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Notre Dame Football: Fighting Irish's 2022 Schedule Analysis

Notre Dame Football: Ranking the Toughest Games on the Fighting Irish's Schedule

The Fighting Irish open the season on the road against Ohio State and also have two neutral-site games on their slate

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish got off to a bit of an uneven start in the 2021 season, winning each of their first two games — at Florida State and against Toledo — by just three points apiece before 14- and 28-point wins against Purdue and Wisconsin. A Week 5 loss to Cincinnati, however, was the only true blip on an otherwise perfect regular-season radar for Notre Dame, who went on to win each of its seven remaining contests by an average of nearly 24 points per game — thanks to only one of those seven coming by single digits.

New head coach Marcus Freeman's tenure didn't begin with quite the same level of success, though, as Notre Dame dropped his head-coaching debut in a 37-35 Cotton Bowl loss to Oklahoma State. His next time on the sidelines will come against his alma mater when the Fighting Irish head to Ohio Stadium and take on the Ohio State Buckeyes to kick off the first full season with Freeman at the helm. Here's a look at Notre Dame's 2022 schedule and some of the key factors to watch with the opponents that the Fighting Irish will face.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish's 2022 Schedule

Bye: Week 5

Week 1 – Sept. 3 at Ohio State (Columbus, Ohio)

Opening the 2022 campaign against last season's Rose Bowl champion Buckeyes won't exactly be the most flowery start for the Fighting Irish as they kick off the season in Columbus. Notre Dame has won each of its last five season openers — three at home, two on the road — but Ohio State owns the upper hand in the series with their Week 1 opponent by a 4-2 edge, Notre Dame victorious in the first two meetings and Ohio State claiming each of the next four.

They'll present quite the challenge for Freeman, coordinator Al Golden, and the Fighting Irish defense as they'll go up against a prolific Ohio State offense that led the nation in points (45.7) and total yards (561.5) per game in 2021. C.J. Stroud led the Big Ten with 44 passing touchdowns and 369.6 yards per game through the air, and, despite the departure of wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson to the NFL, he'll still have Jaxon Smith-Njigba — who led the conference and finished second in the FBS with 123.5 yards receiving per game — to pick up right where the duo left off last season. The Buckeyes did, however, struggle with its frequent penalization rate, collecting 6.5 flags per game for 59.2 penalty yards per game, both in the bottom 40 nationally.

Week 2 – Sept. 10 vs. Marshall (Notre Dame, Ind.)

The first-ever matchup between the Thundering Herd and Fighting Irish will be Notre Dame's home opener after that daunting Week 1 showdown with the Buckeyes. Marshall continued its winning ways in 2021 with a 7-6 record in head coach Charles Huff's first season at the helm after 11 seasons — eight of which finished above .500 — under Doc Holliday. Rasheen Ali paced Conference USA with 107.8 yards per game on the ground and tied for the FBS lead with 23 rushing touchdowns en route to his selection as a FWAA Freshman All-American, and his dynamic skills on the ground helped the offense post nearly 457 total yards per game in 2021. Marshall lost a conference-high 25 turnovers last season, however — the fourth-highest total in the nation — which will be a key focus for Notre Dame's playmakers on defense in Week 2.

Week 3 – Sept. 17 vs. California (Notre Dame, Ind.)

Not only will this matchup be the first between these two teams in more than a half-century, but the Golden Bears also hope that this will be the first instance in which they can muster at least 10 points against the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame has come out on top in all four of its previous meetings with Cal, winning 28-6 in 1959 followed by wins by scores of 21-7, 48-6, and 41-8 in 1960, 1965, and 1967, respectively. In order to do so, the Golden Bears will have to rely on one of their key strengths from a season ago: limiting turnovers. Cal was one of just two Pac-12 teams — and one of just nine nationally — to lose 10 or fewer turnovers last season, trailing only Colorado (seven) for the fewest among Pac-12 teams and pacing the conference with only two fumbles lost.

Week 4 – Sept. 24 at North Carolina (Chapel Hill, N.C.)

Notre Dame has eclipsed the 30-point mark in five of its last six games against North Carolina, with the one exception — a 29-24 Tar Heels win in 2007 — ultimately vacated, leaving UNC with just one remaining win (1960) in the all-time series. Josh Downs finished second in the ACC in receiving with 102.7 yards per game and eight scores, and his experience — alongside that of Antoine Green and a veteran unit on the offensive line — will be key as the Tar Heels look to replace the production of quarterback Sam Howell. That line will hope to shore up some holes from last season that finished in the bottom-15 nationally in both sacks allowed (3.77 per game, fourth-most in FBS) and tackles for a loss allowed (7.23 per game, 11th-most in FBS), especially against a Notre Dame defense that tallied more than three sacks per game in 2021.

Week 6 – Oct. 8 vs. BYU (Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas)

The latest edition of Notre Dame's Shamrock Series will be the furthest west that the series has traveled when the Cougars and Fighting Irish meet in Las Vegas. Notre Dame has come out on top in all 10 of the previous iterations of the Shamrock Series, most recently a 41-13 handling of Wisconsin at Soldier Field in Chicago. Each of the last three meetings between these two programs — all Notre Dame wins — have come inside Notre Dame Stadium, while BYU's most recent win (one of two across eight all-time meetings) came in Provo in 2004. Running back Tyler Allgeier tied for the FBS lead in rushing touchdowns (23) with the aforementioned Ali and finished third nationally with 1,606 yards rushing, but his departure to the NFL means that BYU will have quite the mass of production to replace in order to keep pace with Notre Dame in Sin City.

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Week 7 – Oct. 15 vs. Stanford (Notre Dame, Ind.)

For its first home game in nearly a month, Notre Dame will welcome a Stanford team embarking on its third road trip in four weeks, coming off a home matchup with Oregon State after road showdowns with Washington (Sept. 24) and Oregon (Oct. 1). The month of October will be critical for the Cardinal, as they'll look to gain some momentum and bounce back from abysmal performances in their last two full seasons, with just seven wins combined in 2021 (3-9) and 2019 (4-8). How disappointing were those two seasons? Excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020 slate of just six games for Stanford, the Cardinal had won at least eight games — in other words, more than the combined seven wins between 2019 and 2021 — in every season between 2009 and 2018, with at least 10 wins in six of the 10 seasons. Head coach David Shaw will look to bring the team back to its winning ways and snap its current struggles against Notre Dame in the process, as the Fighting Irish have won each of the last three meetings with the Cardinal after Stanford claimed three in a row from 2015 to 2017.

Week 8 – Oct. 22 vs. UNLV (Notre Dame, Ind.)

Just two weeks after squaring off with BYU at Allegiant Stadium in Sin City, Notre Dame will host the stadium's collegiate residents when the Rebels come to town in late October. The first-ever meeting between the Rebels and Fighting Irish comes as UNLV seeks its first winning season since 2013, having collected just 24 wins in its last seven full seasons. One of the positives upon which the Rebels can try to lean in an attempt to rebound is their low penalty total in 2021, when the Rebels were called for just 4.5 penalties per game for just under 37.9 penalty yards per game. That wasn't enough to overcome a defense that managed fewer than four TFLs per game last season while the offense surrendered more than seven TFLs and 3.3 sacks per game — all three of which were bottom-20 marks nationally — which led to just 20.8 points and 312.2 total yards per game, the 20th-lowest and 12th-lowest per-game averages, respectively.

Week 9 – Oct. 29 at Syracuse (Syracuse, N.Y.)

Notre Dame will vie for its fifth win in as many tries against Syracuse when the Fighting Irish take the field for their first true road game in more than a month. The meetings in 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020 have all gone the way of the Fighting Irish, despite 2020 being the lone member of the four to come inside Notre Dame Stadium after the previous three were all in New York or New Jersey: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford (2014), the Carrier Dome (2016), and Yankee Stadium (2018). In 2021, the Orange opened with a 3-1 record but won just two of their final eight contests, due in no small part to six of their final eight opponents scoring at least 30 points and the Orange forcing just six total takeaways across the entirety of the season, tied with 1-11 Arizona for the lowest total of takeaways across the entire FBS.

But one of the bright spots for the Orange last season was the breakout performance of running back Sean Tucker. The Maxwell Award semifinalist broke the program's 42-year-old single-season rushing record with an ACC-high 1,496 yards on the ground — the sixth-highest individual total in the nation — and became the first-ever player in program history to rush for more than 1,400 yards in a season. He certainly will not be the first versatile playmaker that Notre Dame's defense will have to contend with out of the backfield, but the Fighting Irish will have their previous matchups against Ali, Allgeier, and others as building blocks for the final few weeks of the season.

Week 10 – Nov. 5 vs. Clemson (Notre Dame, Ind.)

Clemson and Notre Dame have squared off for just six all-time meetings, with two coming in the postseason and thus leaving four remaining regular-season matchups. They've split the four regular-season showdowns — with each winning once at home and once on the road — as two of Clemson's last three victories have come in a 2018 College Football Playoff semifinal win in the Cotton Bowl and the 2020 ACC Championship, just 44 days after Notre Dame took down top-ranked Clemson in a 47-40 thriller on Nov. 7, 2020, nearly two years to the date before this year's meeting. D.J. Uiagalelei will aim to bounce back from a season that saw him throw just nine touchdowns — three of which went to Justyn Ross, who is headed to the NFL Draft after compiling 2,379 receiving yards across three seasons with the Tigers — and lead an offense that surpassed 30 points just three times all season, with one of those three coming against FCS foe South Carolina State. Despite a number of other key starters joining Ross on the path to the pros, the Tigers will undoubtedly look to rely heavily on a defense that allowed ACC-leading 14.8 points per game and 310.2 total yards per game in 2021 —the second-best and eighth-best averages, respectively, in the FBS — along with its vaunted defensive front that kept all but three of its opponents under 150 rushing yards.

Week 11 – Nov. 12 vs. Navy (M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore)

The second of Notre Dame's pair of neutral-site games this year comes in the latest edition of its historic series with the United States Naval Academy. The two schools have met every year but one since 1928, with the COVID-shortened season in 2020 being the lone exception. The Fighting Irish have won each of the last four meetings with the Midshipmen, and — interestingly enough — four of Navy's 13 all-time wins over Notre Dame have come in the state of Maryland, though the Midshipmen haven't been victorious in the state since 1956. Coming off the previous week's showdown with Clemson, Notre Dame's defense will have to transition from the Tigers' dynamic array of playmakers to the Midshipmen's triple-option rushing attack.

Week 12 – Nov. 19 vs. Boston College (Notre Dame, Ind.)

The theme of Notre Dame's winning streaks in various series will also be present in advance of its meeting with Boston College, as the Fighting Irish have come out on top in every meeting dating back to 2009. Notre Dame has held firm in its final home game of the season in recent years, sending its seniors out with a win in their final home game in each of the last five seasons from 2017 to 2021. With a 6-6 overall record in 2021 clouded largely by their 2-6 record against ACC competition, the Eagles will aim to use their 4-0 mark against non-conference foes to bring their poor trends against the Fighting Irish to a halt. One potential factor to watch: tight end George Takacs, who joined the Fighting Irish in 2018, announced in March that he would be joining the Eagles as a graduate transfer, a welcome sign for an offense that finished in the bottom-25 of the FBS last season with a shade under 184.8 passing yards per game in 2021.

Week 13 – Nov. 26 at USC (Los Angeles)

The final week of the regular season pits the Fighting Irish against the Trojans in the former's attempt to notch its fifth straight win against the latter. Lincoln Riley joins the Trojans in hopes of bringing USC its first win in the series since 2016, taking over a team whose offense led the Pac-12 with 298.3 yards passing and 443.9 total yards per game last season. Joining him on the move is quarterback Caleb Williams, who enrolled at Oklahoma in the spring of 2021 and promptly played in 11 of the Sooners' 13 games — including seven starts — and set the Oklahoma program record for passing yards (1,670) and passing touchdowns (18) by a true freshman. Similar to some of Notre Dame's other opponents earlier in the season, though, USC struggled with eight penalties committed per game and 75 penalty yards per game, the third-most and second-highest marks in the Pac-12 and both among the bottom-15 in the FBS.

Podcast: Takeaways From Spring Games at Auburn, Texas A&M and Clemson, Transfer News, Early Spreads, and Looking Back at the Memorable 1998 Season

— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.