Rather than ranking Notre Dame’s opponents from best to worst each off-season, our annual “Trouble Spots” series offers a countdown of the toughest game situations for Notre Dame, not necessarily a listing of its top overall foes.
In other words, Texas might prove to be a better squad in 2015 than will Navy, but Notre Dame takes on the always-prepared Midshipmen following a trip to Clemson and one week prior to a rivalry week outing against USC.
Which appears to be the tougher test, that, or the season-opener vs. the Longhorns?
Such situations brought about our Trouble Spots series six summers ago – a unique listing of potential pitfalls that will present along Notre Dame’s 12-game slate.
Third-year head coach Matt Rhule has his Owls on the upswing after a 6-6 finish last season, that on the heels of a tough 2013 campaign in which the rookie head man finished 2-10 including a season-opening loss at Notre Dame.
When and Where? Game #8, Week #9, October 31 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia
In Review: The Owls feature a defense that returns 11 starters from the nation’s *No. 4 ranked scoring defense of 2014.
(The *top six in that regard were Ole Miss, Stanford, Clemson, Temple, LSU, and Alabama. Granted, Temple’s America East schedule aided its statistical defensive cause, but a team doesn’t finish among the nation’s top tier without sound principles in place.)
Temple’s offense was mired among the nation’s worst, finishing #97 overall at 23.1 points per game. The Owls were likewise among the dregs in terms of rushing offense (#115), a statistic best illustrated by Temple’s No. 124 ranking among 125 FBS teams in points per red zone possession.
Actual Ranking Among ND’s 12 Foes: No lower than No. 9, and you could argue as high as No. 7 considering the Owls ability to defend. Temple’s .500 mark last fall was a major step forward for a program that had won just five games over the previous two seasons.
Game Situation (Post-Bye): Notre Dame’s first-ever trip to Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia) sets up well as head coach Brian Kelly’s Irish will have two weeks to rest and prepare following a seven-game, seven-week gauntlet preceding that features power programs Texas, Clemson, and USC, plus consensus Top 20 foe Georgia Tech, as well as recent rival Navy.
Aside from the opener against Texas and prior to its trip to Clemson (the game against the Tigers follows a date with UMass), Notre Dame’s contest against the Owls is the only one in which Irish players will have enjoyed a moment of respite from the season’s grind.
-- Notre Dame is 5-1 under Kelly following bye weeks over the last five seasons, winning twice in 2013. The lone loss occurred against USC in 2011.
Why No. 10 could be too low: Temple can keep games close with its defense, but comparative foes for the No. 10 slot include Texas (too much talent to rank at No. 10), Virginia (it’s season’s first road game), and Boston College (rivalry game). Those foes, coupled with the reality of the bye preceding Temple, mitigates any move the Owls could have made on our pre-season Trouble Spots chart.
Previous No. 10s in the series include: Purdue 2009, Purdue 2010, Wake Forest 2011, Boston College 2012, Air Force 2013, and Syracuse 2014 – Both Purdue (’09) and the Demon Deacons proved to have bite, the former taking Charlie Weis’ squad to the final gun in West Lafayette before Jimmy Clausen hit Kyle Rudolph for the game-winning score while Wake Forest pushed the inconsistent 2011 Irish to the brink in a 24-17 Notre Dame victory in Winston-Salem.
The remaining rankings proved relatively accurate, though in retrospect, Air Force was a spot to high (should have been No. 11), but it received a bump up the charts because the contest fell after Notre Dame’s home date with USC, a predictably close, hard-fought affair won 14-10 by the Irish.
Prediction: The teams won’t combine for more than 42 points but the Irish will win comfortably – and the contest’s second half will be necessary to that end. Regardless, this schedule slotting is anything but troubling for Notre Dame compared to the remaining nine on our list.
-- Overall opponent’s strength: Projected to be between the seventh (might be pushing it) and tenth-best squad on the Irish slate.
-- Game situation: Post-Bye as part of a two-game road trip to the Keystone State.
-- Determining factor: Considering the preceding bye, it’s doubtless an easier game situation than our No. 9 slotting (to follow).