With the season now just days away, it’s time to make our season prediction for 2011. Brian Kelly’s second season begins with a renewed sense of hope and excitement in South Bend after a strong end to last season. As always, the expectation level has been raised with many talking about a return to the BCS. But will it happen? The schedule is filled with its usual challenges and pitfalls and Notre Dame’s destiny is in their own hands.
The season opener finds Skip Holtz returning to South Bend where he played and coached under legendary ND head coach and his father, Lou Holtz. Many are predicting a Big East championship for the Bulls this year and that may well be the case. But give the Irish the edge in this one. It should be a close game, but in the end, Notre Dame should win. 1-0
This game will have everyone talking. Two old rivals playing in the first ever night game in Michigan Stadium history. Brady Hoke facing the Fighting Irish for the first time, Brian Kelly bringing his team to the Big House. It’s a game that will warrant a ton of hype, and one I think will live up to it. A lot of people are predicting Michigan to win, but I’m going to say Notre Dame lands their first big victory of the season by squeaking it out late. 2-0
The Spartans always play well against Notre Dame, and when they’re actually a good football team, they are even tougher. I like Notre Dame’s chances though since they’ll be at home. MSU will be tough, but the Irish will grab victory in another nailbiter. 3-0
Todd Graham begins his first season at Pitt after a successful run at Tulsa where he beat Notre Dame last season. This year, though, the Irish will be ready and will beat a Panther team that might be a year or two away from really being a contender. 4-0
Purdue should be better this season simply because they can’t possibly have as many injuries as they suffered through last season. Still, the Boilermakers won’t be a great football team and the Irish should be firing at full strength at this point. I like Notre Dame in this one in relatively easy fashion. 5-0
Notre Dame fans know to never take a service academy for granted nowadays, and Air Force is always a solid team. But that won’t matter this year. Brian Kelly and his team will be ready for the option and run away from the Falcons to stay undefeated. 6-0
Finally the showdown everyone will be waiting for. The Trojans very well could be 6-0 heading into this contest making this game an enormous matchup. USC has not been hurt by their scholarship restrictions yet and will be deep and talented this year. Matt Barkley didn’t play in last year’s ND win and that probably was the difference. He’ll be back this year, though, and the Trojans will break Irish hearts again. 6-1
WIth Navy the dominant team in this rivalry the past four years, you’d figure this one would be one of the tougher games to predict. But I believe Brian Kelly is going to have his team ready to go and make up for last year’s dreadful performance. I guarantee Notre Dame wins this year. 7-1
The easiest game on the schedule to call. Wake Forest may be improved over last season, but will still not be any good. Notre Dame will head down to Winston-Salem and put a hurting on the Demon Deacons. 8-1
Don’t sleep on this game. It’s the next neutral site home game for the Irish, but it’ll be played in Maryland’s backyard at FedEx Field in Landover. The Terrapins will have a great defense and Randy Edsall has already beaten the Irish when he was at UConn. This one could be a very good game. Having said that, Notre Dame will be the better team and their defense will be the difference in this contest. 9-1
Notre Dame continues to reclaim their dominance in this series with their third straight victory over the Eagles. It’ll be a nice way to wrap up the home schedule and set up a showdown to end the season on the road 10-1
This game could be for a BCS spot. Stanford has a tough stretch heading into this game and could be looking ahead to the Pac-12 championship the game the following week with possible national championship implications on the line. Notre Dame will be playing for their lives. This will be a fantastic game that won’t be decided until the fourth quarter, but Andrew Luck will be the best player on the field and he will wrap up his Heisman Trophy on this night by leading the Cardinal to the win. 10-2
So there you have it. Notre Dame will go 10-2 and despite the loss to end the season will get themselves back into the BCS with their 10 wins. It’ll be a good season to be a Fighting Irish fan and one that’ll put them back into the national spotlight.