We’re pretty sure there’s going to be a college football season, and we’re also pretty sure the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will play in that season. Exactly what that season will look like in terms of the schedule and locations is still very much up in the air — but for our purposes here, we are going to makes certain assumptions.
So let’s rank the Irish opponents for 2020.
1. Clemson Tigers 11/7 (HOME)
There is no doubt at all that the toughest game in 2020 will be against the Tigers. Clemson has become THE program in college football under Dabo Swinney and is lead by its Ivan Drago like quarterback, Trevor Lawrence. Even with Justyn Ross out for the season, the Tigers still possess a lot of high caliber skill position players around Lawrence — most notably running back Travis Ettiene who had over 1600 yards rushing and over 400 yards receiving in 2019.
This is THE game for Notre Dame. A win — even at home — can help bury many of the negative connotations that surround the program. It could also be the game that catapults the Irish into the college football playoff. It’s going to take a herculean effort and a little help from that November South Bend weather to get a win,
2. USC Trojans 11/28 (AWAY)
Fans might be overlooking this game a little too much. Despite a Clay Helton era that has been pretty disappointing for Southern Cal fans, it’s still a team that has plenty of talent to make things very uncomfortable in a hurry. Quarterback Kedon Slovis is a seasoned vet as a sophomore, and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is one of the most competitive players in the country. Running backs Vavae Malepeai, Stephen Carr, and Marquese Stepp all return and Stepp in particular looked really good against the Irish last year. Their defense gets a bit of a jolt with Todd Orlando taking over as the DC and he will have 12 of the top 13 tacklers back from last season.
Look... it’s THE rivalry game and the last game of the season. The Irish will also have to travel across the country to play the game. We’ve seen this before, and it’s a tough game. The Trojans have a fairly tough schedule so even if they have 3 or 4 losses heading into this game — it’s going to be a battle.
3. Wisconsin Badgers 10/3 (SHRUGS)
It probably won’t make much of a difference to either team if the game is still played in Lambeau or if it is in Notre Dame Stadium. The Badgers have been one of the most consistent programs in all of college football for the last 25 years. Wisconsin has an identity and they rarely deviate from it — they run the football and play tough defense.
Wisconsin loses Jonathan Taylor, Quintez Cephus, and a pair of really good tackles to the NFL Draft — but Wisconsin’s line just reloads. It will be interesting to see if Jack Coan stays the starter at quarterback or if Graham Mertz emerges as the Badger QB1. Whoever the qurterback is in October, they’ll be handing the ball off a lot to guys like Nakia Watson and freshman Jalen Berger.
4. Louisville Cardinals 11/21 (HOME)
The Cardinals are a real threat in 2020. Scott Satterfield did a fantastic job in his first year with the Cardinals, and we should expect even more improvement in 2020. Micale Cunningham took over for Juwan Pass and the offense found itself last year. Running back Javian Hawkins ran for 1500 yards last year (122 vs ND) and Hassan Hall provides the Cardinals with an excellent 1-2 punch.
It’s a senior day game for the Irish, and I believe it will be finals week with Notre Dame’s new academic calendar. Those two things alone make any game dangerous, but against an up and coming team like Louisville is even scarier.
5. Pittsburgh Panthers 10/17 (AWAY)
This doesn’t have to get complicated. The Pitt Super Weapon is real and can go off at any time. Add to the fact that we probably poked the football gods a bit with all that talk about the Pitt Spirit Urn on the OFD Podcast, and trouble is right around the corner.
6. Stanford Cardinal 10/10 (HOME)
Stanford had a ridiculous amount of attrition over the offseason — including quarterback K.J. Costello. It’s Stanford though, and they usually have a stable of capable quarterbacks to step forward. Paulson Adebo (possibly the best cornerback in the nation) is back in what will be an improved secondary, but the front 7 is a little suspect.
I was tempted to slide Stanford down a few more spots because I think this could be a real rout, but the always whining David Shaw is still a good football coach and should have his team ready to play after losing two straight to the Irish.
7. Navy Midshipmen 9/5 or 9/6 (AWAY)
Defending Navy’s option attack is always a challenge — even in blowout wins. It’s tricky, and it takes specific gameplans on both sides of the ball to work in tandem in a way. Malcom Perry is gone, but Navy seems to keep plugging in really good option quarterbacks under head coach Ken Niumatalolo.
It’s a weird game that could actually be ranked higher — and still look like one of the easier wins on the schedule. The game is no longer going to be played in Ireland and instead of being played on August 29, it will be in Annapolis on either the Saturday or Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Will this now TRUE home game give Navy a jolt of confidence and vigor that helps them against the Irish? We’re finally going to find out.
8. Arkansas Razorbacks 9/12 (HOME)
Even with a new coach in Sam Pittman, this is not a good football team. The toughest part about this game in many ways, is that it’s right after the Navy game. There is the “Navy gut punch syndrome” that we’ve discussed before in the past, whereas it’s tough for the Irish to jump back into “normalcy” after playing the Middies.
And there’s also a chance for this game to be on a short week as opposed to being after a bye as it was scheduled. Early in the season and with all the quirks that surround the game... I do have some concerns here — but it’s still Arkansas.
9. Wake Forest Demon Deacons 9/26 (AWAY)
It’s Ian Book vs Sam Hartman for another round — two years after their first clash. We saw how the first round went, and there’s nothing that I can see that makes me think it will be any different.
10. Duke Blue Devils 10/31 (HOME)
The Irish will be looking for revenge at the scene of that horrific crime from 2016. It’s not Duke’s fault that Notre Dame lost that day, and there are only a handful of players on the roster that were there, but it was one of the lowest points from a terrible season. David Cutcliffe is an incredible coach, so this might be a fight, but it shouldn’t be after halftime.
11. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 11/14 (AWAY)
A late season game in November just one week after playing Clemson would probably give a lot of teams a little bit of a fit. Georgia Tech is coming off of a 3-9 season and is still trying to shake off the Paul Johnson era, but is still athletic enough on both sides of the ball to make things interesting.
12. Western Michigan Broncos 9/19 (HOME)
It’s a MAC game. Good day my friends.