1. Forced to choose one, as of now, I believe Notre Dame will lose to this (singular) team:
-- Brown: USC
-- Hickey: Stanford
-- Hare: USC. Last game of the season, on the road, that seems to work against Notre Dame more often than not.
-- Prister: USC. Irish have done well under Kelly in the L.A. Coliseum, but margin for error with November injuries the last three years shrinks despite improved depth.
-- Sampson: Miami
-- O’Malley: USC. The Coliseum is where Irish aspirations go to die…
2. As of now, and excluding Army, Duke Navy, Nevada, and Syracuse, I’m most confident that Notre Dame will beat (choose one other team):
-- Brown: Virginia Tech
-- Hickey: N.C. State (Coaching change needs to happen in Raleigh. Say hi if you're in section 21)
-- Hare: NC State
-- Prister: Miami. Second of four road games in five weeks for Hurricanes, whose depth will take time to develop.
-- Sampson: Texas
-- O’Malley: Texas, but it’ll be nerve-racking for Irish fans
3. It happens every fall: which currently unforeseen opponent will beat or come dangerously close to beating the Irish in 2016.
-- Brown: Duke
-- Hickey: Virginia Tech
-- Hare: Virginia Tech
-- Prister: N.C. State (remember Virginia?) and Virginia Tech (there’s more talent in Blacksburg than people realize)
-- Sampson: Duke, NC State
-- O’Malley: Duke, NC State, Virginia Tech
4. The most talented opponent – in terms of developed talent for 2016 – is:
-- Brown: USC
-- Hickey: Stanford
-- Hare: Michigan State
-- Prister: USC, and it’s not close. Entire offensive line returns, 13 on both sides of the ball. The real difference-maker could be the return of DC Clancy Pendergast.
-- Sampson: USC
-- O’Malley: USC
5. The individual offensive player that will enjoy the most success vs. Notre Dame in 2016 is:
-- Brown: Stanford’s Christian McCaffery
-- Hickey: Christian McCaffery
--- Hare: USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster
-- Prister: USC’s Ronald Jones III or JuJu Smith-Schuster
-- Sampson: Christian McCaffery
-- O’Malley: No Jaylon Smith = Christian McCaffery
6. The individual defensive player that will enjoy the most success vs. the Irish in 2016 is:
-- Brown: Malik McDowell (Michigan State)
-- Hickey: Malik Jefferson (Texas)
-- Hare: Al-Quadin Muhammad (Miami)
-- Prister: Malik McDowell
-- Sampson: Malik Jefferson
-- O’Malley: Malik Jefferson
7. Rank the likelihood, #1 through #4, that ND wins against these (relative) peer teams: Miami, Michigan State, Stanford, USC.
-- Brown: Miami, Michigan State, Stanford, USC
-- Hickey: Miami, Michigan State, USC, Stanford
-- Hare: Michigan State, Miami, Stanford, USC
-- Prister: Miami, Stanford, Michigan State, USC
-- Sampson: USC, Stanford, Michigan State, Miami
-- O’Malley: Miami, Michigan State, Stanford, USC
8. Let’s say Notre Dame makes the playoffs and is thus a team as good as last year’s squad (at its peak). Name your ideal four-team playoff for January:
-- Brown: Michigan, Florida State, LSU
-- Hickey: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State
-- Hare: Ohio State vs. Oklahoma; Notre Dame vs. Alabama
-- Prister: Alabama, Michigan, Clemson (or Florida State)
-- Sampson: LSU, Ohio State, UCLA
-- O’Malley: Michigan, Clemson, and Connecticut (for the interviews)
9. What will Notre Dame’s record be heading into the Bye week (seven games)?
-- Brown: 7-0
-- Hickey: 5-2
-- Hare: 6-1
-- Prister: 5-2. Texas, Michigan State, N.C. State and Stanford all capable of defeating the Irish. Duke would be included if QB Thomas Sirk weren’t injured.
-- Sampson: 5-2
-- O’Malley: 5-2. The key will then be winning four straight post-bye into USC…
10. What’s more likely, that ND finishes undefeated at home or undefeated away from home? (Three of six away from home are neutral sites.)
-- Brown: Undefeated away from home
-- Hickey: Undefeated away from home
-- Hare: Undefeated away from home
-- Prister: Undefeated at home
-- Sampson: Undefeated away from home
-- O’Malley: Away from home as only three of the six away from home are potential losses rather than five of the six that will be played in South Bend.
11. If Notre Dame gets “handled” this season (for example, the wire-to-wire loss vs. Ohio State), it will be by (BLANK) and why?
-- Brown: If it happens, USC. Road game against a team with elite talent.
-- Hickey: USC. The Trojans play such a brutal schedule that Notre Dame may be playing against a loose and skilled USC squad with not a lot on the line late in the season.
-- Hare: USC. It’s almost a trap game. It’s the last game of the season, on the road and that’s been a tough recipe for the Irish.
-- Prister: Michigan State. The Spartans are rebuilding, but this is a program that now regularly churns out double-digit victory seasons. The physicality of the program could overwhelm just about anyone.
-- Sampson: Won’t happen. If I had to pick one I’d go with Miami just because I could see the Hurricanes moving the ball up and down the field.
-- O’Malley: It would have to be in a Major Six Bowl game. If forced to pick one in the regular season, how about USC but because of a third straight season replete with key injuries?
12. Looking back on my time covering ND, I was shocked Notre Dame lost to…
-- Brown: 2008 vs. Syracuse. I mean, come on. I literally dropped an expletive as Syracuse scored the winning touchdown.
-- Hickey: Louisville 2014
-- Hare: Tulsa 2010
-- 1991 Tennessee. Not so much before the game, but after ND took a decisive lead and then couldn’t close it out.
-- 1992 Stanford – Not so much the loss, but the decisive nature of the loss.
-- 1993 Boston College – With Tom Coughlin coaching, anything was possible, and Eagles were ranked No. 16 coming in. But after the magnitude of the win over No. 1 Florida State the week before…
-- 1995 Northwestern – Didn’t see that coming in the home-opener.
-- 2004 BYU – Come on, man!
-- 2008 Syracuse – Come on, man!!
-- Sampson: Syracuse (2008) in the snowball game. I mean, c’mon. That was pathetic. In terms of how Notre Dame lost, that Navy game in 2010 is top of that list.
-- Northwestern 2014. What in the world!…1995 Northwestern home opener (28-point favorites)…Stanford 1991 with Derek Brown’s infamous dropped game-winning TD. Sadly, nothing between 2007 and 2011 surprised me in terms of bad losses…
13. Looking back on my time covering ND, I was shocked Notre Dame beat…
-- Brown: 2012 vs. Oklahoma. Not so much that they won, but how thorough a victory.
-- Hickey: LSU 2014
-- Hare: Miami in the 2010 Sun Bowl
-- 1997 at LSU. Irish already had 5 losses in Davie’s first year. ND won by 18.
-- 2004 at Tennessee. The wheels were coming off, and then this vs. No. 9 Vols.
-- 2011 Michigan State. ND was due after losing first two, but this was a real quality Spartan squad that won 11 games. More surprising was the 31-13 score.
-- Florida State under Tyrone Willingham tops the list. That wasn’t a great Notre Dame team regardless of its record. Florida State had a few NFL guys running around that roster.
-- Beating LSU in the Music City Bowl was significant, but more because Notre Dame was in such a bad way after getting smoked at USC.
-- LSU in the 2014 Music City Bowl
-- at Oklahoma in 2012 (the manner in which they won)
-- Michigan in the Big House 1993 (“The McDougal Game”)
-- Miami 1988, clearly. History has been rewritten that the teams were “even” going in. No one was even with Miami at the time.