Regardless, the Irish do have a chance to shut people up. They do have a chance to win a game. They do have a chance to stand up and say "I'm not going to take this anymore." Will they?
On paper, the Air Force defense looks pretty good, but I'm somewhat suspect. They are ranked No. 19 in scoring defense, allowing just 18.5 points per game, but they haven't played many teams that score points. Navy is the team they've played that scores the most, 36, but the rest of the teams average 24, 24, 30, 26, 19, 22, 21, 26 and 17 points per game. Also, many of these teams play in the WAC or other weaker conferences.
Their pass defense is also pretty solid. They have 14 interceptions on the season, so they can make plays on the ball, and they have caused seven fumbles. They're ranked No. 27 in pass efficiency defense, and have allowed just nine touchdowns passes all season.
The Falcons seem to get it down mostly with their linebackers, with three out of their top four tacklers being linebackers, and they're much bigger than the Navy linebackers, with three starters 235 pounds or heavier. Their defensive line is also larger than the Midshipmen, going 270, 265 and 255 across the front. The Irish offensive line will have to do a better job of getting a push this week to build on their season-high 235 rushing yards last week.
I don't really see a glaring weakness on this Falcon defense. They play both the run and pass about equally well. Still, Notre Dame out-weighs them a great deal, and should be able to run on this team. If they can run early, that should open things up in the play-action passing game. I expect to see a mixture of both run and pass this week, and I think Notre Dame's best chance to win is to spread out this Air Force defense, and to make them defend the entire field. I don't think Air Force's athletes can run with the Irish athletes, so spreading them out and making them defend the entire field would likely be the best method of attack.
Air Force adds an extra dimension to their offense that Navy didn't possess….some downfield passing.
Wide receiver Chad Hall is getting it down both running the football and catching the football…to the tune of 196 all purpose yards per game. He is their playmaker, and he has done some serious damage this year including 13 touchdowns, and 7.0 yards per carry. The Irish have to stop him to have a chance to win, and the Irish had a real problem with the outside rush all last week. That needs to be fixed this week.
Quarterback Shaun Carney is a pretty good passer when he does throw. He's completing 62 percent of his passes with six touchdowns on the season. The senior quarterback is averaging 10 yards per completion and has thrown just four interceptions in 163 attempts.
The Falcons don't have as many weapons as Navy does, and they don't run the ball quite as effectively, but they are dangerous. Notre Dame has to hope they can contain Hall or it could be a long day for the Irish.
Air Force is pretty solid on special teams as well. They're ranked anywhere from the 30s to the 60s in most categories, but are ranked No. 8 in kickoff return defense, allowing just 18.4 yards per return.
The Falcons are also +.60 in turnover margin, the Irish are just .11, but have played by far the better defenses on the season.
The real question mark in this game is the "X" factor. Which team is going to have it? Like Air Force, this will once again come down to who wants the game more. Air Force enters the game with a 7-3 record and has plenty to play for. Notre Dame only has pride to play for at this point. That is what scares me most about this game. If Notre Dame comes ready to play and gives it their all on Saturday they should win the game. They simply have the better players. If they don't come to play, it could get ugly.
Mike Frank Prediction: I'm just not sure this team cares enough to win this game. I'm really on the fence with this one after the way ND ended the Navy game. I really could see this game going either way.
Notre Dame: 28 Air Force: 24