Below is the second of several installments in our annual predictions series, each including at least one program-focused and one player-centric prediction as well as one related to overall team production.
Prediction #4 -- Dose of Defeat1998: The last time a Notre Dame football team made it through a home slate unscathed. Don't expect that to change this fall with two toss-up matchups: Michigan and Stanford; two fashionable upset picks: BYU and Pittsburgh (mine); and two potential above .500 squads (Purdue and Wake Forest) bookending the home slate.
In fact, its more likely the Irish lose more than one home game for the sixth straight season than sail through to 6-0 in South Bend this fall. Before you scoff at the theory that Purdue, Wake, or even Pittsburgh could beat the Irish in South Bend consider the following:
- 2008: Began 4-0 at home only to lose consecutive home contests vs. Pittsburgh and Syracuse as favorites of 4 points and 19.5 points, respectively.
- 2009: Lost to USC as a 10-point underdog, plus to Navy as 12-point favorites and as a 6-point favorite against Connecticut to end the season.
- 2010: Lost three at home for the second time in four seasons (the Irish were 1-6 at home in 2007) and for the fourth time in an 8-year span
- 2011: Lost as home favorites of 10.5 points (USF) and 9.5 points (USC).
Prediction #5 -- Long Arms of the LawWith two new starters at cornerback, a new era has dawned in the Irish secondary. Three of the team's four projected starters have already recorded interceptions: Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta two apiece, and Lo Wood one, a 57-yard interception return for a touchdown last November.
But none of the above will lead the team in 2012 -- look for boundary cornerback Bennett Jackson to take the mantle. The long-armed former wide receiver is the fastest among the quartet and likely has the best ball skills to boot. Boundary cornerbacks see more action than their field side counterparts: Jackson will make opponents pay with at least four picks in 2012.
Prediction #6 -- Ground GainsNotre Dame's rushing yards per game average has increased steadily over the last five seasons, from a laughable 75.25 in 2007 to nearly 140 yards per game (138.92) last year. But yards per game isn't this prediction's purpose.
Rather, thanks to approximately 100 rushing attempts from the team's quarterbacks (not singular), expect Notre Dame's yards per carry to remain steady despite more overall attempts from last season.
- 2011 (Kelly): 2,085 yards on 433 carries with 25 TD, 4.8 per carry
- 2010 (Kelly): 1,646 yards on 414 carries with 11 TD, 4.0 per carry
- 2009 (Charlie Weis): 1,549 yards on 401 carries with 13 TD, 3.8 per carry
- 2008 (Charlie Weis): 1,426 yards on 436 carries with 11 TD, 3.3 per carry
Brian Kelly's 2008 Cincinnati Bearcats rushed the ball 455 times in 14 games, averaging 3.6 yards per pop -- expect his 2012 Irish to hit the 450 mark while averaging a full yard more per rush…and in one fewer contest.
Prediction #7 -- Intercepted IrishNot all interceptions are created equal, a reality Irish fans endured last season with nine red zone picks tossed from their trio of signal-callers. Notre Dame's quarterbacks had 17 passes intercepted last fall, just one more than in 2010, and tied for the second-highest total of the decade (as the only passer of note, sophomore Jimmy Clausen threw 17 in 2008 as well).
I expect three quarterbacks to throw meaningful passes again this season, and with at least 400 passing attempts, there's bound to be double-digit interceptions thrown. Look for between 13 and 15 this fall, more than the Brady Quinn-era Irish (10, 8, and 7 over his last three seasons), but less than either of Kelly's first two seasons.
Below is a look at Notre Dame's pass attempts and interceptions since the millennium:
- 2011: 17 total in 473 attempts
- 2010: 16 total in 481 attempts
- 2009: 5 total in 447 attempts (not a misprint)
- 2008: 17 total in 447 attempts
- 2007: 9 total in 389 attempts
- 2006: 7 total in 471 attempts
- 2005: 8 total in 454 attempts
- 2004: 10 total in 362 attempts
- 2003: 19 total in 411 attempts
- 2002: 13 total in 341 attempts
- 2001: 11 total in 218 attempts
- 2000: 4 total in 200 attempts