As we slowly inch towards the start of the 2022 regular season I assume most of us have started to take a look at the schedule that we will be physically and emotionally strapped to for the next three months. With a glance, some people may not realize how unique the schedule is for the Irish this year. What we can see right away is what can be referred to as the “Big Three” of the 2022 season - Ohio State, Clemson, and the University of Southern California. I think these games are what most people are going to focus their attention on, “What does this mean for the Clemson game?” style. But are these games truly going to be what we think? Are there other teams that will rise this year and cause Notre Dame problems? I’m going to provide and rank what I think are the five toughest games the Irish will participate in this season.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Was there any question? I know I questioned if the “Big Three” would actually be that this year. This game in Columbus will without a doubt be the biggest test for Notre Dame. The only way that would not be the case is if USC winds up being a juggernaut and there is a week twelve battle for a playoff spot in LA. Even then, with the crowd in Columbus, opening weekend, Freeman’s first game, and all the recruiting ramifications. I do not believe a USC juggernaut (which I think is unlikely, we will get to it) scenario would be a bigger test than Week 1.
This is where the uniqueness of this season starts to show itself. After half a second of deciding what I thought would be the toughest game this year, I had to sit and think about 2-5. I don’t think it is immediately as obvious as it seems. Now you may say “Well you put Clemson number two so that is obvious”. Maybe, but the only reason why Clemson is here is that I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt based on the fact they are Clemson. There is a very real possibility they continue their slump from last season. They lost key members of a coaching staff that have in recent history been pretty stable, and that offense was rough last year. The problem with this game is, that I can see this being a defensive bout similar to Clemson vs Georgia last year. We are confident both these teams will be able to hold their own this year defensively, but offensively there are some question marks. Now I could be wrong and one or both of these offenses take off. I just believe this is going to be a battle to see who gets to 20 points first, which could make for a tough game.
This is where I stopped focusing on the who, and more on the when and where. Heading out through bat country to a primetime “home” game in the desert gives me a weird vibe. I think BYU will be an 8 or 9-win team that could drum up some drama on a normal day. That combined with coming off an early bye week and making the trip gives me pause. That is why I have it above another game out west which I will get to. If you ask me now, I do think Notre Dame handles their business in this Shamrock Series game just like they have with all the others. I do believe, however, that this could end up being trickier than some people may think.
USC is in this spot solely because I am not a believer (yet). I think that the issues with their program stretched far beyond the Head Coach position. I do not believe Riley will be able to flip it all around in less than a year. I do think they will get back up eventually, I just don’t think this is the year unlike some. I also don’t see the oddities and hurdles in traveling out to LA as I do with Vegas. Notre Dame is used to going out there every other year in November and I’m not worried about the Coliseum.
I present to you my trap game of the year. There were a few teams that I will mention in the Honorable Mentions that could have taken this spot. I think we can say Notre Dame will likely be favored in this game (barring some massive meltdown) despite the Orange’s record. First off this will be game four of eight straight games after a week 4 bye, fatigue and injuries can start to pile up. Secondly, there is another orange team coming into town the week after, which may start to draw focus away from this game. And thirdly nothing about playing at the dome feels right to me. When I was a kid and Syracuse was on tv playing at home, the channel was always fuzzy for some reason, the lighting in there was atrocious, and the acoustics seemed off. I HATED watching Syracuse home games. I know they may have fixed a lot of those considering it was the 2000’s but still. Nothing about watching a game in that dome appeals to me. Also going out to Vegas, coming home for two weeks (better than one I suppose) going out to Syracuse (for a weird noon kickoff most likely), and worrying about getting back to South Bend for a primetime kickoff against Clemson could get tiring.
Marshall: Possible trap. Purely in regards to a letdown after an emotional week 1.
Boston College: Another possible trap. Depending on how the Irish and Trojan’s season’s have gone, it could cause a situation where the Eagles get overlooked before a big one in LA.
The reason I think this season is unique, is because of the fluidity of the teams on the schedule. There are a lot of chances for the good teams to fall and the bad teams to rise, and also for situations creating weird trap scenarios. It will make for a very interesting season, and I for one, am having trouble waiting.
What games worry you and why?