2012 Notre Dame Fighting Irish College Football Expert Predictions, Picks, Vegas Odds and Schedule – Notre Dame College Football Preview: It is one of the most-storied college football programs of all time, but there is no question that Notre Dame has fallen on tough times. The Fighting Irish haven’t won a national title since the 1988-89 season, and their last win in what is considered a BCS bowl these days was a Sugar Bowl victory in the 1991-92 season. Notre Dame has been blown out in its few major bowl appearances since, and the Fighting Irish haven’t earned a BCS bowl berth since the 2006-07 season. Head coach Brian Kelly was supposed to be the answer. After leading a Cincinnati program that had next to no football tradition to multiple BCS bowls and an undefeated regular season, popular opinion was that Kelly would have no problem restoring a proud program like Notre Dame to its former glory. However, he has managed an unimpressive 16-10 record in his two seasons in South Bend, and there are still plenty of questions left to be answered as the Fighting Irish enter the third year of the Kelly era.

In his previous stops, the key to Kelly’s success was his high-powered spread offense. The system has worked to a degree at Notre Dame, but while the Fighting Irish offense has been able to move the ball up and down the field against almost any defense, turnovers and penalties have kept a ton of points off the board. Last season in particular, Notre Dame was plagued by turnovers inside the red zone. In fact, the Fighting Irish had 19 turnovers in their five losses alone. It doesn’t what offensive system is in place. If the Fighting Irish can’t find a way to stop shooting themselves in the foot, they are going to continue to underperform on offense.

The first step to correcting the issue comes with finding a true leader at the quarterback spot. Tommy Rees was set to return as starter, but after being arrested in the offseason, it is unclear of what exactly his role will be and what punishment will be handed down. Notre Dame did land the top QB prospect in the country when Gunner Kiel defected from Indiana and then did the same to LSU. However, Kelly is only going to start a true freshman if the season is already lost. In all likelihood, Andrew Hendrix will start the season under center. He saw some playing time last year, and he has a big arm to make throws down the field and a big body to make plays outside of the pocket. Accuracy and decision making were a problem last year, and unless he improves, the Fighting Irish could end up in yet another QB by committee scenario. In short, finding a leader for Kelly’s offense is going to be easier said than done.

On the plus side, the offensive line returns largely intact, and running back Cierre Wood is coming off a strong season. While Kelly’s offense relies heavily on the passing game, Wood still managed to top 1,100 yards last year. With the QB situation still up in the air, Wood and the run game will likely be leaned on even more in 2012-13. In fact, Wood could end up being the savior for the Fighting Irish by taking pressure off of whoever ends up starting under center. Not to mention that Kelly will certainly find a way to get the most of his most reliable offensive weapon.

Ironically, the offensive guru Kelly has actually made the defense the strength of this team. Plenty of key players are back from a unit that allowed just 20.9 points per game last season. The standout of the bunch is middle linebacker Manti Te’o. The senior has always been a hard-hitting force in the middle of the Fighting Irish defense, but he has expanded his game every year. Last season, he recorded a career high in sacks and continues to make more and more plays behind the line of scrimmage. With two productive starters back on the defensive line, Te’o should have another monster season as the leader of the defense that will be stout against the run. The secondary should also improve thanks to a recruiting class that featured a top-five cornerback and a top-five safety. The added depth should help solidify this defense’s weakest area, and Notre Dame should once again hold most of its opponents to manageable point totals.

Other than the quarterback carrousel, Notre Dame’s other issue is the schedule. Granted, remaining independent benefits the program monetarily, but not having a conference affiliation results in brutal schedules. This year’s slate of games is no exception. The Fighting Irish go on the road to play Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC, and they have home games against Michigan, Miami and Stanford. Four of those teams alone are potential national title contenders. Outside of teams in SEC, there isn’t anyone facing a tougher schedule than Notre Dame.

Add it all up, and Kelly and company are going to be hard pressed to improve on last year’s results. A great team would have trouble navigating Notre Dame’s schedule, and without a reliable QB, the Fighting Irish are going to have trouble staying afloat. Kelly has put together a strong defense and has amassed a lot of talented pieces on the offensive end. Unfortunately, the Fighting Irish are still missing one crucial piece to the puzzle, and even in Kelly’s pass-friendly system, he needs a QB that can make the right decisions. Another bumpy year appears to be on tap in South Bend.

Prediction: 7-5

Preseason 2012 Notre Dame Fighting Irish NCAA Football Odds:
Odds to Win 2012 BCS Championship: +2500
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2012 Notre Dame Fighting Irish College Football Schedule
Sat, Sep 1 Navy 9:00 am —
Sat, Sep 8 Purdue 3:30 pm —
Sat, Sep 15 at (11) Michigan State 8:00 pm —
Sat, Sep 22 (12) Michigan 7:30 pm —
Sat, Oct 6 Miami (FL) 7:30 pm —
Sat, Oct 13 (7) Stanford 3:30 pm —
Sat, Oct 20 Brigham Young 3:30 pm —
Sat, Oct 27 at (16) Oklahoma TBA —
Sat, Nov 3 Pittsburgh 3:30 pm —
Sat, Nov 10 at Boston College TBA —
Sat, Nov 17 Wake Forest 3:30 pm —
Sat, Nov 24 at (6) USC TBA —

Check out NSAwins.com’s official 2012 SEC Football Predictions and Odds article.

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