#12 Temple and for a full explanation of the rankings.
Trouble Spot #9 -- Brigham YoungWith most of their offensive starters returning -- that doesn't include a likely upgrade at quarterback -- and half of a stout defense back, this ranking admittedly appears low. Brigham Young is better than the ninth-best team the Irish will face. And to be direct, they're better than a pair of ensuing teams in the series, Purdue and Pittsburgh.
But welcome to Notre Dame's 2013 schedule, where aside from a trio of games vs. Temple and two service academies, its one littered with major "Trouble Spots."
The Cougars played Notre Dame to the wire last October, catching the Irish at a perfect time, sandwiched between the physical overtime head-knocker against Stanford, and just prior to Notre Dame's marquee game of the year at Oklahoma.
Add to that Brigham Young's 2012 rush defense was legit, and couple that with the absence of Everett Golson under center in South Bend, and a not-unexpected 17-14 nail-biter was the end result. (We ranked the BYU contest as one of two ND trap games entering 2012 and on game week predicted a seven-point Irish win.)
Why #9?Senior Day used to give me cause for pause. But two spotless efforts in three Senior Day games of the Brian Kelly era have shown the veteran head coach has a pulse on the importance of the week -- its distractions, both at Thursday's practice and on game day -- and how to mitigate its overall impact when the ball kicks off at 3:47 in South Bend.
As noted above, Brigham Young appears to be a better football team than Purdue. And if this matchup was in Provo sandwiched between games against Michigan and Michigan State, there's no doubt the contest vs. the Cougars would be deemed a tougher spot than that vs. the Boilers.
But the reality is, this late-November matchup vs. Bronco Mendenhall's crew will be played under less adverse conditions than a pair of road traps in West Lafayette and the Steel City.
Brigham Young likely beats both Purdue and Pittsburgh if matched on paper -- but the latter pair gave Notre Dame all it could handle last fall, more so than did Brigham Young once their "cupcake" passing game (to borrow from an Irish assistant) ran its course by the second-half. (And the Panthers have done so in five straight contests, winning twice, playing to seven overtimes and an aggregate score of 122-118 in that span.)
Purdue and Pittsburgh also draw Notre Dame on the road, likely both in prime time (Purdue's evening kickoff is set).
Notre Dame will have two weeks to prepare for Brigham Young and Senior Day in South Bend. And Kelly will have them ready.
Introduction to the SeriesFor the last, oh, 32 seasons, I've been off. Off by at least one, usually two and often three games in a comparison of 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 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 Wake Forest (a fourth-quarter Irish win, 24-17). 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? 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 for 2013.
Consider yourself warned.