Manti Te'o and the Irish are seeking the program's first top-25 finish since 2006.
5 Straight seasons (2007-11) in which Notre Dame has lost a minimum of five games, tying the school record set from 1959-63. A baby step target in 2012 is to avoid a record sixth. Another No. 5 — All-America senior linebacker Manti Te’o — chose the Irish in 2009 to help make a difference in the program’s trajectory. A fourth straight season finishing unranked would likely leave him unfulfilled, at least on the field, similar to how the No. 2-ranked recruiting class from 2008 finished a modest 29-22.
4 Consecutive victories Michigan and Stanford will try to record against Notre Dame, a first for either program since the 20th century. Michigan’s longest winning streak against the Irish since the series’ renewal in 1978 had been two (1985-86, 1994 and 1997, and 2006-07). Stanford had never defeated the Irish two straight from 1988-2008. Perhaps no two games will better define the success or failure of the 2012 campaign than the outcome of these at home for the senior class to avoid a sweep.
3 Years in a row Notre Dame is aiming to post at least eight wins — which, believe it or not, would be a first for the program since 1991-93 (when it won at least 10 games each of those years). Brian Kelly took some heat for stating this fact while speaking to the Notre Dame Club of Chicago, with many interpreting eight wins as the bar for 2012. The crux of his comment was the program needs to first establish a semblance of consistency. The down side is that if Notre Dame finishes with eight victories again this year, it also will have a school record sixth straight season with at least five losses.
2 Running backs who eclipsed 700 yards rushing last year — Cierre Wood (1,102) and Jonas Gray (791) — a first at Notre Dame since 1995. The 160.38 rushing average was the best by an Irish team since the 188.8 figure in 2001, Bob Davie’s final season as head coach. Wood, Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III are all capable of posting productive numbers again from the hybrid running back/slot position. A strong running game will be imperative to take some of the onus off the quarterbacks.
1 ”Year away” the 2012 Irish are deemed to be BCS contenders after being ranked 19th (USA Today), 20th (Athlon), 21st (Phil Steele’s), 24th (ESPN) and 33rd (Lindy’s) this pre-season. Popular opinion holds 2012 to be the “setting the table” season, especially at quarterback, with the fourth and fifth years of Brian Kelly the breakthrough. The years 2012 and 2013 are also the last two chances for Notre Dame to win a BCS bowl game in the 16-year BCS era from 1998-2013. Twenty-nine other schools have done so, while the Irish have not.