Notre Dame (0-0) vs. Navy (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 1st, 9:00 a.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Aviva Stadium (49,883) -- Dublin, Ireland. Television: CBS. Home Record: Notre Dame 0-0, Navy 0-0. Away Record: Notre Dame 0-0, Navy 0-0. Neutral Record: Notre Dame 0-0, Navy 0-0. Conference Record: Notre Dame 0-0, Navy 0-0. Series Record: Notre Dame leads, 72-12-1.
GAME NOTES: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will play the Navy Midshipmen for the 86th consecutive year when the two historic programs meet at Aviva Stadium in the Emerald Island Classic in Dublin, Ireland to kickoff their 2012 seasons.
The Emerald Isle Classic originated in 1988 when Boston College and Army met at Landsdowne Road for the first ever NCAA American football game played in Europe. Pittsburgh defeated Rutgers at the same location the following season in the second edition of the classic. The game was discontinued due to poor attendance until 1996 when the Fighting Irish downed the Midshipmen, 54-27 at Croke Park. Aviva Stadium was built on the same ground that once housed Landsdowne Road and the fourth installment of the Emerald Isle Classic will be the first American football game at the venue.
Brian Kelly begins his third season as Notre Dame's head coach after 8-5 finishes in each of his first two campaigns. Kelly led Central Michigan to a MAC Championship in 2006 before taking over at Cincinnati, where he became one of the most heralded coaches in the country. The Bearcats went to four straight bowl games and two BCS bowls under Kelly's watch before he was lured to South Bend. The Fighting Irish went 15-24 in the three seasons prior to Kelly's arrival under now-Kansas head coach Charlie Weis.
Navy went to eight straight bowl games before 2011's disappointing 5-7 finish. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo has compiled a 32-20 record in four full seasons. The former Hawaii quarterback served as the Midshipmen's offensive coordinator and built an offense that led the nation in rushing in three straight seasons.
Notre Dame holds a sizeable 72-12-1 advantage in its all-time series with Navy. The annual rivalry game between the programs is the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in the country. The Fighting Irish ran past Navy for an easy, 56-14, victory in last season's encounter.
The Fighting Irish will be shorthanded offensively to start 2012, while QB Tommy Rees and RB Cierre Wood serve suspensions. Sophomore Everett Golson will make his first career start at quarterback for the Irish and will be aiming to impress the coaching staff enough to keep his spot.
Senior Theo Riddick fills in for Wood after spending the past two seasons as a wideout. Riddick was originally recruited to play RB and should transition back to his natural position successfully behind an experienced offensive line.
Golson's most proven target in the passing attack is All-American tight end Tyler Eifert. Notre Dame needs its wide receiver trio of T.J. Jones, Robby Toma, and John Goodman to replace the huge void left by all-time leading receiver Michael Floyd's departure.
Defensively, Notre Dame has allowed two offensive touchdowns or less in 12 of its last 17 games. The Fighting Irish have a superstar at inside linebacker in Manti Te'o. He recorded team-highs of 128 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss in 2011 which made him a consensus preseason First-Team All-American. Dan Fox returns to line up at the other ILB position after starting all 13 games last year. The linebacking unit will be thinner than usual while Carlo Calabrese serves a one-game suspension.
The Fighting Irish have an experienced and talented trio up front with DEs Kapron Lewis-Moore and Stephon Tuitt and NT Louis Nix III carrying 43 career starts between them.
KeiVarae Russell will be the first freshman ever at Notre Dame to start at cornerback in the opener. Senior safeties Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta are slated to start in the defensive backfield as well.
Although Notre Dame is trotting out a rookie in its secondary, Navy's triple option offense is not designed to exploit inexperienced cornerbacks. The Midshipmen rarely looked to air it out as they finished second in the FBS behind Army with 312.3 rushing yards per game last season.
Sophomore signal caller Trey Miller saw extended action in 2011 in three games, including Navy's loss to Notre Dame. Miller's speed makes him fit well in the option offense, but he is a capable passer as well.
Senior RB Gee Gee Greene was third on the team last season but is the leading returning rusher. John Howell and Noah Copeland are the Midshipmen's next most experienced returning running backs. Navy lost its most feared offensive players when Kriss Proctor and Alexander Teich's careers ended, but Greene and company should replicate some of their departed peers' success behind the offensive line that returned three starters.
Navy lacked toughness on the defensive side of the ball last season and finished 86th out of 120 FBS teams in total defense. The task of changing the culture lies on the linebacking duo of Brye French and Matt Warrick. French will be tested as he moves from the outside to interior linebacker. Warrick has great speed and plays with consistent intensity.
Senior safety Tra'ves Bush enters the fall as the starting rover. His versatility allows him to move up and play linebacker if needed. Bush has great awareness. Sophomore Chris Ferguson is another player in the Midshipmen's secondary to watch. Ferguson earned the starting free safety spot after starting the final seven games of his rookie year.
Notre Dame has held a clear upperhand during its long running rivalry with Navy. The Fighting Irish might experience a few hiccups until Golson settles in, but they should be able to pull away while Miller struggles with Te'o and company.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Notre Dame 38, Navy 17
08/31 10:29:23 ET