You might not have heard about it, but Notre Dame will actually play 11 other games after their Week 1 opener against Navy across the pond in Dublin. The Golden Domers will play an extremely tough schedule that could see a very good team put up a slightly less good record.
Last year's Notre Dame team went 8-5 for the second straight year under Brian Kelly. Although that in and of itself might have been a win for a program that had gotten used to sputtering under Charlie Weis and Tyrone Willingham. But Bill Connelly points out that the Fighting Irish could have done better in 2011 were it not for some poor luck in close games decided by turnovers in his Notre Dame football preview:
It was staggering to watch at first, but by the end of the season, you almost came to expect it. Even in wins, they blew opportunities via turnover or missed field goal. The Notre Dame offense was dynamic, balanced and its own worst enemy.
So the question heading into 2012 is, how much can change in eight months? When do self-fulfilling prophecies stop fulfilling themselves?
So although Notre Dame would seem on the verge of improvement based on that alone, a brutal schedule sees the Irish pitted against nine teams Connelly projected to finish No. 45 or higher, including three teams in the top 10 of the preseason poll.
We'll set the success-or-not bar at eight wins, but this is an awkward time for Brian Kelly. He certainly won't get fired for going 8-4 -- not even close -- but the natives will probably begin to get restless. "Yeah, but the stats say we're getting better!" doesn't tend to work when it comes to rallying the fanbase. At some point, you'll need to actually break through. It probably won't be this year.
The Irish boast oodles of talent across the field, but they'll be tested.