Heading into the 2019 College Football Season the Fighting Irish will face one of the toughest schedules in the country. A year ago, Brian Kelly and the Irish were able to run the table with a 12-0 regular season, capped off by their first berth in the College Football Playoffs. If Notre Dame wants a shot at redemption from their disappointing Cotton Bowl, the Irish will have to navigate a formidable schedule.
Marquee Road Matchups:
At Georgia (September 21st)
After facing the Georgia Bulldogs in South Bend during the 2017 season, the Irish will play the final game of the home-home series this fall. Georgia has one of the most talented rosters in the country. Each of the past two seasons, the Bulldogs were only a few plays from beating the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The Georgia Bulldogs ended their season with an 11-3 record and loss to the Texas Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl. Kirby Smart’s team will be playing with a major chip on their shoulder in 2019. Unfortunately for the Irish, Sanford Stadium is one of the hardest places to win in the country. If the 2019 version of the Georgia Bulldogs resembles the previous two seasons, then the Irish are in for a battle.
At Michigan (October 26th)
The Irish are heading back to Ann Arbor, where they haven’t won since 2005. Brian Kelly and the Irish have been apart of several prime-time matchups at Michigan. Kelly will be looking to get his first ever win in Ann Arbor this season. This game will almost certainly be a prime-time night game and expect to see Michigan Stadium at its peak capacity of 115,00-seats.
Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines finished the season with an 10-3 record and loss to Florida in the Peach Bowl. Shea Patterson will return as the starting quarterback for the Wolverines next season with a new offense, under former Alabama Co-Offensive Coordinator Josh Gattis. However, Brian Kelly and the Irish will have tape on this new offense, as they won’t travel to Ann Arbor until the middle of the season.
At Stanford (November 30th)
Although Cardinal Stadium is not the most intimidating venue in college football, the Irish have lost 5 straight games in Palo Alto. The Stanford Cardinal have even won several games in South Bend over the last decade as well. Although this rivalry doesn’t get the publicity as USC, the Irish have had more success against the Trojans than Cardinal in recent history.
Stanford has won 7 of the past 10 meetings in this match-up. David Shaw always seems to have answers for the Irish. Even last season the Cardinal managed to give the Irish a hard-fought game up until the late half of the 4th quarter. If the Irish want to make the playoffs, they will almost have to finish the season on a high note and get a win in Palo Alto.
Marquee Home Matchups:
USC (October 12th)
The Fighting Irish have beaten the USC Trojans each of the past two seasons. USC has decided not to fire Head Coach Clay Helton; even citing Brian Kelly’s turnaround after the 2016 as evidence for keeping their coach. Nevertheless, this will likely be the biggest home game of the 2019 season for Notre Dame Football.
USC has the potential ranked when they visit South Ben this fall. In 2016 the Trojans finished 10-3 with a Cotton Bowl victory. The following season USC finished 11-3 with a Pac-12 Title. Even though last season Clay Helton and the Trojans went 5-7, don’t expect this to be an easy win for the Irish.
Virginia tech (November 2nd)
Justin Fuente and the Hokies got the best of the Irish in 2016. Conversely, Notre Dame dominated Virginia Tech under the bright lights of Lane Stadium last season. The Hokies are looking for a bounce back season in 2019. Again, this match-up has the potential to be one of the biggest home games for Brian Kelly in the Irish.
Notre Dame can only hope the Hokies are ranked when they visit South Bend, to help strengthen the schedule in 2019.
Boston College (November 23rd)
Long time rival, Boston College visits South Bend late in November. More recently it has been a rivalry for the Eagles and not particularly the Irish. In 2018, the Boston College Eagles had a solid 7-5 season. This game has the potential to be a trap game, before the Irish head to California to face Stanford.
Boston College always gives Notre Dame their best game. The last several meetings have been lopsided, but each season a rival seems to take the Irish down to the wire, such as the Pittsburgh Panthers a year ago.
Notre Dame Schedule Always Criticized
Each college football season Notre Dame has one of the hardest schedules in the country. However, every time the Irish have a successful season, skeptics doubt Notre Dame’s strength of schedule. Even last season when Notre Dame was 11-0 and beat Michigan, skeptics argued the Wolverines had become a better team heading into the season finale; but we all know how that narrative was unequivocally false.
This season the Irish play two non-conference, top-10 road games. Most programs don’t have 2 top-ten match ups all season, let alone on the road and outside their conference schedule. Yes, the Irish only play 5 ACC games each season, but the fact that they’re playing an SEC team and Big Ten team on the road shows just how difficult Notre Dame’s schedule will be in 2019.
In South Bend the expectations first and foremost will be to get back to the College Football Playoffs. If Ian Book can lead the Irish to an undefeated season, Notre Dame would undoubtedly be in the Playoffs. But, would a one-loss Fighting Irish team make the College Football Playoffs?
If Notre Dame finishes with an 11-1 record and a close loss to Michigan or Georgia, they would have a great argument for making the Playoffs once again. Certainly, the playoff scenarios are dictated by how the other elite teams perform in the country, but the Irish would have a strong case regardless of a conference championship game.
For a little perspective, the Alabama Crimson Tide haven’t played a non-conference road game since Penn State in 2011. As previously mentioned, the Irish will be taking on essentially 2 top-ten, non-conference teams on the road this fall (assuming Michigan and Georgia play up to par). Yet, Alabama only plays neutral site games within the confines of the South.
Everyone wants to talk about how the Irish don’t play a conference championship. However, teams like Pittsburgh and Northwestern competed in championship games last season, while the Irish beat both during the regular season. Brian Kelly and the Irish will face all their toughest opponents on the road this fall. If the Irish want to make it back to the playoffs, they will have to have key victories away from South Bend.