Far Afield: My wild ND guesses

Author: Jason Kelly '95

Jason Kelly

Apparently some “scientist” has “proven” that predictions, no matter how informed the prognosticators, are no better than wild guesses. So I guess that makes me the equivalent of an expert. Remember that as you read my wild guesses about how the 2011 Notre Dame football season will unfold:

South Florida: Its name notwithstanding, playing a team expected to contend for a major-conference title and coached by the son of a Notre Dame football legend — Skip Holtz ’86 — is not what they mean by scheduling a “directional school.” Alabama plays North Texas and Georgia Southern. Michigan plays Eastern and Western Michigan. Florida State plays Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern. See? Like that. Since it’s too late to ask Middle Tennessee State to break its date with Purdue on Saturday, this will have to do. The game will be close enough to make people imagine Skip Holtz on the other sideline — someday. This day, Notre Dame escapes.

Michigan: Don’t Notre Dame and Michigan always wear throwback uniforms? I suppose the only way adidas could really retrofit the current look was to put those Kuharich-era shamrocks on the helmets — or to take the company logo off the jerseys. They chose the shamrocks. Throwback uniforms to commemorate something that has never happened before — the first night game at Michigan Stadium — also seems a little dissonant, but history will be made that night. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson will make it, knocking Notre Dame into the Stone Age, or at least into last season, when he repeats his uncanny Road Runner impersonation. 1 win, 1 loss.

Michigan State: Quarterback Kirk Cousins has become the embodiment of college football’s better angels — Tebow the Lesser. And Michigan State’s actual clay-feet mortals have caused Notre Dame enough trouble in recent years. Cousins will initiate an apocalyptic wrath against Brian Kelly with a performance that will put him on everybody’s Heisman list the following week. Neither the trophy hype, nor the rage against the coach, will last. 1 win, 2 losses.

Pittsburgh: New coach Todd Graham promises “high-octane” football, which is sort of like a presidential candidate peddling hope. It sounds good on the stump, but as Graham found out at Tulsa, it’s tough to implement. On the first snap of his career there, the ball sailed over the quarterback’s head and the defense returned it 65 yards for a touchdown. He heard a guy in the crowd yell, “high-octane my ass!” The grace period is small. With his exhausted after the previous two weeks, Kelly will turn loose an Irish team that finally appears to have a full tank of premium, speeding past the Panthers. 2 wins, 2 losses.

Purdue: Speaking of Hope, Purdue coach Danny could use some after an injury-ravaged 2010 season. Three wins before Notre Dame visits will inflate that feeling just enough to make the October 1 puncture especially painful. The emergence of young defensive stars to complement an offense gathering momentum will prove the point of all those people sharpening their pitchforks two weeks earlier, who were saying all along that Kelly just needed time and patience for his system to flourish. 3 wins, 2 losses.

Air Force: Those young defensive stars disappear in their first encounter with the dizzying confusion of a well-executed service-academy offense. Their elders show them how to maintain equilibrium while the Irish offense illustrates that size and athleticism remain preferable to discipline and misdirection. 4 wins, 2 losses.

USC: To be certain that the Trojans do not run afoul of any more NCAA rules while on probation, reform-minded athletic director Pat Haden requires players to pay their own way to road games — because subsidized travel is not a perk available to all students. They don’t otherwise play east of the Rocky Mountains, so it’s a successful policy. For this trip, though, too many roadside attractions, like the Knute Rockne memorial in Bazaar, Kansas, waylay the carpools. Since it’s a night game, they arrive in time for the second half, but by then Notre Dame’s lead is too big, and the stadium grass is too long, for USC’s best players to overcome. 5 wins, 2 losses.

Navy: Not again. Right? Next. 6 wins, 2 losses

Wake Forest: What Mrs. Gump will have to do midway through the third quarter when an Irish runaway turns this into must-zzz TV. 7 wins, 2 losses.

Maryland: As “off-site” games go — those home-away-from-home boondoggles — this Washington, D.C., date at least feels geographically correct. Of course, that douses some of the “home” factor for Notre Dame, but that’s mostly a television-money designation, and the steamrolling Irish offense is starting to return to NBC’s gold-helmet standard. 8 wins, 2 losses.

Boston College: A defensive backfield depleted from a disciplinary dismissal and a transfer will be pieced back together by November, but it will still be ripe for Notre Dame to beat Boston College like a Division II team or an Episcopalian school. 9 wins, 2 losses.

Stanford: Those early losses seem like a long time ago as Notre Dame faces Heisman-contending quarterback Andrew Luck with a BCS appearance in the balance. Less than two minutes to play, down two points, inside the 20-yard line, on third down and three, Kelly lives up to his defiant vow of aggressive play after last year’s loss to Tulsa — a pass into the end zone is intercepted and Stanford wins by the same method it has used all season: Luck.

And that’s the most scientifically sophisticated forecast available for Notre Dame’s 9-3 season.

Jason Kelly, a former sports columnist for the South Bend Tribune, is an associate editor of the University of Chicago Magazine. His most recent book is Shelby’s Folly: Jack Dempsey, Doc Kearns, and the Shakedown of a Montana Boomtown. Email him at jasonkelly545@gmail.com.