Few teams inspire equal parts repulsion and adoration like the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Yet, one thing any fan of any team must admit is that Notre Dame plays arguably the toughest schedule each and every season. This fall won’t be any different as the Irish will face 10 teams that got to bowl eligibility in 2011. Boston College and Navy are the only two teams on this schedule that were not bowl eligible last season. Additionally, Brian Kelly’s bunch will face six teams that won at least 10 games last year.
Week 1 (Sept. 1): Navy (9:00 AM ET, CBS) Dublin, Ire.
Overall Record: 72-12-1, Last Meeting: W, 56-14 (2011)
Week 2 (Sept. 8): Purdue (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 55-26-2, Last Meeting: W, 38-10 (2011)
Week 3 (Sept. 15): At Michigan State (8:00 PM ET, ABC)
Overall Record: 46-28-1, Last Meeting: W, 31-13 (2011)
Week 4 (Sept. 22): Michigan (7:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 15-23-1, Last Meeting: L, 35-31 (2011)
Week 5 (Sept. 29): Bye Week
Week 6 (Oct. 6): Miami, Fla. (7:30 PM ET, NBC) Chicago, Ill.
Overall Record: 16-7-1, Last Meeting: W, 33-17 (2010, Sun Bowl)
Week 7 (Oct. 13): Stanford (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 17-9, Last Meeting: L, 28-14 (2011)
Week 8 (Oct. 20): BYU (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 4-2, Last Meeting: W, 49-23 (2005)
Week 9 (Oct. 27): At Oklahoma (TBA)
Overall Record: 8-1, Last Meeting: W, 34-30 (1999)
Week 10 (Nov. 3): Pitt (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 46-20-1, Last Meeting: W, 15-12 (2011)
Week 11 (Nov. 10): At Boston College (TBA)
Overall Record: 12-9, Last Meeting: W, 16-14 (2011)
Week 12 (Nov. 17): Wake Forest (3:30 PM ET, NBC)
Overall Record: 1-0, Last Meeting: W, 24-17 (2011)
Week 13 (Nov. 24): At USC (TBA, ABC/ESPN)
Overall Record: 43-35-5, Last Meeting: W, 31-17 (2011)
Week 14 (Nov. 31): Bye Week
Related: 2012 Notre Dame Team Preview
— After a four-decade win streak over the fine Naval Academy, the Middies claimed three of four from the Irish from 2007 to 2010. Kelly’s bunch got back on the winning side last fall in a one-sided 56-14 domination. This game has a decidedly different feel to it as it will take place across the pond in Dublin. While the fans love the 10 AM ET kickoff, the coaches will have to get their teams adjusted during a strange week of travel. Especially, considering that the Irish do not have a bye week following a long trip back to the States.
— From Week 2 to Week 4, the Irish will face three straight regional rivals from the Big Ten. These games will not only feature two 10-win teams from Michigan with BCS bowl aspirations, but recruiting battles hang in the balance as well. All four schools compete directly for recruits in the Midwest and winning on the field means more than just a single W or L in the standings. And, of course, revenge will be heavy on Irish minds after last year’s soul-crushing fourth quarter collapse against the biggest rival of the group Michigan. The first month will indicate what Notre Dame will be in 2012 and will likely feature the toughest two-week stretch of the year. Kelly is 0-2 against Michigan at Notre Dame.
— After facing four straight bowl teams, the bye week will come at a welcome time for Kelly’s bunch. Ideally, the quarterback situation will have been sorted out long before Week 5 (I have been calling for Everett Golson to be the starter all summer), but this layoff should give the Irish offensive staff time to regroup and reevaluate its quarterback play — should something still be left to be determined.
— A trip around Lake Michigan to Soldier Field should be fun for the Windy City faithful. It just doesn’t appear to be promising for the Miami fans. Should the Irish be 4-0, they will have a chance to make a big statement in Chicago against a former national power.
— Week’s 7-9 should be the toughest stretch of games for the Irish in 2012. Stanford appears to be a carbon copy of Notre Dame this fall — questions at quarterback but a talented running game to go with a nasty front seven on defense — and matches-up very well with the Irish. The Cardinal have won three straight in the series. BYU has a big offense that will test the ND secondary. Luckily, both games will come in South Bend, but they lead up to a trip to Norman to battle the Sooners. Landry Jones and Co. will be able to handle the Irish defense, so it will fall to the Irish offense to produce if Kelly expects to compete with Oklahoma. These two historic powers haven’t played since 1999.
— The good news for Irish fans is that the easiest section of the schedule will come directly after the trip to Oklahoma. Pitt, Boston College and Wake Forest might be the three easiest opponents on the ’12 slate and all three will be played consecutively. The bad news? The Irish beat these three by a total of 12 points last year. Again, this stretch being defined as the “easiest” three games is another indicator of just how tough the Irish slate is every year.
— The season finale will be the team’s toughest single test of the year. Notre Dame has beaten USC once time since 2001 and could be facing an undefeated 11-0 Heisman Trophy-led offensive juggernaut on the road in Los Angeles. Yes, the last time Kelly took a team to The Coliseum, the Irish came away victorious, but that was the worst Trojan team since Peter Carroll’s first year — also, in 2001.
Official Season Prediction: 8-4, Pinstripe Bowl
Related: Athlon Sports 2012 Bowl Projections
- by Braden Gall
Athlon Sports 2012 Notre Dame Content:
2012 Notre Dame Team Preview
Debate: Can Brian Kelly Lead the Irish to a BCS Bowl?
Who are the Top 10 Notre Dame Players in 2012?
Team Predictions: Who Starts at QB, What is the Most Important Game and More
The 10 Greatest Fighting Irish Player of All-Time
Notre Dame Cheerleader Gallery