Trouble Spot #8: at Purdue

O'Malley's annual "Trouble Spots" countdown continues its look at Notre Dame's toughest game situations for 2013...

Click the links below for the first three installments in our Trouble Spots series:

#12 Temple and for a full explanation of the rankings.

#11 Navy

#10 Air Force

#9 Brigham Young

Trouble Spot #8 -- Purdue

First-year head coach Darrell Hazell exited spring with the motto, "One Brick Higher" for his 2013 Boilermakers. That won't be a major challenge if Purdue's high-point is to ascend beyond the Danny Hope era (23-29) but Hazell has likely set his ultimate sights higher.

At their best last season, Purdue pushed Notre Dame (20-17, Rees to the Rescue), and Ohio State (29-22 OT loss) to the brink last season. Considering neither program lost a regular season game, it was apparent Purdue had the potential to play with anyone in the nation, or at least any program not currently devouring Dreamland BBQ and the spoils of back-to-back championships.

But gone from that group is offensive line wrecker Kawaan Short and game MVP Josh Johnson (9 tackles, FF, and four passes defended). Also moving on are veteran and oft-injured quarterbacks Robert Marve and Caleb Terbush. Cat-quick slot receiver Antavian Edison, scorer of both touchdowns vs. the Irish last season, is no longer in the fold.

Its a new era in West Lafayette, with coordinators Greg Hudson (defense, formerly at Florida State ) and John Shoop (offense, formerly North Carolina and 12 seasons in the NFL), finding pieces to match their schemes.

(Hudson is a graduate and former two-sport athlete at Notre Dame. He was famously involved in a heated recruiting battle against his alma mater over since-transferred Irish pass rusher, Aaron Lynch.)

Why #8?

The opening seven games of Notre Dame's 2013 slate is a death march, with four traditional rivals , an all-time top program and Top 10 team in Oklahoma, and a program on the rise in Arizona State included therein. Only two games seem certain victories on paper: Temple in the season opener, and Purdue in Week Three.

Unlike Temple, Purdue benefits greatly from its slotting, and this seemingly high ranking is a nod to the matchup's placement: precariously between Michigan and Michigan State.

Purdue took Notre Dame to the wire last season thanks to a dominant performance by its defensive tackles, one of which, the aforementioned Short, has since departed for the professional ranks. Had the team's played in Week 10 rather than Week 2, can any informed college football fan believe the 2012 barn-burner, won 20-17 by the Irish, would have been played as close?

Emotion, location, timing, and opportunity play a major role in college football, four elements that can greatly reduce the talent gap between teams, especially familiar rivals.

Purdue will be sky-high for this Week Three matchup and it catches Notre Dame at an opportune time following what should be an emotional head-knocker with the Wolverines.

Crucial Components

A look at the ancillary factors surrounding Notre Dame's matchup with the Boilers:

Fast Fact: Notre Dame has won in just four of its last eight trips to West Lafayette, each of the victories occurring in prime time (2001, 2005, 2009, 2011). Each of the four defeats (1997, 1999, 2003, and 2007) were played with an afternoon kickoff.

Look-Ahead Factor? Yes, with traditional rival and more accurately, 15-year peer Michigan State coming to South Bend. As noted above, the slotting is more about who the Irish face prior to the Boilers (Michigan) than what follows thereafter.

Puncher's Chance? No doubt. Purdue has enough offensive pieces -- though quarterback is a concern -- and confident talent on the defensive side to take the Irish to the wire. Look for senior defensive tackle Bruce Gaston and junior defensive end Ryan Russell to blossom under Hudson's tutelage. Irish fans might remember returning senior cornerback Ricardo Allen as the kid from whom Michael Floyd repeatedly stole lunch money in 2011. But when matched against mortals, Allen is a prime time player and he could cause fits for both T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels.

Likelihood of an Irish defeat: Notre Dame needed to make three crucial plays on its game-winning drive last September. Thanks to (chronologically) John Goodman, Tommy Rees and Robby Toma, and Theo Riddick, Mike Golic, Jr., and Braxston Cave, they did just that. And first-time kicker Kyle Brindza delivered a chip-shot game-winner as a result. Though many of the faces (and one coaching staff) has changed, you better believe the Boilers are confident they can close the deal at home this season.

And unlike games vs. Temple, Navy, and Air Force, a loss here wouldn't be seismic. Surprising, yes, but not unheard of.

Of course, good Notre Dame teams do not lose to Purdue, or at least not since Richard Nixon was president. 2013 will be no different.

Introduction to the Series

For 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? 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 for 2013.

Consider yourself warned.


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