Notre Dame had a fine season in Tyrone Willingham's first year as the head man in South Bend. The Irish won ten games while only losing three, including a bowl loss to NC State. Five offensive and eight defensive starters return to the team this fall. Leading QB Carlyle Holiday is one of the offensive players back. In 2002, he threw for almost 1,800 yards and 10 TDs while also running for another 200 yards and 3 TDs. Junior RB Ryan Grant, a 1,000-yard rusher who scored 9 TDs in '02, also returns. Leading WR Arnaz Battle is gone, but the next four receivers from 2002 do make a return to Notre Dame. On defense, the top three tacklers from last year return, including all-America candidate Courtney Watson at LB. The Irish's schedule is again tough in 2003. Road games at Michigan and Purdue will be extremely tough as those two teams are both contenders in the Big Ten. The second week of October brings a trip to Big East favorite Pittsburgh. Florida State repays the Irish's trip to Tallahassee from last season, and the season wraps up with back-to-back road trips to Stanford and Syracuse. The months grow increasingly easier as the season moves along. September should be no worse than 2-2, with 3-1 being exceptional. October needs to be a one- or no-loss month for ND, while the same could be said for November. I expect the Irish to again have a successful season and make a run at a BCS bowl berth but be just on the outside of that.
The Connecticut Huskies were an even-.500 6-6 in 2002. Eight starters from that team last year on each side of the ball. Junior QB Dan Orlovsky threw for nearly 2,500 yards while throwing 19 TDs (though he did toss 11 INTs). RB Terry Caulley is just a sophomore after running for 1,200 yards and 15 TDs as a freshman. Two of the top three WRs also return, as do four members of the OL. On defense, six of the top seven and 10 of the top 12 tacklers return from last year, one of which is all-American candidate SS Chris Meyer. The Huskies have a couple of chances to pull out wins over major conference teams at home when both Indiana and Boston College visit Storrs within the first three weeks of the season. The first two games on the road are also winnable, giving UConn the chance of starting out at least 3-1 and with a little luck, 4-0. Any or all of three games against MAC teams could be won, as well as a game at home against Rutgers. Connecticut could win as many as eight or nine games; there are only 3 games I don't see this team having a shot in (VA Tech, NC State, Wake Forest).
Navy should be slightly improved from last year's 2-10 mark. The Midshipmen return 7 offensive and six defensive starters. Senior Chris Candeto was the team's leading rusher and passer last season and will play QB this fall. Three other top rushers are back, as is leading WR Eric Roberts. Navy's four leading tacklers from '02 all return, and six of the top seven are back. The schedule has at least four winnalbe games as well as a couple on the road that could be victories.
The Troy State Trojans finished 2002 with a 4-8 record and bring back five offensive and four defensive starters this season. Junior QB Hansell Bearden returns this season, as does leading WR Jason Samples. Only two of the top five tacklers from last season's team return for the 2003 campaign. Troy State starters out with the first three games on the road before getting a home game in Troy. The Trojans have only about five winnable games on the schedule this season (at UAB, SE Louisiana, Florida Int'l, at Utah State, UL Monroe), but I feel they'll pull out four of those games for victories in 2003.