The Game Day SituationOne week prior to Notre Dame's trip to Tempe to take on Arizona State on November 8 is the team's annual matchup against Navy, this time at FedEx Field, Washington, D.C. (More on unique post-Navy phenomenon two sections below.)
The contest in Tempe will be the third straight away from home for Notre Dame as the Irish travel to Florida State on October 18, return for a bye week, then trip to our nation's Capitol to open November.
The Irish host Northwestern following their return from Tempe -- thus, no likely lookahead situation exists barring a remarkable season from the Wildcats.
The Sun Devils will square off against Utah before entertaining the Irish. Arizona State's toughest schedule stretch occurs in a four-game, five-week gauntlet between Thursday, September 25 and Saturday, October 25 when it faces matchups against UCLA, (at) USC, Stanford i(following a bye) and a trip to Seattle to take on Washington.
Why #4 Could Be Too Low…It's not, at least not as a pre-season ranking. Arizona State ranks no better than the fourth best foe for the Irish in 2014 -- you could argue teams such as Michigan, Louisville, and North Carolina, each ranked behind the Sun Devils in our Trouble Spots series, will be better -- but Notre Dame faces that aforementioned trio in South Bend.
Arizona State's highest ranking among major pre-season publications is from The Sporting News, which ranks the Sun Devils No. 13 overall. Athlon's isn't far behind (#16), while Lindy's projects ASU as its 31st best team for 2014. Phil Steele is less impressed, slotting head coach Todd Graham's squad as his No. 38 squad in his annual pre-season Power Poll.
The Trouble with this trip...In a word: Navy.
The following is a look at Notre Dame's performance following its annual game against the Midshipmen, dating back to 2007. Navy (November 1), immediately precedes Arizona State (November 8) on the 2014 slate.
2007: Navy 46 Notre Dame 44, 3OT One week later, the Irish are destroyed by Air Force, 41-24. Then again, Notre Dame lost to nearly every team with a faint pulse in 2007, so maybe this is a poor example of the soon-to-be explained, "Navy phenomenon." It nonetheless follows suit.
2008: Notre Dame 27 Navy 21 One week later, Notre Dame loses to a 2-8 Syracuse team, replete with its lame-duck head coach, 24-23 in South Bend.
2009: Navy 23 Notre Dame 21 One week later, Notre Dame loses at No. 8 Pittsburgh, 27-22.
2010: Navy 35 Notre Dame 17 One week later, the Irish are upset as favorites of 8.5 points by Tulsa in South Bend, 28-27.
2011: Notre Dame 56 Navy 10: One week later, Notre Dame holds on to defeat a middling (6-7 final record) Wake Forest team, 24-17 in Winston-Salem.
2012: Notre Dame 50 Navy 10 in Dublin, Ireland One week (and thousands of miles traveled) later, the Irish escape Purdue, 20-17 in South Bend.
2013: Notre Dame 38 Navy 34: One week later, the Irish are upset by Pittsburgh in the Steel City, 28-21.
I sense a trend.
Notre Dame has not played well since at least 2006 (Brady Quinn's senior season) following its matchup with the Naval Academy.
In SummationVegas oddsmakers have staked the Sun Devils as favorites of 4.5 points over the Irish for this early November battle in Tempe. Arizona State is one of four foes the Irish will face as underdogs this fall -- Stanford is favored by six in South Bend, USC by 10 in Los Angeles, and Florida State by 24 (TWENTY-FOUR!) in Tallahassee.
Also in ASU's favor is head coach Todd Graham's recent track record vs. Brian Kelly. Graham beat Notre Dame 28-27 as head coach at Tulsa in 2010, then took Kelly's Irish to the wire in Pittsburgh during his one-year stint with the Panthers in 2011, losing 15-12. In the nomadic Graham's second season in Tempe, the Sun Devils lost 37-34 to Notre Dame, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.
Don't expect a wide margin for the victor November 8 in Tempe, either.
Tentatively, I have Notre Dame dropping two of three from the North Carolina, Navy, Arizona State triumvirate, due largely to the timing of the contests rather than the overall strength of each foe.
If the Irish manage to navigate those three "traps" at 3-0, a double-digit victory season is likely to follow -- 2-1 in those three outings would likely yield a solid nine wins by regular season's end.
Up Next: Trouble Spot #3 and the chief foil of the Brian Kelly era to date...