Boston College - Week 12 (Game 11) in South BendThe Irish have won consecutive matchups (2009-10) with the Eagles after Boston College won an inexplicable six straight in the series from 1999 through 2008.
2010 result: Notre Dame 31 Boston College 13
Tenor of 2010 contest: Unexpected domination. There's wrong (I picked ND to give Stanford all it could handle); then there's "what were you thinking?" wrong – such as when I picked BC to upset ND in Chestnut Hill last year.
Notre Dame dominated the Eagles like no time since the late Holtz/early Davie years, racing out to 21-0 lead in the game's first 12 minutes. The hosts trimmed the Irish lead to 11 at 24-13 midway through the third quarter, but a David Ruffer field goal and Armando Allen touchdown sealed the contest for the visitors for Brian Kelly's second Notre Dame victory.
The Week Five blowout of BC was Notre Dame's best pre-November effort of the 2010 season.
Turning Point: Second-year head coach Frank Spaziani's decision to reward true freshman Chase Rettig with his first career start at quarterback served as an early antidote for the then-reeling Irish (1-3 with three straight losses). The rookie received no help from his ground game as a dominant Irish front seven held the Eagles to an obscene five (net) rushing yards on 23 attempts
Rettig missed on his first five pass attempts and completed his sixth for a one-yard loss (on 3rd and 22) en route to a trio of three-and-out possessions to begin the contest. Brian Kelly's spread offense clicked in the interim, scoring three touchdowns over a 24-play, four-possession span, the only points Notre Dame would need on the evening.
BC stars from the contest on hand for ‘11: True junior linebacker Luke Kuechly returns as the nation's leading tackler from 2010. The St. Xavier, Cincinnati-product and former three-star recruit has compiled 28 tackles in two games (both losses) vs. the Irish and has the most tackles (329) in the nation over the last two seasons.
Rettig and backup QB Mike Marscovetra (22-37, 2 INT vs. the Irish in relief last fall) return to the fold, as does senior runner Montell Harris, one of the program's most productive players but a workhorse who has struggled in consecutive outings vs. the Irish (37 carries/66 yards). Harris bulled for 120 as a true freshman in the Eagles last win vs. Notre Dame in 2008 (17-0). Sophomore receivers Alex Amidon and Bobby Swigert are back, the latter scored Boston College's only touchdown in last year's contest, a 58-yard stop-and-go that beat Irish cornerback Gary Gray for a score.
Early Look: New name(s) to know: Ex-Irish offensive coordinator Kevin Rodgers has assumed the same role in Chestnut Hill after five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and four at Virginia Tech. Rodgers' collegiate QB pupils include Donovan McNabb (Syracuse), Jarious Jackson (Notre Dame), and Bryan Randall/Marcus Vick (Virginia Tech) as well as serving as quarterbacks coach for future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre during his sterling 2009 season.
Off-season questions facing the Eagles: Can a rebuilt offensive line (three new starters) protect a true sophomore quarterback under the guidance of a new offensive coordinator? Last year, BC featured the nation's top rush defense coupled with a Top 20 pass efficiency defense. Its offense, however, was horrendous, averaging fewer than 300 yards and just 18.6 points per game. Can Rodgers bring that crew above water in his first season as play-caller and offensive architect?
2011 Storyline: Senior Day in South Bend – a celebration twice ruined by the visiting Eagles including the program-leveling 41-39 upset of 10-0 and No. 1 ranked Notre Dame in November, 1993. This year's home finale is the only November game the Irish will play in front of the South Bend faithful.
Navy - Week 8 (Game 7) in South BendIf you don't know Navy has taken three of the last four vs. the Irish – including two straight in South Bend – after previously losing an NCAA record 43 consecutive games to Notre Dame, well…you've probably stumbled upon the wrong website.
2010 result: Navy 35 Notre Dame 17
Tenor of 2010 contest: The horror…the horror…
Turning Point: Though the game and both sides of scrimmage were unexpectedly dominated by the host Midshipmen, the turning point is nonetheless simple to ascertain: Following a 12-play, 70-yard opening drive, Notre Dame was faced with a 4th-and-goal from the Navy 1-yard line and head coach Brian Kelly – likely noting the team's 160-pound advantage over center and left guard vs. the Midshipmen front – called for a Dayne Crist (6'5" 235 pounds) quarterback sneak. The Irish gained roughly an inch, Navy took over on downs and marched 99 yards in just six plays for a lead they would never relinquish.
Midshipmen stars from the contest on hand for ‘11: Quarterback Ricky Dobbs, he of back-to-back victories over the Irish, has graduated but eight offensive starters return including fullback Alexander Teich who finished with two touchdowns and 241 yards from scrimmage on 27 touches in last year's Navy win. Slot-back Gee Gee Greene (9 touches, 96 yards, TD in the 2010 win) is a far better athlete than the majority of his recent predecessors at the position.
Defensive end Jabari Tuani (2.5 tackles-for-loss vs. ND last year) joins Teich as a team captain and leads a group of 24 returning two-deep defenders (though just three technical starters from last year's squad). Included in that unit is linebacker Max Blue (5 solos/pass break-up in the October win) and cornerback Kwesi Mitchell (INT vs. the Irish last year).
Early Look: New name(s) to know: Senior Kriss Proctor takes over for Dobbs as the triple-option's triggerman. Proctor ran for 201 yards and a touchdown last season filling in for Dobbs vs. Central Michigan. The outing ranks as the eighth best by a Navy quarterback in program history.
Off-season questions facing the Midshipmen: In addition to losing Dobbs, the defense must replace established, experienced and productive players at all three levels. The graduating class of 2011 ranks second in program history with 35 wins to its credit…can the 2012 class – sitting pretty with 27 of its own – match or surpass their predecessors? Navy's graduating class of 1909 owns the school-record with 36 victories over four seasons, a mark within reach of the 2012 seniors this fall.
2011 Storyline: The lone game on the schedule the Irish coaching staff cannot afford to lose, period. Any goodwill established previously will evaporate over the next week (or months) should the Irish lose a third straight to the Midshipmen (and third straight to Navy in South Bend).
USC – Week 7 (Game 6) in South BendThe Irish snapped an eight-season, dual-program-defining streak last November with a final drive, come-from-behind touchdown run from Robert Hughes. In three previous games vs. the Trojans, the senior Hughes had totaled just 27 rushing yards on 15 carries; in his final appearance in the rivalry, Hughes hammered for 69 on 11 attempts including the game-winning score.
2010 result: Notre Dame 20 USC 16
Tenor of 2010 contest: An old-school defensive struggle with a pair of overmatched offense's stymied both by the opponent and scattershot quarterback play. Neither team broke the 300-yard barrier on the evening and the Irish exacerbated their offensive woes with four turnovers. (USC committed its only miscue on Harrison Smith's game-saving interception with 36 seconds remaining.) The Trojans managed a season-low 80 rushing yards on 30 carries.
Turning Point: Tommy Rees had committed three turnovers in his previous eight drop-backs prior to the most important completion of his Irish career. Facing a 1st and 10 at the USC 23-yard line, Rees rolled left and found junior target Michael Floyd for an 11-yard completion, an Irish first down, and more important – much-needed breathing room and momentum. Brian Kelly's offense churned out 62 of the drive's final 66 yards on the ground including Hughes' aforementioned burst to pay dirt to give the Irish a four-point edge with just over two minutes remaining.
USC's golden opportunity for a go-ahead score and likely ninth straight win bounced off the arms of senior receiver Ronald Johnson who had slipped behind the Irish defense and fallen safety, Harrison Smith. Smith intercepted QB Mitch Mustain two plays later and the Trojans eight-year hold over the Irish was broken.
Trojan stars from the contest on hand for ‘11: The bulk of the team's top threats at wideout and in the backfield return led by sophomore star receiver Robert Woods and senior tailback Marc Tyler and dazzling second-year runner Dillon Baxter. Bookends Nick Perry and Wes Horton return to the four-man front with linebackers Chris Gallippo and Devon Kennard again on hand at the second level. Future NFL safety T.J. McDonald leads the secondary.
Early Look: New name(s) to know: Quarterback Matt Barkley's not a new name, but his injury absence in last year's defeat of the Trojans was the game's chief storyline, as backup Mitch Mustain struggled mightily throughout (as did Irish backup signal-caller, Tommy Rees). Barkley returns to guide Lane Kiffin's USC squad through its second year of probation exile. Now a junior, Barkley torched Notre Dame's Jon Tenuta/Corwin Brown-led defense as a true freshman in 2009, piling up 380 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-27 USC victory.
Off-season questions facing the Trojans: An embarrassment of riches still exists among the offensive skill positions, but three years of graduation and early draft entry might have taken its toll on USC's previously vaunted defense and offensive line – the program's underrated strengths during an 8-year run of excellence under former head coach Pete Carroll. USC will open camp in August with 49 players in their first or second season in the program.
2011 Storyline: The toughest ticket in South Bend since the defending champion Trojans hit town for the oft-referenced 2005 classic. October 22nd's 7:30 p.m. start time marks the first prime time kick-off in South Bend since the 1990 season-opener, when the No. 1 ranked Irish came back to defeat No. 4 Michigan, 28-24 in Rick Mirer's first career start under the Golden Dome.
The 2011 USC/ND contest follows Notre Dame's Week Six bye.