Trouble Spots: #12

O'Malley's Irish 101 series turns its attention to Notre Dame's opponents for 2013 and our annual countdown of the team's "Trouble Spots" next fall.

For the last, oh, 32 seasons, I've been off. Off by at least one, usually two and often three games in a comparison between my pre-season prediction for Notre Dame's end-season record and the actual mark. And then there was 2007 when I missed by five, but hey, who's counting?

But if you need someone to identify a trap game on the Irish schedule, one in which the South Benders will inexplicably struggle, then this is the column series for you.

In 2009 this annual summer series pegged Purdue (a last-second Irish win). 2010 identified Tulsa (straining to pat myself on the back). 2011 it was Air Force (way off, 59-33 ND) and Boston College (a fourth-quarter Irish win). 2012? Both Brigham Young and Pittsburgh, two games in which the Irish prevailed by a total of six points with three overtimes included.

Why does Notre Dame -- and for that matter, nearly every other college and pro football program -- struggle vs. lesser teams? Its a game played by humans. The ebb and flow of a season is often overlooked as fans and media attempt to predict outcomes.

But not here -- we have you covered.

I can't tell you if Notre Dame will win 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, or 8 games next season, but I can rank, from #12 through #1, the biggest Trouble Spots on the Irish schedule.

Taking into account the game's timing on the schedule (Is it a trap? Does the dreaded "sandwich" game apply?). Projecting the home crowd for Notre Dame (predictably dead vs. both BYU and Pitt last year), and of course considering the location of the contest and ability of each opponent, we present the fifth annual Trouble Spots series.

Consider yourself warned, though the 2013 slate starts out relatively safe.

Trouble Spot #12 -- Temple

The Owls suffered a major backslide last fall, bottoming out to 4-7 in 2012 after winning the program's first bowl game in 2011.

Ex-Notre Dame assistant coach (1999-2001) and former Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio moved onto different, if not altogether greener pastures after his two seasons in Philadelphia, taking the head job at Boston College. (A darker shade of green, perhaps...)

In his stead steps six-season Temple assistant Matt Rhule, at 38, one of the youngest coaches in the college game.

Prior to his departure, Addazio broke in a new quarterback at the conclusion of 2012 in 6'3" 230-pound dual-threat junior Clinton "Juice" Granger. It appears Granger will relinquish that role to the arm of classmate Connor Reilly, previously a poor fit for Addazzio's run-heavy spread.

A one-dimensional team offensively in 2012, Temple's biggest problem wasn't the absence of a passing attack, but the utter inability to stop foes with a pulse. Syracuse (38), Cincinnati (34), Louisville (45), Pittsburgh (47), Rutgers (35), Army (32 in defeat) and Maryland (36) rolled up over 30 on the Owls.

Temple ranked 100th vs. the rush and 115th in pass efficiency defense. Coupled with a poor passing attack, it equated to a team that fell behind and was unable to catch up.

Why #12?

Its the season-opener, and in your last game, you were housed by Alabama in front of the free world. If you can't get up for this, what's the point of playing college football?

That's the natural theme for Notre Dame in its 2013 season opener, a contest that has been kind to every Notre Dame team with a pulse over the last 15 seasons sans Kelly's 2011 squad, a group that inexplicably bumbled away its opening salvo to punchless South Florida.

Add to the opening game atmosphere the fact that Temple is one of the three worst teams the Irish will face in 2013 and this slotting wasn't difficult.

Final Thoughts

Potential pitfalls to the #12 slotting: Notre Dame would likely be better off facing Addazzio's one-dimensional spread and the ample film available rather than Rhule's new wrinkles and pro-style attack.

Add to that the breath of fresh air a young new coach brings and the Owls will certainly be up and ready for the Irish -- the biggest stage the Temple program has experienced to date.

But if the Notre Dame program has turned the corner as indicated last fall, the Irish will make short work of an overmatched Owls squad as the home crowd salutes its national runner-up program in its first return to the field.

Rhule summarized the game's situation -- not to mention the crux of this Trouble Spots series -- in an interview with CNNSI's Pete Thamel: "What's a better test for a team? Here's the venue. Can you play at the highest possible level and not be intimidated by this team and these great players and this great coach and this great venue? Can you go play the game the same way we play it up here in North Philly? That's the first true test."

Rhule added, "There's nothing worse than seeing a team that plays up and down to the level of its competition. Or a team that decides when to play."

A dilemma that faces the Irish each season, and one they conquered throughout 2012 en route to 12-0.

Fast Fact: The Irish are 2-1 in the Brian Kelly era in season openers. As a program Notre Dame has won 11 of their last 15, losing only in 2011 (South Florida), 2007 (Georgia Tech), 2004 (at Brigham Young), 2001 (at #1 Nebraska). Notre Dame's combined record when it loses its season opener in that span is 22-26.

Look-Ahead Factor? It exists, with Notre Dame traveling to Ann Arbor for a prime time battle with Michigan. But again, this is the season opener...

Puncher's Chance? As noted above, I like the change to a long-time assistant in Rhule. He's changed the culture in the short term and Temple will be ready to play. But they don't have the horses to score more than two touchdowns against Bob Diaco's defense on Notre Dame's worst day. And unless a young Irish backfield gets a case of fumble-itis, there's no chance the leaky Owls defense can contain quarterback Everett Golson and his cohorts on the perimeter.

Likelihood of an Upset: If the Irish lose to Temple, all -- not some, all -- goodwill from 2012 is erased. On a scale of 1-10 in terms of seismic affect on the college landscape for 2013, this would be a 10+.


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