The road back to the BCS title game isn't going to be easy for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in 2013. The program begins the preseason ranked No. 4 in the AP Top 25, but it'll take some serious focus and solid play for Notre Dame to hold that rank.
Half of the team's 12 games next season will be against teams that will demand no less than Notre Dame's finest effort to come away victorious. Here are the six most difficult opponents the Irish will face next season:
- @ Michigan 9/07/13
- Michigan State 9/21/13
- Oklahoma 9/28/13
- USC 10/19/13
- @ Pittsburgh 11/09/13
- @ Stanford 11/30/13
Out of these six, three of the team's opponents are ranked in the preseason AP Top 25, and those are the games we're going to highlight.
Notre Dame @ Michigan (No. 24)
The Wolverines will be a much different squad than the one Notre Dame defeated last year. The Irish barely escaped that contest with a grueling 13-6 victory.
Michigan will feature a more balanced offensive attack with Devin Gardner behind center this year, as the Wolverines will be running more traditional sets than they did with Denard Robinson. This balance will make it more difficult for opposing defenses to key in on the run, which will likely lead to more scoring.
If Notre Dame is to come away with the victory in Ann Arbor, it will need Everett Golson to complete more than six passes to non-running backs, which is what happened a year ago.
TJ Jones will also need to show up and play big for the Irish to win this game.
Oklahoma (15) @ Notre Dame
Notre Dame used big plays to slay the Sooners last year, and it will likely need to do so again this year when the two teams meet up at the end of September.
Now that Landry Jones has departed for the 2013 NFL draft, it's Blake Bell time for the Sooners, and his dual-threat abilities will make life miserable for Notre Dame in this contest. He and Jalen Saunders will be a dangerous duo in 2013, and one that opposing defenses will have trouble stopping.
Oklahoma's big front seven will make for a formidable challenge for the running game of Notre Dame, and Golson will need to make plays with his arm in this contest for the Irish to win.
Notre Dame @ Stanford (7)
Stanford's quarterback situation last year with Josh Nunes led the team to turn to freshman Kevin Hogan in the latter half of the season. When these two teams faced one another, it was Nunes behind center, and he had a horrible game.
Hogan won't fold so easily this year, and by the time Stanford hosts Notre Dame, he'll have an entire sophomore season under his belt.
Notre Dame's defense had better be playing lights out to win.
On the flip side, Stanford's defense is always formidable, and with linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy and defensive end Ben Gardner all returning to the lineup in 2013, this unit will be difficult to score on.
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