Attempting to handicap this year's Notre Dame football schedule is pretty easy really. There are three main areas this year's teams fall into, like any other given year: Underdog, toss-up, and must win. Here is a look at the opponents that fit the "must win" category.
Washington - Notre Dame will enter the Sep. 24 game with the Huskies as a big favorite. Washington simply lacks firepower across the board. The biggest concern for Washington has to be the offense. Washington was dead last offensively amongst 117 DI teams last season. The Huskies also led the nation in turnovers. Considering Notre Dame whipped Washington last year in South Bend 38-3, the Huskies will obviously be looking for pay back. But that is far from likely. Quick, name a star player for Washington. Heck, most Irish fans probably don't know a player for the Huskies. Notre Dame will roll…
Brigham Young - Last season's opening debacle in Provo (17-20) was an ominous sign of things to come. The game was a prelude to another up-and-down season for the Irish. Things have changed for Notre Dame at the top, but not only is Charlie Weis the new head coach for Notre Dame, but Brigham Young hired its own defensive coordinator, Bronco Mendenhall after firing Gary Crowton this past season. Regardless of the fresh faces at the head coaching positions, Notre Dame is simply far more talented than the Cougars. Notre Dame probably won't win by 25+ points when the Cougars come calling Oct. 22, but a healthy 14 to 21 point victory is probably about right.
Navy - It's Navy. Bottom line, Notre Dame should win easily. Then again, under the direction of head coach Paul Johnson the Midshipmen have been far from a pushover for the Irish in recent years. Many close calls have come about when it should have never been a game for the Irish. Do not look for that trend to continue for Notre Dame under the direction of coach Weis. While Johnson has done wonders for Navy, Notre Dame will start winning the annual contest by three and four touchdowns each year again, starting this year. The only concern might be that the Nov. 12 meeting with Navy falls one week after the Irish host Tennessee, so a let down needs to be avoided.
Syracuse - The Orangemen are yet another team that had an off-season coaching change. The new head coach for Syracuse is Greg Robinson, who served as the co-defensive coordinator at Texas last season. Syracuse is traditionally an option football team, but a switch in philosophies to a pro-style offense is being made. It will be difficult transition until a suitable quarterback to fit the new scheme is found. Also of note is that Syracuse hired Brian Pariani to be its offensive coordinator, and it will be his first attempt at being an offensive coordinator. Jumping right into the Big East and playing a tough schedule will certainly test him. The Nov. 19 contest against the Orange will be senior day for the Irish, and that should only add fuel to the fire for the Notre Dame players, fans and students. This will be at least a two touchdown victory for the Irish.
Stanford - Walt Harris is the new skipper at Stanford. His pro-style offensive philosophy will fit right in with Stanford's offensive mindset. The issue will not be offense for Stanford, but rather defense. Will the Cardinal be able to stop its opponents? Stanford's defense was solid at times last year, but gave up the big play on a regular basis, especially to teams with a pro-style offense such as Oregon, California, Southern California, Arizona State, etc. The Cardinal should have beaten both SC and ASU, but the defense failed in the closing minutes. The same can be said of Stanford's loss to Notre Dame last season. Notre Dame overcame a second half deficit to win. Stanford lacks talent at cornerback, and that will likely be its undoing again this season. The fact that Stanford plays Notre Dame after hosting California (and probably getting hammered) bodes well for the Irish. Can you say, let down? It happened two years ago (57-7 Irish victory) and look for it to happen again this year during the season finale Nov. 26.