Standout safety Jamoris Slaughter and the Irish defense collectively will be counted on to produce more interceptions and turnovers in 2012.
10 Years since Notre Dame has experienced an unbeaten September (another current school record on the negative side). It last occurred in 2002 under first-year head coach Tyrone Willingham during an 8-0 start. Notre Dame’s first three opponents this September lost by 42 (Navy), 28 (Purdue) and 18 (Michigan State) points to the Irish last season. The fourth, Michigan, rallied from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter and scored the winning touchdown with two seconds remaining. This is doable.
9 Consecutive top-10 teams to defeat Notre Dame, dating back to a 17-10 Irish victory at No. 3 Michigan on Sept. 10, 2005. That seven-year drought, and counting, broke the four-year mark from Oct. 30, 1937 until Nov. 8, 1941. The most recent setback was 28-14 at Stanford last November.
There could be several opportunities to end the streak this year, most notably road games against Oklahoma (Oct. 20) and USC (Nov. 24), although Michigan State, Michigan or even Stanford also could be in the equation.
8 Interceptions recorded by the 2011 Irish despite a veteran unit that featured fifth-year seniors Harrison Smith (safety) and Gary Gray (cornerback), plus senior cornerback Robert Blanton and senior safety Jamoris Slaughter. Notre Dame ranked 93rd in the country in interceptions and it was the second fewest by the program since World War II. Irish linebackers have produced three interceptions the past two years (two by Darius Fleming and one by Brian Smith).
7 Straight games in 2011 Notre Dame didn’t even attempt to return a punt, from the sixth game versus Air Force on Oct. 8 through the regular season finale at Stanford. The streak ended in the Champs Sports Bowl when senior Michael Floyd’s first career attempt resulted in a 41-yard return. The Irish were last with four return yards during the regular season. Next to finishing 118th in turnover ratio among 120 teams, this was maybe the most disappointing statistical fact in 2011.
6 If Notre Dame fails to finish in the Top 25 this year, it will tie the school record of six straight such seasons from 1981-86. The last time the Irish finished in the AP Top 25 was No. 17 in 2006 with a 10-3 ledger. Old-time Notre Dame followers prefer to focus on national titles or BCS bids … but a most realistic baby step in 2012 is to finish in the Top 25 to begin a climb back to credibility as a program that can consistently produce nine- or double-digit victory campaigns.