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Is Notre Dame Biting Off More Than They Can Chew with Their Upcoming Schedules?

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If you’ve read some of my articles in the past you’ll know that I am a champion of Notre Dame’s continuously strong schedules.

When I hear people say that Notre Dame has a weak schedule, I think it’s one of the more ridiculous remarks in sports.

It’s like hearing someone say, "Oregon doesn’t have enough speed on offense," or "Auburn really needs someone more athletic at quarterback."

It’s just ludicrous.

However, looking at the next couple of year’s worth of schedules I have to ask, is Notre Dame biting off more than they can chew?

Before the 2010 season began a lot of Notre Dame fans were really looking forward to the upcoming schedules (especially 2012) and for good reason. Starting in 2011 they will be more balanced under the 6-5-1 model, the likes of Miami and Oklahoma will be added, and there will be entertaining contests against Navy in Ireland, Maryland at Fed Ex Field and the aforementioned Hurricanes at Solider Field.

But now that Notre Dame has struggled in Brian Kelly’s first season in South Bend and the program is being rebuilt from the ground up, should we take a step back and lament the murderer’s row awaiting this seemingly fragile team?

Just take a look at the Fighting Irish’s next 27 opponents to finish out this year and all the way through 2012 (home games in caps):

UTAH

Army (Yankee Stadium)

Southern California

USF

Michigan

MICHIGAN STATE

Pittsburgh

Purdue

AIR FORCE

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

NAVY

Wake Forest

Maryland (Fed Ex Field)

BOSTON COLLEGE

Stanford

Navy (Dublin, Ireland)

PURDUE

Michigan State

MICHIGAN

Miami (Soldier Field)

STANFORD

BYU

Oklahoma

PITTSBURGH

Boston College

WAKE FOREST

Southern California

21 out of Notre Dame’s next 27 games and 20 out of the next 24 Irish tilts (after 2010) are against BCS opponents.

The non-BCS teams include: Utah, Army, Navy, BYU, and Air Force. Not exactly "let’s get the backups out there in the third quarter" type of opponents.

Is it worrisome to think that if Notre Dame does improve next year and beyond that 8-4 type of seasons will be the best we can hope for?

Should the fans who are cursing the losses to Navy and Tulsa be happy with 4 or 5 losses in each of the following two seasons?

More importantly, will we be able to recognize improvement against such a difficult schedule even if the wins are not necessarily increasing each year?

It’s going to be a tough gauntlet for sure, and one that doesn’t get any easier after the 2012 season. Now that the Irish have a bye week I wanted to take a look at these future schedules.

September 2011

It will be another brutal start to 2011 as the Irish face four BCS opponents in September and five straight BCS teams to start the season.

USF will be a feisty team and most likely the toughest season opening game for the Irish since Georgia Tech in 2007. The Bulls seem to have taken a step back this year, but they are 20-13 over the past two and a half years and will have an experienced and athletic quarterback in B.J. Daniels ready to do some damage inside Notre Dame Stadium.

Week two will feature the much anticipated night game in the Big House against Michigan. Already, 10 months away and this is yet another humungous game between these two teams.

Rich Rodriguez is now 4-16 in Big Ten games, will he even be coach next year? Will Michigan bring in another coach with a similar spread background so as to utilize Denard Robinson and not have another two or three year transition period?

Notre Dame will then come back home and host a Michigan State team that will likely have a very strong offense, but a defense that will be missing a couple key pieces including All-American linebacker Greg Jones.

Wrapping up September, the Irish will travel to Heinz Field to play Pittsburgh with their dynamic running back duo still only juniors. Much like Michigan State, the Panthers will be more dangerous on offense and be losing some talented and experienced defenders.

That’s a pretty tough beginning, but not overwhelming start to the season. Beating a solid USF team to start the year would be an obvious positive, but beating Michigan during that night game could do wonders for this team’s spirits.

October 2011

Notre Dame opens up October with a visit to West Lafayette and in-state rival Purdue. The Boilermakers are graduating their two best players in recent history and their 2011 team may be the worst of this new century.

The rest of October will feature the only true three-game home stand for the Irish in the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

First up is Air Force, a team that is doing pretty well for themselves and will not be an easy game whatsoever. Remember, they roughed up Notre Dame by 17 last time they played in 2007.

After the Falcons, USC visits Notre Dame Stadium. Will the streak still be alive for the Trojans? Will the wheels have fallen off the Lane Kiffin express at this point?

To finish things off, the Irish host Navy in a game that I am sure everyone agrees would be nice to pick up a victory.

Purdue will be in the running as the least scary team on the 2011 schedule, but it won’t be easy to play the pro-style USC attack sandwiched in between two triple option offenses. Notre Dame will have to play Army tough in a couple weeks for fans to gain more confidence that this coaching staff has the smarts to stop the triple option.

November 2011

The schedule becomes much more manageable in November, which will give the Irish a chance to gain some momentum heading into a much tougher 2012.

Notre Dame will travel to Wake Forest to play a rare road game in the South. I can’t imagine the Demon Deacons will be very good, but the Irish will be invading unknown territory when they head to North Carolina.

The residency in the South will continue for another week as Notre Dame will play Maryland at Fed Ex Field, home of the Washington Redskins. The Terps haven’t been that good in recent years, but they are 6-2 this year and could be a very formidable opponent this time next year.

Senior Day will have the Irish host Boston College, a team that will be searching for an offensive identity after Montel Harris graduates at the end of this season. Out of Notre Dame’s rivals, the Eagles will probably be in the running as the weakest team, along with Purdue.

2011 ends with a trip out to Palo Alto and a tilt against Stanford. It will be interesting to see how the Cardinal finish this year out and if Andrew Luck takes the bait from the NFL. If Luck stays this could be a legit top five team.

Now more than ever, Irish fans can’t be taking wins for granted, but if this program is to improve over year two of the Brian Kelly era, it is probably imperative that they sweep Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College before attempting to challenge Stanford.

September 2012

Now we’re starting to get a bit ahead of ourselves, but the fun never stops because 2012 is going to be one wild ride.

The season will start with a hum-dinger of an "away" game in Ireland against Navy. I don’t want to even imagine how big this game would be if the Irish lose to the Middies again in 2011, but it should be a fun showcase regardless.

The rest of November brings us the usual Big Ten opponents in Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan.

It’s too hard to get a read on Purdue and Michigan State this far away, but it will be interesting to see how Notre Dame fares playing Michigan after the Boilermakers and Spartans, instead of before.

If Rodriguez is still Michigan’s coach, I think this is his last year in Ann Arbor as this will be Denard Robinson’s senior season.

Nothing too out of the ordinary with the beginning of this season, other than the Navy game across the Atlantic. Due to the difficulty in the later portion of this schedule, a good start to the season will be very important.

October 2012

The middle portion of this schedule will probably give us a good idea of where Brian Kelly stands as head coach at Notre Dame. This will be his third year on campus, he’ll be playing with a lot of his own recruits, and this will be the toughest stretch of games the Irish have faced in a long time.

The month starts off with a renewing of one of the fiercest rivalries from the 1980’s as the Miami Hurricanes play Notre Dame inside Solider Field in Chicago. Just about every Irish fan is jacked up for this game, but it will be interesting to see what kind of team Miami brings a couple years from now, without Jacory Harris and possibly a new coach.

Notre Dame then returns home and faces Stanford and if the Cardinal still have Andrew Luck and coach Jim Harbaugh at this point, you’d better look out. Stanford has been recruiting really well in the past couple years and they should still be a very good team in 2012.

Newly independent BYU comes to South Bend next and anything could happen in that game. The Cougars are struggling this year, but had reeled off four straight 10+ win seasons before this year. The odds are that BYU is probably going to be good rather than bad a couple years from now.

Closing out October is Notre Dame’s first trip to Norman since 1966 when the No. 1 Fighting Irish beat No. 10 Oklahoma 38-0.

Unless something drastic happens, this will likely be Notre Dame’s toughest game of the new decade since the Sooners are currently riding a 35 game winning streak at home and the Bob Stoops recruiting machine is showing now signs of abating.

It is likely that October 2012 will bring three ranked opponents and possibly a team or two that is in the national title discussion. The hope is that Brian Kelly has the Irish program built up enough to be competitive in these games and right now even a 2-2 record in this month would probably be welcome.

November 2012

The home stretch in 2012 I believe will be a little easier than most people think.

Notre Dame returns home to host Pittsburgh early in the month and I can’t see Dave Wannstedt still coaching the Panthers by then. Their two lightning bug running backs will now seniors and they should have an experienced quarterback ready to roll.

Two winnable games will likely confront Notre Dame with a trip to Boston College followed up by a Senior Day game against Wake Forest. Let us hope that the Irish can pick some wins against teams that are right now middling ACC teams.

Wrapping up the regular season, Notre Dame travels to Los Angeles to play what should be a severely depleted USC team, at this point now feeling the full repercussions of their loss of scholarships. The Trojans will still have some playmakers, but they will likely be dangerously thin at many positions by 2012.

After a brutal October, it will be important for Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish to close out 2012 with a lot of momentum and success. Ideally, if this program is to be truly rebuilt, this season should be a springboard to serious BCS talk in 2013 and beyond.

So what do you think?

Will Notre Dame be able to manage this kind of scheduling that is just around the corner?

Would a combined 14 or 15 wins in 2011 and 2012 be something to worry about? Would it be something to be happy about given the level of the program right now, or will it signal that Brian Kelly won’t be able to build a true winner in South Bend?

As Notre Dame fans, are we prepared to see a 8-4 season in 2012 and realize that as progress or will it be "not good enough" for those lofty Fighting Irish standards?