Heading into the 2018 season, ESPN has projected Notre Dame to win 10 football games. Ok, 9.9 wins but we’re rounding here. Despite the 10 win projection though, ESPN’s Football Power Index actually currently has Notre Dame favored in every game this fall. Just who ESPN thinks are some of the easier opponents for the Irish right now though may surprise you.
Here is a rundown of every game listed from most likely win to least likely win according to the ESPN FPI as it stands now.
12. Ball State – 99.4%
No surprise here. This one should effectively be a tuneup game for Notre Dame on the heels the season opening showdown with Michigan. The Cardinals come to town for a matinee in week two and if the backups aren’t in the game in the second half, something has gone terribly wrong.
11. Vanderbilt – 97%
Another one that isn’t much of a surprise. Vanderbilt has not been a strong program under Derek Mason – maybe that’s why he isn’t worried about this trip. I kid, I kid. Seriously though, this should be another tuneup game for the Irish. Having two of the three easiest games early in the season is one bit of smart scheduling.
10. Navy – 96.6%
And this is where the list gets interesting. Has anyone that works on the FPI seen any of the latest Notre Dame – Navy games? Navy beat the Irish two years ago on a neutral field in Jacksonville and then made it interesting again last year. Hopefully that changes this year and we see a performance more like we saw in 2012 the last time Notre Dame truly handled the Middies. Still, 96.6% here seems high.
9. Pitt – 93.6%
This one surprises me a bit as well. Not that Pitt has been a juggernaut or anything, but seeing Pitt as the projected 4th easiest game of the year does surprise me. Notre Dame gets Pitt a week after perhaps the toughest road game of the season – a likely night game in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech. Hopefully this one proves to be true because there is a good chance for an emotional let down here.
8. Syracuse – 90.8%
Not surprising at all that this one is seen as a very likely win for Notre Dame. It is surprising, however, ESPN gives Syracuse a slightly better chance against the Irish than Pitt. Notre Dame didn’t have much trouble with the ‘Cuse two years ago during a historically bad year and they shouldn’t have any problem with them this year.
7. @ Wake Forest – 82.2%
The signs of Notre Dame wearing down last year started to become evident in the second half against Wake Forest when what looked like a blowout turned into a closer than it was score. Notre Dame gets Wake earlier in the season this year and it ends a three week stretch also including Ball State and Vanderbilt. This should be the final tuneup for the Irish right as they prepare for a showdown with Stanford.
6. Florida State – 80.3%
While the Navy game getting listed at 96.6% surprised me, this one shocked me. I get that Florida State had a rough year in 2017 and has a new coach after Jimbo Fisher took the money and ran to Texas A&M. This is still Florida State though. A lot of their woes last year can be attributed to losing their QB in week one and struggling to find their offense. I really want to believe that Notre Dame should be favored by this much over the Seminoles, but I think this one is going to be really tough.
5. @ Northwestern – 77.8%
Not surprised to see a win probability over 75% for this game. Surprised to see Northwestern listed as a less likely win than Florida State. The Wildcats could give the Irish a bit of a game, but this one shouldn’t be in doubt in the end. Notre Dame owes Northwestern and Pat Fitzgerald a bit of payback after coughing up a late fourth quarter lead and losing to them in OT in 2014 and should get it this fall.
4. Stanford – 76.1%
It is a a bit surprising to see a win probability this high given Stanford’s recent success over Notre Dame. Brian Kelly is just 2-6 against Stanford and Notre Dame hasn’t beaten Stanford since 2014 when Ben Koyack scored one of the most memorable touchdowns of the Kelly era. The Cardinal will fly to South Bend in September for the first time since 2010 for an earlier than usual matchup. Notre Dame held 2nd half leads against Stanford in each of the last three seasons, but ultimately lost all three.
3. @ Virginia Tech – 68.8%
A night game in Blacksburg very much deserves to be this high up on ESPN’s list. Notre Dame has struggled on the road in hostile environments in recent years outside of last year’s Michigan State game. This one will probably be a primetime kickoff and Lane Stadium will be absolutely rocking for Notre Dame’s first ever visit. This will easily be one of the toughest games of the year for the Irish.
2. Michigan – 68.3%
The first game of the year being one of the hardest is nothing new when it involves these two rivals. Week one will very much define Notre Dame’s season. A win and Notre Dame is almost certainly 4-0 heading into an early season September showdown with Stanford. A loss and the Notre Dame’s margin for error is eliminated and questions will linger about this team until that Stanford contest.
Michigan is currently a road favorite in this one, but we all also know what happened the last time the Wolverines walked into Notre Dame Stadium. Maybe Shea Patterson will finally deliver an offense for Jim Harbaugh, but for some reason this game does not worry me as much as Stanford.
1. @ USC – 59.1%
Notre Dame blew the doors off of USC last year and the Trojans will have a new starting quarterback with Sam Darnold having moved on to the NFL. Even with a new quarterback though, the Trojans have a stacked roster and this one figures to be one of the toughest games of the year so it’s not surprising to see ESPN giving Notre Dame its worst odds here. Not 100% sold that this is the toughest game of the year though.
If ESPN’s projections hold close to true, Notre Dame’s tough November month of travel should at least be coming in some very winnable games. The early season slate also shapes up very favorably after the opening weekend as well. This of course is still all dependent on Brian Kelly and Notre Dame finally figuring out the quarterback position. If they do, it’s starting to become pretty clear there is a chance for a very, very good season in 2018.