Prediction: Notre Dame football will post an 8-4 record

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

Adversity can have a profound impact on a football season at Notre Dame.

History has proven that.

Before the 1993 campaign, the book “Under the Tarnished Dome” was released. Several indictments of coach Lou Holtz were leveled. Rather than fragment the team, it galvanized the unit into a powerhouse that roared through the season.

A late win over No. 1 Florida State elevated the Irish to the top spot — for a week. A narrow loss to Boston College spoiled the dream.

That 1993 team was loaded with high NFL draft choices.

The current Notre Dame team under coach Brian Kelly, which is still reeling from the academic fraud investigation, isn’t as gifted. That 1993 team didn’t lose any starters in the turmoil. The current squad may lose three.

That 1993 team had a “ho-hum” opener against Northwestern, then a defining game against Michigan. The current squad breaks ground against Rice, with Michigan as a pivotal contest in Week 2.

Those 1993 players carried Holtz off the field on their shoulders after the Michigan game. Wonder if …?

No way to gauge the impact of this year’s adversity on the Irish. Even with everyone eligible and the waters relatively smooth, 10-2 was possible for the offense, but a defense loaded with questions will make it 8-4.

It will take a quality effort to keep it there.

Aug. 30, South Bend: Notre Dame 31, Rice 20: Rice is the defending Conference USA champion. The Owls beat Kansas (sorry Charlie), scored 31 points in a loss to Texas A&M, and played in the Liberty Bowl (losing to Mississippi State, 44-7) last season. It might take a while for all those freshmen Notre Dame plans on using – especially on defense – to get over the stage fright.

Sept. 6, South Bend: Notre Dame 44, Michigan 41, OT: Just a hunch. The cohesiveness of Kelly’s program will be tested in this game. There will be tough times, but the bunker mentality might come in handy. It will be a physical game. Expect Irish backup quarterback Malik Zaire to play some quality minutes — and to come through — at a critical time.

Sept. 13, Indianapolis: Notre Dame 27, Purdue 21: A letdown from the thrilling win over Michigan is inevitable. Purdue is always tough. Even last year, when the Boilers struggled at 1-11, the Irish had their hands full in a seven-point decision. Playing at a neutral site (Lucas Oil Stadium) could make it even more difficult.

Sept. 27, East Rutherford, N.J.: Notre Dame 41, Syracuse 13: The good news for the Orange is that quarterback Terrel Hunt is back. The bad news is that the Syracuse pass offense ranked 102nd in the country last year. The Orange yielded 48 or more points four times last year. The closest thing to a quality win was over Minnesota (21-17) in the Texas Bowl.

Oct. 4, South Bend: Stanford 37, Notre Dame 35: And now, the gauntlet begins. The Irish defense has had some time to mature. Nyles Morgan has grown comfortable at inside linebacker. This is the first true power team the Irish will see. Cardinal running back Barry Sanders, Jr., will give the Notre Dame defense fits. It will be close, but Stanford will pull it out late.

Oct. 11, South Bend: Notre Dame 30, North Carolina 26: Someone is bound to dub this the “Academic Fraud Bowl,” since both schools are dealing with that sort of scandal. If there’s such a thing as a “trap” game, this is it. Plenty of bumps and bruises usually follow a game with Stanford. The loss leaves Notre Dame with a sense of urgency and a lot more pressure. Carolina punt returner Ryan Switzer was amazing last year (averaging 20.9 yards a return, with five TDs) and will be a marked man.

Oct. 18, Tallahassee, Fla.: Florida State 41, Notre Dame 28: This is the game the likely absence of cornerback KeiVarae Russell (who is involved in the academic fraud scandal) hurts the most. While Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston was leading Florida State to the national title last year, the Seminoles scored 41 or more points in 12 of their 14 victories. That’s the textbook definition of prolific. This will be an “all hands on deck” game for the Irish defense, but they won’t have enough hands.

Nov. 1, Landover, Md.: Notre Dame 47, Navy 30: The aggressive defense used by coordinator Brian VanGorder will have to be scaled back a bit to a more assignment-driven scheme against the Navy option. Midshipmen quarterback Kennan Reynolds runs the attack to perfection. The Irish running game – behind Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston – will carry the load in this one.

Nov. 8, Tempe, Ariz.: Arizona State 38, Notre Dame 34: The Sun Devils will have played UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington before they take on Notre Dame. They will have had their own murderer’s row. This will be one of those special games in the desert. The Irish battled to pull out a three-point win over Arizona State in Dallas last year. The Sun Devils will be on familiar turf and it could make the difference.

Nov. 15, South Bend: Notre Dame 30, Northwestern 20: The Wildcats will be coming into South Bend after having played Iowa and Michigan. By now, the Irish ground game will have become dominant, and the receivers will have grown up. Keeping quarterback Everett Golson healthy is the key to making everything function efficiently.

Nov. 22, South Bend: Louisville 21, Notre Dame 20: Notre Dame’s potent offense will butt heads with Louisville’s powerful defense, which was No. 1 in the country last year (252 yards a game). Cardinal quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is gone, but Louisville is good enough to pull out a very close win.

Nov. 29, Los Angeles: Notre Dame 17, Southern Cal 13: Steamed for having lost the nail-biter to Louisville, Notre Dame has a purpose for its play against Southern Cal. As has been the rule in recent years, this game will be down-and-dirty – and determined by a late turnover.

BOWL GAME: Russell Athletic, Orlando, Fla.: vs. Texas.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, inside Notre Dame Stadium at Notre Dame South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN via FTP