Now that we’ve completed all of our 2016 Notre Dame opponent previews, we are going to spend some time slicing and dicing the 2016 Notre Dame schedule. Compared to some future Notre Dame schedules – which I talked about in yesterday’s column – the 2016 slate actually looks pretty manageable for Brian Kelly and the Irish. That is assuming there are no surprise fairy tale teams that come out of no where.
Even a manageable schedule has trap games built in. In many years Navy falls into that category for Notre Dame, but this year the Middies don’t come at a particularly tough time and they come a week before Army which should limit the Navy hangover effect. Miami with a new head coach could be considered a trap game as well but the Irish get the Hurricanes at home and following a bye week.
There are, however, plenty of traps mixed amongst the easier wins and the more challenging contests for the Irish. Here are four of them.
Date: 9/4/2016, 7:30 PM ET, ABC
Last year Notre Dame ran Texas out of town with a 38-3 victory that didn’t even seem to be that close. Texas didn’t look anything like the opponent Jack Swarbrick likely envisioned when he added then to Notre Dame’s schedule. That laugher and Texas’s 5-7 record a year ago has most Notre Dame fans penciling this in as a W.
This is a game Texas almost certainly has circled on their schedule this summer though and a road trip to Austin to start the season is never an easy trip. In year three of the Charlie Strong Era, Texas could be ready to take the step forward many felt the Longhorns should have already taken. Strong, despite his struggles, is a hell of a coach. Remember, he went 23-3 over his final two years at Louisville and was the hottest name on the head coaching hiring front three years ago.
Texas still has question marks in its lineup and is probably at least a year away from really becoming a force again, but a Sunday night game on the road, in prime time has the makings of a trap if the Irish don’t treat their trip to Austin as a business trip.
Duke Blue Devils
Date: 9/24/2016, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Notre Dame hosts Duke a week after having to slug it out with Michigan State. Even with the Spartans losing a boat load of starters from the 2015 playoff team, the Spartans will be a tough, physical opponent if nothing else. Luckily for Notre Dame this game is their third straight home game which should lessen the let down factor.
David Cutcliffe is a good coach and will have Duke ready for this game. What he’s done at Duke is a small wonder considering that program’s history. A win at Notre Dame Stadium is the exact type of program building game he is looking for. He knows what a win would mean for his program and will pull out all the stops in this one.
NC State Wolfpack
Date: 10/8/2016, Time TBA, TV TBA
A week before hosting Stanford in what could be a potential showdown of top 10 teams if the Irish navigate September unscathed, they will be on the road for one of three true road games. Notre Dame has never played at NC State before which will make their trip to Raleigh a circled game on the Wolfpack schedule.
NC State has an unsettled quarterback position heading into the season but one candidate, Jakobi Meyers, is a dual threat quarterback. Notre Dame has had trouble with running quarterbacks in the past – especially when they’ve gone no huddle and limited Brian Vangorder’s subpackage options. If Notre Dame isn’t focused on the road this weekend, this game could end up in the kind of shootout the Irish found themselves in with North Carolina in 2014.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Date: 11/19/2016, 3:30 p.m ET, NBC
Senior Day has historically been a rough weekend for Notre Dame in the past. Emotions run high and let downs and subpar performances have not been uncommon. Combine that with Virginia Tech’s first trip to Notre Dame Stadium and you could have another trap here.
When teams make their first trips ever to Notre Dame, one of two outcomes usually occurs – they play lights out or the get distracted by the mystic. If Virginia Tech experiences the former, the Hokies could end up playing the role of spoiler on Senior Day.