Notre Dame’s road to a playoff berth in 2014 potentially got a lot tougher on Friday after news of the ongoing academic investigation involving four players broke. That road was already rocky at best according to college football pre-season prognosticator extraordinaire Phil Steele. The grandfather of college football previews ranks Notre Dame’s 2014 schedule as the toughest in the country.
It’s easy to see why Notre Dame’s schedule is ranked so highly by Steele – the Irish face a daunting slate of games despite having just three true road games in 2014. The Irish will be away from Notre Dame Stadium for a total of six contests this season, but trips to the Meadowlands… excuse me, Metlife Stadium, to face Syracuse, the Shamrock Series game against Purdue in Indianapolis, and a road game vs. Navy in FedEx Field will find the Irish playing in front of pro-Notre Dame crowds on the road.
Even with all of that, Notre Dame faces five different opponents in both the pre-season AP and Coaches Top 25 Polls – defending national champion and pre-season #1 Florida State, #11 Stanford, #15 USC, #18/19 Arizona State, and #23 North Carolina. In addition to those five ranked opponents, Michigan, Northwestern, and Louisville were all in the “others receiving votes” categories of both polls as well.
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Only Purdue, Rice, Syracuse, and Navy failed to receive any votes in either of the top 25. Rice, however, did win 10 games a year ago while Navy won nine.
Notre Dame’s schedule isn’t exactly laid out well for them either. After not having to leave the state of Indiana until September 28th, the Irish face a brutal October stretch that will define their 2014 season. After hosting Stanford and North Carolina on back to back weekends, the Irish travel to Tallahassee for the first time since 2002. Three straight games against pre-season ranked opponents without a bye in between. Yikes.
November isn’t much better for Notre Dame. Back to back home games against Northwestern and Louisville are bookended by road trips to Tempe and Los Angeles.
Interestingly enough, the last time Steele ranked Notre Dame’s schedule as the toughest in the country was just two years ago in 2012 before the Irish started the season unranked and navigated through the regular season undefeated.
None of Notre Dame’s opponents face a top 10 schedule according to Steele. The highest ranked opponent schedule amongst Notre Dame’s 12 opponents was Stanford’s which Steele ranks 16th in the country. USC’s schedule is ranked just behind Stanford’s at #17. Syracuse and Arizona State face top 25 schedules as well with the Orange coming in at 22 and the Sun Devils 25.
Notre Dame’s opponent with the easiest slate in 2014? Navy with the 108th “toughest” schedule in 2014. Something tells me that the Midshipmen won’t be able to parlay that schedule into a playoff berth.
Florida State, Notre Dame’s toughest opponent and also it’s most likely to earn a playoff berth, faces just the 46th ranked schedule. Meanwhile, amazingly, Alabama, which plays in the almighty SEC faces just the 61st ranked schedule in 2014 according to Steele.