The start of the 2013 college football season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about preseason predictions and some of the top games to watch in each conference — and since Notre Dame isn't in a conference, the Fighting Irish stand alone.
So, too, does the difficulty of their schedule.
Brian Kelly led the Irish to the BCS National Championship game in 2012 well ahead of schedule. And while no team might have been capable of beating Alabama in that game last year, the Irish were plenty deserving of being in the game. Notre Dame plays one of, if not the, most difficult schedules each and every season. The 2013 slate is no different as major powerhouses like Michigan, Stanford, USC and Oklahoma dot the calendar. Toss in teams like Arizona State, Michigan State, Pitt and BYU and the Irish are looking at playing upwards of nine or 10 teams that played in bowl games last season.
If Notre Dame runs the table in the '13 regular season, it will be completely worthy of playing in the title game once again.
Notre Dame 2013 Schedule
Aug. 31 Temple
Sept. 7 at Michigan
Sept. 14 at Purdue
Sept. 21 Michigan State
Sept. 28 Oklahoma
Oct. 5 Arizona State (Arlington)
Oct. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 19 USC
Oct. 26 at Air Force
Nov. 2 Navy
Nov. 9 at Pitt
Nov. 16 Bye Week
Nov. 23 BYU
Nov. 30 at Stanford
* Breaking in the new lineup against Temple at home is one of the easiest ways the Irish could have possibly opened their season. The Owls won't press the new starters on defense too much as they lack the playmakers to challenge the Irish. This is a perfect way to start the year for Kelly's bunch.
* The warm up in the opener will be just that for a huge Week 2 test on the road against rival Michigan. Devin Gardner is now under center for Michigan and Brady Hoke's offense will now be much more traditional — and more difficult to stop. The new defensive starters need to grow up quickly in order to be prepared for the trip to Ann Arbor — a place where the Irish haven't won since 2005.
* Fans in the Midwest who love the regional rivalries with the Big Ten should be sure to sit back and enjoy another three-game, early-season schedule with the Big Ten. Soon, the Irish will be playing five ACC games each season, meaning the Big Ten rivalries are the ones that will fall by the wayside. So relish the back-to-back-to-back games with Michigan, Purdue and Michigan State.
* Following the Big Ten portion of the schedule, the Irish welcome Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma to town before heading to Dallas to take on Arizona State in Cowboys Stadium. The Sooners are rebuilding at quarterback and on defense, so this should be a brutal but winnable test for the Irish. The Sun Devils, with an elite offense, might actually be the tougher test for the Golden Domers.
* The bye week is nicely situated to allow for Kelly's team to take a deep breath following a tough first six weeks to the season and before a visit from USC. Although you can pretty much throw out the records when these two historic teams get together, giving Kelly two weeks to prepare affords the Irish a major advantage.
* The triple option portion of the schedule comes at a good time. The defense might have been susceptible to the option early in the season but the depth chart should be stabilized by the time Air Force and Navy show up in '13.
* The second bye week is placed perfectly between a road trip to new ACC team Pitt and a tricky final two weeks of the season. Getting an extra week to prepare for BYU and Stanford is huge for Notre Dame as those two teams could be two of the top five teams it will face in 2013. Finishing the year at Stanford is great for the fans but could be dangerous if ND is back in the national title picture.
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