Air Force Non-Conference Preview: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Air Force's third non-conference matchup pits them against 2012 national runner-up, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

The Air Force Falcons close out the month of October against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Falcon Stadium. The game kicks off on Saturday, October 26 at 5 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.

Coach: Brian Kelly (28-11; three seasons)

2012 record: (12-1) (N/A)

2012 season in review: Notre Dame "returned to glory" so to speak in 2012, finishing the regular season a perfect 12-0 and earning a spot in the National Championship Game against Alabama. The Tide rolled over the Irish by a score of 42-14, but following the 12-1 year, it's hard to discount Notre Dame's resurgence under head coach Brian Kelly. The Fighting Irish were seventh in the country in total defense last year. With a big, speedy front seven, ND held opponents to just 12.8 points per game (second in the nation). One of their biggest wins of their offseason was retaining the mastermind of that defense, coordinator Bob Diaco, who had overtures from several prominent programs offering him head coaching positions.

Returning Offensive Starters: 4

Returning Defensive Starters: 8

Key Returning Starters: NG Louis Nix III, DE Stephon Tuitt, WR T.J. Jones

2013 Strengths: It's all defense once again for the Fighting Irish. As mentioned above, Diaco is back as defensive coordinator, plus they only lose three starters from last year's stellar group. Internet girlfriend issues aside, Manti Te'o will be missed at linebacker, though Carlo Calabrese is a very capable replacement on the inside. He'll join three starters from last year -- Prince Shembo, Dan Fox and Danny Spond -- to form one of the country's best linebacker corps. On the line, Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt are two of the very best in all of the FBS at their positions, and will see plenty of praise through the season as a result. Even if Notre Dame suffers an injury or two on defense, there's a stunning amount of depth here, which will help them keep fresh legs on the field at all times.

2013 Weaknesses: The biggest, most glaring weakness for Notre Dame right off the bat is its offense. Without top rushers Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, there was some concern. But now without Everett Golson, who's out for 2013 after experiencing some academic issues, there's a huge gap in the passing game as well. Former stater Tommy Rees will be able to pick up some of the pieces, however, with the team replacing two offensive linemen, its top two rushers, its best receiver and best tight end, there's an awful lot of inexperience lining up for the Irish. With such a strong defense, the offense's concerns often get relegated to the backburner. But for Notre Dame this year, they might end up becoming a major liability.

For more on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, visit SB Nation blog One Foot Down.

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