Prediction #1: Undefeated Again

O'Malley begins his annual summer prediction series out on a limb…

Few that follow the Notre Dame football program saw it coming last season, either. After all, nearly a decade-and-a-half had passed since any squad at the program accomplished the feat.

And to be sure, a betting man wouldn't sign up for such a feat again in 2013: An undefeated season for Notre Dame…at home.

(Wait, what did you think I meant?)

Prediction #1: The Irish will run the table -- at home

Prior to last season's determined, defensive-minded Irish, the House that Rockne Built had not been particularly kind to Notre Dame teams, fans, or the programs coaches.

Brian Kelly was just 8-5 entering his third season at the helm last fall. His predecessors 20-14 (Charlie Weis), 11-7 (Tyrone Willingham) and the markedly more successful Bob Davie (24-7) -- the latter the author of the program's previous undefeated home run, finishing 6-0 in 1998

Even the legendary Lou Holtz had fallen on hard times at home prior to his exit, losing at least one home game in each of his last seven seasons and 13-5 during his last three seasons in South Bend.

Kelly's 2012 team broke the South Bend streak, though not without scuffles along the way, winning by three points vs. Purdue, by seven vs. Michigan, in overtime vs. Stanford, by three vs. Brigham Young, and in triple overtime vs. Pittsburgh before ultimately hammering hapless Wake Forest 38-0 in the home finale.

Prior to the demolition of the Demon Deacons, Notre Dame was 5-0 at home by the skin of its teeth, the outcome of each of their first five home tilts decided on the contest's final drive.

Entering his fourth season, Kelly holds a 14-5 record at home -- one more undefeated home slate away from respectability.

Potential Pitfalls

Among Notre Dame's six home tilts this fall are a trio of toss-ups: Michigan State in mid-September, Oklahoma one week later, and USC following semester break in October.

Also included are two relative gimmes, the season-opener vs. Temple and an early November annual with Navy.

And then there's the Senior Day trap, Brigham Young.

Consider the following underdogs to recently rise up in South Bend:

  • 2008: The Irish 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: After losing to USC as a 10-point underdog and sneaking by Boston College, 20-16, Notre Dame lost to Navy as 12-point favorites and laster as a 6-point favorite vs. Connecticut to end the season.

  • 2010: Brian Kelly's first Irish squad lost three home games for the second time in four seasons and for the fourth time in an eight-year span. (Not including the anomaly of 2007 that featured six home defeats.)

  • 2011: Kelly's second-edition Irish lost as home favorites of 10.5 to South Florida and 9.5 to USC -- the latter a ludicrous point spread nonetheless jumped on by many Irish fans and followers (ahem).

  • 2012: The Irish finished undefeated in South Bend despite playing five to the wire, three vs. far inferior teams in Purdue, Brigham Young, and Pittsburgh and as favorites of 14, 11.5, and 16.5, respectively.

The Toss-ups: Notre Dame has hammered Michigan State in two straight, a combined 51-16 margin that includes total destruction of the Spartans running game. But Michigan State is more than capable of beating the Irish in South Bend -- it was a program regularity from 1997 through 2007, a span that included a 5-0 Spartans record vs. the Irish.

Oklahoma figures to the one of the two best teams on the 2013 Irish schedule (Stanford is the top dog on paper), but the Sooners have as many issues as do the Irish, replacing their quarterback, two of their four top receivers, their top offensive lineman (No. 4 overall pick Lane Johnson), and the bulk of a defense that struggled for a third straight season -- at least by Sooners standards.

And USC? They've regressed from dominant to merely dangerous, but its worth noting the Trojans haven't lost in South Bend since the Davie era -- 2001, winning five straight in that span, just one relatively close.

Any of the three could defeat the Irish: I have them finishing 3-0 vs. this trio of relative peers.

The Gimmes: If Notre Dame loses to Temple (against which its been staked as a 24-point favorite) or Navy, this prediction series will have more holes than a Mike Brey zone in March -- I need not continue to forecast or opine. 2-0 here, or trouble is afoot.

The Trouble Spot: Notre Dame's November 23 Senior Day swan song vs. Brigham Young has the makings of a BCS-buster. That is, the Irish could have one or two losses and in need of two more wins to conclude the season. With a trip to top tier Stanford on the horizon thereafter, the defensive-minded Cougars could sneak up on Kelly and his emotionally spent seniors. In short, this is a game Notre Dame teams have found a way to lose for the bulk of the last quarter century -- 2012 the notable, relevant, and timely exception.

In summation, the only game Notre Dame could "blow" is against the Cougars. Losses to Temple or Navy would signify a major problem, and their three remaining foes Michigan State, Oklahoma, and USC are relative peers, capable of winning vs. most teams not wearing Crimson and White.

I'll take Kelly in a single Saturday matchup vs. Mark Dantonio, Bob Stoops, and Lane Kiffin. As important: I'll take Bob Diaco's defenses vs. the trio of offenses included therein without hesitation.

The Official Prediction: As it did in 2012, Notre Dame will find a way, and I'm sticking with a 6-0 mark in South Bend. I fully expect four of the six to be played close and late, testing the mental mettle of Kelly's Irish, not to mention the program's fans. Top Stories