Trouble Spot #1: Oklahoma

Notre Dame's first trip to Norman since 1966 comes at the end of a hellacious first two months for the Irish...and unlike that contest won by Ara Parseghian's squad in '66, this time it's the Sooners who could be No. 1 entering the contest.

As noted previously, "Trouble Spots" doesn't rank only the overall strength of each foe, but also takes into account the slotting of each on the Irish schedule.

Click here for the introduction and an explanation of the series, as well as Trouble Spot #12 for 2012, the Naval Academy.

Click here for Trouble Spot #11 (Wake Forest) and here for Notre Dame's 10th toughest game situation, Boston College and for the contest that finished 9th, a neutral site battle vs. Miami in Chicago.

This week's rankings examine Purdue, and the matchup vs. the Boilers following a potentially taxing schedule that includes two cross-Atlantic flight in five days, plus the season's ultimate "trap," a home date vs. Pittsburgh to open November.

Thursday we looked at the dreaded "Sandwich Game" and a home tilt with Brigham Young. Yesterday we examined Stanford, a potential Top 15 foe, but one that falls at an opportune time on the 2012 slate.

Saturday's installment focused on Michigan State, the season's first true road game for Brian Kelly's Irish, while Sunday featured the season's biggest home draw, The Michigan Wolverines.

Yesterday we took a look at the team rated as Notre Dame's best foe this fall, USC, but its a matchup to be played at a fortuitous time compared to the matchup of traditional powers detailed below.

Oklahoma Game Slotting/Situation

The Sooners welcome Notre Dame one week after hosting former Irish head coach Charlie Weis. Following the Irish visit, Oklahoma travels to Ames to take on Iowa State. A matchup with arch-rival Texas is two weeks before Notre Dame hits Norman.

Through their first seven contests, Notre Dame could be the best team the Sooners face.

For the Irish, the trip south follows a three-game stretch of non-road games vs. Miami, Stanford, and BYU. It will be the second true road tilt for Notre Dame over the season's first eight games with a Week Three battle in East Lansing vs. Michigan State the only preparation for the hostile environment that awaits in Norman.

Notre Dame hosts Pittsburgh following the contest at Oklahoma.

Inside the Sooners

Oklahoma's front wall boasts 102 combined starts. They'll protect Top 5 Heisman candidate Landry Jones who returned to Norman for his senior season. Jones triggered the nation's #10 scoring offense last fall (39.5 per game) on the strength of 29 touchdowns but a more-than-human 15 interceptions. Change-of-pace backup Blake Bell rushed for 13 touchdowns thanks to his 6'6" 255-pound frame.

The receiving corps will feature plenty of new faces on its two-deep including true freshmen Durron Neal, Trent Metoyer, and Sterling Shepard, as well as JuCo transfer Courtney Gardner. Junior Kenny Stills is a returning starter as is former walk-on running back Dominique Whaley , who had his 2011 season truncated by a broken ankle.

Defensively, Oklahoma's secondary returns intact. The unit finished 23rd nationally in pass efficiency defense last fall but it gave up plenty of yards thanks to a handful of games that were no longer in doubt late. Only cornerback Demontre Hurst showed all-star capabilities last season.

Oklahoma's strength is its offense, notably the passing game. The defense can be had, but it'll take 30-plus points for any foe to come out on top. Then again, former Arizona head coach and ex-Sooners defensive coordinator returns for another tour of duty. An immediate upgrade is likely even if the unit isn't on par with the superstar groups from Stoops' previous, championship stint in Norman (1999-2003).

Outside Looking In: Lindy's Sports has the Sooners ranked fourth nationally while Athlon Sports has Oklahoma 5th. Phil Steele has them second with the added bonus of no Big 12 title game buoying their chances to play for the BCS Title.

Final Thoughts

Notre Dame's first trip to Norman since the late 60s comes at the end of a six-game, seven week stretch during which the Irish will face at least five peer teams (if not six including Miami), two of which were markedly better than was Notre Dame last fall.

Four of the six are consensus Top 20 foes with three in nearly every poll's top 10.

And Oklahoma is the best of the bunch -- not only among the stretch's teams, but programs, with the Sooners posting between 10 and 13 wins (and a BCS Title) in 10 of the last 12 seasons.

Did I mention head coach Bob Stoops has lost three times in the last 11 seasons in Memorial Stadium?

Its not a major disadvantage for Notre Dame to play outside of South Bend where they've struggled of late, but day or night, rain or shine, rather, it seems that the likely weary Irish will be walking into a buzz saw in Norman.

The Sooners have won just once in nine meetings vs. Notre Dame, and that was 10 years before the Ara Parseghian era started in South Bend. (Stoops is 0-1 vs. the Irish, losing as a rookie head coach vs. Bob Davie in 1999.)

Vegas has deemed the Irish 11.5-point underdogs for the contest, a viable pre-season betting line (though likely to change for game week). It would be a major upset if Oklahoma doesn't enter the contest undefeated, its toughest games, sans possibly Texas, coming at the tail end of the 2012 slate.

Notre Dame would be the story of the season if it can come to Norman with just one loss -- the Irish would be a borderline Top 5 team on strength of schedule alone.

But this end of October matchup will be the ultimate proving ground to date for the Brian Kelly era, one without a major upset win vs. a top tier team. Top Stories