Did Notre Dame Schedule Itself Into a Problem in ’18/19?

The addition of Michigan to the '18 and '19 schedules has created a difficult schedule for Brian Kelly and Notre Dame to navigate. (Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
The addition of Michigan to the ’18 and ’19 schedules has created a difficult schedule for Brian Kelly and Notre Dame to navigate. (Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Both Notre Dame and Michigan fans received the news of the two schools resuming their rivalry in 2018 and 19 positively last week.  Upon further review though, did Notre Dame schedule itself into a playoff problem in both seasons by adding yet another marquee, potential top 10 opponent?

The Notre Dame football schedule is always a hot topic.  Detractors point to Notre Dame playing service academies – specifically Navy every season – and discount the absence of D1AA foes on any Irish schedule.  Notre Dame fans argue the Irish schedule is among the toughest in the country year in and year out.  It will be hard for anyone to argue that in both 2018 and 2019 with Michigan now on tap for Notre Dame.

In 2018, Notre Dame has to take on Florida State, Stanford, USC, and Michigan.  In 2019, Notre Dame’s schedule features Georgia, Michigan, Stanford, and USC among other tough contests like a road game in Blacksburg, Virginia against Virginia Tech.  In any given season that could be four top 10 teams in both 2018 and 2019.  Even SEC fans can’t argue with that type of strength of schedule.

Let’s take a closer look at both years and how these games fall.

DateOpponent Location
9/1/2018Michigan WolverinesNotre Dame, Stadium / Notre Dame, Indiana
9/8/2018Ball State Cardinals
Notre Dame, Stadium / Notre Dame, Indiana
9/15/2018OPEN DATE
9/22/2018Syracuse OrangeNotre Dame Stadium / Notre Dame, Indiana
9/29/2018Stanford CardinalNotre Dame Stadium / Notre Dame, Indiana
10/13/2018at Virginia Tech HokiesLane Stadium / Blacksburg, VA
10/20/2018Pitt PanthersNotre Dame Stadium / Notre Dame, Indiana
10/27/2018Navy MidshipmenQualcomm Stadium / San Diego, CA
11/3/2018at Northwestern WildcatsRyan Field / Evanston, IL
11/10/2018Florida State SeminolesNotre Dame Stadium / Notre Dame, Indiana
11/17/2018at Wake Forest Demon DeaconsBB&T Field / Winston-Salem, NC
11/24/2018at USC TrojansLA Colisseum / Los Angeles, CA

On the positive, Notre Dame is not currently scheduled to leave Indiana in September, but then finishes the season on the road in five of the last seven weeks.  That stretch includes trips to Los Angeles and Blacksburg.  Notre Dame’s marquee games are also fairly well spaced out.  The season opener against Michigan isn’t followed with another tough opponent for four weeks when Stanford visits South Bend.  The Irish then get six weeks in between Stanford and Florida State, but only have one opponent sandwiched in between the Seminoles and Trojans.

On the surface, that’s four potential top 10 teams on the 2018 schedule.  Jim Harbuagh has Michigan trending up and let’s be honest, it would be a shock given Harbaugh’s track record if the Wolverines weren’t a top 10 team by then.  Jimbo Fisher has Florida State as a top 10  team most years.  David Shaw has the same with Stanford.  USC is the one wildcard with a new head coach, Clay Helton, without a track record.

That gauntlet looks somewhat similar to the 2012 schedule that swapped Florida State for Oklahoma while featuring the Michigan, Stanford, USC trio.  That year’s schedule turned out to be lighter than originally projected and the Irish navigated it to a 12-0 record.  It will be surprising if 2018’s turns out to be similarly lighter than expected.

Throw in wild card programs like Northwestern, Virginia Tech, and Pitt and that schedule could be a playoff resume killer.

By comparison, Michigan’s top four opponents in 2018 are Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Penn State.  The top three compare favorably with Notre Dame’s, but Penn State as a fourth toughest game is a little more palatable than say USC or Florida State. Michigan does, however, have to travel to South Bend, East Lansing, and Columbus all in the same season though.

Things aren’t much better in 2019.

DateOpponent Location
9/2/2019Louisville CardinalsPapa John's Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, KY
9/14/2019New Mexico Lobos
Notre Dame Stadium / Notre Dame, Indiana
9/21/2019at Georgia BulldogsSanford Stadium / Athens, GA
9/28/2019Virginia CavaliersNotre Dame Stadium / Notre Dame, Indiana
10/12/2019OPEN DATETBD
10/19/2019at Georgia Tech Yellow JacketsBobby Dodd Stadium / Atlanta, GA
10/26/2019at Michigan WolverinesMichigan Stadium / Ann Arbor, MI
11/2/2019Virginia Tech HokiesNotre Dame Stadium / Notre Dame, Indiana
11/9/2019at Duke Blue DevilsWallace Wade Stadium / Durham, NC
11/16/2019Navy MidshipmenNotre Dame Stadium / Notre Dame, Indiana
11/23/2019Boston College EaglesNotre Dame Stadium / Notre Dame, Indiana
11/30/2019at Stanford CardinalStanford Stadium / Stanford, CA

Before the end of September, Notre Dame has road trips at Louisville and at Georgia.  Notre Dame will get USC at home in October, but then they end the month with back to back road trips to Georgia Tech and Michigan.  All of that before ending the season in Palo Alto against Stanford.

Another season, another four potential top 10 opponents – USC, Georgia, Michigan, and Stanford.  Then there’s Georgia Tech.  Paul Johnson had the Yellow Jackets looking like a program on the rise before falling off in 2015.  Virginia Tech and Virginia are wild cards as well.

Building a challenging schedule that allows Notre Dame to both build a playoff resume while also working in tune ups and rest weeks will be difficult for Jack Swarbrick given the lack of a championship game for Notre Dame.  What he’s done by adding Michigan to the schedules in 2018 and 2019 is pretty much assure that an 11-1 Notre Dame team in either year will be firmly in the playoff mix.

The potential problem, however, is that both schedules are going to be extremely difficult for Notre Dame to navigate either undefeated or with just a single loss.  Both schedules are loaded with potential elite teams and wild cards that could create some unexpected land mines along the way.

Schedules do have a way of changing for the better and the worst by the time the games happen.  We saw in 2012 a schedule that looked daunting turned out to be manageable for a team with a redshirt freshman quarterback.  Neither the 2018 or 2019 schedule, however, has many tune up opportunities.

Notre Dame doesn’t play D1AA teams like the majority of programs around the country so games like Duke, Virginia Tech, Virginia, or Georgia Tech can turn out to add additional marquee games.   Just look back to 2015.  Who would have thought Temple and Navy would have been some of Notre Dame’s highest ranked opponents?

There is a lot of time between now and 2018 and 2019, but with only a few spots open on both schedules; it is clear that Notre Dame will not be facing any shortage of opportunities to impress the Playoff Committee.  An 11-1 record in either year and it’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario where the Irish would be left out of the playoffs baring four undefeated, conference championship winning teams.

The real question now though is whether or not the Irish can make it through the gauntlet of games it has in front of them in both seasons either undefeated or with a single loss.  Only time will tell.  Thankfully it looks like Brian Kelly and his staff are headed towards a top 5-10 recruiting class in 2017 and have the foundation for a monster class in 2018.

Maybe now some fans will stop complaining about Notre Dame scheduling opponents like Ball State and New Mexico.  Maybe some detractors will stop complaining about Notre Dame playing service academies.  Wait a minute, what am I thinking?


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  1. Got to admit it, Notre Dame is scheduling tough games. 2019 is a killer. Bama fan here but nobody would want this schedule. As bad as they looked vs Clemson if they go 11-1 against 2019 they will likely be back in the playoff

  2. It is easy now. Win your games, win the playoff and win the championship. Overrated or over hyped has little or no factor in the new system. Quit crying and just win out. Blaming the SEC is weak. Just win.

  3. USC was missing scholarships & had a drunk coach so for the last five years or so they’ve been down…. We all saw just what happened to Northwestern in the Outback bowl this year Tennessee 45 Northwestern 6! Honestly I never know how good the ACC is or isn’t as South Carolina almost beat Clemson at the end of last season! The B1G is the most overrated conference in the country, they have Michigan, Michigan State & Ohio State oh and 13 other schools that play basketball… The SEC is the most complete conference top to bottom, as a reference let the Outback Bowl do the math, Northwestern finished 2nd their division, Tennessee finished 2nd in their division as well but smacked Northwestern around 45-6… If this isn’t good enough how about the Cotton Bowl? The SEC Champ Alabama vs the B1G Champ Michigan State in what was another lopsided game as Alabama won 38-0! Sure the bottom 3 or 4 teams in SEC are bad but I’d pick any of the against the bottom teams of every other conference…. My point is simple the SEC is & has been the strongest conference in country, how do you think Notre Dame would fair playing Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Missouri and another Power 5 opponent year in & year out?

  4. Ball State will have a very seasoned team in 2018 with a veteran QB destined for the NFL since many of their starters/contributors are sophomores in 2016. Throw in the fact that former NFL Coach Mike Neu at Ball State will have several years of recruiting and a new explosive offense well established and this in state game may just surprisingly be very competitive!
    Top tier MAC teams which Ball State should be in 2018 are always dangerous for opponents expecting a “cake walk”.

  5. Having lived in South Bend for several years, I realized that ND has been force feeding the community, and news outlets that Green Kool Aid for years.
    They always get a top recruiting class, and they under perform. Many recruits get puffed up in the press, and never perform to expectations. They may have a tough game occasionally. But schediles several scrimmages leading up to the game.

    But since the alums control the press, we hear so much puffing.

  6. Clemson playing the mighty ACC schedule you referenced played all of two ranked opponents all year long before the ACC Championship game and one of those ranked teams was Notre Dame.

  7. ND schedile is not tough. Playing 3-4 top 25 teans in a season is mediocre at best. They should just join the ACC as full football playing member and get into the NC game like everyone ekse: by winning their conference. Conference rivalry games are all tough – just ask FSU about playing NCSU in Raleigh. Leave in Mich and USC as OOC games and play Clemson, FSU, GT, NCSU, WF, Lousville, WF, Pitt, BC and UNC. Then play Miami or VT in ACC title game. Then talk to me about a tough schedule.

  8. rmatteo you should do some research before you post. You would not look so clueless. ND schedule has just as many cupcakes, since you mentioned it, as Rutgers.
    Any teams 2018 & 2019 can be found on fbschedules(dot)com. Any B1G team has a tough schedule especially the East. Look at Rutgers you would be surprised as I was. Now another reason you are clueless it to bring Rutgers into a conversation with ND?????
    Yes ND has some very tough games but overall an usually tough schedule No – Ball State Cardinals, Syracuse Orange, Wake Forest, Navy, New Mexico Lobos, Boston College…….

    I Look forward to watching Michigan Beat ND.

  9. I remember one year LSU plaid 6 teams in the top 20. With 4 being in top 10 at the time of the actual game. So saying that the SEC is below this schedule is a stretch. Why all the conference hate? Football is football. Let’s not complain and just line up and smash helmets.

  10. With an exception here and there ND plays name brand teams. Unlike Rutgers or some of the other football pretenders they don’t play 2-3 cupcakes, no names, each and every year. Of course their schedule is a tough one even when their opponents are not necessarily ranked. They are all big time football programs.
    Go ND!

  11. They need to be careful that they do not schedule themselves into a hole. It is hard for college teams to get up for every game so the ADs schedule cupcakes so they still get the revenue but have little chance of losing. By 2019, the playoffs will be expanded to 8 teams and a 1 loss ND will likely always make it as long as Stanford and USC are on their schedule and remain prominent. throw in maybe one more powerhouse or rising program and that should be it! Seems to work well for OSU.

  12. There are three components to a successful season:
    No more than 2 loses (1 loss before 12 game schedules);
    Beat your major rival (USC)
    Win a major bowl game (Rose, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, and Cotton before 1995).

    Using this criteria the last successful season for Notre Dame was 1993—23 years ago.

    Even the vaunted 2012 season was not successful given the thrashing by Alabama.

  13. If Notre Dame wants to be la Champion, have to play like Champions, blame it on the overrated SEC, who everyone thinks is a Powerful conference , but has only 2 -3 consistent powerful teams.. Voting wise(coaches and sportswriters) there is, for most teams, mediocre expectations ;and then unfairly high expectations for Notre Dame,. Although the playoff system is a bit fairer than say 1993 was, but still need to hope for good health. I believe 2018 and 2019’s tough schedules could inspire nationally when the Irish exceed tough expectations.. As the late Tug McGraw said, “Ya gotta Believe!!”

  14. The complaints about ND playing Navy is nonsense. Most years, Navy fields a better than average team. Playoff contender, no, but Navy can beat Savannah State pretty handily too. I actually think it’s a bit disrespectful to Navy how they are viewed. Just ask Ohio State, who almost got surprised when they were caught looking ahead to USC a few years back. Navy doesn’t like being overlooked and they may make you pay.

    As far as the schedule, I say the tougher the better. It won’t silence the critics, but they are not the ones we need to impress. It’s the playoff committee. ND does not play a conference championship. That significantly increases the importance of their schedule. They need a tough schedule to stay in. I think Swarbick recognizes that’s the only way to keep ND in the mix without joining a conference just to have a 13th game. He’s done a good job threading the needle to protect all ND athletics and keep ND mostly independent in football. I think the schedule is just one more way of keeping ND independent in CFB in an era that strongly discourages that.

    1. Who would’ve thought looking back 2018 schedule ended up being somewhat favorable and ND would be playoff bound.

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