Notre Dame yet again faces one of the toughest schedules in the country. This year’s schedule features the traditional big names such as Michigan State, Stanford, and USC, as well as an SEC opponent in the Georgia Bulldogs. Brian Kelly will need to find his road mojo as Notre Dame will face several major road test this fall.
Brian Kelly is looking for a bounce back season in 2017 and this schedule will not be easy on the Irish. Ultimately, the Irish appear to have the strength of schedule to contend for the College Football Playoffs, if Kelly and his new staff can get things turned around.
This list will rank each game on the 2017 Notre Dame Football Schedule in order of importance.
The Irish will get their first great test in week two when Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs visit South Bend. Smart is coming off a respectable 8-5 record last season with a win against TCU in the Liberty Bowl.
Georgia is headlined by their running game and strong defense. Mike Elko will have his hands full with the two great running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. They’re both physical running backs that will likely play at the next level.
Luckily for the Irish they will be facing the Bulldogs in South Bend, for what it’s worth. From all indications, the Bulldogs will be a top 15 football team when the face Notre Dame in Week 2.
Although Georgia may not be the most highly ranked team the Irish will face, this is the most important game on the schedule. Brian Kelly cannot worry about USC if he does not get through the Bulldogs. If Notre Dame loses in the 2nd week of the season, they would need to win out to have any shot at the playoffs.
USC, Notre Dame’s longest standing rival, is the best opponent on Notre Dame’s schedule next season. In fact, USC has one of the best teams heading into the 2017 season. Most polls already have the Trojans in the top 3 in the nation.
Their quarterback, Sam Darnold, could be borderline unstoppable. He led the Trojans to a come from behind victory in the Rose Bowl to defeat the Penn State Nittany Lions. Although it is extremely early, Darnold is already projected as the #1 Quarterback in next year’s draft.
The Trojans were one of the hottest teams in the country at the end of 2016. After losing 3 out of their first 4 games last year, including a 52-6 massacre against Alabama; Clay Helton and the Trojans have went 9-0.
This game is going to be enormous for the Irish if they have any intentions of making the College Football Playoffs.
3) @ Michigan State
Notre Dame will be looking for redemption against a Michigan State team that ran over the Irish for most of the game in South Bend last year. Notre Dame will travel to East Lansing the fourth week of the season for the 79th meeting with their long time rival.
Although Mark Dantonio’s Spartans only went 3-9 last year, they played well at home. Like Notre Dame’s disappointing record, Michigan State’s season was full of near misses. The Spartans only lost to Michigan by 9 points, and a failed two point conversion against Ohio State could have put the Spartans past the Buckeyes. Ohio State ended up wining by a single point. Both games were at home.
Mark Dantonio is one of the best coaches in the country, and it’s very unlikely the Spartans will be as bad as they were last year. The Spartans love to play a burn style of offense in which they maintain the ball the majority of the game. It will be up to the Notre Dame Defense to get stops and prevent this from happening this fall.
4) @ Stanford
Another revenge game for the Irish will be against the Stanford Cardinal. The Irish had the Cardinal down the whole game last year in South Bend and managed let this win slip away.
Notre Dame vs. Stanford has become one of the most hard fought rivalries in all of college football. Five of the last games have been decided by 7 points or less, so this will likely be another slugfest for Notre Dame.
Playing at Stanford Stadium has been bad news for the Irish. Notre Dame is 0-4 in their last 4 meetings at Stanford. If the Golden Domers have playoff aspirations, this game will likely make or break the Irish as it did two years ago when Stanford won on a walk off field goal.
5) @ Miami
One of the more fun Notre Dame football rivalries. Notre Dame has had plenty of success against the Miami Hurricanes over the past decade. The Irish have won 3 straight over Miami. The Hurricanes were one of Notre Dame’s only 4 wins last year, which is something they will want to change next season.
Mark Richt looks to build off an impressive 9-4 season in his first season at Miami. This will be a tough game on the road as the Irish return to Hard Rock Stadium.
6) @ North Carolina
The last time the Irish were in North Carolina Jimmy Clausen was under center and things didn’t go so well for the Notre Dame. North Carolina is in the midst of another quarterback transition after Mitch Trubisky left North Carolina to be the #2 overall pick in April’s NFL Draft.
North Carolina has become a more consistent program and is producing more NFL talent. This will be a tough road game for the Irish and add to an already ridiculous schedule.
7) @ Boston College
The Holy war will take place on the third weekend of the season when the Irish and Eagles square off for the Frank Leahy Trophy. Their last meeting was at Fenway Park when the Irish had a close call against an awful Boston College team.
The Eagles were 7-6 last season and this will be the first true road game for the Irish in 2017. Notre Dame will need to get off to a fast start and take care of business on the road.
The first game of the season is nothing to overlook. Everyone knows that Georgia will be waiting on the Irish if they can get past the Temple Owls. Matt Rhule is no longer the head coach at Temple and that can be good news for the Irish.
The other good news is that defensive coordinator Mike Elko faced the Temple Owls in the Military Bowl. He will be very familiar with the personnel that the Temple Owls are bringing on to the field. Temple finished the season 10-4 last year with an impressive 7-1 record in conference; don’t expect the Owls to be a pushover.
The Navy Midshipmen always give the Irish fits. Gone are the days where this was a guaranteed win for the Irish. In fact, Navy has won 4 of the last 10 meetings which is impressive since they had lost 43 to the Irish prior.
Even though the Midshipmen have vastly improved under their great head coach Ken Niumatalolo, there is still no excuse for the Irish lackluster performances against Navy.
This was a game that the Irish should have won in Jacksonville last year. Being at home won’t help the Irish as much because Navy doesn’t get rattled and they play a burn style of offense.
10) North Carolina State
Perhaps the most frustrating game of 2017 was when the Irish faced the Wolfpack. The game should not have even been played, but that is a story for another day. North Carolina State ended up going 7-6 last season with a win over Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl.
Kelly and the Irish will look to avenge another loss from the 2016 season in South Bend.
11) Wake Forest
Mike Elko will get to face his old team the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. This will be a big advantage for the Irish. Hopefully, Notre Dame can continue their success against the Demon Deacons in recent history.
Wake Forest finished 7-6 last season with a win over Temple in the Military Bowl. This game does have the capability of becoming a trap game as the Irish will be heading to Miami to take on the Hurricanes the following week.
12) Miami (OH)
The Miami RedHawks went 6-7 last season, but did win 6 of their last 7 games with a loss to Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Brian Kelly will be facing his former assistant in Chuck Martin. Martin was with the Irish from 2010 to 2013.
This is Miami of Ohio and the Irish need to take care of business. The Irish have had their troubles in the past with Tulsa, South Florida, and more. Regrettably Irish fans know that they can’t pencil in a W for this game.