The new job has gotten in the way of blogging my season preview the way I wanted to, position by position, so instead, I'm going to do a quick game-by-game prediction of the upcoming season today. I have the benefit of having seen some of the teams we'll play today, and that will certainly influence my predictions.
Unlike the birthday post, this is how I actually expect the season to play out.
vs. San Diego State University Aztecs
Prediction: 42-14 Irish
The Aztecs are really bad, and although we may struggle coming out of the gate, we should be ahead comfortably by halftime, and run away with the game in the second half.
Player of the game: Robert Hughes. Because of the caliber of opponent, and the Michigan game coming up next week, I don't expect Weis and Haywood to open up the passing game too much, unless the line struggles with opening holes for the running game. After last year's running game woes, establishing the run must be a #1 priority to rebuild the team's confidence.
vs. University of Michigan Wolverines
Prediction: 21-10 Irish
After watching Michigan struggle against the Utah Utes today, I don't think that the Skunkbears will be as big of a challenge as I thought they might be at the start of the year. They do get another warm up game against Miami (OH) next week, and should regain some confidence coming into our game. This is the game that I expect us to open up the passing game, as Michigan's front four are experienced and will be keying off of our rush-heavy performance against the Aztecs.
Player of the game: Jimmy Clausen. Opening up the playbook and letting our sophomore QB show that he is healthy this year compared to last will be the priority in the game plan this week. Getting off to a fast start will be key, and I expect us to show off our depth at receiver with the occasional 5 receiver set, and 4 receiver sets with big Robert Hughes in the backfield to keep the defense honest.
at Michigan State University Spartans
Prediction: 28-24 MSU
The Michigan State team I saw Saturday night looked capable of moving the ball, but also had it's weaknesses, particularly against the big play. Whether or not we win this game may depend upon whether or not our offense is capable of attacking the MSU secondary effectively. Although I think this game is a MSU win on paper (hence my prediction), we are playing in Lansing. Therefore, I will likely be wrong, as a win should be inevitable - we've had their number in Lansing as much as they've had ours in Notre Dame Stadium of late.
Player of the game: Golden Tate. Cal's offense repeatedly embarassed MSU's defense with big play after big play. Tate has the capability, if he is as developed as a a receiver as Weis claims, to be the go to guy in attacking Michigan State.
vs. Purdue University Boilermakers
Prediction: 35-21 Irish
Purdue will bring an unbalanced pass heavy offense to town, and be the first real test for our secondary. They will be looking to come out to a fast start like they did last year, and put enough distance between us that they can outlast us to the victory. I do expect them to have some success early, but not as much as last year. We'll start by pounding it on the ground, attempting to wear out what should be an inferior defense, opening up the pass game in the second half.
Player of the game: David Bruton. Purdue's offense this year should be a little unhinged, chucking it all over the field. I'm expecting a lot of Cover 1, with Bruton playing center field. The defensive pressure should be very high from our front 7, blitzing nearly every down, forcing Purdue to try some crazy stuff. Bruton will take advantage by getting multiple picks.
vs. Stanford University Cardinal
Prediction: 28-7 Irish
The win over Purdue should provide a little swagger for this team, and I think that the Stanford game will be methodical, and somewhat boring. The Irish will pound the ball some more, eating up yardage and clock. I'd look for a bunch of screens in this game, much like the Coach Weis offense circa 2005. Hopefully, by this point in the season, the true freshman will be more comfortable and our depth will rear it's head. In particular, look for Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph to flex their muscles with some big plays and consistent performance.
Player of the game: David Grimes. I think this will be the kind of game where Grimes shines. He won't be flashy, but I think when you get to the end of the game, you'll look at the stat sheet and find it hard to argue with him as the player of the fame.
at University of North Carolina Tarheels
Prediction: 34-33 UNC
My rose-colored glasses prediction for this game isn't actually that far from what I expect to see in this game. These are two very similar teams, that I think will have similar records at this point in the season. It should be a slugfest, and I think that it will likely be one of the most exciting finishes of the year, although the game itself might be pretty ugly (kinda like UCLA 2006). Unlike the UCLA game, though, I have a gut feeling that the Tarheels will find the last minute heroics on their home turf. I look at UNC as a team like the Mizzou Tigers and Illinois Fightin' Illini were last year - unexpected contenders in the BCS.
Player of the game: Hakeem Nicks, receiver for UNC.
at University of Washington Huskies
Prediction: 45-17 Irish
At this point in the season, Tyrone Willingham is going to be a lame duck coach, if he hasn't already been fired. Quarterback Jake Locker will give our front seven fits, but the Washington defense will be so disenfranchised by this point in the season, that we ought to be able to score at will. Also, with the close loss the week before, and playing against our former coach, we will not be lacking for motivation.
Player of the game: Jimmy Clausen. Clausen will start to show glimpses of his true potential in this game. There is a reason that Coach Weis is so high on this kid, and I think this is the game where things really start to click.
vs. University of Pittsburgh Panthers
Prediction: 24-21 Irish
Even after watching Pitt lose to Bowling Green today, this game gives me some pause. There is enough talent on this Pitt team to be dangerous, and their uncertain situation at coach creates some chaos. Also, every year there is a game that shouldn't be close that is - remember Stanford-USC last year? I'm predicting a win, but it will be closer than the experts think.
Player of the game: Maurice Crum, Jr. A strong defense is the difference, as Crum gets the better of LeSean McCoy in this game, which will be the difference between winning and losing.
at Boston College Eagles
Prediction: 45-3 Irish
Boston College should be strugling at this point of the season, and the Irish should not be lacking motivation against the team that has made their bones playing spoiler. After a scare against an inferior Pitt team, I expect probably the most complete game of the season from the Irish, who are starting more and more to look like a veteran team.
Player of the game: Armando Allen. Although Allen has spent most of his career at this point struggling to find open field, I think this could be a breakout game for him, with multiple big yardage plays to break the game open.
at United States Naval Academy Midshipmen
Prediction: 49-10 Irish
Order will be restored in this rivalry, as the Irish seek to avenge their first loss to the Middies since the 60s. The loss of Paul Johnson to Georgia Tech will make this an easy task, as Navy didn't look that impressive, even against Towson. I am hoping to see Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enheada back behind center when we play them, though. Mostly because it's fun to say.
Player of the game: Pat Kuntz. The Midshipmen's rushing attack will need to be shut down up front, and I think Kuntz wreaks havoc in the backfield this game.
vs. Syracuse University Orange
Prediction: 56-0 Irish
By far the worst team on the schedule, this will be a team without a coach and without direction at this point in the season. The Irish will be looking to roll up a lot of points early, then rest their first team and get some meaningful time for the backups.
Player of the game: Robert Hughes. After running up a decent lead, the Irish will ride Hughes to back-to-back clock eating scores, blowing the game open before sitting the entire first string.
at University of Southern California Trojans
I refuse to predict this game right now. My brain keeps telling me that we're not quite in the position to compete in this game like we did in 2005, but there's this nagging voice somewhere deep inside that tells me that it may be time...
Final Prediction: Either 9-3 or 10-2, with a very good (maybe BCS) bowl game.