It was announced this week that Notre Dame and Navy's annual showdown will be played at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, the first time the game's ever been played there and the first time since 2000 it will be in Florida.
More importantly for our purposes, it locked in the only remaining question mark on Notre Dame's 2016 football schedule. It's a perfect opportunity to take a quick peek ahead at what awaits the Irish next fall. Who cares if everything I say here is probably going to be rendered invalid by the end of September? It's July and you're on a Notre Dame site, so clearly you don't have greater priorities.
Off we go!
9/3: @ Texas
First of all, God bless the playoff and the paradigm-shifting scheduling it spawned. Ordinarily, a matchup like Notre Dame @ Texas would be far and away the best on the first Saturday in September. It still might be in this case, pending what happens this upcoming fall. But among the other matchups scheduled for that date are: Clemson @ Auburn, Alabama vs. USC at AT&T Stadium, LSU vs. Wisconsin at Lambeau, UCLA @ Texas A&M, and Georgia vs. North Carolina in Atlanta. That is glorious college football goodness.
Texas could very well be a fearsome opponent by the time this matchup rolls around. Coach Charlie Strong is recruiting well, as he did at Louisville, and his sterling record of player development suggests if he does as well at UT as he did before molding his guys, he's going to have the makings of a juggernaut by next September. The question for them is who will play QB, but I'm guessing by the end of this year we'll know who that is. This will be a dynamite matchup, and a huge test for what will probably be a pretty young ND team.
Also, this will be the first matchup between these teams in Austin since 1996, a thriller that ended quite well for the Irish. Let's relive it.
9/10: vs Nevada
This should be a nice palate-cleanser if things don't go well for the Irish in Austin, or an excellent breather to bask in an awesome win if they do. We had so much fun with Nevada the last time, why not do it again? Depending on how well this fall goes for Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers, you can expect somewhere between 60 and 6,000 references to how shocking it is that the 2009 Notre Dame defense pitched a shutout against Kaepernick. By the way, that game will have taken place seven years prior at kickoff of this one. You're old!!
9/17: vs Michigan State
It's going to be great to have the Spartans back on the schedule in 2016 as the first half of a quick home-and-home. It's funny how much more we Irish fans look forward to this matchup now that MSU is playing well against other teams most of the time and not just saving their best bullets for ND, as it seemed like they did for so many years in the early to mid 2000s.
MSU will be replacing Connor Cook at QB in 2016, but as long as Mark Dantonio is still coaching, and presuming they didn't completely whiff when they hired former Texas A&M DC Mark Snyder to replace Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi, we can assume this will be another hard-hitting and exciting matchup. This series has been full of them since Dantonio and Kelly, who succeeded him at Cincinnati, began facing off.
9/24: vs Duke
This game might be tougher than it first appears. First of all, it's the fourth of seven straight weeks with a game for ND. If there's a 'dog days' of the football season, this is probably it. Duke enters the 2015 season needing to replace a ton of talent from the group that had so much success in 2013-14, like Anthony Boone and Jamison Crowder. However, the 2016 group will be the one after that, and coach David Cutcliffe has proven to be able to field tough teams when he's got a veteran group. Interestingly, this will be Duke's second week in a row playing in the Midwest, as they travel to Northwestern the week before this game.
10/1: @ Syracuse (MetLife Stadium)
It's never really clicked with me why exactly Syracuse wants all these games against high-profile teams at MetLife (they played USC there too a couple of years back). The idea, I guess, is to market the school as "New York's college team", but nothing has really come of any school's attempt to jump on that train (Rutgers tries to do it too). The closest thing to "New York's college team" is probably ND, and the Irish fans showed as much last year when they took over MetLife for the Syracuse game, as they probably will this year. The Orange aren't in a good place right now, so this one certainly doesn't register as a threat 14 months out.
10/8: @ NC State
This one strikes me as scary. Road games against not great but also not bad teams in general scare me, because the Wolfpack will almost certainly be far more fired up for this game than ND will be. The good news is that NC State will be minus Jacoby Brissett, who played terrific football much of the game last year against Florida State and could be better this year if he can find some consistency. Take the points in this game (if you're a degenerate betting on games this far out), but I imagine the Irish will squeak out a tough win.
10/15: vs Stanford
This last year, I never fretted too much about playing Stanford, and until the very end of the game, right before the magical 4th and 11 play, I never really considered ND might lose. This was largely due to Stanford QB Kevin Hogan. It's not that he's bad — he isn't. He's just not scary. Take away Stanford's seemingly never-ending array of tight ends, and you can generally keep the Cardinal off the board against him. Anyway, Hogan will be long gone at the time of this game, and if David Shaw continues his great work recruiting on the lines, I have a feeling the Cardinal will be better for having a new face under center, making this game a toughie.
10/29: vs Miami
After a bye, Notre Dame will face Miami. We all had quite a bit of fun the last time these two teams hooked up, in the 2012 Shamrock Series (dumb 60/40 leprechaun helmets aside), and now the series will finally return to ND Stadium for the first time since 1990.
I'm not old enough to have appreciated this rivalry when it was at its best in the 1987-90 period. Unfortunately, 'the U' has been very disappointing in recent seasons, so the hype for this game will likely not be much unless the Canes hit a home run with their next coaching hire. I thought Al Golden would be great at Miami, but it just hasn't happened. Brad Kaaya, though, should be playing quarterback regardless of who's coaching, and he's shown flashes of brilliance early in his career.
11/5: @ Navy (Jacksonville)
2012 aside, the Irish's road games against Navy in recent years have been nightmares. 2008 was largely a snoozefest until ND came within an onside kick recovery of possibly pulling off the most insane collapse in Irish football history. 2010 was the very definition of the word 'nightmare'. And last year wasn't that much fun either as the ND defense couldn't stop Keenan Reynolds to save their lives. Reynolds will be gone by the time this game is played, though, and ND recorded blowout victories the last two times they faced a Reynolds-less Navy (2011-12). Hopefully things will be better here.
11/12: vs Army (Shamrock Series, San Antonio)
Army's connection to San Antonio aside, this is probably the least exciting Shamrock Series entry since the first one, when ND played in the same city against Washington State. On the other hand, Army is pretty much the perfect team to play post-Navy. The only major downside to this matchup is that since it's ND's second game in a row against an academy, the amateur comedians on Twitter might shut down the site with all their jokes about ND playing the Marines and the Coast Guard next week.
11/19: vs Virginia Tech
When Notre Dame signed on with the ACC for 5 football games per year, I'm sure a game like this is precisely what they had in mind. The Irish had had a devil of a time scheduling resume-building matchups in November for a long time, with the exceptions of the annual California trips and the occasional Pittsburgh game. Of course, we don't know what's going to become of the Hokies before this game — recent struggles have ignited slight but still present chatter that VT coach Frank Beamer ought to consider stepping aside — but few programs have been able to be counted on to be at least pretty good year-to-year like Va Tech has, so I expect they'll be fine.
11/26: @ USC
Whether Steve Sarkisian is more Pete Carroll or Lane Kiffin has yet to be determined, but he certainly had his Trojans ready to play this last November, when they destroyed Notre Dame in a game that was over before the first quarter was. USC is a team that should always be good as long as they're being coached competently, so it's safe to say this game will be tough. Hopefully, ND comes in with real stakes.
The Trojans won't have Cody Kessler anymore at kickoff of this one, with highly-touted Max Browne, who will be a junior in 2016, the likely successor at quarterback. Adoree Jackson, a true sophomore this year, will also be on the field for SC. The rest of their roster for next year is a question mark due to the always-present possibility of massive NFL defectors, but regardless of who's on the field for the Trojans, they are likely to be Notre Dame's toughest test in 2016.