Notre Dame games to watch in 2012

In case you haven't heard, Notre Dame has just a few big contests this season. Dublin, East Lansing, Chicago, Norman, Boston and Los Angeles will play host to the Irish when they are away from South Bend, with traditional (USC) and non-traditional (Oklahoma) opponents awaiting seemingly every week.

Here's a look at three games that, at least right now, loom as the most important for Notre Dame in 2012.

1. Sept. 1 at Navy in Dublin, Ireland: Last year's 56-14 Notre Dame win makes it easy to forget that the Midshipmen have actually won three of their past five games against the Irish. Aside from that, there are several different elements at play in this one: The venue and time difference, whether both teams will be fatigued a few weeks down the road, and a new starting quarterback, one who very well may be the future of the program.

2. Sept. 22 versus Michigan: The Wolverines have won three straight thrillers against the Irish. Notre Dame is playing a home night game for the second straight year, after a 21-year absence. Last year's night game, against rival USC, did not exactly go as planned. If the Irish want to be taken seriously as they enter their tough October stretch -- and if they want to turn Notre Dame Stadium into more of a home-field advantage -- there would be few better ways than by exacting revenge against Denard Robinson & Co. under the lights to close September. They would also enter their bye week with three or four wins under their belt.

3. Oct. 13 versus Stanford: This one hardly jumps off the page when you look at some of the other programs Notre Dame faces this fall, especially since the Cardinal are no longer led by No. 1 NFL draft pick Andrew Luck. But make no mistake about it, this is a game the Irish need to have. Stanford, in many ways, has become a West Coast version of Notre Dame, and it will be looking to prove it was more than just a one-man show. The Irish can't be caught looking ahead to trips to Oklahoma and USC before taking care of business in their own backyard against a more than capable opponent.