Momentum, Fast Start Key for All

In college football, a good start is almost mandatory and that is the case for Notre Dame in 2008. Some early wins will go a long way in strengthening the confidence and psyche of a young team, especially one that went through what the Irish went through last season. But as crucial as it is for Notre Dame to start fast, it will be just as important to their opponents.

Not only do wins provide a team with confidence and momentum; they can also create incentives in the form potential bowl berths.

Some of the teams on Notre Dame's schedule will be playing for their coaches' jobs, while another already knows this will be its coach's final season. For some of the squads, like Notre Dame, terrible 2007 seasons provide enough motivation and at least one has legitimate national title aspirations.

Depending on which teams, and how many, come into their game with the Irish on a high note, momentum could play a huge role in how Notre Dame's season ends up. This is a look at the schedules of Notre Dame's opponents leading up to their date with the Irish.

SAN DIEGO STATE
The Aztecs will have one game under their belts by the time they come to South Bend on Sept. 6. San Diego State will open with Cal-Poly of the Football Championship Subdivision (I-AA) on Aug. 30. If the Aztecs have any advantage over the Irish heading into their matchup, it would be this presumably tune up game.
Probable record heading into ND game: 1-0

MICHIGAN
Rich Rodriguez will have two games to get his offense ready for the Irish. The Wolverines open with home dates against Utah on Aug. 30 and Miami (OH) on Sept. 6. While game experience will be invaluable to the installation of the spread, neither game is by any means a "gimme" and Rodriguez may have to tip his hand more than he would like to before facing the Irish. There is a good chance that at least one of the opponents will force Rodriguez to do everything he can to win, but even then it's more likely that Rodriguez will save at least some packages for the Notre Dame game.
Probable record heading into ND game: 2-0

MICHIGAN STATE
The Spartans will play at California then host Eastern Michigan and Florida Atlantic before the Irish come into town. The game at Cal will be a very difficult one for Michigan State. If the Spartans can win at Berkeley, they could be on their way to a strong season in Mark Dantonio's second year in East Lansing. Whether or not they win at Cal, the Spartans figure to take care of Eastern Michigan in their home opener, but the game against the Owls could be tough. If Michigan State splits its first two games of the year, the contest with Florida Atlantic could determine whether the Spartans come into the Notre Dame matchup discouraged or up. If they can somehow sweep all three games before the Irish, the Spartans will be playing for all sorts of lofty goals and could be even more dangerous.
Probable record heading into ND game: 2-1, possibly 3-0

PURDUE
The Boilermakers open with three straight home games before heading to South Bend. Purdue hosts FCS Northern Colorado before entertaining Oregon and Central Michigan. Both matchups will be tough, especially the one against the Ducks, but neither is unwinnable. With a gunslinger like Curtis Painter, the Boilermakers won't be out of any games early and figure to be able to keep up with most teams. Like with Michigan State, if Purdue can come out of that stretch without a loss, the emotions of Joe Tiller's final season will be on full display against the Irish.
Probable record heading into ND game: 2-1, maybe 3-0

STANFORD
Jim Harbaugh's second year in Palo Alto will begin with a tough stretch that could discourage the Cardinal if it gets away from them. Stanford opens with a home date against Oregon State before traveling to Arizona State and Texas Christian. The Cardinal returns home to face San Jose State and are back on the road at Washington before heading to South Bend. Harbaugh has shown the ability to convince his team that anything is possible, but they figure to be heavy underdogs against the Sun Devils and the Huskies. Stanford should beat San Jose State. The matchups with the Beavers and the Horned Frogs could go either way with the Cardinal likely to be slight underdogs in both. After last year's upsets of USC and Cal, Stanford cannot be counted out of any game, but it's safe to assume that the Cardinal will not be starting too fast with this schedule.
Probable record heading into ND game: 1-4, maybe 2-3

NORTH CAROLINA
Like the Irish, the Tar Heels are eager to get 2008 underway for no other reason than to forget about 2007. North Carolina has plenty of young talent, but after hosting FCS McNeese State in the opener, the schedule gets tough quick. A quick glance at the Heels' 2008 football schedule and it looks like the meat of a late 1990's Big East basketball schedule The Tar Heels travel to Rutgers for week two before taking on Virginia Tech, Miami and Connecticut in successive weeks leading up to Notre Dame's arrival. North Carolina needs a successful start as much as any other team on Notre Dame's schedule. If the Tar Heels can get through that stretch without losing faith in themselves they will be a tough team, but if they gain a ton of confidence in those five games the game will be one of the Irish's more difficult ones all year.
Probable record heading into ND game: 4-1, plus/minus 1

WASHINGTON
If the Huskies get off to a tough start Notre Dame fans may start rooting for them just to make sure that Tyrone Willingham is still the head coach come Oct. 25. While a change in leadership during the season is unlikely, the early schedule is cruel. Washington will be an underdog in the season-opener at Oregon before coming home for a matchup with a BYU squad that some people believe could crash the BCS this year. In week three, the Huskies welcome a national title contender in Oklahoma. Washington's best chance for a win before Notre Dame comes after a bye week when the Huskies host Stanford. The game against the Cardinal is followed by a tough trip to the desert to face Arizona before coming home to play Oregon State. This is the kind of early season slate that can kill a team's confidence right away, but if Washington can keep some of the tougher games close and maybe even steal one, the Huskies could be playing for Willingham's job.
Probable record heading into ND game: 2-4, plus/minus 1

PITTSBURGH
The Panthers may be the most underrated team that Notre Dame will play this year and they have the type of schedule that can be the springboard to a very successful season. Pitt opens with seemingly easy wins against Bowling Green and Buffalo. After another home game against Iowa, the Panthers face Syracuse, South Florida, Navy and Rutgers. The games against South Florida, Rutgers and, to a lesser extent, Iowa are challenging, but the others look like probable W's. If the Panthers can go 2-1 or better against the Bulls, Scarlet Knights and Hawkeyes, they will be playing the rest of the season with an outside shot at a BCS bowl.
Probable record heading into ND game: 5-2, plus/minus 1

BOSTON COLLEGE
The Eagles' early schedule should help as they mix in new talent at key positions. If the season-opening trip to Kent State does not result in a win then BC has some major problems. Home dates with Georgia Tech and Central Florida are not sure things, but the following week's matchup against FCS Rhode Island is. It gets difficult after that though, with games against North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Clemson. Even if the Eagles start 4-0, it's not inconceivable to think that they could come into their game with the Irish on a three-game losing streak. It will be important for BC to get off to a quick start and then to sustain that.
Probable record heading into ND game: 5-3, possibly 6-2

NAVY
First-year head coach Ken Niumatalolo won't exactly be taking on the giants of college football in the early portion of the season, but at the Naval Academy no game is taken for granted. The Midshipmen should be able to win at least two of the first three against Towson, Ball State and Duke, but it gets tougher after that with Rutgers and Wake Forest. Then Navy gets a matchup with fellow service academy Air Force before taking on Pitt. But the Midshipmen could be on a winning streak heading into Notre Dame after playing SMU and Temple. Navy's schedule is mixed up pretty good with easy games and tough ones sprinkled in randomly, but if the Midshipmen can take those last two games before the Irish they should be feeling good.
Probable record heading into ND game: 4-5, plus/minus 1

SYRACUSE
The Orange have some seemingly sure-wins on the schedule...well two to be exact, and those could be the only two W's on the whole slate. Aside from a week two matchup with Akron and a contest with FCS Northeastern in week four, Syracuse should be heavy underdogs in every other game. Syracuse starts with Northwestern before the game with Akron. Before Northeastern, the Orange take on Penn State and after Northeastern will face Pittsburgh, West Virginia, South Florida, Louisville, Rutgers and UConn. It's difficult to see Syracuse building any momentum during the season without a couple of big upsets.
Probable record heading into ND game: 2-8, maybe 3-7

SOUTHERN CAL
The Trojans open at Virginia before the most anticipated college football game of September versus Ohio State. After the Buckeyes, USC faces Oregon State, Oregon, Arizona State, Washington State, Arizona, Washington, California and Stanford. The Oregon and Arizona State games will be tough, but if USC beats the Buckeyes, the Trojans will be favored in every game the rest of the way. If USC comes into the game against the Irish in late November with an undefeated record, their objective will be clear: beat rivals Notre Dame and UCLA and play for the national title. Even if USC drops the game to Ohio State, by November the Trojans could be working their way back into the national championship hunt and that type of motivation is like nothing else. But so is the rivalry between the Trojans and the Irish and no matter what type of season Notre Dame has, there would be a definite satisfaction in ruining USC's chances at another national title.
Probable record heading into ND game: 9-1, plus/minus 1


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