Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com

Trouble Spots, Part II

The continuation of our countdown of Notre Dame’s toughest game situations for 2016.

TROUBLE SPOT #8 – DUKE
September 24 at Notre Dame Stadium.

  • Game Situation For the Irish: Potential letdown scenario following what promises to be a head-knocker vs. Michigan State in South Bend. 
  • Kelly in Week 4: Hasn’t lost since his first season (Stanford), boasting a 5-1 record in Game #4 during his time in South Bend. Wins include defensive struggles over Michigan (13-6 in 2012) and eventual 13-1 Michigan State (17-13 in 2013).
  • Kelly W/L Week After Facing MSU: 2-2, 1-3 vs. the spread. 
  • Game Situation For the Blue Devils: Follows a trip to Northwestern.  
  • Blue Devils Talent Level: In the neighborhood of 9th/10th in Tim Prister’s “First Rate” formula.
  • Duke Coaching Situation: “Almost” Irish assistant David Cutcliffe enters his ninth season in Durham, the previous three of which boasting results that nearly match Notre Dame’s W-L record of 27-12 (Duke is 27-13 in the same span).
  • Is It A Trap? Was Rocket Ismail fast? Goodness this is an all-timer.

Consider the following:
-- It’s ND’s third consecutive home game
-- It immediately follows a major rivalry contest (MSU) for the Irish
-- It’s a game against a quality program with a top-notch head coach, but…
-- It’s a matchup that will likely draw little interest from a stadium that often needs a reason to cheer.

  • Final Thought – See above. I’ll wager this game will be in doubt entering the fourth quarter, though I’d be greatly surprised if Notre Dame loses in the end.

TROUBLE SPOT #7 – VIRGINIA TECH
Senior Day in South Bend, November 19.

  • Game Situation For the Irish: Senior Day for the Class of 2013. 
  • Kelly W/L on Senior Day: 5-1
  • Game Situation For the Hokies: Host the triple-option of Georgia Tech one week prior and rival Virginia the following Saturday.
  • Virginia Tech Talent Level: Ranked 5th/6th among Irish foes per Tim Prister’s “First Rate” formula
  • Hokies Coaching Situation: Former Memphis head coach Justin Fuentes enters his first season in place of the legendary Frank Beamer. Fuentes was ranked by Athlon Magazine as the nation’s best coaching hire for 2016.
  • Is It A Trap? No, the Hokies are far too successful a program for such a thing, but Senior Day has included an odd malaise for the Irish in three of the last five seasons, including uninspired wins over BC in 2011, a loss to Louisville in ’13, and last season’s sleepwalking affair against Wake Forest.
  • Final Thought – The contest takes place on the heels of two matchups against option opponents – will the Irish defense be hobbled as a result?

TROUBLE SPOT #6 – NC STATE
October 8 in Raleigh, North Carolina, at Carter-Finley Stadium.

  • Game Situation For the Irish: Follows a matchup in the New Meadowlands against Syracuse and precedes Stanford’s biennial trip to South Bend.
  • Kelly In True Road Games: 14-11
  • Game Situation For the Wolf Pack: NC State eases into its season with games against William & Mary, East Carolina, Old Dominion, and Wake Forest before taking on the Irish. Trips to Clemson and Louisville immediately follow.
  • Wolf Pack Talent Level: Prister ranked the Wolf Pack fifth among Notre Dame’s 12 foes according to the First Rate formula.
  • Wolf Pack Coaching Situation: Dave Doeren enters his fourth season with an 18-20 mark in Raleigh though the Wolf Pack won 8, and 7 games, respectively, the last two seasons. 
  • Is It A Trap? There’s a clear look-ahead scenario in place with the Cardinal on tap in South Bend one week later. Conversely, after last year’s trip to ACC cellar-dweller Virginia, a similar road trip against a better program in North Carolina State should theoretically capture the team’s full attention.
  • Final Thought – “Traps” aren’t usually pegged by the majority of pundits in the pre-season as this game has been. Instead, if this contest is close as widely anticipated, it’s likely because NC State plays up to the Irish level and Notre Dame’s “true” road malaise continues.

TROUBLE SPOT #5 – TEXAS
Labor Day Sunday, prime time, at Darrell K. Royal Stadium.

  • Game Situation For the Irish: Not only prime time, but a showcase game with a rare Sunday evening kickoff (7:30 ET) on a holiday weekend.
  • Game Situation For the Longhorns: Payback?
  • Texas Talent Level: Tim Prister’s “First Rate” formula placed the Longhorns eighth among Irish foes, significantly behind Miami and ahead of Syracuse.
  • Longhorns Coaching Situation: Charlie Strong enters his third season at the helm – his seat couldn’t be hotter. 
  • Is It A Trap? No such thing when two of the nation’s most storied powers are involved, but after Notre Dame’s utter dominance in this matchup last season, overconfidence is in play. Texas and its rabid fan base will present a major mental hurdle for a young Irish squad.
  • Final Thought – There’s a reason the point spread for this contest favors the Irish by only 4.5 points. It is, without a close second, the toughest opening act of the Kelly Era, and likely the hardest opening game situation for Notre Dame since Charlie Weis’ No. 2-ranked Irish escaped Atlanta with a 14-10 win over Georgia Tech in 2006.

Up Next: The conclusion of our Trouble Spots series with the four toughest game situations on the 2016 slate.

Previously: http://www.scout.com/college/notre-dame/story/1691259-trouble-spots-part-i


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