As Notre Dame's 2019 football schedule was being formulated, the constant refrain from analysts was, "Are they nuts?" With rivals USC and Stanford always a constant, Virginia Tech and Louisville as part of the ACC agreement, and road games at Michigan and Georgia, most felt that Notre Dame may have bitten off more than they could chew.
But now that the fall of 2019 is not all that far away, the list of games doesn't appear quite as daunting. USC has taken a big step back and Stanford, while still formidable, has lost nine games in the past two years and has some major weapons to replace. Virginia Tech had a losing record in 2018 and Louisville fell off the map completely following Lamar Jackson’s departure. While those trips to Ann Arbor and Athens won't be easy, the rest of the schedule — which includes three Group of 5 teams that had a combined record of 9-28 last year — is very manageable.
Here is a look at the teams Notre Dame will face in the fall.
Byes: Week 2, Week 8
Week 1 — Sept. 2 at Louisville (Louisville, Ky.)
Last year was a nightmare for the Louisville football program as the team finished 2-10. Bobby Petrino is now out and Scott Satterfield takes the reins as the Cardinals' head coach. First and foremost, Louisville needs much better quarterback play, whether that be from returning starter Jawon Pass or from someone else.
Week 3 — Sept. 14 vs. New Mexico (Notre Dame, Ind.)
On Dec. 1, 2001, Bob Davie coached his final game at Notre Dame Stadium. Or so everyone thought. In week three, Davie will bring his New Mexico Lobos in to face the Irish. After consecutive bowl appearances in 2015 and '16, New Mexico has had two 3-9 seasons, which coupled with some off-the-field distractions makes 2019 an important season for the former Notre Dame coach.
Week 4 — Sept. 21 at Georgia (Athens, Ga.)
In what will be one of the most anticipated games of the season, the Irish will venture to Sanford Stadium for the first time ever and will play a Georgia team that will be in everyone's top 5. The Bulldogs lost a ton of talent from last year's Sugar Bowl team, but Kirby Smart has recruited exceptionally well and Jake Fromm is back at quarterback.
Week 5 — Sept. 28 vs. Virginia (Notre Dame, Ind.)
Bronco Mendenhall has quietly built Virginia into a contender in the ACC Coastal Division. The Cavaliers return quarterback Bryce Perkins and much of the ACC's third-ranked defense, though replacing star receiver Olamide Zaccheaus and defenders Juan Thornhill and Chris Peace won't be easy.
Week 6 — Oct. 5 vs. Bowling Green (Notre Dame, Ind.)
Veteran — and often maligned — offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler takes over as the head coach at Bowling Green, a program that has gone 9-27 since Dino Babers left for Syracuse following the 2015 season. Interestingly, Loeffler hired an equally maligned defensive mind — former Notre Dame coordinator Brian Van Gorder — as his associate head coach.
Week 7 — Oct. 12 vs. USC (Notre Dame, Ind.)
It's an odd numbered year, so that means that the Trojans come to Notre Dame in mid-October. Clay Helton survived a disappointing 5-7 campaign, but as a result, his seat will be as hot as any entering 2019. Helton looks like he may have something to work with in rising sophomore quarterback JT Daniels, but USC must improve their 107th-ranked rushing offense.
Week 9 — Oct. 26 at Michigan (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Well, it was fun while it lasted. The brief two-game series between the Irish and Wolverines wraps up this season and the two iconic programs have no future dates planned. Jim Harbaugh's crew is looking to avenge last year's season-opening loss to the Irish and will have to do so without defensive stars Devin Bush, Rashan Gary, and Chase Winovich.
Week 10 — Nov. 2 vs. Virginia Tech (Notre Dame, Ind.)
Notre Dame will play the Hokies for the second year in a row and for the third time in four years. Virginia Tech had a tumultuous 2018, finishing 6-7, and the offseason has been just as unsettled. But Justin Fuente has some big-play weapons at wide receiver and the defense returns a lot of experience.
Week 11 — Nov. 9 at Duke (Durham, N.C.)
The last time the Irish played at Duke, Wallace Wade Stadium was known as Duke Stadium. That was back in 1961, a game that Duke won 37-13. Duke's other victory in the five meetings between the two schools was a 38-35 win during ND's miserable 2016 season. The 2019 Blue Devils will have Quentin Harris taking over for NFL-bound quarterback Daniel Jones.
Week 12 — Nov. 16 vs. Navy (Notre Dame, Ind.)
Things have been sliding in the wrong direction for Navy in recent years. Most importantly, the three straight losses to Army don't sit well in Annapolis. Plus, the Midshipmen missed a bowl game for only the second time in 16 years after going 3-10 last fall. One of those losses was a 44-22 drubbing by Notre Dame in San Diego.
Week 13 — Nov. 23 vs. Boston College (Notre Dame, Ind.)
While the 7-5 record wasn’t bad, Boston College fans expected more after being pegged as a sleeper team by many experts entering the 2018 season. The bad news is that much of the defensive production has now moved on and head coach Steve Addazio will need more from an offense led by star running back AJ Dillon.
Week 14 — Nov. 30 at Stanford (Stanford, Calif.)
The Cardinal offense is solid at quarterback with K.J. Costello coming off a 3,500-yard, 29-touchdown season. But running back Bryce Love and star receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside are no longer around. On defense, head coach David Shaw will need to do some re-tooling, especially at linebacker and in the secondary.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.