Where will Notre Dame be ranked when Georgia Tech hits South Bend for its matchup with the Irish on Sept. 19? What’s likely to be at stake in Death Valley, or when Notre Dame travels to Heinz Field – aka, Trap City, USA – in early November?
I’m glad you asked.
Below is a look at the slate that faces each Notre Dame opponent before they encounter the Irish. Unless otherwise stated, each matchup assumes Notre Dame is undefeated or has but one loss entering the contest (otherwise there are no national stakes involved).
TEXAS SEPT. 5
It’s the season opener for both teams and a win by either will offer a bump in the polls thereafter – potentially massive for the Longhorns; slighter for the favored Irish.
With Texas facing Rice and California following its trip to South Bend, a Notre Dame win over Charlie Strong’s crew won’t be measured by pollsters until the Longhorns encounter back-to-back-to-back outings against Oklahoma State, TCU, and Oklahoma thereafter.
VIRGINIA SEPT. 12
The Cavaliers travel to Westwood for a date with UCLA one week prior to hosting the Irish. As our Tim Prister noted previously this summer, that’s one heckuva 1-2 punch for the Wahoos to encounter off the bat.
Likelihood Virginia will be undefeated: Slim, but if they are, they’ll potentially breech the Top 25 for their matchup with the Irish.
GEORGIA TECH SEPT. 19
The Yellow Jackets host Alcorn State and Tulane before their trip to South Bend. So, uh, welcome to the season, guys…
Likelihood Ga. Tech will be undefeated: Guaranteed, and with gaudy offensive statistics in tow. The winner of this Sept. 19 matchup cements its spot inside the Top 10. Of note, the Irish and Rambling Wreck face a road test at Clemson on back-to-back weekends (Oct. 3, 10).
MASSACHUSETTS SEPT. 26
UMass gets a late start on its season, opening on the 12th rather than September 5th. A trip to Colorado and a home game against future Irish foe Temple precede their first trip to the House that Rockne Built – sans former Irish offensive coordinator Charley Molnar as originally planned.
Likelihood the Minutemen will be undefeated: Slim, though the Buffaloes are nothing to write home about and it’s plausible UMass could sling it all over the field against Temple (the Owls come equipped with an outstanding run defense) to pull off the upset.
Regardless, a win over Massachusetts does little for the Irish end-season resume.
CLEMSON OCT. 3
The Tigers open with Wofford and Appalachian State (Come on, man!) before hosting Louisville. A bye week then precedes Notre Dame’s visit.
Likelihood the Tigers will be undefeated: It comes down to Clemson’s Sept. 17 trip to Petrino-ville, which is no walk in the park on a Thursday night. Should Clemson prevail, a matchup between an undefeated Tigers team vs. an undefeated Irish squad will doubtless garner national game of the week recognition.
A potential march to the college football playoffs begins here for both.
NAVY OCT. 10
The Midshipmen open with FCS foe Colgate followed by a bye week before hosting a solid East Carolina squad. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo then takes his troops to Storrs for a matchup with Bob Diaco’s Connecticut Huskies with a home game against rival Air Force thereafter.
Likelihood the Mid’s will be undefeated: It’s more likely they’ll enter the contest in South Bend at 3-1, but a 4-0 mark is attainable. Undefeated Navy vs. undefeated (and in that case, Top 5) Notre Dame would provide good gridiron theater, but pollsters and the media regularly undervalue the Midshipmen.
Navy likely has to be undefeated for this matchup with the Irish to receive much national publicity.
USC OCT. 17
The Trojans open with a pair of layups in Arkansas State and Idaho but will be tested each week thereafter, hosting Stanford, traveling to Sun Devil Stadium for a matchup with Arizona State, then heading back to Troy to take on Washington – a Thursday night affair nine days prior to their biennial trip to South Bend.
Likelihood the Trojans will be undefeated: Toss-up games with Stanford and Arizona State, plus a grudge match vs. the Huskies makes it unlikely. (A recent thorn in USC’s side, Washington will get its first crack at former head coach Steve Sarkisian.)
The Cardinal/Sun Devils/Huskies trio that precedes USC’s matchup with the Irish is as daunting as Notre Dame’s Georgia Tech/(relative break in UMass)/Clemson/Navy lineup.
Two weary squads could square off in South Bend under the lights. Will one of them be undefeated entering – or exiting?
If both enter undefeated, this annual tussle will rank as the toughest ticket of the 2015 season. Anywhere.
Reality check: Notre Dame and USC haven’t met undefeated since…wow, 1988, when No. 1 (and 10-0) Notre Dame bundled No. 2 (and 10-0) USC, 27-10 in Los Angeles.
TEMPLE OCT. 31
The Owls receive a pair of stiff tests early, hosting Penn State in the opener then traveling to the Queen City to take on Gunner Kiel and Cincinnati.
After relative respite over the ensuing weeks, Temple hosts Central Florida then visits East Carolina (Thursday, Oct. 22) before Notre Dame’s arrival at Lincoln Financial Field.
Temple, like USC and Clemson before them, has extra time to prepare for the Irish.
Likelihood the Owls will be undefeated: Remote. Temple will be an underdog in at least four games prior to hosting the Irish. But it’s plausible a 5-2 Temple team (that’s splitting matchups with PSU, Cincy, UCF, and ECU without suffering an upset along the way) would provide a solid strength of schedule scenario in their matchup with 7-0 or 6-1 Notre Dame – either record and a win at Temple would keep the Irish in the playoff hunt.
PITTSBURGH NOV. 7
The Irish represent Pittsburgh’s ninth matchup of the season on a slate highlighted by Iowa, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina. Notre Dame appears to be the most difficult foe the Panthers will face in 2015.
Likelihood the Panthers will be undefeated: Earlier trips to Iowa City, Blacksburg, and Atlanta make it a tall task. A home game with North Carolina precedes Notre Dame’s visit to the Steel City. (Once again, an Irish foe will have extra time to prepare after the Panthers and Tar Heels do battle on Thursday night.)
If Pittsburgh is 8-0 or 7-1, and Notre Dame is as well, another prime time kickoff between the two will result. (Four of the last five times the teams have played have elicited evening starts: 2003, 2005, 2009, 2013, with only a noon start in 2011 interrupting the streak.)
WAKE FOREST NOV. 14
The Demon Deacons schedule is bottom-heavy with Louisville, Notre Dame, Clemson and Duke all on tap for the final five weeks. Only Florida State is an impossible task prior, but Wake Forest is unlikely to be a quality team and losses are possible/likely against North Carolina State, Syracuse, North Carolina, and Boston College as well.
Likelihood the Demon Deacons will be undefeated: They won’t be. Wake Forest, like UMass in late September, does nothing to aid Notre Dame’s strength of schedule cause or perception in the polls. Then again, if the Irish are undefeated, only a Pittsburgh 2012-type struggle could sully a victory in the eyes of the Selection Committee, and that’s highly unlikely.
BOSTON COLLEGE NOV. 21
The game will be played 22 years and one day after the Eagles first shattered Notre Dame’s championship dreams. The Irish program didn’t adequately recover for the better part of two decades.
Likelihood the Eagles will be undefeated: They won’t be. Consider 7-3 the ceiling with trips to Duke, Clemson, and Louisville and home dates against Florida State, Virginia Tech, and NC State among the 10 contests preceding this Shamrock Series tilt at Fenway Park.
Boston College has two weeks to ready itself for the Irish. If Notre Dame enters this Week 11 contest undefeated, look out.
STANFORD NOV. 28
Non-conference tests at Northwestern and against Central Florida begin the Cardinal campaign with a trip to USC thereafter. Back-to-back home games vs. Arizona and UCLA highlight October while recent rival Oregon comes calling in mid-November. (“Forever rival” California precedes Notre Dame’s trip to the Farm.)
Likelihood Stanford will be undefeated: Slim, because it’s slim for any team other than Ohio State entering Game 12. And if Stanford is undefeated after facing the slat noted above, they’ll likely be No. 1.
The Irish haven’t won at Stanford since Charlie Weis’ 2-9 Irish beat Jim Harbaugh’s 3-8 Cardinal 21-14 on Thanksgiving Saturday 2007.