Schedule Still Has Some Challenges Ahead

The Irish are currently sitting with a 4-1 record and in good position to finish their season strong. Most Irish fans think Notre Dame should walk through the rest of their schedule until they face off with rival USC on November 25. Maybe that stroll won't be as easy as some think.

As excited as most Irish fans seem to be about the rest of this season, some might want to temper their excitement as there are still some stumbling blocks left along the way.

There clearly is no reason the Irish shouldn't easily handle a struggling 0-5 Stanford team, regardless of how much head coach Charlie Weis tries to blow them up at Tuesday's press conference.

The Cardinal rank 119th in rushing defense and are allowing over 37 points per game. Stanford is equally dismal on offense averaging just 12.6 points per game. There is no reason Notre Dame shouldn't blow out Stanford this weekend… matter what anyone says.

But the rest of the Irish schedule does have some roadblocks along the way. UCLA, Air Force and Navy have a combined 9-3 record. All three teams have been playing very well early in the season and should provide the Irish more of a challenge than most think.

UCLA is currently 3-1 with their only loss coming against Washington after gaining an early first-half lead. Still, the Bruins are ranked No. 9 in rushing defense, allowing just 65 yards rushing per game, and they're ranked No. 3 overall in total defense allowing just 221 total yards and under 14 points per game.

The Bruins also run the ball very well—a Notre Dame weakness on defense—averaging 173 yards per game.

The Bruins play underperforming Arizona (2-3) this weekend and should move to 5-1 after Saturday's contest, and then will play a very good Oregon team on the road. If the Bruins somehow find a way to beat the Ducks, Notre Dame will have all they want with the Bruins on Oct. 21.

Navy is another team that could give Notre Dame some fits. The Middies are ranked No. 1 in rushing offense averaging 357 yards per game on the ground. They're also averaging 30 points per game.

Navy also has been playing pretty good defense as well allowing under 19 points per game. At 4-1, the Middies haven't played the best competition, with the combined record of the opposition checking in a 9-12, but their rushing offense should give Notre Dame plenty of fits on October 28 if they can control the ball and keep the ball out of Brady Quinn's hands.

We should know plenty about Navy real soon, however, as the Midshipmen have two very difficult games before playing the Irish in rival Air Force followed by an impressive Rutgers team. If Navy comes out of those two games with two victories, look out.

Air Force should also give the Irish a game when Notre Dame travels to Colorado Springs, Colo. on November 11. Just the weather at that time of the year in Colorado Spring should be enough cause for concern.

Air Force has a very sound rushing attack averaging 290 yards per game and scoring over 28 points per game. The Falcons are also performing well on defense ranked No. 8 in rush defense allowing just 65 yards per game. They're also allowing an average of just 20 points per game.

Many Irish fans will remember the thriller the Falcons lost to Tennessee in Knoxville at the beginning of the season. Air Force lost the game, 31-30, as Air Force went for two instead of opting for overtime in their first game of the season. In that game Air Force hung 281 rushing yards on a very good Volunteer defense, and allowed just 79 rushing yards against Tennessee in that game.

Since that game the Falcons have played just two games winning both rather handily. Air Force does have some challenging games on the slate before taking on the Irish starting with their big game this weekend against Navy. They also play Colorado State, BYU and will also play rival Army the week before Notre Dame comes to town.

At this point we don't have enough evidence to determine how good the Falcons will be on November 11, but the Irish haven't exactly lit the world on fire when playing Air Force including two overtime games in the last three, one of which the Irish lost.

Notre Dame still has some challenges along the way, and if the Irish show up unprepared against any of these three teams, they could find themselves in a dogfight until the end. Top Stories