The collection will be divided into three categories: program-focused, player-centric, and overall team production.
Without further adieu, I present one of each for your Monday lunch hour.
Prediction #1 -- September Woe No MoreNotre Dame plays four games in the season's opening month, three against Big 10 foes. Two home, one road, and one across the pond. The Irish will face two top 15 pre-season teams in those first four weeks and three teams that won bowl games last fall.
Despite those odds, for the first time since 2002, and just the second time since 1989, a Notre Dame football team will begin a season at 4-0.
That's right, after three consecutive seasons of picking an Irish loss in The Opening month (easy pickings, by the way) as part of my annual series, and despite a horrific 3-5 mark for head coach Brian Kelly in his first two Septembers on the scene, this will be the year everything breaks right…at least for one month.
Prediction #2 -- Cierre Wood will lead the team in TDI finished with three logical candidates: Wood, RB/slot hybrid Theo Riddick, and All-America tight end Tyler Eifert. The trio enter their senior seasons together with 14, 6, 7 touchdowns scored, respectively. Eifert scored five of his seven last season, the number marking the highest total for a tight end at the program since 1977. Should Eifert score more than six this fall, he'd be the first at his position in school history to accomplish that feat -- my guess is he finishes third on the squad in total scores behind the senior tandem.
My initial choice for the mantle was Riddick, whom I believe could catch up to 50 passes with as many as 125 carries next fall, but Wood's the more consistent runner and a better option inside the 10-yard line. He's also just as likely as the hiccup-quick Riddick to break free from 30 or more yards away and could catch up to 30 balls this fall.
This is hearsay/opinion, but I believe Wood is more likely to run away from the defense and take it the distance once he hits open space.
Look for the trio to combine for more than 25 scores with Wood breaking double digits to lead the team.
Prediction #3 -- Gashed by the PassQuick, name Notre Dame's five worst pass defenses, statistically and in terms of yardage allowed (the NCAA's official measure), over the last 30 seasons?
You probably knew Charlie Weis' last team, the 2009 squad would be on the list (227 yards allowed per game). And if you remember the jump ball drill fiasco of 2004, you certainly included that among your guesses (281 per Saturday). Also joining the list were Weis' '05 Irish (264 yards per game), Bob Davie's offense-fueled '99 unit (247 per contest), and remarkably, a national title contender from 1990, as Lou Holtz, Todd Lyght and a freshmen-infused secondary yielded a whopping 267 yards per game.
Another thing three of those five teams had in common? Each had solid to standout rush defenses, as Weis' '05 group finished 34th nationally, Holtz's '90 unit 23rd, and Tyrone Willingham's 2004 squad a sterling fourth in the nation vs. the run. As for the '99 and '09 teams? They just played bad defense altogether.
The 2012 Irish D won't finish 4th vs. the run, but they might finish near No. 20-25 in Year 3 of the Bob Diaco era.
Look for Diaco's front seven to limit foes on the ground but for the secondary to struggle mightily in at least four contests and to give up a few more scores over the top without the athletically gifted Harrison Smith roaming the back line. Its a group that should be fine when its first four starters are on the field, but a pass defense needs depth, and Notre Dame appears to be in short supply two weeks before the bullets go live.
An injury to any of the starting quartet would provide a blueprint for opposing offenses (if Jamoris Slaughter goes down, this unfortunate prediction is in the bag), and the only way to offset some aerial attacks will be a vicious pass rush -- one that might have migrated south with the spring transfer of Aaron Lynch.
Official Prediction: The Irish pass defense finishes at #65 or worse, the lowest ranking of the Kelly/Diaco era and a full 27 spots lower than last year.