2012 has been a magical season for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, as they have become relevant once again in college football. A BCS bowl berth is well within their grasp.

While you’ll never want to guarantee a win, the Irish know they cannot afford a misstep against the Pittsburgh Panthers this weekend. But on most Saturdays, you can expect the unexpected to happen on the gridiron.

Here are three bold predictions for Pittsburgh vs. Notre Dame:

Notre Dame’s Defense Will Contain the Panthers Passing Attack

The one blemish to Notre Dame’s dominant 30-13 win over Oklahoma last weekend was their pass defense…or lack of. The Irish gave up 364 yards through the air and they cannot have the Panthers top two pass-catching threats (Devin Street and Mike Shanahan) roam all over the field on Saturday.

Notre Dame’s secondary must contain them at the line of scrimmage to help gain time for the defensive line to put pressure on Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri. The Irish have done a great job of keeping their opponents out of the end zone this season. They rely heavily on creating turnovers and stopping their opponents for negative yardage, as this scheme helps gain good field position for Notre Dame’s offense.

The Irish Running Duo Will Shine Again

Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick have been outstanding all season; both have combined to rush (Riddick-525 yards and Wood-467 yards) for just under 1000 yards this year. The Panthers defense has grossly under-achieved in 2012, but they can hang their hat on stopping the run. Unfortunately, they haven’t faced a rushing attack like Notre Dame’s all season, and both backs could have big days running the football if their offensive line can open holes early and often against Pitt.

Notre Dame’s Offensive Line Will Dominant the Line Of Scrimmage

The Irish offensive line will have a tough assignment this Saturday, as the Panthers front seven is very physical and if allowed can create havoc in the backfield. Often, this defensive scheme has been a historical mismatch for Notre Dame.

As a unit, they must establish control of the line of scrimmage from the opening possession until the final whistle of the game. Their main objectives should be keeping Irish quarterback Everett Golson upright all afternoon and open gaping holes for Notre Dame’s talented running duo.

The outcome of this game could help determine if the Irish are truly a candidate for the BCS championship game.