Notre Dame's longest home winning streak over the last 12 seasons is a mere five consecutive, by Charlie Weis' 2006 Irish (see coaching table at link above).
On tap for 2011: six home contests, conveniently paired into three separate categories.
Toss-ups: MSU and USCNot more than a field goal likely separates the Irish from either, both on paper (expected Vegas odds) and in terms of developed talent. Both contests should be decided in the fourth quarter; both feature matchups with seasoned, reliable quarterbacks.
The Michigan State matchup follows a prime time road date with rival Michigan while the Irish fortuitously draw USC after a Week Seven bye. The pair is a combined 11-4 in their last 15 trips to South Bend.
Traps: Air Force and NavyHow can the contest vs. the Midshipmen – a team that has defeated the Irish in two straight – be considered a "trap"?
Largely because it follows the season's toughest ticket vs. USC, and the South Bend crowd has rarely recovered from the perceived "Game of the Year" just seven days later. Win or lose, the crowd won't come close to its evening efforts from the previous week vs. the Trojans – nor, likely, will the Irish players' enjoy a return of much-needed focus for three full days of preparation vs. the Naval Academy's triple-option attack.
Why Air Force? The home date with the undervalued Falcons (9-4 last season with the nation's No. 2 rushing offense) follows five consecutive outings for the Irish against BCS conference foes. The game also precedes Notre Dame's bye week, and the football program is 5-5 over the last 10 seasons in the matchup prior to the season's off week.
Finally, with 30 seasons of game day experiences as my guide, I'm absolutely certain this contest will feature the (now requisite) disinterested atmosphere that seems to plague the place each calendar year.
Trouble: from beginning to endThe season opener features a new foe; the home finale an annoying rival:
South Florida's defensive talent and depth will test the Irish in Week One – a contest the Irish could play without the services of All-American Michael Floyd. At season's end? Boston College, they of the 2-0 mark in South Bend on Senior Day and winners of three straight at Notre Dame Stadium prior to a 20-16 victory by the Irish in 2009.
A BC team playing for the Emerald Bowl vs. an Irish team with hopes for a BCS berth...a game situation to hope for – and dread, in late-November 2011.
(Note: I'll have a complete rundown and ranking of the 2011 schedule the first week of June) in our annual "Trouble Spots" column.
Numbers I can't ignoreNotre Dame's 2011 home opponents are an aggregate 14-8 over the last 10 seasons in South Bend (September 3 will mark South Florida's first visit). Barring injuries or unforeseen circumstances (for Notre Dame or their home opponents), the Irish should be officially favored by between 3 (MSU, USC) and 12.5 points (possibly vs. Air Force/Navy) in each of the season's six home matchups.
Over the last three seasons, Notre Dame is 8-5 (W-L, not vs. the spread) as home favorites of fewer than two touchdowns. And more than a decade of program history suggests the host's favorite-status means little when a team treks to South Bend.
At some point this season, a 20-year home curse will rear its ugly head. Look for the Irish to finish a solid – but not title-worthy – 6-1 in South Bend next fall.