All things considered and of course subject to coronavirus whim, the 2020 ND schedule lines up nicely for the Irish. Very winnable games up front, strategically placed bye weeks and the toughest match up at home gives the newly announced slate a promising blue and gold glow, and a well defined path to the College Football Playoff.
While it is questionable just how significant “home field advantage” will be in the year of social distancing, beginning the season in South Bend with two very winnable games should get things rolling in a positive way. Duke on September 12 will boast a newly minted QB in Clemson transfer Chase Brice and a strong pass rush. This will give Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe tools to work with but it is hard to imagine the Irish dropping this one.
Game two the next week against Western Michigan is a bit of a surprise as the “plus one” on ND’s schedule. Most (including yours truly) thought the out of conference game would be Navy. The Broncos have been a strong team out of the MAC recently having been to bowls in 6 out of the last 9 years. But they will be young and debuting a new quarterback. In eight games, ND has never lost to a team from the Mid- American Conference.
Week three at Wake Forest (to be played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte), the Irish will be heavily favored to continue their fast start. Wake will be capable of scoring points, with a duo of big receivers in Sage Surrat and Scotty Washington and Sophomore QB Sam Hartman. The Irish should be able to score points even better however, similar to the 56 they put on the board in the last meeting between the two in 2018.
The Irish should be 3-0 going into the first of two bye weeks on October 3. The week off gives the Irish a breather to assess where they are at and to prepare for a much more difficult stretch ahead. The start of the season against three beatable opponents should be particularly valuable as the Irish look to find a reliable running back or two and Ian Book works to develop chemistry with a pool of new and young receivers.
For game 4 on October 10, Florida State comes to town loaded with talent and a new head Coach. Mike Norvell moves over from Memphis where his teams won a lot of games and scored a lot of points. FSU has NFL talent on their defense and Tamorrion Terry is a big-time threat catching the football. Key for FSU is how quickly Norvell can get a talented roster to jell. In their last match up in 2018, the Irish handled the Seminoles 42-13.
The next week the Irish will play their 4th home game out of the first five against Louisville. 2nd year coach Scott Satterfield Coached the Cardinals to an 8-5 turn around and is looking for more in 2020. Eight starters back suggest an improved defense and Satterfield’s offense will score points. This could be a shootout.
In game six the Irish will visit Pitt, and based on ND’s narrow 19-14 escape in 2018, Pat Narduzzi seemed to have Brian Kelly’s number. The Panthers are likely to struggle on offense but will bring a veteran defense loaded with all-ACC potential.
Game 7 on Halloween day will see the Irish in Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech. This match up should serve as a nice warm up for the main course coming up the week after. Tech is in a rebuilding and transition process from their old triple-option attack. Second year coach Geoff Collins will return 19 starters off of 2019’s 3-9 squad, but the transition from triple option talent to conventional offense talent takes time. Ever since Saturday December 29, 2018 when Clemson ended ND’s national championship hopes in the CFP semifinal, the November 7 rematch with Clemson has been circled on ND fan’s calendars. Odds are pretty good that both teams will enter this game undefeated.
Likely NFL number one pick QB Trevor Lawrence returns for Dabo Swinney’s Tigers, oh and don’t forget that explosive veteran running back Travis Entienne is also back. Clemson must reload after having lost 11 starters out of their top 22, but those nationally top recruiting classes loaded with 5-star athletes mean the Tigers will once again be outstanding. ND will hope to slow down the Tiger scoring machine with another strong performance by a Clark Lea defense. Offensively ND hopes that the first six games will have allowed the Irish to settle in behind their experienced offensive line, and for some combination of pass receivers and running backs to have emerged from a talented but inexperienced pool. Unfortunately for the Irish, their best advantage in this game-playing at home- will be neutralized by the limits on fans in the stands. None the less, expect a lot of hype leading up to this one.
If ND pulls off a win against Clemson, history says they better beware the next week. In 1993 Boston College spoiled the Irish party after the Irish knocked off #1 Florida State, and in 2020 they would have the chance to do it again. To add to the possible intrigue, it is likely that Phil Jurkovec, who transferred from the Irish last winter will be quarterbacking BC. Notre Dame pounded BC last year 40-7, but the Eagles return 15 starters including 9 on defense, and will as always sport a lot of extra motivation as they square off against their rival. Geez, won’t BC ever forget that ND stole Frank Leahy from them back in 1941?
If ND can survive the trap game at BC, they will enjoy another week off November 21, leading into a Thanksgiving Friday match-up against North Carolina. In Mack Brown’s second year at the helm, the Tar Heels return 17 starters off a 7-6 team. Amazingly those 6 losses came by a combined total of just 26 points and included a 1 point loss to Clemson. Offense should be their forte, but ND should be able to score in this game. This has the look of a shootout.
The Irish will end the regular season against Syracuse on December 5th, in South Bend. That’s right, a December game in South Bend, where it snows, a lot. Dino Babers has rebuilt his staff adding two new coordinators, but the talent level on the Orange is suspect and his team will be young. The Irish should hold a pretty solid edge in this one, but weather sometimes can serve as an equalizer.
The ACC championship game will be played in Charlotte on December 12th or 19th, between the 14 team plus ND league’s top two teams. The odds would say the most likely match-up in that game would be an ND-Clemson rematch for a berth in the College Football Playoff. But the “odds” are just that until the teams navigate an 11-game trek which will be subject to the whim of the coronavirus.
Taken at face value, the Irish look to have a well defined path to possible College football playoff glory in 2020. They need to win the games they will be favored in, and beat Clemson just once out of two match-ups: the second one for the ACC Championship. Who ever thought six months ago that the Irish would be playing for a conference Championship that would almost assure the Irish a berth in the CFP in 2020?
That’s right, nobody this side of sanity did.