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Season Predictions: Playoff Push?

Tim Prister, Tim O’Malley and Pete Sampson put their season predictions on the line, going game-by-game through the fall to forecast every score from Notre Dame’s schedule.

While we reserve the right to change these predictions at any time during the coming three months due to reality, here are Irish Illustrated’s game-by-game forecasts for the season from Tim Prister, Tim O’Malley and Pete Sampson. Two predictions call for double-digit wins while five different weekends get tagged as losses spread among our three beat reporters.

Sept. 4 – at Texas

Prister: Brian Kelly’s first true road opener with the Irish is a battle of attrition and then Texas heat. Notre Dame’s winning culture is the difference.
ND 27, Texas 24

O’Malley: Inefficiency is the word of the evening. Notre Dame will move the ball behind both quarterbacks but timely stops and one key turnover keep the Longhorns close. The Irish defense will look better than it is in reality as it’s facing either A.) a true freshman triggerman, or B.) a bad quarterback.
ND 27, Texas 16

Sampson: The closer this game gets the more I’m concerned about Texas pulling the upset. Unlike last year, there are actually matchups that favor the Longhorns. But maybe I’m just trying too hard to be cautious considering Notre Dame’s edges at quarterback and along the offensive line are absolutely massive.
ND 31, Texas 23

Sept. 10 – Nevada

Prister: Scrappy Wolf Pack challenge the Irish with an experienced quarterback and capable rushing attack. But Nevada won’t have enough answers for Notre Dame’s offensive attack.
ND 41, Nevada 17

O’Malley: A 21-0 early second quarter lead turns into a frustrating one-score contest heading into the fourth quarter as Notre Dame’s short practice week extracts a mental and physical toll. But this isn’t a losable game for a team with two dynamic quarterbacks.
ND 34, Nevada 24

Sampson: We’ll spend all week obsessing over Nevada’s edge in preparation (it’s actually two days) only to realize Notre Dame is just a hell of a lot better football program on game day. Brian Polian’s homecoming won’t be the greatest.
ND 48, Nevada 20

Sept. 17 – Michigan State

Prister: Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio has lost three out of four to Brian Kelly at Notre Dame. The scales tip back in the opposite direction.
MSU 26, ND 23

O’Malley: I simply don’t think Notre Dame is going to lose to the Spartans, which means if I stick to my original, mid-summer 3-1 prediction for September, I have to think the unthinkable one week later.
ND 30 MSU 27

Sampson: Michigan State has been the better program the past few seasons, but the Spartans are starting over at quarterback in an Andrew Maxwell type of way. Remember him? Notre Dame dominated him in East Lansing in 2012. The Spartans actually lost more off last year’s roster than the Irish. Not much faith in new quarterback Tyler O’Connor.
ND 23, MSU 16

Sept. 24 – Duke

Prister: David Cutcliffe’s disciplined program has won 27 games the last three years. Minus its starting quarterback, Blue Devils don’t have enough to pull off the upset.
ND 34, Duke 20

O’Malley: Picking a Blue Devils upset here feels impossible. It’s akin to picking Tulsa or South Florida or Navy or Pittsburgh or Northwestern or Louisville to take down the Irish in South Bend. Those oddities either came to fruition or down to the wire. So will this. In a South Bend sleepwalk special... 
Duke 25, ND 24

Sampson: Cue the Admiral Ackbar graphic. It’s a trap! This game jumps off the page as the one Notre Dame could lose that no one saw coming. And Notre Dame feels due for that kind of loss. Yes, Duke already lost its starting quarterback. But how much did that affect Notre Dame last year?
ND 31, Duke 28 OT

Oct. 1 – at Syracuse (East Rutherford, N.J.)

Notre Dame’s defense on the move against first-year head coach Dino Babers’ fast-paced attack. Heads spin even more on Syracuse defense.
ND 48, Syracuse 14

O’Malley: The Orange will pay a steep price for Notre Dame’s shortcomings one week later as the Irish offense operates with impunity behind a single quarterback.
ND 48, Syracuse 23

Sampson: Syracuse is not very good. Impossible to see how Notre Dame doesn’t play well here and crush the Orange. Incoming head coach Dino Babers will be relying on a young quarterback and a roster short on talent. Good luck.
ND 38, Syracuse 13

Oct. 8 ­– at N.C. State

Prister: Remember last year’s road struggle at Virginia? Irish up against talented, deep Wolfpack defensive front as N.C. State generates enough offense (and a defensive touchdown) in upset victory.
N.C. State 28, ND 27

O’Malley: The Wolf Pack defense won’t make it easy, especially up front. This is a prime upset pick if the Irish make it into Raleigh unscathed, but I don’t think that happens. 
ND 26, N.C. State 24

Sampson: Quick, name the last time N.C. State, under fourth-year head coach Dave Doeren, beat a Power 5 team that finished with a  winning record. It’s never happened. He’s 0-18 in three years. Notre Dame should finish with a winning record this year.
ND 33, N.C. State 24

Oct. 15 – Stanford

Prister: It’s another low-scoring affair in Notre Dame Stadium between the Irish and Cardinal. Notre Dame prevails on DeShone Kizer-led game-winning drive.
ND 23, Stanford 16

O’Malley: Three of the last four meetings have come down to either overtime or the final seconds. And the outlier among that quartet came down to Tommy Rees not quite being able to throw the ball far enough to an open Will Fuller for the win. This is a tossup.
Stanford 30, ND 27 OT

Sampson: College football’s best under-the-radar rivalry. This is also one of the few matchups where Notre Dame doesn’t have a clear coaching edge. Another last-gasp kind of game, but this time Stanford pulls it out in Notre Dame Stadium. Not the ideal way to enter a bye week.
Stanford 28, ND 27

Oct. 29 – Miami

Prister: Irish have their hands full with quarterback Brad Kaaya. Ultimately, the Hurricanes’ loss of defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad and linebacker Jermaine Grace proves too much to overcome.
ND 33, Miami 27

O’Malley: I’m not buying the Hurricanes as an upset pick. Look for Notre Dame to play its best game of the season post-bye, just as it did when it rolled The U in 2012. 
ND 38, Miami 20

Sampson: This should be all-you-can-eat for Notre Dame’s offense against a depleted Miami defense. With a bye week at its back and the sting of the Stanford loss as fuel, look for an annihilation of the Hurricanes in their return to South Bend. This could get ugly.
ND 41, Miami 17

Nov. 5 – at Navy (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Prister: Navy’s upset bid ends early as Brian VanGorder’s defense continues its improved play against triple-option football.
ND 51, Navy 20

O’Malley: I’m on the Tago Smith bandwagon, but the Mids simply lost too much to keep up for 60 minutes. The Bob Elliott/Brian VanGorder option defense continues to handle its business until the game is no longer within reach.
ND 45, Navy 24

Sampson: Nyles Morgan gets his first taste of the option since his freshman year when Navy tortured the talented linebacker. It goes much better this time.
ND 41, Navy 26

No. 12 – Army (San Antonio, Texas)

Prister: The Black Knights’ best opportunity is to catch the Irish enjoying second trip of the season to state of Texas. It’s still not enough. Not even close.
ND 45, Army 6

O’Malley: Closer than Navy, but never in doubt. And never all that interesting, either.
ND 30, Army 17

Sampson: Talk about the excitement? Probably a short conversation.
ND 38, Army 12

Nov. 19 – Virginia Tech

Prister: It’s November when the annual injury bug begins biting the Irish. Another DeShone Kizer-led fourth quarter drive offsets late Hokies score.
ND 35, Virginia Tech 31

O’Malley: Separate from any game-by-game picks I have the Irish 8-2 heading into this contest, but write this down: if they have the good fortune to instead be 10-0, it’s a loss … BC ’93 style. Regardless, look for a barnburner on Senior Day in South Bend.
ND 28, Virginia Tech 24

Sampson: Senior Day has developed a bad reputation but results don’t back that up. With the exception of Boston College in 2011, Notre Dame has actually played just fine. (Louisville was just better than Notre Dame in 2014). This game will be close, but it shouldn’t be an example of emotions overwhelming the performance.
ND 27, Virginia Tech 21

Nov. 26 – at USC

Prister: By this stage of the season Trojan quarterback Max Browne no longer an inexperienced quarterback. Irish can’t get the stop they need to win sixth straight. 
USC 38, ND 30

O’Malley: With the exception of truly great champions, a given game’s outcome at the end of the college football season generally depends on what’s at stake…or the lack thereof. With both teams out of the playoff hunt, look for a back-and-forth affair similar to last season’s in South Bend. Get ready for a thriller.
ND 38, USC 37

Sampson: This one is gonna hurt. Notre Dame enters the Coliseum with legit hopes to make the College Football Playoff but falls short. Of course, we get to reverse this prediction if Alabama murders five or more USC players this weekend in the opener, forcing Clay Helton into a depth chart rethink.
USC 35, ND 24

Regular Season Predictions
Tim Prister: 9-3
Tim O’Malley: 10-2
Pete Sampson: 10-2 Top Stories