoris Slaughter's absence at safety was noticeable in the Irish back line during several of Robinson's forays downfield. The loss of Dayne Crist in the first quarter nearly crippled the Irish – the exact opposite scenario occurred with Crist's injury loss in the first quarter of the Tulsa contest in Game Nine.
Final Analysis: Credit where credit is due: Robinson was Superman and the best player in the world on this Saturday. The loss of Crist killed ND for the better part of two quarters, but that's on the coaching staff (more on that in the season review).
Of interest: Robinson ran for 2,316 yards (passed for 1,643) and Michigan is bowl eligible at 7-5, though the Wolverines dropped 5 of 7 to end the season.
Part II and our final rankings will be published shortly