Kelly continued, explaining he and his staff will carefully evaluate matchups in 2010. Seems obvious, but the approach holds water regarding a coach that's emerged victorious in 23 of his last 26 contests including 12 straight. Intermixed in that span is a 9-game road winning streak, including wins in an underdog role at West Virginia (2008) and at Rutgers (2009) as well as positive results in toss-up road games facing Oregon State, South Florida and Pittsburgh last fall.
A look at last season's four top Cincinnati road wins (Rutgers, OSU, South Florida, Pitt) reveals one blowout (47-15 at Rutgers), two played close to the vest (28-18 in Corvallis and 34-17 in South Florida - a 7-point contest entering the 4th) and one wild affair that the Bearcats secured despite a 21-point deficit (45-44 at Pittsburgh).
Though generally potent at home, Kelly's '09 Bearcats also won decisions over Fresno State (28-20) and West Virginia (24-21) partly with a stout defensive effort. Other home wins saw the Bearcats put up 70 (vs. FCS school SE Missouri State); then 41, 47 and 49 in conference play.
But the 2010 Irish are unlikely to operate at peak efficiency as did Kelly's '09 Cincy squad (66 touchdowns). Adjusting to a new system; overcoming a recent legacy of losing, and most important, lack of depth at quarterback could cause a few breakdowns in Kelly's usually well-oiled offensive machine.
A better comparison might be Kelly's second Cincy squad – the 11-3 unit from 2008 – one that finished 6-0 at home, lost to the only true power it faced (at Oklahoma) and suffered one clunker (a 40-16 loss at Connecticut) along the way.
That team scored 45 touchdowns. It's a number the Irish should attain this fall, which brings us to Prediction No. 10 in our summer series:
Prediction #10: Notre Dame will score between 46 and 51 touchdownsI tried this last season with Weis' loaded offensive squad. My 50 touchdown prediction fell short, due largely to an inept red zone offense and, of course, a painfully average running game. (ND ranked 8th in total yards last season – ahead of Cincinnati – but 32nd in scoring and 41st in red zone efficiency.)
46 to 51 touchdowns would place Kelly's first Irish squad among the top 11 touchdown scorers at the program over the last 25 years.
Why 46-51?Without using too much ammo (several predictions are still to be revealed prior to September 4), I see the season's games broken down into three categories:
Find a Way (Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Boston College, USC): One of these three ranks as my prediction for the season's lowest-scoring contest (link #6 below). The Michigan State contest will be Dayne Crist's first road start – it also happens to be the featured ABC evening contest. The Spartans return a nice collection of skill position talent and a strong group of linebackers led by one of the nation's best. But Notre Dame is the first opponent MSU will face with any semblance of a faint pulse.
Kelly's 2009 troops scored 45 points vs. Pittsburgh in Heinz Field last November. Notre Dame's players had accounted for three points at the outset of the 4th Quarter vs. the Panthers three weeks prior. So you tell me...
Aside from athletic pride and maybe a few puffy post-game envelopes (in order to keep them living in the manner to which they've become accustomed), I have no idea what USC will be playing for in Week 12…but the Trojans have enviable talent on both sides of scrimmage. Each of the four contests above should be determined by execution and emotion rather than raw ability. In other words: see Kelly's quote at the top of the column.
Estimated TD Scored vs. MSU, Pitt, BC and USC: 13-14
End Zone Assaults (Purdue, Stanford, Tulsa, Western Michigan, Navy, Army): I think Notre Dame will bury Purdue, but first-game scenarios are a crapshoot. The Irish offense should be clicking by mid-October and neither Western Michigan nor Tulsa should consistently stymie a Brian Kelly team at home.
Navy has toughness, confidence, execution and a running clock on its side. Notre Dame has racked up 3,134 yards of total offense vs. the Midshipmen over the last seven years – and four of those Irish teams stunk out loud. Points will be scored this season in the New Meadowlands. Army returns a stout defense, but this will be a step up in quality of competition. (The Cadets might have thrown a scare into the Irish had they caught them in Week 1-3.)
By Week Four, both the Cardinal and Irish will be battle-tested (Stanford faces UCLA and Wake Forest) with an established offensive identity. Expect a fair number of points courtesy of Stanford QB Andrew Luck and head coach Jim Harbaugh's physical approach. Kelly's Irish will respond in kind vs. a terrible returning pass defense (ranked 110th of 120 FBS teams last fall).
Estimated TD Scored vs. Purdue, Stanford, WMU, Tulsa, Navy and Army: 25-28
No Pulse (Michigan, Utah): Not the opponents; me. I have no idea how these games will play out. Michigan had a terrible defense last season, but this matchup has stuck with me throughout the summer as one will be closer than it should be.
Utah is a November Senior Day game. Notre Dame + Senior Day = heartbreak. Kelly has stated the one thing that will screw up his offensive attack is heavy wind (not a sloppy field). If you'd like to predict what the weather will be like in South Bend on November 13, I'll be happy to take your money.
Estimated TD Scored vs. Michigan and Utah: 7
Factor in that I'll be completely wrong on one game from each category; throw in a New Year's Eve or early January bowl game and the 2010 Irish will score between 46 and 51 touchdowns, for a final record of…(to be revealed at the conclusion of fall camp).