There has already been a lot written about this game today, so all that's left is opinion. Here is mine:
The X Factor
I've quietly been following along….reading, watching, listening. With each comment, each written word, each time someone picks the Buckeyes to win this game, I quietly grow more and more confident the Irish will win today.
Why? Because this team loves the underdog role, and nobody can push those buttons like Charlie Weis.
I think back to fall camp and watching an early Irish practice. I remember Charlie Weis setting the tone for this Irish defense way back then. "Hey Rick (Minter), stop practicing. We're going to suck anyway. Didn't you read? (The media) has already said we're not going to be any good anyway." As Charlie likes to admit, he followed that statement with some more colorful language, language not suitable for print, further emphasizing his point.
I remember Weis saying that, and I remember thinking back then that the Irish had hired the right guy.
The Irish are certainly the underdogs in this game, and Weis will certainly get a lot of mileage out of that fact today.
The Keys to Victory
The hype leading into this game has been Notre Dame's offense versus Ohio State's defense, but I think there are three keys for the Irish winning this game, and none of them have to do with this match-up. The Irish will score on Ohio State. I'm very confident of that.
The first key to the game is to keep Troy Smith in the pocket. Smith's versatility is the key factor in taking this Ohio State offense from average to good. The Irish will have to limit Smith's ability to run, and more importantly, make sure he doesn't leave the pocket on third down to covert third downs.
The second key to the game will be special teams—the one area that concerns me the most. In a close game like this, special teams usually can be the difference between winning and losing. The Irish have been below average on kick off return this year, and have had some substandard games in other areas of special teams throughout the season. They'll need a strong showing on special teams to leave Tempe with a victory.
The final key to the game will be turnovers. Neither team turns the ball over much, but surprisingly, Ohio State doesn't force many turnovers (12 on the season) despite their outstanding defense. The Irish will need to win the turnover battle.
If Notre Dame does these three things, they'll win today.
Mike Frank Prediction
The Buckeye fans are convinced they're going to roll Notre Dame—some say by 30 points. All I've heard for a solid month is "who has Notre Dame defeated this year?" Well, who has Ohio State defeated? They lost to the only two quality teams they've played, and the Big 10 hasn't shown they're a strong conference so far in Bowl season (0-3). While I appreciate the fact that Notre Dame hasn't beaten many quality teams this season, neither has Ohio State, and I don't think the Buckeyes will today, either.
Notre Dame: 31 Ohio State: 24