Everett Golson returns to South Bend to face a nasty 2014 football schedule.
Brian Kelly is entering his fifth season as the Notre Dame head coach after winning 21 games over the last two years.
His fifth season will be a fascinating tour de force for a variety of reasons. First, he had to rebuild his staff after both coordinators left to take head coaching jobs. Mike Denbrock takes over as offensive coordinator after Chuck Martin left for Miami (Ohio) and Brian VanGorder is calling the shots on defense as Bob Diaco accepted the UConn head coaching gig.
And quarterback Everett Golson is back under center. Four other starters return on offense and five return to the defense with a host of elite youngsters ready to step into bigger roles. On a team one year removed from playing in the national championship game, Kelly knows that expectations are sky high at a program that demands excellence.
Just like 2012, should the Irish return to the national championship picture in ‘14, they will have earned it. Notre Dame’s schedule is once again one of the toughest in the nation and will feature marquee national showdowns against bowl teams nearly every weekend.
Buckle up, South Bend.
|1.||Aug. 30||South Bend, IN|
|2.||Sept. 6||South Bend, IN|
|3.||Sept. 13||Indianapolis, IN|
|5.||Sept. 27||East Rutherford, NJ|
|6.||Oct. 4||South Bend, IN|
|7.||Oct. 11||South Bend, IN|
|8.||Oct. 18||at||Tallahassee, FL|
|10.||Nov. 1||Landover, MD|
|11.||Nov. 8||at||Tempe, AZ|
|12.||Nov. 15||South Bend, IN|
|13.||Nov. 22||South Bend, IN|
|14.||Nov. 29||at||Los Angeles, CA|
2014 Notre Dame Schedule Analysis
Home away from home
One of the most noticeable aspects to the Fighting Irish's ’14 slate is where the games will be played. Notre Dame has only three true road games all season but all three will be absolute battles. The Irish visit Florida State on Oct. 18, Arizona State on Nov. 8 and USC in the season finale. Otherwise, the Irish will play Purdue in Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Stadium), Syracuse in New Jersey (MetLife Stadium) and Navy in Maryland (FedEx Field). That leaves six true home games for Brian Kelly’s bunch — all of which are winnable and should feature a point spread in the Irish’s favor with the possible exception of Stanford.
Get work done early
The great news for the Irish is that the first four games of the year appear to be very manageable. In fact, the first month of the season will feature three of the easiest games on the slate, a home date with Michigan and a bye weekend. All of this should help ease Golson, a potentially reworked offensive line and a new D-line into the starting lineup. Kelly and his team need to make headway in the first month of the season because once Stanford comes to town on Oct. 4, there isn’t really a break to be had with the exception of the off weekend at the end of October.
First romp through the ACC
Gone are traditional rivals Michigan State, Army and Pitt form the schedule. While the Panthers will eventually return to the slate through the ACC rotation, the Spartans (and soon the Wolverines as well) had to take a back seat to the Notre Dame's new conference partnership. Syracuse, North Carolina, Florida State and Louisville will be the first four ACC bouts this fall and commissioner John Swofford didn’t do the Irish any favors. A visit to the defending champs comes on the (ahem) Heels of playing North Carolina at home and will be as high profile and difficult a game the Irish have had since facing Alabama for the national title. Louisville welcomes back head coach Bobby Petrino and could be the top challenger to FSU in the ACC Atlantic Division. It will be an interesting first trip through ACC country this fall for the Irish.
Pac-12 round robin
The Fighting Irish will play three of the top five teams from the Pac-12. Notre Dame has long played West Coast rivals USC and Stanford. But Stanford is better today than it has ever been in program history and the Trojans are welcoming a new head coach in Steve Sarkisian. In addition to two of the best programs from the Pac-12, Notre Dame also will have to play Arizona State, the defending South Division champs, in Tempe. Two of those — Arizona State and USC — will take place on the road. When projecting win totals for the Irish, it is likely Notre Dame will lose two of three in the three-game set with the Pac-12. Should Notre Dame win two of those, a “BCS” bowl or playoff spot may be an outside possibility.
Enjoy the down time
The off weekends come at solid times. The first comes two weeks before Stanford and the week before Notre Dame has to leave the state of Indiana for the time. The first off weekend will be critical as the Irish will play four straight following the extra week, including the defending ACC and Pac-12 champions. The second off weekend comes right after a brutal road trip to Tallahassee. Having two weeks to lick their potential wounds after facing the Seminoles and to prepare for the always difficult Navy triple option could be a huge benefit for Kelly’s squad. Especially, considering the final month of the season is loaded with elite coaches and talented offenses.