One Foot Down was gracious enough to answer some questions about the upcoming season and where MSU ranks among Notre Dame's many rivals.
1. The Irish schedule is loaded this season. It's very possible the Irish are better than last season, but finish with a worse record. What are your expectations for Notre Dame this year?
This schedule is rough. I think the Irish are still a year away from being serious BCS contenders and go 8-4 again. Notre Dame plays two national championship contenders in Oklahoma and USC. I think Stanford takes a step back but will still be good enough to beat ND again. Finally, the Irish will probably split their games with the two Michigan schools, as they seem to do every year.
Notre Dame was a good team last year but was plagued by turnovers and subpar quarterback play. If the running game remains strong, the defense continues to improve, and no more fumbles are returned 90+ yards for touchdowns, this could be a pretty good season that sets up an even better 2013.
2. Notre Dame has used three different quarterbacks in the last three years against MSU, all of whom weren't seniors. Is it going to be four in four years?
I hope so. I know Tommy Rees was a sophomore and could get better, but I really don't think I can handle another season of him under center. His numbers were eerily similar to Jimmy Clausen's sophomore year numbers, but Clausen was an all-everything mega-recruit with a cannon for an arm. Rees... well... isn't. He just isn't suited for this offense.
That leaves three quarterbacks fighting for the starting job. Gunner Kiel won't play in 2012 because of his inexperience and lack of chest. So the battle is between Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson. I have a soft spot in my heart for Hendrix because he's an Ohio guy like me, but I think Golson wins the job. He's a more polished passer than Hendrix and he fits the offense like a glove.
3. Notre Dame will have a home night game against Michigan this season after one in Ann Arbor last year. The MSU game will be the second straight night game between these teams at Spartan Stadium. Do you like night games? Do you think they're overdone?
I like night games. There's always a little more excitement around a game when it's at night. The last two night games at Spartan Stadium have been wild (2006 and 2010) so I'm expecting some kind of epic comeback or bizarre trick play when these two teams meet.
I do think they're a little overdone, however. Night games against strong opponents (USC, Michigan, MSU) are fun, but teams tend to play home games against Notre Dame at night. It's a little annoying when Notre Dame plays Purdue or Wake Forest at 8:00 at the same time as the game of the week. I would much rather watch those games at 3:30 and devote my time entirely to the prime time game at night.
4. Is Notre Dame football going to end up in a conference? If so, which conference?
With the new playoff system, it's very unlikely Notre Dame will join a conference any time soon. Notre Dame doesn't need to be a conference champion; if they win enough to impress the selection committee, they're in. This was probably the best possible scenario for Notre Dame, and seeing Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick at the podium representing the conference commissioners only made it sweeter.
The only drawback is that Notre Dame's bowl tie-ins still kinda suck. There's been a lot of rumblings about ND partnering with the Orange Bowl to get an automatic bid in the years the Irish win 9 or 10 games and miss the playoffs. But beyond that, Notre Dame doesn't have many options. To go with the rumors about the Orange Bowl, there's also been talk about Notre Dame joining up with the ACC in all sports except football. The Irish would remain independent but play ~4 ACC teams a year.
In my opinion, this wouldn't be a bad deal. The Irish could still play traditional rivals BC and Pitt, and less traditional rivals like Miami and Florida State while still keeping games with Navy and USC in the schedule.The ACC is also a good fit geographically and culturally. And if it improves Notre Dame's bowl tie-ins, then all the better. Of course, worst comes to worst, Swarbrick's buddy DeLoss Dodds could probably get us into the Big XII.
5. MSU and Notre Dame have a long and storied history. Knute Rockne once nearly became the MSU coach, the Irish helped MSU get into the Big Ten, the Game of the Century and so forth. Where do Notre Dame fans rank the MSU rivalry among their many? Is it more about history and less about hate?
It seems like every team the Irish play is considered a "rival" in some way. Notre Dame has a lot of history with the Spartans as you described, but the game against MSU isn't circled on fans calendars like USC and Michigan. I think most Irish fans enjoy the yearly game with the Spartans, and the fact that they always seem to have Notre Dame's number makes the wins all the sweeter. But I think this game is definitely more about history than hate. Notre Dame fans don't exactly love Michigan State, but they don't get worked into a frothy rage like they do over USC and Michigan.
Thanks again to Jon for taking some time to answer some questions. We'll check back in with him during game week. Until then, make sure you check out One Foot Down for all your Notre Dame info.