Army-Notre Dame thoughts

Jared Hassin (7) will be the key to Army's 8th-ranked rushing offense on Saturday. (Danny Wild/USMA)

NEW YORK — The feeling I get heading into Saturday in the Bronx is this game feels more and more unpredictable.

ESPN is actually picking Army by eight points in this game:

Sorry, I am not on the Irish bus despite the win over Utah. The Utes were totally deflated going into that game and imploded. I still have visions of Navy dancing for 367 rushing yards against the Irish in my head. While the Black Knights aren’t as proficient as the Midshipmen in the triple option yet, they are much improved will give them fits. No doubt Notre Dame will make adjustments, but I still think Army will be able to run.

So if you can stomach a back-handed complimentary comparison to Navy, then get excited.

Which Notre Dame team shows up? There’s no excuses for not getting excited for this moment.

Actually, I really don’t know what to expect; Army has hung with some good teams this year and have some momentum coming into this game after dominating Kent and earning a bowl ticket. Army can play loose and relaxed (to a degree, especially in comparison to the pressure the program has carried since 1996).

Notre Dame is the one with a lot to lose, besides the obvious spotlight of Yankee Stadium — a loss to the cadets puts them in a bad spot trying to clinch a bowl at USC next week. It erases any chance at a winning season.

QB Trent Steelman remains the center of Army's offense. (Danny Wild/USMA)

Both teams know that Army will run and run and run. We’ll see how well the Irish have prepared for the triple-option … one would think coach Brian Kelly will have that defense watching tapes of the Navy loss 24/7.

I’m excited to see how Army coach Rich Ellerson approaches a passing attack after sophomore QB Trent Steelman shined last week in Ohio.

Some of the biggest questions:

– can Steelman and Jared Hassin grind up the field and clock consistently?

– can the Army defense stay focused and strong until the end?

– can Notre Dame connect on some big home run plays (no pun intended)? Or rather, can Army finally put a stop to allowing playmakers (Michael Floyd?) to burn them for big plays?

– can Josh McNary & co. penetrate and put some pressure on a young ND quarterback, Tommy Rees, in his second career start?

That’s what’s making this matchup so much fun — Army can and will compete. And, of course, the setting. I’ve been looking forward to this game for a year, ever since I saw the schedule come out. Where else would you rather be? For the Army seniors, this is a game, a day, they will never forget, especially if they can bring a W back to West Point.

There is a tremendous amount of pride and excitement coming from this team now.

Notre Dame will be wearing its green uniforms, and I’m guessing Army will stick with the usual road whites. The Irish have been in town for a while now, holding pep rallies and concerts and luncheons around New York City; Army’s locker room is filled and waiting. They took the field this afternoon, posing for photos with Yankees manager Joe Girardi (who came up to Michie for the final home game). It should be an interesting mix of fans filling the ballpark, many of which who may have watched Navy beat the Irish at the Meadowlands not so long ago.

If you’re coming, arrive early and soak it all in — this should be an amazing atmosphere. I’m covering the game as usual and I’ll try to get some photos up here this weekend; expect photo coverage on mlb.com, yankees.com, pinstripebowl.com and goARMYsports.com

If you’re watching from home, keep your eye out for my photos of some key Army players during NBC’s broadcast, which begins at 7 p.m.

I would love to hear what senior captain Stephen Anderson tells this team in the clubhouse tomorrow night. Anderson was recruited by Notre Dame for a time. Mike Gann’s father played for Notre Dame and I’m sure his parents will be watching with a interesting perspective. This game has a lot of historical ties and potential for both teams.

“Watch us make history,” Anderson wrote on Thursday.

Stephen Anderson and Army would love to celebrate with the Corps on Saturday. (Danny Wild/USMA)

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