Ranked #10 in the most recent Associated Press poll, Notre Dame will play eight games in eight weeks to conclude the season beginning with a "neutral site" matchup vs. Miami in Chicago. A breakdown of the season's next month shows an October slate with four disparate foes, each of which poses a new set of problems for head coach Brian Kelly and his Irish.
"I don't think there's more of a diverse group of opponents that any team in the country plays," said Kelly of the annual Irish challenge. "You know, when you play in a conference, you get a great understanding of who you're playing. We're playing option teams; we're playing power teams; we're playing spread teams. So getting our defense up to that level through recruiting, through player development, through scheme, has been job one."
The Hurricanes are presently viewed as a "paper" 3-1, that after a humbling 52-13 loss at Kansas State (who's since proven formidable with a win at Oklahoma). Miami has beaten ACC foes Boston College, 41-32, and Georgia Tech, 42-36 in overtime while playing sluggish early vs. Bethune-Cookman, a 17-7 game at the half, before prevailing 38-10 in a game played in front of about seven "fans."
With numbers similar to Notre Dame's Everett Golson, Miami junior quarterback Stephen Morris has hit for four touchdowns and three picks while also suffering six sacks. Morris threw for 436 yards and two scores vs. Georgia Tech in Saturday's overtime victory in Atlanta.
Miami hosts North Carolina State (3-1 overall; 1-1 vs. FBS teams) before traveling to Soldier Field to take on the Irish.
The Skinny: Miami's 109th ranked rushing defense is more a function of its opponents (Kansas State and Georgia Tech are run-first squads), but it's still not on par with the defense's the Irish faced in September. The Irish should be able to move the ball on the ground vs. the Hurricanes who've allowed more than 30 points in three of four to date.
Trap-Game Potential: None
October 13 -- (Previously) #8 StanfordThe Cardinal had limited their first three opponents to 124 total rushing yards, 1.61 yards per carry before Washington's Bishop Sankey hit for a 61-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-1, buoying an upset of the then 8th-ranked Cardinal Thursday night.
While games vs. San Jose State and Duke were partly in play in the paltry YPC total, its notable that Stanford held then #2 USC to 26 rushing yards while ripping off 202 of their own in a 21-14 victory on The Farm.
The Cardinal average nine tackles for loss on the season (including 12 vs. the Trojan)s with two forced fumbles and four sacks. Its defensive front bothered USC triggerman and Heisman hopeful Matt Barkley enough to force a sub-50 percent completion night with two interceptions and no touchdown tosses.
Stanford plays against Arizona in Palo Alto on October 6.
The Skinny: Stanford was able to run vs. USC when the Trojans knew the Cardinal were going to line it up and push forward. They were then crushed up front by a fired-up crew from Washington on Thursday. Job #1 will be stopping another physical offense, as running back Stepfan Taylor (153 yards, 2 TD vs. USC) returns after consecutive seasons vs. the Irish in which he produced 108 and 118 yards, respectively.
Trap-Game Potential: It exists after Thursday night's upset loss to the Huskies, but the Cardinal have beaten the Irish in three straight.
October 20 -- Brigham YoungRanked among the Top 25 two weeks ago, the Cougars have fallen from grace after a pair of close, but ugly losses to arch-rival Utah, 24-21 in Salt Lake City, and 7-6 at #24 Boise State, a game that featured just six total third-down conversions between the teams.
Cougars quarterback Riley Nelson, a pre-season breakout candidate at the position, has thrown as many interceptions (5) and touchdowns, while suffering eight sacks in four games. Nelson threw just seven picks all of last season vs. 19 scores.
BYU ranks seven spots ahead of the Irish in total offense (#89 to #96) but boasts the ninth-ranked rush defense as well as a pass rush that ranks ninth at 3.5 sacks per game, tied with Notre Dame. The Cougars are just nine spots behind the Irish in early season scoring defense, allowing 12.5 per outing.
Prior to traveling to South Bend, BYU will play three home contests: Hawaii (1-2), 3-1 Utah State (the Aggies lost at Wisconsin 16-14) and #18 Oregon State.
The Skinny: Head coach Bronco Mendenhall has the ability to wreak havoc on the stunted growth that plagues the present-day Irish offense. Look for two touchdowns and two field goals to again be enough for the winning team in what could be a sleepy mid-Autumn contest in South Bend.
Trap-Game Potential: Off the charts. Its the dreaded "sandwich game" between national powers Stanford and Oklahoma.
October 27 -- At #16 OklahomaSuddenly, there appears a chink in the armor. Previously 77-3 at home and 15-0 vs. ranked teams during the 13-year Bob Stoops era, the Sooners dropped a stink bomb in Norman vs. #15 Kansas State Saturday, falling 24-19.
At 2-1 with an ugly win over UTEP (24-7) and FCS foes Florida A&M (69-13) to start the season, Stoops' Sooners face untested Texas Tech (3-0 with a game at Iowa State pending) before traveling to Dallas for the annual Red River Rivalry battle vs. Texas. Oklahoma then draws Charlie Weis' terrible Kansas squad in a Norman scrimmage before hosting the Irish.
The Sooners are 1-8 lifetime vs. Notre Dame and will either enter the contest at 5-1 and back in the hunt for the Top 10, or reeling near the back end of the top 25 pending their tussle with #12 Texas.
The Skinny: The Sooners next two matchups at Texas Tech and in Dallas against the Longhorns will paint a clearer picture of the team's capabilities than has its surprising 2-1 start. Suddenly the Irish, underdogs of 11 points for the Oct. 27 battle when lines came out in August, don't seem like such a lost on this venture to Big 12/10 country.
Trap-Game Potential: No such animal, though if Oklahoma has two losses, and Notre Dame is undefeated…let's not get ahead of ourselves.